I just wanted to get sober and stop using drugs. I wanted the craziness to stop. I wanted the constant stream of internal invective to stop, to quit yelling at myself, and to get away from all of the abuse. I wanted to be a REAL mom, not just a mom who was “on her way”, “just about there” and who would feed you, care for you, read to you “in a minute”; a minute that would never come. I wanted the pain to stop. It was clear I couldn’t overdose or drink myself to death. I would have to quit.
So, one day, I hit bottom. I wanted my soul back. I wanted to live. I hurt enough to call a friend. I went to my first meeting. And from that very bleary evening to this I have not had a drink. The drugs would tempt me from time to time for another year and a half. I have been able to accrue quite some full on clean and sober time since then. April 29th is my anniversary/birthday. It is this time of year that I look back; consider, appreciate and find grace in what I have been given in my recovery. Not all of it was planned, most was unexpected. Here are six things that surprised me.
1. My first milestone was letting go of the “I have to do it myself” illusion. I learned to become a student in the rooms. I had to develop a bit of trust, a little mental clearing in order to understand what was being said. It took a little while for me to be able to comprehend what I was reading and to concentrate through a whole meeting; but eventually I settled down. I had grown up thinking that I had to know everything before I was taught—to jump right into any task and master without a lot of instruction. I discovered in recovery that pausing to listen and to learn was not only permitted, but preferable. I learned to follow suggestions and to do homework. Later this skill of becoming a student helped me gain the degrees and certifications required in my professions.
2. Along with meeting recovery a day at a time my next milestone was giving up immediate gratification. I learned the long game. We do recovery a day at a time, and at the same time you learn to defer rewards and results. This didn’t happen right away. (I didn’t get the wisdom of multiple years’ sobriety until that number of years had passed.) I stayed clean and sober when life was hard; one day at a time, at the same time remaining clean for the long haul. Illness, death, issues with children and with finances, car trouble and heart trouble; I stuck to my recovery process one day at a time. I learned the art of sticking to it—whatever it is. Even waiting. Even silence.
3. I thought I was useless and a drag on society when I came into recovery. I recall the exact day, where I was standing in my alano club amid the smoke and laughter when I thought to myself; “I get to be here”, “I am accepted”. I was called on to share. People looked toward me and laughed when I was funny, and held that deep abiding silence when I was sad. I learned that I have something to offer; in recovery and in life. Each day I go to or participate in a meeting I get to reach deep into myself and find the best of myself in that moment. When I share one on one I am looking for my best and highest good. An amazing milestone in my deep abiding recovery was to discover that I have something to share.
4. I learned that I could dance sober. Now that might seem like a small thing, but it was a big thing to me. I have felt all angles and kinks when I got on the dance floor. It was as if each part of my body had its own rhythm section and nothing was in sync. There was a lot of enthusiasm but very little grace. Early in sobriety I was invited to the celebration of A.A. in Santa Clara Valley—a big dinner dance in a hotel. I was overwhelmed; it was fancy, I was not. Special dress and semi formal attire; I was sure I wouldn’t fit in, that I wouldn’t know how to behave and I couldn’t possibly dance. I was a wreck. But I went. It was amazing—it was as if all the ragged edges in the joints of my body had been smoothed out. I wasn’t the best dancer by far but I didn’t look like a ragged marionette with a shaky person as the puppet master. I now enjoy dancing—of any style—as a fully sober woman.
5. One hurdle I return to from time to time is self acceptance. The miracle milestone is that I am able to enjoy self acceptance at all. My life had been driven toward fun and forgetfulness (of feelings, circumstances, despair) until it became overwhelmed with fear guilt and shame. Those last three were the only ones I could identify in early recovery; those and rage. I was always the backward magnet repelling and being repelled by others. I repelled myself. Building on the unconditional love in the rooms, the safe and loving care from my sponsor, and the eventual purging of the pain from the past through the steps allowed me to establish a sense of self that was kinder. I “did esteemable acts” to develop self esteem, and have eventually come to like myself. I have come to accept myself, good and bad, for who I am. This has given me a firm and reasonable foundation for considered change; a good person who is evolving.
6. Active addiction is such a baby way to be; days filled with self indulgence and skirting responsibilities. Even when I was doing for others I secretly doused myself with chemicals to make that giving bearable. I really was “her majesty the baby”. In early recovery I learned how to start acting like a grown-up. It was a huge milestone to practice “adulting”. I started with the basics of self care; regular meals, regular bed time, doing laundry each week, cleaning up after myself and my family, paying bills on time, and not buying things I couldn’t afford. I took care of my health as well as the health of my kids, I got a job and got there on time each day. These small steps grew and I went back to school, became qualified for other, better paying jobs. I took care of my kids AND learned to let them go. I was able to practice principles of honorable behavior in my relationships and started standing up for myself in healthy ways. The result is that I am able to act my age in a respectful way.
Milestones for me have not just been the days, the months or the years—the milestones are what I have done with those units of time. These are six ways that I have grown into the woman I had always wanted to be; the person I have wanted to be. These aren’t the only significant experiences but with others have helped me create a life that is truly “Happy, Joyous and Free”.