It is hard to come to the end of the book I am sharing with you. I have grown attached to it, reading it each week with my friend and then giving you a taste of the story and of my own. There are many themes that arose in this last chapter and I will try to touch on most of them. As you read along, try to notice how often you begin to nod your head in recognition.
The first theme is how different things look through sober eyes. It could be something as simple as watching television at night and not only enjoying the show but remembering what was watched the next morning. Going to sleep instead of passing out. Waking up instead of coming to. It could be going out to dinner with a friend who is not sober and watching his or her behavior as the evening and the drinks continue. Looking at that person and saying, “Oh my God! That is what I looked like.” Another thing that looks different through sober eyes is adversity. In the past, we would be so afraid to face something unpleasant, we would drink heavily to not deal with it. Now, we feel the feelings and recognize them.
The next thing to keep in focus is that sobriety is not always easy or simple. Even after months of sobriety, there are times that just scream out for a drink. We feel cheated that other people can drink normally. Why can’t we have just one stupid beer? In our early sobriety, we often try to avoid alcohol at all costs. Do you realize how hard it is to watch television without seeing multiple alcohol commercials? The only way to avoid it is to watch children’s programming on public television. Last night I watched a 60 minute drama on television. I saw eight commercials for alcohol…all of them involved very sophisticated people sipping elegantly in clubs or on secluded beaches or at a party where no one was staggering or throwing up in the corner…..seriously. Some days in early sobriety those commercials didn’t bother me, but some days, especially if a day had been particularly stressful, that kind of visual pounding gave me a case of the “poor me’s.”
In sober life, we are less likely to be like deer caught in headlights. Living in alcoholism makes us lethargic. We suffer from inertia. Making even the tiniest decision is exhausting. So, we don’t do laundry, or shower, or even brush our teeth. Sometimes all we can do is stare at the television (notice I didn’t say “watch”) and drink. In sobriety, we can accomplish things, both important and mundane. Bills get paid…on time. We show up for appointments with doctors and hair stylists. We shop for groceries and eat food. Hell, we may even cook and bake.
We often hear at meetings that we stop growing emotionally when we start drinking and when we get sober, we are at the emotional age we were when we started. It is not easy to be in a 50 year old body and acting like you’re 15. People expect you to behave in an age appropriate fashion, but sometimes you still act out like a teenager would. It is not because you want to be rude or obnoxious. You just haven’t yet learned how to be an adult.
Then there is the periodic rationalization about whether in fact we are alcoholics. This usually happens at some point after one year and before ten years, and may happen more than once. After we have been without drink for a significant period without relapse, the devil comes to taunt us…we start to question if we are really alcoholics. After all, we have been without the drink for so long and without a relapse…perhaps we overreacted when we said we were alcoholics.
While actively alcoholic, we were waiting for someone to come along and save us. We are afraid to try and fail on our own. In sobriety, we learn that growth is not something that happens to us, but rather something that happens from the inside out, as we learn to try, fail and try again. As the ancient proverb states, “Fall down seven times; get up eight”. We learn in sobriety that none of us is perfect and that is perfectly okay.
We drank to bury the things that frightened us. We drank to quell anxiety, depression, and fear. When we stop drinking, those feelings don’t go away. In fact, they roar louder and there is nothing to drink to shut them up. In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, you will sometimes hear someone say that when you suffer from alcoholism, and put down the alcohol, you still have the damn isms. We need to learn how to deal with those in a healthy way. Some may use therapy. Some may use meditation or yoga. Some may have serious mental or emotional illness that requires medication. But we learn to manage the crap we used to drink over in a healthier way.
Sobriety requires us to go through the stages of grief at the loss of our unconditional lover – alcohol. Just because we stop drinking doesn’t mean we don’t still have a relationship with alcohol. It’s akin to a divorce. Even though we know that the separation is what is best for us, we still mourn the death of the intense relationship. We still reminisce about the early days, when drinking was still fun. But the relationship became toxic and we had to walk away. And just like any bad relationship, relapse can occur. We can go back to the allure of the relationship, even though we know it is bad for us, even though we know it is abusive. And as is the case with any grieving process, we need to be able to feel the feelings…denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Although this is not as frequent as it used to be, there is still stigma attached to the whole concept of being an alcoholic. In the early days of recovery, we may not want to tell our friends and acquaintances that we are no longer drinking because we are alcoholic. It makes us feel weak. I still don’t tell most people at my place of work because I don’t want to be judged…even though it has been almost 7 years since I last had a drink or drug. That is the reason that going to meetings was so important to me and still is. I can be around people who “get it”.
Thank you to everyone who has read this book along with me. To those who have not yet picked it up, I hope that my nibbles have piqued your interest to read it yourself, or with a reading buddy. It has been an amazing experience.