I went to an AA meeting last week. I haven’t gone much lately but a friend was celebrating a year of sobriety, so I wanted to go to celebrate her. There were two girls there with just over 30 days of sobriety from drugs and alcohol (I can’t call them women. I tried. It just doesn’t work. They were so young, fresh faced, scared and a little sad looking. I’m sure they were way over 18 but, to me, they were girls). I didn’t say much during the meeting. I didn’t feel that the topic lent itself to much of what I wanted to say and I try to be careful and respectful while I’m at meetings. A lot of my own thoughts on alcohol abuse differ from what’s in the AA literature. But I’m not there to change it. I’m glad that it works well for those for whom it does and the last thing I want to do is mess with something that’s working for someone. But, after leaving that meeting, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I wish I could tell those girls. So, here it goes…
Do whatever it takes. It won’t always be this way but, right now, THIS is your job and your #1 priority. A lot of times that will mean doing whatever (and I mean whatever) feels good as long as it doesn’t mean drinking or using. If that means going to bed at 7:00, do it. If that means taking some time off work, do it. If that means you spend all your time listening to sobriety podcasts, great. Your mind (and probably even some well meaning but uninformed people in your life) will play tricks on you and try to convince you that you’re being selfish. Don’t listen. You’re working toward something so much greater than anything you can offer your children/partner/employer/friend when you’re still caught in the trap of addiction. Take the bath, light the $30 candle, buy the nice lotion, eat the ice cream, notice the small beauty in each of those things and be grateful for it. You wouldn’t have cared about those small beauties before but now you’re beginning to see them.
Don’t take something huge out of your life without adding something just as huge in. You gave a shit-ton of your time and money to drinking and/or using. Now, you’re going to have all that time and money back. But you aren’t happy about it yet. Idle hands aren’t good for anyone but especially not you. You need to find something that you really love to fill that time/spend that newfound cash. And, I’m just going to make a suggestion here… don’t make it working out. I know, I know… exercise is so great and you feel so wonderful having done it and why not capitalize on all the weight you’re losing from cutting out alcohol and boozy eating. I get it and I’m not saying not to work out. In fact, DO as long as it makes you happy (see doing whatever it takes, supra). But, here’s the thing… Most people still think of exercise as work while they’re doing it. Yes, it has all these wonderful dividends but it still falls into the category of something you work for/productive. Drinking wasn’t in that category, so my suggestion is that whatever you add in shouldn’t be either. You’ve got a lot of extra time and you have the rest of your life to make it work for you or offer it in service to someone else. You’re doing enough by not drinking. Keep that time for you right now. Paint, read, cook, write, rock climb, hike, meditate, learn a language, explore your faith, color, plan a vacation that you’ll now be able to afford, learn about your family’s ancestry, bake, sew, knit, watch Making a Murderer on Netflix (seriously, if you haven’t, this might be my best suggestion), go to AA meetings, etc. Don’t take all the time and money you’ve earned back for granted and then wonder why life seems worse on this side of it.
Be patient. You wont always feel the way you do right now. There’s a certain amount of white knuckling it at first that has to happen as you transform from bitter to accepting, to at peace, to joyful and grateful. Habits and routines die hard but especially ones that include removing an addictive substance. It’s hard but, as Glennon Doyle Melton says, we can do hard things. Realize that you’ve been living with this thing for a long time. In a lot of ways, you’re probably still stuck developmentally where you were when you started using it. You might be awkward socially. You may be harboring some teenage angst, pissed off at the world. You may feel surprisingly uncomfortable in your own skin. Give that (likely) teenage girl inside some grace. Maybe listen to a little of her music and allow her some time to catch up with you chronologically. (Just a sidetone: Bush had some really great songs…)
Don’t be quick to act on every thought you have. Grandiose or even scary thoughts might come into your head but know that it’s ok and likely advisable not to act on them. There’s a good reason that AA suggests not dating during the first year of sobriety. This isn’t a great time for big decisions. The one you’ve made is enough for now. You have the rest of your life for other big changes.
Finally, know that you’re already changed. You’re already doing the work that will ultimately bring you to peace with this new life. You’re admitting that you have hope for something greater than what’s in your past and seeking help along the journey toward that. Whatever happens next, especially at those scary holidays that have long been associated with booze for you, you can’t go to back to girl you were. You can’t un-know even that small but significant nugget of wisdom that brought you here and got you to take a good, sober look at yourself in the mirror. Be proud of that. It’s huge, beautiful, rebellious, brave, and hard as fuck at first but, I promise you, it’s so worth it.