Three Years of Sobriety

IMG_4819.JPG

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting on my sofa, my hands curled up around my coffee mug. Shane and Nate have taken the puppy to the park, and I’ve laid out the bagels and fruit on the buffet, along with my china cups. There’s a bowl of fruit, lemon poppy seed muffins, and some grain-free granola bars.

“Google, play spa music.”

Who am I?

The house has been cleaned. The women are going to arrive in a few minutes. Later this Saturday I will exchange some luggage and get a hair treatment and curl up in bed to read. But right now, I sit in the middle of circles of chairs that I’ve arranged, the new furniture, and say a prayer of gratitude, blessing the women who will be here in a few minutes.  I get to host a 12 Step meeting of powerful, wise women in my home I cannot believe how lucky I am.

On this day, I’m three days away from being three years sober from alcohol.


The sobriety from benzos came a little bit later (oops, I didn’t actually know I’d become addicted to those after the doctor had prescribed them all those years to help me with my anxiety, but that’s another story). Three years ago I woke up in a hotel room, dropped to my knees, cried out for help and posted to the Internet. In retrospect, everything changed that day, though I mostly was a heaving, hungover mess, convinced it would never change. My life was over.


But really, it was just beginning.

***

“Why are you so resistant to yoga?” one of my therapists says. Yes, I have more than one. This therapist helps me with the root of trauma and addiction, filling in the blanks on knowledge I didn’t get when I first got sober. In this third year, I’ve been filling in the knowledge I didn’t get during year one and two. Frankly, I needed it. Halfway through the year, I hit a wall, and what had worked the first few years wasn’t seeming to cut it. I didn’t want to drink, but for me recovery is much more than that — it’s about how I’m present to my life and how well I live it.

So I started to see her, and she strongly encouraged me to get back to basics: to try out some new 12 Step meetings, to get a new sponsor, and to work the hell out of my program, or else risk being run over by my disease.

In this new phase of life, I’m learning that I cannot reason, think, or write everything away. It’s part of why talk therapy isn’t so much working for me anymore. I am going deeper in my healing, to a place where words fail. Words fail. Process that one for a person who has built her entire life and career on words.

They do.

“It’s not that I hate yoga. I’ve done it for years. I just don’t love it -- not the way I’m supposed to. Not the way my friends do, especially the ones in recovery.” The therapist keeps drilling -- what is it that I don’t love? Finally, after we go round and round, and I talk about how I do Pilates and it’s just the same for the mental benefits. Then I say it:

“I don’t love yoga because I have to be alone with the discomfort. I have to feel it.”

Ding ding ding.

Welcome to three years. The alcohol may be gone, but the discomfort of this human experience? Oh, it’s still here. Greetings.

***

Before I get emails about yoga being the best ever and I-just-haven’t-tried-the-right kind (I’ve done a lot), for the record my therapist says I don’t have to do yoga. I can do Vipassana meditation. Not the guided meditation, not the walking meditation, not the 678 kinds of meditations I’m all about. Vipassana. No words. Learning to be alone with the discomfort.

Which, coincidentally, is what prompted me to drink in the very first place. Huh.

So I take out the Insight Timer app and look up Vipassana and begin to meditate every day. Mostly I just fall asleep when I try it or think about how we’re trying to choose a school for my son and the dishes need to be unloaded and did I turn in my expense report? Rinse and repeat.

But hey, I’m sober and I’m trying and I *think* I’m a bit better than I was the day before, usually.

That counts as a victory.

***

The third year of sobriety has seen many changes in my life, some that make it look radically different than one year ago. I got a new job and worked very hard and learned a lot. I work with good people who are changing the Internet for the better, and I mostly do this from home. I pick Nate up from school nearly every day, and take video calls from wherever I’m traveling.


This year, this little project that I launched last year called Tell Better Stories picked up steam. People started writing to me thanking me for sharing my story and for helping give women the tools to stand up and reclaim their own voices in a world that centers and celebrates alcohol seemingly everywhere. (Soon I’ll be merging the work of Tell Better Stories with this site because a)I’m only one woman b)Tell Better Stories is me.)


This year, our family adopted a puppy and our first new car in many years. My son made it through sixth and soon seventh grade (shout out to all parents with middle schoolers — I stand in solidarity). We celebrated my mother’s 70th birthday with the entire family on a cruise and will celebrate my father’s 70th birthday with the entire family in the sun this week.

This year, I tried to practice radical self-care, starting with a week at Onsite Workshops, where I had the most intense therapeutic experience of my life and also learned how to live without electronics for a week. (Sadly I’ve unlearned a lot of that, but I am definitely more aware of how attached I am to the screens, and working to change some things about that.)

This year, except for travel, I didn’t miss a Pilates session. (Have I mentioned I’m still obsessed with Pilates?) and am getting stronger and deeper with each and every move. It’s so hard sometimes I shake, all the way down to my core. I am being changed from the inside out.

***

This year I learned about more people relapsing and dying. People who once sat next to in meetings. I’m continuously reminded of the cunning, baffling, and powerful nature of addiction, and believe more than ever that this is a 24-hour-at-time deal. I do not live in fear, but with healthy respect that it’s not willpower alone that’s stopping me from picking up that first drink. This year there were more stories about deaths from alcohol skyrocketing, especially among women.

And man, I don’t want to die. Not only that, I’m really here to live, and to give so freely what’s given to me.

That’s why I’m really here to open the door of my home and to invite women in to share their stories. I’m really here for the messages that I get from old friends and strangers, the ones that say, "I don’t want to feel this way anymore. But what next?” I’m really here to hold the bottle of sparkling water in my hand in rooms filled with wine glasses and to never have to mention a thing about it, unless you want to know. I’m really here to say I’ll tell you where I was so you can see how I’ve been transformed, so I can say that if you want this too you can have it and more.

I’m really here to challenge a world that tells women that they need to drink to have fun, “cope” with life, or blot out the pain of the enormous pressures that we are under. I’m really here to ask, “What’s underneath our culture’s obsession with alcohol?” But mostly I’m here to share what was poured into me that day three years and every subsequent day: experience, strength, and hope.

And also that you don’t need to be addicted to stop, or change, or believe that there could be something more waiting for you, beyond the bottle.

I’m really here for that, and to cheer you on, as I was and am cheered on. I’m here to listen, to witness, to encourage and to love. To help people wrestle with the hardest things.

There’s nothing deeper in my bones than the belief that every story can be re-written, and that the deepest, darkest wounds of our pasts can be radically transformed. They may even be used as guideposts to help others navigate the way, far beyond what we could ever imagine.

As for me, I’m doing this thing one day at a time. If I see you on the path, I hope to give you a hug. Please don’t ask me to do yoga ;)

xo,

Erin