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At 450 days sober, I am still recovering.
I imagine I always will be.
Recovery looks different now than it did in the beginning. The cravings are over. The painful process of rewiring of my brain is complete.
At first, it seemed impossible to get through the day without a drink. Now, I almost never even think about it.
The challenge of finding new ways to cope will always be a work in progress, but I have come a long way.
The drink was my response to every emotion. I have learned to feel my emotions instead of drinking them down. I am not suggesting this is an easy task—it’s not. I have some time and practice under my belt now, and it definitely gets easier. I know now that feelings pass. Every feeling I feel is not an urgent call to action. I don’t have to believe every cockeyed thought that crosses my mind.
I am strong enough in my recovery that I have started to challenge myself in other ways. I am eating healthier, training for a half marathon, and investing in my own business. My relationships with loved ones have healed.
The issue I am addressing now is being grateful for my experience and what addiction has taught me. I have been thinking about this for the past few months. I haven’t been able to get to a place of gratitude for my darkest days until now.
Let me explain.
I have loved every part of my life. I am not kidding.
As a child, I was in the sunny spotlight of my mom’s love. I was surrounded by people who loved and cared for me. I could not ask for more.
I was popular and happy, growing up in my small town. I know so many people did not love high school, but I did. I am one of those rare people who would go back and do it all again.
College was the best. I lived with my seven best friends, in a never-ending slumber party. I did my three favorite things every single day: reading, chasing boys, and dancing.
I loved being newly married and getting my first real paycheck. I loved playing house with my husband in our first apartment. We lived the high life in our new, big city. We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted. We wanted to travel, try new foods, go to sporting events, happy hours, and live music concerts. We ended every day by walking around a lake at sunset and holding hands.
I loved being a new mom. This was my one and only big dream come true. I loved my little curly-haired baby girls. I would dress them up and take their picture. I showed them off like a proud peacock wherever I could. I loved being their mom. I loved loving them. It was the sweetest, most awe-inspiring, profound, and meaningful time of my life. Lullabies, infant massages, and baby sing-alongs. I loved it all. I was born for it.
Then, the bad news came in three and hit me hard.
When my youngest baby went to kindergarten, I took a new job. I immediately hated it.
I got news that my friend and high school prom date fell off a roof and died on the Fourth of July.
I hate this story, one.
My dad missed his first family Christmas ever, because of back pain, and then died alone days later from a heart attack, at 60 years old.
I hate this story, two.
My best friend and neighbor was diagnosed with cancer and died two months later, leaving his wife, my other best friend, a widow with four kids.
I hate this story, three.
After my dad’s funeral, I slipped on the ice and broke my leg. I had to hobble through Chicago to a job I hated with a broken leg every day.
I drank and I drank and I drank.
I quit that stupid job and got another job I hated—and then another.
I kept drinking.
I was getting so bloated that I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I was scared. I was anxious. I was depressed. My family was getting sick of me. My friends were worried about me. I hated them all for it. Why did they think they were better than me? Why is all the attention on me?
Drink, drink, drink.
I hated this time of my life. It was so dark. I was so sad and confused. There are pieces I don’t even remember. I was trying so hard to drag myself through every day. I was going through the motions, feeling hopeless. I hated myself.
I was in a cycle. Waking up to a horrible, hangover, waiting to feel better. By early evening, I would start to drink and feel self-hatred (but also relief), and then (suddenly) by bedtime, I was drunker than I intended to be and angry as hell about it, going to bed mad to wake up mad again.
I did this cycle over and over. Rinse and repeat for five years. Five. Years.
Looking back, it can feel like five years wasted. How can I appreciate this awful time in my otherwise perfect life?
I tried some sober experiments in those five years. I felt better sober. I thought I was cured and went back to drinking. The goal was always to get back to drinking. Sober experiments were just proof that drinking wasn’t the problem. Ugh.
Overcoming addiction is the hardest thing I have ever done. Facing and overcoming your own demons is the bravest thing a person can do. You avoid it at every cost.
Trust me when I say, if there was a way around this, I would have found it. No one wants to have to go through the process of taking their demons head-on. No drinker wants anyone taking away their drink.
The pink cloud of recovery hasn’t left me yet. I wake up every single day so proud to be hangover-free. I know how it feels to wake up and feel bad every day. I love waking up to feeling anything but hungover.
Every sober second I get feels like a precious gift, because I know what it was like to feel underwater, going through motions, drowning in a fog of depression and anxiety. I remember when my top priority was survival, in the form of getting a drink.
Drinking was the all-consuming love of my life. Drinking poison was literally killing me. Slowly. From the inside out. I was on a slow suicide mission, and I didn’t give a sh*t. It breaks my heart to think back to it.
Now, I am so grateful for the little things, because they are the big things.
The sun. The moon. The grass. The trees. The weather. Everything.
Everything amazes me, because I am seeing it under “Friday Night Lights,” with clear eyes and a full heart.
When I was addicted, I felt hopeless. I was depressed and afraid my life would be like this forever. Self-loathing. Hiding. Self-destructive. Sad. Lonely.
Today, I look forward to everything. I even look forward to the things I used to complain about. I look forward to carpooling my kids, cooking dinner, taking out the garbage, getting the mail, shopping for gifts, weeding the flower beds, and going for a run.
I am so grateful for everything. My family, my home, our health, our neighbors, vacations, my plants, my dog, my closet full of clothes. I am grateful for fresh fruit in a basket on my counter.
Literally, almost everything brings me joy and gratitude.
But this is not the gratitude in recovery that I am talking about. I am not talking about being grateful for things and life in recovery. I am talking about actually being grateful for the disease of addiction.
I am talking about not trying to remove, ignore, dismiss, and hide the shameful fact that I am alcoholic, should you need to label me.
I am talking about the process of bringing that diseased, alcoholic part of me out of the dark and into the light, and then thanking it. Bowing to it. Namaste-ing to that ugly, dark, shameful, imperfect problem.
I am looking at this problem (that was supposed to be the solution) and opening my arms to it. I am saying:
Come here into the light, alcoholism. You don’t have to hide anymore. I don’t hate you. Let me hold you. You are part of me, and I love you. You are a gift—and you are mine.
Having alcohol disease is a part of me, and it is an instant belonging to a very special club. A club of other recovered addicts. A group of badass warriors who also have an allergy to drinking poison.
I belong to a group of kindred people with the kind of brain that says drink now. People with sensitive hearts. I belong to a group of the best kind of people. People who have stories and know pain.
Alcoholism took me on a ride through hell.
I found my way out. I never have to go back.
I am starting to feel grateful for the road I have traveled—including the dark and ugly parts through the flames of hell.
I am starting to see this as a gift.
“Recovery is a road of many surprising, unexpected gifts,” Rob Lowe told People. “Being in recovery has given me everything of value that I have in my life,” he said. “Integrity, honesty, fearlessness, faith, a relationship with God, and most of all gratitude. It’s given me a beautiful family and an amazing career. I’m under no illusions where I would be without the gift of alcoholism and the chance to recover from it.”
Eric Clapton said, “My identity shifted when I got into recovery,” he said. “That’s who I am now, and it actually gives me greater pleasure to have that identity than to be a musician or anything else, because it keeps me in a manageable size. When I’m down on the ground with my disease — which I’m happy to have — it gets me in tune. It gives me a spiritual anchor.”
You see, I am in good company with others who get it. It has taken me some time to embrace and thank the darkness, but I am here now.
Finally, I am at a place where I can truly honor my alcohol problem. It had to scream loud enough for me to notice and make a change. It forced me to pay attention, take control, and create the kind of life I want to live.
I would not be this alive, content, grateful, and at peace without it.
I would not be shining bright if it were not for the dark behind me.
You know what it takes for a star to shine? A lot of darkness.
Namaste. The alcoholic in me, sees, respects, and honors the alcoholic in you.