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February 1, 2020

5 Surprising Things I Learned in 100 Days of Sobriety.

My first one hundred days of sobriety have been nothing short of incredible.

I know this is not everyone’s experience, but thankfully it has been mine. Perhaps this is because I was truly ready to start living wholly and completely.

This is interesting because, just a few weeks earlier, I was telling a friend that I couldn’t imagine giving up alcohol for even a few days. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I was done. And I never want to go back.

I wanted to write about the biggest changes I have noticed in these first hundred days. So here they are, in no particular order:

1. AA is Not the Only Option

Whoa. Mind blown. I actually thought that there were only two options. You could either drink, or you had to go to AA meetings daily and tell everyone you were an alcoholic.

On the 27th of October, I woke up to some difficult news and found myself Googling “AA meetings near me.” I found a women’s meeting and went. It was a beautiful, supportive environment and I got a lot of phone numbers. I am so grateful that AA exists, because it provided a safe place at exactly the moment I needed it.

That said, it didn’t feel quite right for me. I am still sorting through why I felt this way, so I won’t go into it now.

I went to a few more meetings, got a sponsor, began to do the damn thing. Still, it didn’t feel like the right place for me. I knew I didn’t want to go back to drinking though, so I did some digging. I found Refuge Recovery, the Buddhist alternative to AA, which was a better fit for me. Every meeting begins with meditation, and no one says “I’m ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” It felt better to me, and although I don’t go regularly anymore, I think it is a wonderful option. And guess what? I am not an alcoholic. I am a woman who was struggling with fear/insecurity and used a substance that is advertised to everyone as the magical elixir cure-all.

Here’s what actually worked for me: learning from beautiful, strong, creative women who have been brave enough to put their stories out into the universe. The first thing I found was HOME Podcast with Laura McKowen (We Are the Luckiest) and Holly Whitaker (Quit Like a Woman). This, more than anything else, is what I needed.

Laura and Holly, who were at two different stages in their recovery and took different approaches to sobriety; talked through many issues with each other. They also interviewed intriguing and informative guests through the two years they produced the podcast.

I listened to all of the episodes multiple times, and they guided me through the first few weeks. Through HOME Podcast, I found Glennon Doyle (Love Warrior), Annie Grace (This Naked Mind), and Nikki Myers (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery). These five women are inspiring, informed, and brave as hell. They are my teachers, my heroes, and my guides through early recovery.

If you are in recovery, or have been feeling like alcohol isn’t serving you, I highly recommend them. If you are science-minded, Annie Grace is your girl. Politically charged? Holly Whitaker. Radical honesty? Laura McKowen. Compassion and spirituality? Glennon Doyle. Yoga and addiction recovery? Nikki Myers. These women are so much more than the words I paired with them, but I wanted to give you an idea and a place to start.

2. Goodbye, Boredom!

I used to be bored all of the time. And when I say “all of the time,” I am not exaggerating. No matter what I was doing, I was bored, especially in the last couple of years. I mean, I moved across the country and I was still bored. I’d go on a brand-new hike and I was bored. I’d hang out with friends and I was bored. This resulted in hours per night in front of the television with bottles boxes of wine, cringing with the monotony.

This is while I was working in a job I truly, at my core, loved. I had lost any inspiration and excitement, and instead remained bored. I still did my job well, and I will always be proud of it, but I wasn’t in drive. Instead, I was idling in neutral.

Now, it is the opposite. I am reading, writing, listening, breathing, moving, thinking, planning, and I am so. damn. excited. about every moment. Funny thing is, I don’t watch TV anymore. I’ve tried, and I can’t. Sometimes I’ll put something on in the background, but I can’t hold my attention on it, because it is boring. I think I just watched all the TV I could in my life, and I simply don’t have the space for it anymore. Just like I drank all the wine, I watched all the TV. And now I’m done. 

As for my career as an animal trainer, I have a brand-new sense of passion and excitement. I am once again a student, inspired and constantly learning from other teachers and my clients. I am learning new ways to understand and communicate with animals and their people. I am leading with love, joy, and a thirst for knowledge.

The coolest thing? Recovery is behavior modification. My drinking came from fear, stress, and anxiety. So do many problem behaviors with our animal companions. I have learned and continue to learn more about the process, which helps me be an even better animal trainer. I am so damn proud of my journey. 

3. Scarcity versus Abundance

This is a big one (pun intended), and it surprised the hell out of me. While I was drinking, I was chronically broke, constantly running out of money, time, and energy. The reason for this is fairly obvious. I was spending all of these things on alcohol, drugs, and TV, and I was always running out. But there is way more to the equation, and I have learned this through my own experience as well as reading and listening to many gurus and leaders who have been through it. 

I was living in constant scarcity, and my thoughts were always about financial strain and a lack of energy and motivation. So guess what? I stayed exactly where I was, because the universe arranged itself to keep me exactly where I was.

But, when my mindset shifted (for me, it was almost immediately when I stopped drinking) to a viewpoint of abundance, I had money in my bank account. I had figurative and literal gas in my tank. I had an unending energy supply. Whatever you want to call it—universal intelligence, faith, God, collective consciousness—it is undeniable. It will work for you or against you; it is up to you.

Here’s a painful and difficult thing for me to admit: before my sobriety (which I now see as the beginning of my truest life), I would frequently be sitting on Facebook, with a glass of wine in my hand, watching TV. Repeatedly, I would reach for another glass of wine. I would open a new tab on my computer and open Facebook, even though it is what I was already scrolling through. This is shameful and excruciating for me to admit to myself and anyone who is reading this. It may seem small, but it happened all the time. It happened because in living in a state of lack, I was constantly craving more. More of what, I had no idea, so I reached for the closest thing over and over (and over) again.

4. Hello, Self-Awareness!

At 34, I am just now starting to understand and appreciate who I am. Like, for the first time. Prior to my recovery, I’d had glimpses during moments in which I truly felt like myself but I didn’t understand it. I can actually remember three of these moments in vivid detail. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they are from a time before I really started drinking.

The first was when I was 14 during a hockey game. It wasn’t a special tournament game or anything, just a regular hockey game. I was sitting on the bench, waiting for the Zamboni to finish its circles on the ice. I breathed in the cold, sweat-scented air and felt an overwhelming sense of joy and knowledge that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I stepped onto the ice—seriously, if you’ve never skated on freshly Zambonied ice, you really need to find a rink—the feeling continued through warm-ups, right up until the puck dropped.

The second time was when I was 19, so I had definitely had some nights of drinking under my belt, but it hadn’t yet taken over. I was on a camping trip traveling around the coast of Lake Superior with my parents, and I was swimming in the ice-cold, crystal-clear freshwater. It lasted only a few minutes, but it was pure joy and the exact same feeling I’d had that day on the hockey rink.

The third was the moment I met Miles, my soul dog. He tumbled toward me through the grass, and I knew I was exactly where I belonged. I was at home in my heart—and that heart was exploding. Transcendence is the word I can now attach to the feeling.

Now, the moments I described are all joy-filled moments. The self-awareness I am talking about is not about being happy all the time, but it is about the awareness necessary to approach everything with the same joy (self-love, actually) in my soul that I felt in those moments.

Here is how it changed. While I was drinking throughout my 20s, but more so in the last few years when things started to come to a head, my self-awareness was low and getting lower. I was sad and bored, so I drank to try to feel better, removing the possibility for any sense of awareness. I woke up the next day exhausted, sad, and bored, so I drank to try and feel better, and on and on and on. I was not actively drinking all the time, but definitely every evening because I honestly couldn’t stand to sit with myself.

When I quit drinking, my world started to look brighter and I started to be able to see myself (the good parts, too!). Over time, I got to know my body and my mind again and I actually liked what I saw. I wanted to take care of it. I started a regular meditation and then a yoga practice (easy, because without alcohol in my system I was waking up at 4:30 a.m.).

And here’s the thing. Self-care and self-awareness are not selfish acts. Not in the negative sense of the word, at least. Through knowing and loving myself, I now have the space to give this energy out into the world. As I write this (thank you, universal intelligence), I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert say this about Tom Waits’ music: “Watching somebody do something so great made my life better. So if you can permit yourself to do the work that you’re being called to do, it’s ultimately a gift.”

5. Possibility is Everywhere, All of the Time

This goes along with the abundance idea, but it’s worth stating again because it is the biggest change in me in these first hundred days. I was talking with a friend over coffee and cupcakes after a lovely afternoon yoga class. I told her I was firing on all cylinders, and I jokingly said, “I’ll probably burn out soon.” The reality is that I don’t think I will. Possibility really is everywhere, and I don’t think I can unsee it. I am so excited about all of it. The more I explore each possibility, the more doors open up to me. Many of these possibilities are related to my career, but an equal amount are directly related to my growing self-awareness and self-care. 

The possibilities—I see them everywhere now—are helping me expand. I certainly couldn’t handle all of the things in my life while I was drinking, but that’s because I couldn’t handle anything well then. Now, the possibility of more feeds my soul. The more energy I put into these positive new experiences, the more I get back. It’s not about fear and scarcity anymore, only curiosity and love.

Some simpler, more tangible things I have found that I love in the past 100 days:

>> I love drinking a long gulp of cold water. Seriously. The cold water circling around in my mouth and then traveling down my body is one of the best feelings.

>> There are so many fantastic teas in the world, and I want to try all of them.

>> I love food! Turns out, it isn’t just a sponge for wine.

>> Early mornings are amazing. They are peaceful, and watching the sun rise is a gorgeous start to the day.

>> Breathing, when you actually breathe into your belly instead of shallow, anxious breaths, makes you feel so alive. (I mean, it literally oxygenates your blood, so…)

>> My sensitivity to energy levels in my environment is high. It is really cool.

~

“And then I reach the end of myself, and there’s something else there.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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