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May 28, 2020

Six Years Sober: The Sunny Side of Hell

So today I’m celebrating six years of continuous sobriety. This is the strangest anniversary I’ve had so far, and I really want to talk a little bit about emotional sobriety for a minute and the ridiculous pressure that people in recovery sometimes put on themselves to “act their sober age”.

This may be the longest period of time that I’ve been away from a drink or a drug, but this past year has been the most challenging year I’ve experienced so far, and I have felt “closer” to a drink than I ever have in previous years. I am not sharing this for congratulations or for attention. I was not planning to acknowledge my anniversary publicly at all this year actually, because I always feel kind of weird about doing that, but as I was journaling yesterday, I somehow ended up writing a novel about it, so here we are.

This is actually really embarrassing, and I acknowledge that I am completely blowing up my own spot on the internet to people that have not the first clue about my past, because I’ve been very careful to protect it, but I feel like this is also important. I’m attempting to be vulnerable right now, because Brené Brown says vulnerability is a good thing, and Brené Brown is Bae, but I’m also terrified of judgment. I really hope this doesn’t come off as preachy or egotistical, because that is not me at all. I’m putting myself on blast, because if there’s anyone out there right now who feels the way I felt this year, hopefully something I say might be helpful to them. Hopefully they don’t drink.

This year has been very hard to say the least. I work full time during the day and have class four nights a week some days until 10 PM. I’m tired, overworked, overwhelmed, broke (my own fault), and pretty depressed most of the time. I’m too busy to adequately take care of myself most days. I’m really struggling to consistently eat well, sleep enough, get to the gym, and be of service in any capacity. I’m trying, but I just keep falling short. I started smoking again and really want to stop, but you know how that goes. I’m also having a hard time being present in my relationships. I might be there physically, but emotionally I am miles away.

I wake up every day, and I feel trapped. Every time I come up for air, another random wave that I didn’t see coming knocks me out and fills my lungs with metaphorical water. Some days I literally feel like I can’t breathe. Like there is just this invisible weight coming down on my chest and crushing me, hour after hour, day after day. It’s insufferable at times. There are brief moments of reprieve, but generally, its been rough. I promise I’ll get to the bit about hope soon.

As the result of being too tired, too busy, or let’s be honest, too unwilling to work on myself during this period, I’ve watched my general emotional state slowly decline, and to be frank, I’ve thought about drinking a lot in the last few months. If someone randomly brings up alcohol in conversation lately, I actually start to disassociate right in front of them. They are still talking to me about whatever, but my mind is somewhere else trying to remember what alcohol feels like when it first hits your stomach.

I’ve felt extreme jealously toward coworkers of mine who go to happy hour after work or go home after a long day and drink a glass of wine on the couch or in the bath to unwind. I’ve scrolled through Instagram stories of friends drinking, paused them, and felt myself get really uncomfortable as I started to imagine what their martinis taste like since I’ve never tried one. I felt jealousy toward my family members who were all drinking White Claw and enjoying our beach house weekend last month while I was drinking La Croix. I often sit and wonder what it might be like to sit around a dinner table with my friends, eating good food, and drinking good wine. I got sober when I was 19, and I never got to experience what that’s like. I’ve never had a legal drink nor have I ever tasted one glass of “good” wine in my life. Franzia and Barefoot forever. Also, I never got to try a White Claw. GAH!

I’ve been finding myself feeling like I’m missing out on something recently, and this makes me really sad and REALLY angry. All. The. Time. Especially because I know, and 100% understand, that this is insane thinking, that I’m missing actual nothing, and that drinking will never improve my situation. I’ve done enough drinking for one lifetime. I know and have fully accepted that I can not drink socially, but this is just the reality of what addiction and recovery looks like for me sometimes. This is a common occurrence for people who get sober young. Although sobriety has given me a life second to none, there are still times when I find myself feeling like I missed out on certain things. This feeling often manifests itself as grief. The best way to explain it to someone who may not understand is that I go through periods where I mourn the loss of drugs and alcohol.

For the last week or so as my anniversary has gotten closer, I’ve been reflecting on the last year, and I’ve felt incredible shame and guilt about this. Although I’ve been physically sober for a while now, my brain, overwhelmed by these feelings of failure for “missing the mark” on self care and for experiencing this recurring obsession about alcohol again after so long, has told me that I don’t deserve to celebrate this milestone. I know this shit sounds wild, because I am definitely physically sober, but in my brain, it’s 100% real and very intense (if you know, you know). My fiancé, asked me if I wanted to do anything for my anniversary, and I basically shrugged and said no, because I just didn’t want to make a thing about it this year. It all felt wrong.

I’ve been talking about this to those who are close to me, and the more I share about it, the more I begin to realize that nothing about this experience is a failure. I’ve gone through this before, but never to the extent that I am right now, and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that I’m doing it wrong, that I’m doomed to relapse, or that there’s something wrong with me. It’s just part of the process right now. Things are challenging at the moment for sure, but things are also beautiful and transformative. I really don’t know shit at the end of the day, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that everything is temporary, and these feelings will pass.

Some people might think, “Well she lacks balance. If she doesn’t take a step back from some of this she’s bound to drink.” I disagree. I believe, if left unacknowledged, yes I may eventually turn to alcohol, but as things are currently, I am aware of my pitfalls and am taking calculated actions to improve them. I am analyzing my habits and making small changes where I can. I am reaching out, speaking up, and keeping my sobriety a priority as best I can at the moment with as much as I have going on. In the beginning, my life was in shambles, and all I had was my sobriety and the wreckage of my past. Today, sobriety has given me a life that is so rich and full, I can’t keep up sometimes, but that is not a bad thing. It’s actually incredible. It will just take some minor adjustments here and there when things start to feel overwhelming. I truly believe that I will never be given more than I can handle.

Nothing that I’m going through right now is bad, and not one single thing that I am doing at the moment would even be possible for the “me” of 6 years ago, so that’s pretty cool. Everything I’m facing right now is a gift and is the direct result of a life I’ve worked so hard for. A life I’ve been given a second chance to live. A life I truly almost lost.

Almost 9 years ago I dropped out of high school, because my addiction took over my life, and I couldn’t face failing. I moved to Florida to run away from the mess that I made back home. I was so ashamed and humiliated about who I was and everything I’d done. 8 years ago, at age 18, the doctor told me my liver enzymes were too high from all of the alcohol, xanax, and tylenol in the opioids I was taking. 7 years ago, I could not get through one day without putting a substance into my body. I couldn’t even take a shower sometimes, because I was so sick. 7 years ago, I could barely hold a job. Not even working for my dad slinging ice cream. He seriously fired me. 7 years ago, I quit community college, because I was more concerned about getting high in the parking lot during class than actually going to class. 6 years ago, I had already been to 3 rehabs and 5 detoxes within a 3 year period. 6 years ago, after getting arrested, I told a CO in jail to go fuck themselves and lost my license for a year. 6 years ago, I was sent to the ER in an ambulance on 2 separate occasions in less than 90 days. 6 years ago, I almost lost my life in an alley in St. Petersburg next to a dumpster (Narcan saves lives for real). So, 6 years ago, I made a decision.

I decided that drugs and alcohol would no longer be my master. No matter how hard life got, or how unbearable my feelings became, I made a decision not to to drink or use drugs no matter what, one day at a time, and I’ve made that decision for 2,190 days in a row now.

Something that I’ve learned these last few years is that recovery is not linear, and anyone who tells you that or who makes you feel like sobriety is nothing but peace and serenity all the time is a fucking douchebag. If you’re going through something difficult right now and feel like you’re falling short, it does not mean that you’re doing it wrong. Everything is always changing and shifting in my recovery. Emotional ups and downs are still normal for me, and I’ve had to learn how to become malleable and how to experience intense emotions without running away or letting them consume me they way they used to. Maybe your experience in sobriety is or will be different than mine, but my recovery so far has been littered with periods of really intense darkness followed by periods of pure happiness and peace. It’s always worth it though, and I’m grateful every day.

The only constant in my life is not drinking. Life did not suddenly become easy when I got sober like I thought it would. Maybe for a little while. My pink cloud probably lasted a year or two. Maybe even three. But with time I’ve learned that the world and the people in it do not owe me anything. The world doesn’t care that I’m sober. I still feel pain regularly. I still have bad days. I still randomly burst into tears in my car sometimes when a song comes on that brings up past trauma (shout out to Tom DeLonge), and I’m still afraid all the fucking time no matter how many fears I face along the way. What has changed is my ability to stand my ground and experience everything, good or bad, that life has to offer. I do not run.

If you’re a normal person, you’re probably confused about why I would day dream about something as innocuous as drinking wine around a table with my friends when I just revealed that I overdosed on a curb next to an actual dumpster 6 years ago, because that is one WIDE gap of delusion, but addiction is a subtle foe. My addiction may sound like me and think like me, but it’s something else entirely. It’s like a virus that waits patiently for the perfect opportunity to strike. It will plant an unrealistic image in my head when I’m tired, weak, and vulnerable, and like a virus, it disguises itself as part of me so that I’ll let it slip past my defenses undetected. The idea will take root and grow and meander through all of the dark corners of my mind like a vine, latching onto my insecurities and fears and refusing to let go. It tells me, “it will be different this time”. It tries to convince me that I was just a dumb kid with a lot of trauma and no coping skills, but now I’m a grown ass adult, I’ve been to therapy, and I deserve a “glass” of wine after a hard day dammit. I was ashamed to admit that I had been feeling this way to my friends, because well, “I shouldn’t still be having these thoughts with 6 years of sobriety.” Whatever that means.

Before getting sober I always had this misconception that someone with a year or more of sobriety had it all figured out. If you’re also sober you know what I mean. Most of us feel this way in the beginning. I thought they were spiritual giants, and I put them up on pedestals. I honestly thought they were better than me. I truly hope nobody ever feels that way about me. I literally have no idea what I’m doing half the time, but I still show up. The longer I’ve been sober, the less “sober time” actually matters in the grand scheme. There is no golden year or amount of time that we reach and the growth just stops. The journey doesn’t just end, and I’m grateful for that. The journey is what I signed up for. In the day is where life happens for me, and more and more, that’s where I try to stay.

Even though I’m sober, I can still be a piece of shit sometimes. I’m still mean for no reason (ask my fiancé, he’ll tell you). I experience rage, envy, and hatred. I’m SO selfish, impatient, impulsive, and I can’t make good financial decisions AT ALL (also ask my fiancé, he’ll confirm). I am still sometimes painfully awkward in social situations. I still have to make amends when I’m wrong, which happens to be a lot, and I am constantly beating myself up for not meeting my own unreasonable standards and expectations.

But I am also kind, generous, hardworking, loving, ambitious, adventurous, passionate, thoughtful, and honest. I own my shit today, and I take responsibility for my actions. Sobriety has given me the ability to take an honest appraisal of myself and to love myself for not just my great qualities, but also for all of my faults and flaws as well. With each year that passes, I learn more about what it truly means to love yourself and to love others. Sobriety has given me the opportunity to know myself- to know who I am at my core and not shy away or crawl out of my skin when things are hard to look at. Sobriety has given me every single good thing that I have in my life today. It has given me the ability to see others and to let them see me, to love unconditionally (in a healthy, independent way), and to experience the other side of true hopelessness.

But most of all, sobriety has given me a choice. I never had that before, and I refuse to give that up for the delusion of drinking one glass of wine on the couch while watching Ghost Adventures on a Thursday night, because #1, that’s dumb, and #2, the reality of that delusion is as follows:

Me, two bottles of gas station wine deep, wandering around in the dark screaming at ghosts to come fight me.

So, today I’ve made the choice not to drink once again, and I hope that with faith and the proper guidance, I will continue to make that choice every day going forward for the rest of my days.

And if you’re newly sober or wanting to get sober, please don’t let anything I’ve said deter you. I’ve only made one good choice in my life and that was getting sober. Every other good choice that followed was just the result. What I’m going through right now is not typical for me. I do not always think about drinking alcohol. For the first five years, I barely thought about it at all. This is just a season in my sobriety, and like any season, it will pass. So, I am leaving a lot of space for myself to grow into the woman I am meant to be at the end of this.

If any of my sober peeps feel this way right now, especially my young friends, it’s okay if your time in sobriety is not an accurate measure of what you feel your character or your life should reflect at this point. I know that we all “know” this to some extent, but a lot of us still feel shame when it happens to us, and we still try to hide it by putting on an act that everything is fine. “Sober time” seems to be what everyone is after, but time is not sobriety. Living sober is a daily act of radical honesty and ownership, and in my opinion, that is the true measure of a person’s character.

It’s okay to be honest when we feel like we’ve missed the mark. It’s okay to be vulnerable about this. It’s okay to let people see the truth about what recovery looks like sometimes. It’s okay if you’re not okay right now. We still deserve to celebrate.

Grateful for today. Love y’all.

Grab hold of yourself, I know what it’s like to get blown away. I know you’ve done your dirt and you’ve dug your graves, and it feels like it won’t be saved. I say grab hold yourself and face those days when you feel like it always rains. I’ve seen the sunny side of hell, that which I never thought I’d find for myself. – Grieves

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Kaley Conner  |  1 Followers