A Wretch Like Me

1,084 days…

That’s how long it has been since I took my last drink. It’s not a big anniversary, or something I even intend to celebrate. I won’t be celebrated at my meetings with key tags or coins, but in the beginning I used to celebrate every minute I was sober, and I got to thinking about that. Why don’t I do that anymore? Am I beginning to lose my gratitude?

That loss of gratitude can be fatal. I’ve seen it happen before.

And I am grateful! I am so incredibly grateful, even on the days when I need reminding.

I don’t plan to scream from the rooftops and announce how many days I have sober every morning, but I think it’s important that I at least acknowledge how far I have come from time to time. More importantly, I want other people to know that it is possible. I want the parents of addicts who are currently struggling to know that there is hope. I want the still struggling addict to catch a glimpse of this gratitude in their moment of clarity and want it for themselves too; to begin to believe that they deserve recovery just as much as I do.

1,084 days is a long time for this recovering woman. I mean LONG! And it took me much longer than that to finally get here. In the beginning, I couldn’t even string together 2 days let alone nearly 3 years.  And they were just ordinary days, one at a time, hour by hour, minute by minute. This grand transformation started with just a single hour and a decision to change.

Something so extraordinary came from someone who was less than ordinary at the time; someone society had stopped expecting much from anymore…me.

Yes, recovery is a beautiful thing.

I was 30 years old when I made the decision to change, and it was more of a necessity than a desire. Doctors told me if I continued to drink the way that I did, I would die at a very young age. They had told me this in the past, but this time was different because I had just come back from a relapse that had transformed me into a missing person for 5 days. And suddenly that realization that I would never, I mean NEVER, be able to drink alcohol like a normal person again finally set in.

I found myself lawfully committed to a psychiatric hospital for my own safety, and the same tape just kept playing on repeat in my head, over and over and over again; “How did I end up here? How did I let things get so bad?”

I don’t remember a lot about that hospital stay aside from the intense withdrawals, but I do remember the internal battle going on inside of me. I wanted nothing more than to just die; to just be done with all the pain. But at the same time, wanting to live so badly. For my daughter especially, but for the first time, myself too.

And although my husband was grateful that I was found alive, he was very angry too; and rightfully so. So I understood why he wasn’t planning any visits to the hospital this time. This time, he realized, I needed to do it for myself. He understood it would take time…and he gave me that. I am so grateful to him too.

I remember my mother coming to visit and bringing me new clothes. When she had to leave, I was left standing in silence over that pile of neatly folded clothing. I remember I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t quite sure how emotions felt anymore after numbing them for so many years. I just remember silently pleading with her as I heard her heels click all the way down that long corridor and the sound of those heavy doors closing behind her.

“Please don’t leave me here…”

A nurse walked in a few minutes later, and I was still standing stationary at the foot of my bed staring down at my clothes in silence. He told me that I could join the group if I wanted to. And I don’t know what made me do it, but I did.

When I walked into that room full of patients, the therapist was discussing how music therapy and meditation can help ease anxiety. I remember thinking how silly that was. “Not this anxiety! Seriously, music?!?”

She pulled out her laptop and said she was going to play some songs for the next 20 minutes and wanted us to close our eyes and when the music stopped playing we would discuss as a group what emotions we were feeling.

I remember thinking, “Look lady, I don’t need you to tell me what I am feeling. I don’t need music either. I feel like shit! Worthless! Hopeless! Listening to music isn’t going to change that. So play your little songs and let’s get this over with.”

I complied, begrudgingly, and closed my eyes. I thought the best thing that would possibly come from this exercise would be a nice cat nap, if nothing else. I heard her press play….

I honestly don’t remember what songs she played for us, except for one,  and with my head rested back against the wall behind me, and my knees pulled tight to my chest, I suddenly felt the warmth of tears as they began streaming down my face.

There were no instruments, just a single voice singing A Capella. It made every single, tiny hair on my body stand up.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound

 That saved a wretch like me.

 I once was lost but now I’m found.

 Was blind but now I see.

 ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

 And grace my fears relieved.

 How precious did that grace appear

 The hour I first believed”

 I didn’t know at the time what had made me cry. I didn’t know if it was sadness, or anger, fear or depression. I didn’t know if it was because I grew up catholic and suddenly I could feel the disappointed eyes of God thrust down upon me. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure I even believed in God anymore. If there was a God, this was surely my punishment. And didn’t know if the tears were  just because I felt so completely and utterly alone in that moment, like the world around me just ceased to exist and that lone voice was just too much for my shattered sense of self to comprehend.

It took me many months and a thousand more tears to finally realize what it was I felt that day…what had made me cry the way that I had; it was relief. As if I finally knew that it was over,  and I was both rejoicing and grieving that last drink all at once.

Hope, I’ve learned, is the most powerful feeling of all.

I still use music today to help me center myself, and yes, to ease my anxiety. I am grateful to that therapist for pulling that first honest, authentic emotion out of me after having been numb for so long.

Recovery is not something I did all on my own. When I first got sober, I barely knew how to take care of myself without first having a drink, let alone be a good mother to my daughter. I have been blessed with so many beautiful recovering women in my life; women just like me. And with their help, I have learned to love myself again. I have learned how to be present in my life every single moment; the good and the bad. I have learned how to be a good mother, a loving wife and a loyal friend. I can be trusted today, and that trust is something I learned from the women who taught me what it meant to have integrity.

My daughter was 4 years old when I took that last drink. Today, she is 7, and she has not had to live a single day without her mother since that decision to change was made. The decision that my life was more valuable than the bottle.

First there was the decision, then the action; and I understand now that the actions that continue to keep me sober are a lifelong commitment. Recovery does not get a day off.

I can sometimes still be blind, and I don’t always make the right decisions, but I have spent the past 1,084 days actually living a life that would surely have been lost had I not found recovery when I did.

And for that, I am grateful beyond measure.
~This story was originally published on AddictionUnscripted.com ~

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