I was just sitting here, reflecting on all of the things I am thankful for today and I thought I would take the opportunity to share a few things about my life. I try to reflect on the things I am most grateful for on a daily basis. Some days are more difficult than others, and I find myself forcing my hand to write things down, but most days I am able to quickly list 5 things from my day. I also text these things to my sponsor for some added accountability, because one thing I truly believe is that a grateful heart will never relapse.
It’s holiday season, and it’s my 3rd year experiencing these holidays sober. In active addiction, I wasn’t a big fan of family gatherings. The word itself, “gathering”, brought about feelings of insecurity and fear. Family gatherings make it impossible to isolate, which was my favorite thing to do at the time. There are people everywhere, it’s noisy, people like to ask me about my life and they always seem to notice when I go missing.
So, let’s see – I couldn’t drink the amount I wanted to if I was surrounded by people, the noise made me anxious and I wasn’t proud of my life so I didn’t want to talk about it. I was constantly making up excuses to avoid these occasions.
When I was sick, I didn’t want to see anyone. Let me rephrase…I didn’t want people to notice how much I drank, which was way too much. I was tired of being on the receiving end of the concerned looks of friends and relatives who barely recognized me anymore.
At first, it was my choice not to go to these events. I would make up excuses; I had the flu, I have a cold, I didn’t sleep well last night, I have food poisoning. My poor husband knew it was all bullshit. I mean, seriously? How unlucky can one person be? But he was so tired of having to babysit me, that he would just go along with it. He was probably grateful that he didn’t have to worry about me embarrassing myself in public.
Eventually, my in-laws stopped inviting me to holidays altogether because if I did decide to grace them with my presence, I always managed to cause a scene, pass out on the couch or say/do something offensive. I can’t say that I blamed them. Sure, it hurt for a moment to be told I wasn’t even invited, but then I would just drowned the sorrows away and convince myself I was better off alone. The lack of invites only seemed to validate what I already believed about myself; I was unlovable and a bad person.
My own family was getting tired of my behavior. And to be honest, it completely blows my mind that they never shut me out of their lives too. They still invited me places, but I rarely ever went. I saw them periodically, but it was usually only when they came banging on my front door, unannounced, to make sure I was still alive or to cart me off to another detox. I had a habit of drinking so much that I forgot where I put my phone, or maybe I just lost the desire to respond to calls and texts entirely. Either way, I know my mother feared I would die in the end…so the lack of communication didn’t help her sleep at night. I have had to make amends for this over the past 3 years, and even though she has forgiven me, I will never truly know what that did to her…
Here’s the thing, I was so caught up in myself and my addiction, that I didn’t even care that I wasn’t invited! NOPE! I did NOT care! I remember thinking, “Fine! I didn’t want to go anyway! At least now I can drink without judgment. I won’t even have to hide my bottle!” And I would do exactly that. I would lay on the couch in my bathrobe, binge watching Forensic Files on Netflix, with a bottle of cheap vodka plopped down on the coffee table within arms length of me.
“Now THIS is the life!”I would tell myself. The only thing that would have made it better would be if I lived in that house all alone, I didn’t have to work or pay bills and I could just have booze delivered to my front door!
I thought I had truly found freedom. Nobody to judge me, or scold me or beg me to stop. Nobody to tell me I was killing myself, or that I had lost too much weight or remind me what a burden I was on my family. Complete isolation, and at that point it was the only way I ever felt comfortable.
It’s embarrassing to think about today. And sometimes, it makes me angry when I think about the way I acted; the way I treated people and the way I treated myself. I am pretty positive my cheeks are red sitting here writing about my behavior right now, but it’s the truth. That is who I was in active addiction. I hope I never see her again…
I thought I was happy…I really did! Until it became very clear that I wasn’t anymore, and by then I had dug myself a hole so deep I didn’t believe I would ever find my way out. I finally started to realize the drinking was actually killing me when my hair started falling out in clumps, I vomited blood on a few separate occasions and it only took one drink to feel intoxicated. I was dizzy and shaky when I wasn’t drinking, and my stomach was swollen. My liver was failing me and a doctor in the ER told me if I continued to drink, I would die at a very young age…and just like everything else in my life, I didn’t care…
I was 30 years old when that doctor told me that. Let that sink in for a moment…
I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was completely indifferent. That is insanity.
I realize that any person reading this who has not struggled with addiction will probably think I sound like a self-centered, spoiled little girl who lacked willpower and human decency, and maybe I was those things…but more than that, I was extremely sick. I had lost complete control of my life and believe me when I tell you that willpower is no match for addiction. My disease stole any willpower I ever had, just like it stole my self-respect, my sanity, my job and precious years with my daughter. I didn’t just give those things away, they were takenfrom me and I had to work damn hard to get them back.
Cunning, baffling and powerful…and I am so grateful I don’t live there anymore.
When I found recovery, I was forced to come to terms with all of the things I had missed throughout my active addiction. I was forced to admit that I had made a substance the most important thing in my life. It had become more important than my daughter, my husband and my family. It became more important than my job, my friends and my hobbies. It was more important than life’s most basic necessities like bathing, eating and drinking water. In the end, I lacked the ability to simply keep myself alive. Recognizing and accepting this part of my past nearly sucked all of the air from my lungs…but I didn’t drink over it!
I remember the first time I was invited back to a holiday with my husbands family. Just like in active addiction, I didn’t want to go. I was anxious, insecure and I still felt the sting of their decision to shut me out of their lives. And although they had every right to do so, it still hurt me…and I was embarrassed.
I was convinced my husband was the only one who actually wanted me there. The rest of them were just riding out the wave until I relapsed again. And guess what? It was OK that they didn’t believe I would stay sober, because I wasn’t even entirely sure I believed I would stay sober yet either. Regardless of how I felt, and what feelings I projected onto them, I stayed at that event. I felt uncomfortable being sober and social, but I didn’t drink over it!
It was then that I started to realize that recovery wasn’t just teaching me how to live without alcohol and prescription drugs, it was so much more than that. It was teaching how to live life on life’s terms. I was learning how to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. I was learning how to build meaningful relationships, and how to mend relationships I had broken. I was learning that I didn’t need alcohol to temporarily cure my insecurity. I was learning that I could actually walk through moments of fear, anxiety and even embarrassment and come out stronger on the other side.
I was learning to trust myself again. And as a result, my family learned to trust me again too.
Recovery has taught me how to be honest, what it means to have integrity and how/when to set healthy boundaries. I have learned to love myself again…I never thought that was possible in this lifetime.
I have learned how to be a good mother, and I have forgiven myself for making mistakes as a mother in the past. My daughter is the most precious gift that has ever been given to me. I no longer take that relationship for granted.
When I drank, it was to wash away every feeling I ever had that made me feel less than. It was to quiet the voices inside my head that told me I wasn’t good enough, I was unlovable and that I would never measure up. It was to make me feel pretty and confident.
Turns out, I don’t need alcohol to do those things for me. I have learned to do those things for myself. Recovery has taught me how to live a life I am proud of; one that I don’t need to escape from.
So, I am going to leave you with my daily gratitude list for the day. Since I have begun making these lists, I’ve noticed that I have become more and more grateful for life’s smallest gifts. I used to sit and write things down and think, “No, that’s silly. It’s not worthy of being on this list.” I was wrong! Feeling gratitude for the smallest of life’s gifts keeps us humble and happy.
- I am grateful I was able to wake my daughter up this morning.
- I am grateful my husband gave me a kiss before I left for work.
- I am grateful for the sunshine and the ability to witness it.
- I am grateful I am employable and able contribute to my family.
- I am grateful I have finished all of my Christmas shopping for the year! Whoot Whoot!!!
Today, I have an attitude of gratitude!
How about you? What are you grateful for?
Xoxo – Vanessa Day