That’s how long it has been since I took my last drink. It’s not a big anniversary. It’s not something I will celebrate with friends. I won’t be recognized at my meetings with key tags or coins. No one will high five me on the street or pat me on the back. But it’s important that I recognize my sobriety on a daily basis, and I have been forgetting to lately. In the beginning I used to celebrate every minute of my sobriety, 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 don’t plan to scream it from the rooftops, but I think it’s important that I at least acknowledge how far I have come, so I am dedicating a little time to it today. More importantly, I want others in recovery, or teetering on the edge of sobriety, 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 transformation 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.
1,154 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 3 plus 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 decision and the desire 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 committed to a psychiatric hospital, 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.
Although my husband was grateful that I was found alive, he was very angry too; and rightfully 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 the echo of her heels clicking 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 therapy session if I wanted to.
I wanted to shut the door in his face, but I didn’t. I don’t know what made me do it, but I went.
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.
I scoffed, “She’s clearly never met me! Seriously, music? Not for this anxiety!”
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 let’s just 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.
I heard the click of the button as she pressed 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 on 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 I 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 how to 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 I can trust myself. I learned how to be honest from other recovering women; 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 almost 8, 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 continue to work on myself. I continue to learn. I continue to grow.
I can sometimes still be blind, and I don’t always make the right decisions, but I have spent the past 1,154 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.