After I stopped drinking I felt like I had no value to add to the world. That I’d somehow given the best of myself during my drinking years and that the well was empty so to speak. Even though I was feeling physically better than I could ever remember, I didn’t believe in my depths that I had anything of significance to contribute to the world. This wasn’t just on a personal level, but on a professional level too. For the first time in many years I was getting up, dressing up and showing up, but I didn’t really feel like I was adding the world’s worth in any compelling way. So I was feeling great physically, but mentally and emotionally I was just going through the motions.
My job was paying the bills and keeping me busy, but it wasn’t giving me any real personal satisfaction. My loving and supportive friends and family were often a stark reminder of my addiction and a source of irritation. I felt like I was constantly searching for meaning in the early days of my sobriety, as if something was going to leap from the depths of my soul and this epiphany was going to propel me into the next phase of my life. For years I’d been thinking about studying. One month determined to further pursue my Economics Degree to a higher level, the next wooed by the idea of becoming a youth worker or a full-time volunteer teacher. But then this odd lethargy would set in and I’d continue to bumble along without any sense of meaning again. I suppose that I imagined life on the other side of sobriety to be crystal clear and unencumbered by the mental battles I’d been fighting (and losing) during my years of drinking. What I wasn’t honest with myself about was that I needed to unlearn all the destructive thought patterns and habits I had acquired while I was functioning at a sub-par level.
Us as addicts have got to make peace with the fact that once we take that first step into sobriety life is not suddenly going to miraculously change. There is no magic solution that will solve all the problems that we have been skillfully avoiding for many, many years. What is required is brutal personal stocktaking and a long hard look in the mirror. Of course when I started to look in the mirror all I saw were the startling physical changes that were taking place, but I failed to really look at what I saw and take a personal inventory. And it took me a very ling time to do that. This might be due to the fact that I was not attending any sort of meetings or reaching out in the early stages of my recovery, but had rather chosen to overcome my addiction through sheer willpower and determination. Traits which I didn’t know I had until I really looked for them and there they were! However, I am not advocating trying to do this alone. In fact, I am a huge believer in the power of finding someone to support you through your “rebirth”. I was just not in the position to do so because of my physical location at the time.
But I did come across a wonderful online support group about 10 months into my journey, when I was feeling very uncertain and fragile, because I wasn’t experiencing the life changes I was expecting to come raining down on me. “Women for Sobriety” is an incredible network of women who share their stories and experiences and the tenants are very empowering and uplifting. There are thirteen statements of acceptance, the first one of which is “I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.” I felt like this was a group of people who were speaking my language and understood my inability to work the 12 steps of AA. I loved the sense of community, the positive nature of the affirmations and I only wished that I was able to attend the meetings, which are ongoing throughout the world. They just weren’t going on where I was based in the Far East. And through being a member of the online group, I started to see the changes that I was hoping for.
What I began to realise was that these transformations weren’t simply going to happen, but that the road to recovery is a pretty steep uphill climb. It’s a journey through personal hell at times, because there is the absolute need for brutal introspection. You need to reassess your value system and ask yourself the really tough questions about what you are and where you are going. And there are times when I would (and still do) curl up on my bed for a couple of days because it can be incredibly tough to look that deep into yourself and decide who you are and what you want to be in life. In recent months I have started working with a life coach and there are times that I wish that this was an avenue I had explored a lot earlier in my sobriety. Because present-focused awareness is what coaching is about, looking for the answers, while someone stands by coaxing you to find your truth, but never for a minute giving you the answers on what or where it might be. Cajoling you when you don’t really want to look any deeper, but oh when you do, the answers that you find really are quite mind blowing. But you have to do the work!
I guess what I am really trying to say is that if you are in the early stages of your recovery, don’t expect it to be easy! Don’t expect to wake up after a few months and be living this wonderful life that has materialised because you are no longer drinking. What I do believe is that being present, aware and positive is essential to sustainable change, but that the shifts take time. And above all, don’t give up if you are not seeing the results you expect immediately. I have been sober for a little under six years, and frankly it is in the last year that the changes that I was searching for have begun to really come to fruition. I can recommend that you surround yourself with positive people and be grateful for the little blessings in your life. Think about what you need to say “yes” to stay sober as you take the next step and don’t ever be afraid to say “no” to anything that stands in the way of your recovery and sobriety.
So before you finish reading this, take a moment and think of what you are grateful for right now. Do this everyday until being grateful becomes the habit of gratitude. And until then get up, dress up and show up. I assure you that it’s well worth it in the long run!
Til next time