It’s hard to forget my first couple of months in sobriety. It wasn’t the easiest time and everyday I was facing completely new territory. My emotions, attitudes and even behaviors were beginning to come out in a way I had never experienced. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had been experiencing these basic things in an unhealthy way throughout much of my life. My emotions were being numbed by my use of drugs and alcohol. Even before drugs and alcohol became a vital part of my life, I had effectively used other things to numb those same emotions. Those things I used to numb included food, relationships and even self-harm. What all of these things had in common was they allowed me to get outside of myself, even if it was just temporarily. The day after my last drink and use of drugs, it was like starting over. These are ten things I didn’t know the day I put down drugs and alcohol.
1. What the problem really was: This was a big one for me. I always thought I knew exactly what the problem was, and that was drugs and alcohol. Obviously! I was homeless, jobless and without my family because of drugs. I always thought that if I could just find a way to put down and keep down the drugs and alcohol I would somehow be all right. You can imagine the shock when I finally put down these substances and found myself worse off than ever. I was angry, resentful, depressed and a victim. I learned that the problem was actually the way I thought. The problem was the way I reacted to life and my perception. When I learned what the problem actually was, it opened the door to learning that there was a solution that consisted of changing those same thought patterns that caused my problem in the first place.
2. There is a solution!: Thank God for this one. So I learned what the problem was and that was imperative to my recovery. Now it was time to shift my focus onto the solution. I was introduced to some very positive people early on that I met through attending twelve step meetings. Even though I saw my problem consisting mainly of drug use, I ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous. This opened the door for me to hear what the solution was. I had a spiritual malady and the solution was a spiritual experience that I found through the twelve steps.
3. Feelings aren’t facts: This sounds like obvious , doesn’t it? I remember spending the first couple months of my sobriety angry. I felt comfortable in this emotion and didn’t make any real effort to overcome that. I felt at home when I was angry, after all I spent a lot of time there throughout my life. I sat in the corner of the rehab I was in and I wrote poetry (angry poetry) and thought about how awful my life was. I grabbed onto all of the negative feelings I was experiencing, dug my claw marks into them and made them my identity. I did not know that I wasn’t an angry, depressed, miserable person. I was a person who felt those things. That’s all.
4. It doesn’t matter why you get sober: I always heard things like you have to get sober because YOU want it for yourself and you can’t get sober for your kids or family. I learned in early sobriety that it does not matter who you get sober for, what matters is why you stay sober. I went into treatment because I was facing jail time. I was looking at a lot more jail time than I was comfortable with. I decided it would be easier to go into treatment. After a couple of months, my motives changed from sober for the courts to sober for me. This was a vital change and led me to start to really consider making changes in my life.
5. You have to change EVERYTHING!: Okay, so I actually had heard this phrase before, I just didn’t know what it really meant. What is everything? To me, in early recovery it meant people, places and things. And for a short time this was true. I completely stayed out of certain towns, I didn’t hang with my old friends, and I changed my phone number. It didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t just run from everything that made me want to use and drink for my whole life. Change everything took on an entirely new meaning when I was introduced to the book, “Alcoholics anonymous”(The Big Book.) This book taught me that changing everything meant that I needed to change everything about the way I think, react and behave. Ultimately, changing everything under this new meaning would allow me to live in a greater freedom than I ever imagined. After experiencing the true change through working the twelve steps everything else fell into place.
6. The desire & obsession to drink & use does go away: I will never forget my early days of sobriety, sitting in a program, obsessing over the next time I would put a mind-altering substance into my body. I thought the solution to my addiction was to manage how often my brain thought about drugs, and learn skills to distract my mind from those thoughts. If I could just learn my “triggers” and then avoid them I would somehow be okay. I learned that if I trusted in God (or really anything that was not me) and worked through the twelve steps, then that desire and obsession would go away. In the tenth step there is a promise that the desire to drink will cease. I can honestly and gratefully admit that this has happened for me.
7. It really is an allergy: I remember when I first heard this term in AA. I thought it was a neat little trick to avoid telling people that I was an alcoholic. You can imagine the surprise when I was reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and it actually talked about the allergy. Once I read it in a different context, I was a little confused and fought the idea of actually having an allergy. I pulled out a dictionary and looked up the definition of an allergy. To my surprise an allergy is defined as an abnormal reaction to a food, beverage, or substance. WHOA! I had that! When I put drugs or alcohol in my body I definitely had an abnormal reaction. As soon as I put a substance into my body, I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had no control.
8. Spirituality does not mean religion: Growing up I had been exposed to some Catholicism. We went through phases of going to church, but overall it was never something I felt too interested in. My dad always brought us to church, and my mom told us church was bad. With a mixed message like that I naturally formed my own opinions on the matter. I wasn’t an atheist, but I wasn’t lining up for communion either. When I walked into AA and heard God talked about so freely, I’ll admit it did freak me out a little. Early on in my recovery I was told over and over again that whatever God I chose to believe in was personal to me, and it didn’t matter what it was as long as it wasn’t me. In order to make my beginning all I had to do was be willing to believe that there was something out there bigger than me. That was easy enough for me.
9. The steps are in order for a reason: I remember when I decided to get a sponsor, I sat in that meeting rehearsing in my head how I was going to tell her that no matter what I was never going to make an amends to my mother. Thankfully, after the first time I sat down with her she didn’t require I do that between then and our next meeting. It was explained to me that while, yes, each step is important, they are in the order they are in for a reason! Making amends was step nine, and I was worrying about it before I ever learned about step one. Fortunately, step one set me up for step two, and step two set me up for step three, and so on. Each step is exactly where it should be for a reason. By the time I was ready to begin making my amends, I was ready to make amends to my mother. If I had started with step nine, my experience would have ended before I ever had a chance to recover.
10. Life will be fun again! – Phew. I always equated sobriety with boredom. How is it possible to go out and have fun without drinking or drugging? Ironically, the last couple years of my using really weren’t that fun, yet I still associated fun with drinking and drugging. I used to judge people who would fellowship after meetings, have games nights, or do anything social together. I didn’t know what it was like to have fun, which I only learned from participating in activities and events, that other alcoholics were a part of. I had SO much more fun sober than I ever had when I was in active addition. The best part was I remembered every minute of it. Once I learned how to be comfortable in my own sober skin, it allowed me to genuinely enjoy life. It gave me confidence to meet new people, try new things and truly have fun!
If I had been told these things in early recovery, I don’t know if my experience would have been any different. It’s fun to look back and reflect on how much I have learned and been able to grow into my own recovery experience.