sober lifestyle

Reinforcement

“If I want to stay married, I’ve got to stay quit.”

The words shot out of my mouth like a knee-jerk reaction. No idea where they came from. But that’s what I said to the new chiropractor I visited yesterday when the topic of alcohol came up.

I’m not exactly sure how my “NO” writ large on the intake form turned into a conversation — do all back specialists ask new patients if they smoke and drink? This one did! — but somehow, I learned that this guy had given up booze for three years and “hated it,” so he “picked up” again. He assured me he was “good now” with alcohol back in his life.

My quick comeback surprised me. Even after 2 1/2 years sober, I’m still quite green when it comes to discussions of drinking in social situations. I’m unpracticed in talking about alcohol anywhere outside the safe bubble of recovery meetings, family gatherings, therapy sessions or grad school classes.

And yet, what I said was perfect. Succinct, 100% accurate, but not overly revealing. I thought about the entire experience on the way home from the appointment — one of many to come as I try to take care of an out-of-whack SI joint that’s making my life miserable — and my mind wiggled down a rabbit hole.

What might seem to you like throwaway small talk, or an insignificant occurrence, made me contemplate the entire course of my recovery.

We addicts occasionally need moments of reckoning to “keep us honest” and on track. This was a chance to reinforce all the reasons I got sober and to remind myself: Whatever works for other people is wonderful for them — but you, dear girl, can never pick up another drink in your life!

And why would you want to?!?

How would it go for me, I wondered, if I called it quits on sobriety after three years? That’s only six months away. 🤔

The instant that thought passed through my brain, a crystal-clear mental picture took over. It was me, sitting on the couch with a tumbler full of tequila at 10AM on a Saturday morning. And in that one ordinary, unremarkable scene, I saw it all.

If I started drinking again, I would NEVER leave that spot. My life, and everything I value, would rot there. No question.

I mean, I would physically move through my weekday obligations. I’d join Google meets with my marketing team and write my content for work, and I would go to my grad school classes three times a week. I would throw clothes in the washing machine and shove plates in the dishwasher. I would run through the motions of responsible adulthood…at least for a little while. But mentally, I’d forever be stuck, sitting on my ass and drinking life away, because when I drink, drinking is all I care or think about, and nothing else matters.

This is how I knew in my soul that I was an alcoholic. Actually, I think it was my soul speaking when I stood up in my first AA meeting back in July of 2019, a nervous, emotional newcomer with no clue what I should, or would, say.

These words, like the ones I spit out at the chiropractor, just flowed from my mouth: My name is Jen, and I’m an alcoholic.

It felt right.

There has never been any shame, for me, in that statement. I embrace it with every fiber of my being, because how else can I learn to embrace life? I love the part of me that was/is addicted to alcohol because it’s driving me to actually live, grow, be useful and helpful and leave some kind of positive impact — however small — on the planet in the limited time I have here.

Without sobriety and the solid foundation I got from AA, with all its emphasis on service, I would not ever have gone back to school to become a counselor.

I would not ever have started working on my marriage and discovered the truly mind-blowing gift that I have in my husband — much less watched our relationship blossom as we both grew as people (“amazing” is not a strong enough word for what that is like! 🥲)

Believe me when I tell you, relapsing would be like throwing a grenade into a house you just built with your bare hands.

Or, you know how car commercials used to brag about “going from 0 to 60 in 2.2 seconds” or something like that? For me, relapse would be just like that, except in reverse, and instead of miles per hour, the unit of measure would be “fucks given.”

Maybe I’ve stopped making sense, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made my point, so let’s wrap this thing up.

The image of the girl on the couch with the tumbler in the morning sends a shiver down my screwed-up spine. My weekends, now, are for homework, housework and my hubby. These things deserve ALL the fucks I have to give, ALL this newly freed-up brain space that alcohol used to consume, and ALL the extra energy I’m stuck with now that my body is broken and I can’t work out the way I want to! 😩

My first visit to this particular chiropractor clearly happened for a reason. In the process of getting my joints adjusted, I had a chance to test, and reinforce, the strength of my backbone. 💪🏻

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