Funny GIFs might be the best I can do here, because whenever I try to put into words how recovery feels, what I come up with sounds either far-out “woo woo” or downright dull. Most of the time, I can’t find words at all.
And come to think of it, it’s actually not too far off-base to think of recovery as one day being a (self-centered, hedonistic) newt, under the influence of a wicked spell, and three years later, being human.
A dirty, Dark Ages kind of human, but human nonetheless. 🤣
If I wanted to present my incredible post-alcoholic journey in simple, tangible, social media-friendly terms, in honor of National Recovery Month, I guess I could post a series of side-by-side photos: “Newt Life” vs “Got Better.”
But I’m not even sure this says “DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION” to anyone living outside my body. 🤔
I don’t want to tell you I’ve been touched by angels or that I’m some kind of walking miracle, even though it’s hard to explain logically how I emerged, more or less scot-free, from 20 years of escalating alcoholism and all the depraved behaviors that tend to go along with that AND found the strength and support I needed to pursue a different, service-oriented path. I mean, how I got the chance to just start over fresh and build back my life, without stops in jail, rehab or divorce court, when other addicts like me suffer far worse consequences of their choices, I will never fully understand. It’s certainly not because I’m special or I deserved it!
And if I wanted to describe how my life has changed — how “I got better” — since I quit drinking cold turkey back in the summer of 2019, I’d have to pore over the mundane moments and tiny details of daily existence. I’d talk about dishes done and sandwiches made for Hubby, phone calls answered and pleasantries exchanged with loved ones and strangers alike, deep grad school and couples therapy discussions had, maybe some soft breezes felt or even deep breaths taken. I wouldn’t have any glamorous or exciting stories. Like I said, the real changes of recovery aren’t anything you can really post/brag about on Instagram.
Recovery has to be experienced, in all its stillness, slowness and subtleness, all its discomfort, emptiness and longing, all its awe and wonder, all its connectedness — to the universe and to other people — and all its holy-shit “God shot” moments that have nothing to do with religious dogma and everything to do with spiritual freedom.
Recovery is being free from the insane quagmire of addiction and all the f^cked-up stuff that active addicts think it’s OK to do. It’s being able to look back, from a safe distance, with clarity and understanding — even compassion and forgiveness — and say, “I don’t have to live like that ever again!” It’s knowing you earned that freedom, by doing the “next right thing” over and over, one day at a time, and yet also knowing you could never have done it alone. It’s feeling, at random times in the course of ordinary days, immense pride and gratitude so strong that you think your heart might explode.
Whew! There. That’s as close as I can get to explaining it.
Since I’m officially out of words, I thought I’d share a few of the most impactful nuggets of recovery-related wisdom I’ve heard from friends/mentors/authors/podcasters over the past 38 months. Maybe some of it will resonate, or scratch you where you happen to itch.
File ALL of it under: Easier said than done…
“It works if you work it.” — I hate to spew 12-step propaganda at you, because I don’t like when it’s done to me…but you don’t have to be a die-hard “Friend of Bill” to grasp this universal truth: Recovery is work — maybe the hardest you’ll ever have to do. It’s not a passive process. Yes, it requires some letting go and having faith, but growth doesn’t just happen to you when you stop using a substance. You make it happen, little by little, each time you choose to act differently, instead of falling back into the same old comfortable rut.
In other words, recovery is not synonymous with sobriety. Giving up whatever substance you’re using is a tremendous feat, but it’s not a magic cure-all for a life in decline. Healing requires sustained effort, and real progress is built by facing and working through whatever the substance was helping you avoid/escape. “Happiness” is a fluid concept, not a final destination, and it’s something only you can define and cultivate within yourself; nothing and no one out there can ever give it to you. That process, I think, is “the work”: learning how to fill your own hole. So to speak. 😏
“Take what works and leave the rest.” — You will never catch me trying to push any particular “program” of recovery, because I believe in blazing your own trail and filling your own recovery arsenal with what feels useful and beneficial for you. Doing that often requires sifting through stuff you don’t like, or brushing off stuff that rubs you the wrong way, and finding your “diamonds in the rough.” There’s value in every community, every piece of literature, every principle and mantra. You get to decide what to add to that toolbox and what to disregard.
Even though I’ve moved on from attending AA meetings every week, I will forever applaud the 12-step fellowship for giving me a strong foundation and pushing me out of myself and toward a career in counseling. I will forever be grateful to AA, which was an invaluable resource for a newbie feeling scared, lost and alone. AA opened up a whole world I didn’t know existed and introduced me to “happy, joyous and free” people who had found a way out of hell. They gave me hope, not only that I could get out, too, but that getting out was worth the effort. ❤️
“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” — A surefire way to make your life miserable, whether or not you identify as an addict, is to expect anything — from other people, from events, from life in general. Having some kind of self-imposed standard in your head for how things “should” or “should not” go, or what is “the right way” for others to act/react/treat you is trying to set boundaries or make rules for something that is completely out of your control. It’s just setting yourself up to get upset. Being continually upset makes you angry and bitter and hinders your enjoyment of life. So, expecting others to behave the way you want them to, as my AA sponsor put it, only hurts you in the end. It can hurt you so badly that you want to drink/use over it…which brings me to my next nugget.
“There’s nothing so bad that [drug of choice] won’t make worse.” — 100%. Pure. Truth. That includes faltering relationships, mental illness, pandemics, loss of employment, parents having near-fatal heart attacks…I mean, “drowning sorrows” might actually work for some, but I look back on my past, and the common denominator in nearly every adverse event, and all my genuine regrets, was alcohol. Another thing I’ve heard said in AA is, “I had a problem. I drank over it. Then, I had two problems.” Amen!
Struggle is inevitable, particularly for those who are trying to beat an addiction — again, it’s hard f^cking work! — but not being drunk helps you see your struggles for what they really are: TEMPORARY.
Not being drunk helps you remember: You were once a newt. You got better. You might be having a muddy, Medieval-human moment right now, but you can take comfort in another of life’s most meaningful maxims:
“This, too, shall pass.”