I’ve been thinking about this celebratory blog post for weeks now. Wanting to say something profound. Wanting to write something quotable. Wanting to make a big splash. But you know what? That’s not me. And, if there’s anything I have learned in the last five years, it’s to stand in my truth, own my story, and always, always, always be myself.
You see, on February 3, 2015, I took my last sip of alcohol. The next day, I launched a blog. But, I didn’t own it. I pretended to be someone else, using a fake name. I was too afraid to be doing what I was doing as me. I couldn’t let anyone know I had been struggling. Not just struggling but battling addiction to a substance. Not just battling addiction but fighting physical dependence on alcohol. After a couple of month’s worth of stops and starts, I’d given it up on May 31, 2014, but drank again on Christmas Eve that year, moderated for two weeks, and then fell right back into my old drinking habits. When I decided to stop drinking five years ago today, I knew it had to be forever.
How could I own that bad thing, that secret, that brokenness, that flaw, that weakness, without being judged and shunned by those I wanted to keep close to me – my family, my friends, my clients – by those whose love and affection and trust and respect I’d worked so hard to earn? I was so scared.
Until I realized I would not succeed without the support of all the people in my many circles and I would be better served to know sooner rather than later if there were going to be folks who, for whatever reason, couldn’t accept or be around me – whether they decided they no longer trusted me (because only a liar can hide their drinking as well as I did or, as more than a couple of people have accused me over the years, only a liar would make up a story about being addicted to alcohol just for attention) or they didn’t like the mirror that invited them to catch a glimpse of their own drinking.
Once I accepted my truth and allowed myself to stand in it, I was free to learn other lessons, to discover hidden strengths, to move past fear and shame and embrace peace and possibility.
Today I celebrate five years of continuous sobriety. To those just starting on their journey to live alcohol free, that may seem like forever. It isn’t. Or like it’s impossible. It isn’t. I promise. It got here so darn fast. Some parts are a blur and others are etched in my memory forever. And, when I hear about people relapsing at 10, 15, 20 years, I remember how I have earned, and often fought for, every single one of the last 1,826 sober days. I don’t take a single moment for granted.
Because I’ve given myself permission to be me, I have learned five key things over the last five years — I’ve learned eleventy billion other things as well, but these are what’s been showing up the biggest for me lately:
It’s OK To Close Doors
For the longest time, I did everything I could to leave doors open. Just in case I wanted to walk back through them. In the event I didn’t like what I found on the other side. So many times, I compromised myself, my values, my self-worth, my pride just to leave room for the possibility I might want to return to something. No more. Now, I close doors. I don’t slam them. Just firmly close them, without anger or grudges, letting those on the other side know I am doing it. It’s a bit like setting boundaries. When something is no longer meant to be, when it’s no longer serving me, I know it’s alright to walk away and find something new or embrace the empty space until the right thing shows up to fill it. I trust my gut and remind myself not all doors are meant to stay open.
Recovery Does Not Equal Perfection
Healing isn’t about homing in on brokenness and flaws or imperfection and figuring out how to make it all disappear. For me, it’s been about embracing and making peace with my imperfections, exploring who I am at soul level, and discovering strengths I didn’t know I had that now I can harness to make changes that support the choices I want to make today. I can’t be the best version of myself – not the perfect version; there’s no such thing – I can’t be the best version of myself if I set unrealistic expectations. Just because I have managed to remove alcohol from my life doesn’t mean everything magically fell into place and I have it all figured out now. I am enough right where I am, no matter where that is today. But I have given myself the opportunity to learn all the lessons. It may sound cliché, but some of the truest words I know are these: It’s the journey, not the destination.
Self-Care Breeds Self-Love
Like so many women, I used to believe wine was self-care. I believed I didn’t deserve the good stuff that happened and I made myself numb to whatever was being celebrated as well as whatever was being mourned. I didn’t think I could relax and wash off the day without help from alcohol. I didn’t love myself enough to take care of myself when I was sad or angry or afraid or frustrated. I didn’t know how to support myself, so I tried to escape. But, living without alcohol gave me the opportunity to identify and utilize new self-care tools. And, as I learned to nurture vs. punish myself when unwanted feelings showed up, I found a love I never knew existed. My love for myself. Despite how I used to abuse myself, that love is so darn deep. I don’t ever want to stop feeling it.
Nothing Is Bigger Than Me
I’m nowhere near invincible but believe me when I say I have faced some of the biggest challenges of my life in the last five years and there’s no way I’d have navigated as successfully as I have if I’d still been drinking. From parenting to financial to health – all stuff I’d have tried to drown in booze – life, as life does whether we’re in recovery or not, has shown up with some pretty crappy stuff. Alcohol kept me small. It keeps us all small. Without it, I’ve become bigger than anything that’s shown up so far and I am confident that will never change.
I Stay In My Lane
Someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business. I stay in my lane and keep going the way that works for me. Chances are, the opinion I think someone else has about me isn’t even real; it’s something I’ve imagined they might be thinking. It’s me judging them for judgement I perceive they’re passing on me. Such a vicious cycle. Exhausting. It pulls me out of my zone, knocks me off task, and fills my head with stuff that doesn’t serve me. Not worth it. By being so open, I absolutely give others permission to judge me, to have an opinion about me. I get that. But, it’s OK for me to not worry about what they think … or what I think they might be thinking.
Finally, friends, find your community. The opposite of addiction is connection. And whether or not you identify as an addict or an alcoholic or a grey area drinker or a person with alcohol use disorder or some other label, choosing an alcohol-free life is not easy and we need the support of others pursuing similar journeys no matter what path they’re on or how they’re fueling their success. Support one another. And, remember, just for today. You’ve got this. I love you.