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“Congratulations on Your Sobriety!”

Here’s a little secret about my first year in sobriety (meaning that I really committed to it).  During that first year, I worked really hard with my counselor, I did the deep work, addressed trauma issues and triggers, took care of my body and mind before I took care of anything or anyone else (that was a first) and it was the happiest year of my life, hands down.

I graciously accepted compliments about my glowing skin, weight loss, bright eyes and general “peaceful, easy” demeanor.  I was more than willing to gush about counting calories, new fitness classes, and the power of 8 hours of sleep.  I was not, however, so forthcoming with the deeper reason behind all of that: I quit drinking.

Yes, all of those other things are wonderful and contributed to my health, but the REAL reason I was able to do all of that was because I was doing the work to break my unhealthy dependence on the booze.

At first, I was like a new foal just learning to walk.  EVERYTHING felt like a first.  First wine-free weekend, first family vacation, first Christmas, first summer.  First fight with my partner, first bad week at work, first time to celebrate a promotion at work.  Of course I’d done all of these things before; I just hadn’t always done them without having a bottle by my side.  Everything felt like it was in Technicolor and often I felt uneasy and nervous.  So in the beginning, I kept my newfound sobriety to myself.  I’m really private person anyway, but this was even more sacred.  I didn’t want anyone’s opinions.  I didn’t want to share my goal and then fail miserably.  It was just something I wanted to keep close to me in order to protect it.  At least that’s what I told myself.  And in part, that was true.

But the real reason, as I’ve only recently discovered, is that I’m still not comfortable admitting that I had (have?) this problem.  I still carry around shame, disappointment in myself, and sadness for the person inside who dealt with this for so long all alone.  I fear being judged.  I fear being thought of as “less than”.  I fear being labeled or not trusted.  I fear so much that I actually tamped down on the joy that sobriety brought to me by keeping it to myself.

In addition, by NOT sharing it, it made my eventual relapse that much easier to backslide into.  After all, if no one knew I had committed to an alcohol-free life, then no one had to know I’d failed at it and I didn’t have to deal with the disappointment and shame.  Problem solved!  Except that it only made it worse.  I KNEW.  And if you’re anything like me, there is no one worse to face in the morning than yourself.  Gone was the sparkle in my eyes, replaced with darkness and disappointment.  And as soon as that shame started creeping in, it was a downhill snowball from there.  “I’ll never get this right.”  “Why do I even try?”  “I’m such a mess.” “I’m just broken.  I’ve always been broken.  I always will be broken.”  I mean, with that kind of inner monologue, no wonder I wanted to drown out my own thoughts.  

So, over time I had to admit to myself what I already knew: I had to get sober out loud.  I had to be honest with my counselor, my partner, my friends and everyone else.  Wait, everyone?  Ok, maybe not everyone because I do believe that not everyone deserves a seat at your dinner table if you know what I mean.  But as far as those that are close? My inner circle? They deserve the truth.  And oddly, they are the ones that I find hardest to tell.  Perhaps I fear that I’ve let them down?  Perhaps I’ve been everyone’s “rock” for too long and I’m scared that if they find out the truth they’ll reject me?  I don’t know.  But I can’t worry about that anymore.  We are only as sick as our secrets and my secrets have kept me sick for far too long.

Earlier this year, I made the commitment to start writing out loud and to start working on Girl, Put a Cork In It in earnest.  Not just in my journal where I write dreams and ideas.  In real life.  To hold myself accountable, I submitted my essay to be published in an anthology about addiction (more on that to come!).  Once I made that commitment, I knew there was no turning back.  My words would be out there.  Deep down I want them to be.  It’s just getting over that first hump of “coming out sober” that scares me. Like a lot.

Just this week, I had to reach out to some people to contribute to a pre-launch assignment.  In order to get their participation, I had to be honest about the recovery project I was working on.  I’ll be the first to admit that I took the easy route on a few: my former therapist, someone I know from recovery, and another person who is very open about her own sobriety.  Very little judgement risk there!  But then I reached out to someone else, someone who I have known since grade school and admire very much (risky).  We also have a lot of mutual friends (more risky). She’s also very vocal and opinionated, strong, and people listen to her (alarm bells).  Nonetheless, I wrote her a Facebook message and closed my eyes when I sent it.  Not sure what I thought would happen, but I do know that I cursed Mark Zuckerberg for not having an “immediate recall” button on those direct messages.  UGH.

I saw that she had read it and when she didn’t respond, I panicked.  “Omg, she’s judging me.  She’s staring at her phone in disgust.  She’s regretting every time she liked one of my pictures of funny posts.  She can’t believe she has known me my whole life and is only now realizing what I hot mess I really am.” 

By the time I had already decided I would have to delete and block her (as well as all of our 30 mutual friends), she had written back with the first sentence in big letters: “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SOBRIETY!”  She also went on to tell me about how addiction had affected someone close to her and that she was extremely supportive of what I was doing.  

It was the first time I felt oddly proud of my sobriety.  I think I even smiled a little.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified of the bigger “coming out”, but a few things became clear from that one sentence, “Congratulations on your sobriety!”: 

  1. First of all, it IS congratulations-worthy, damn it!  How could I ever have forgotten that?  
  2. Second, we get more of what we expect.  That being said, I need to be mindful and ready to receive love, support, and cheerleading, and not expecting to be rejected by judgement or a proverbial slap in the face. 
  3. Third, dare I say, I could get used to this feeling of self-pride.  Those of us who have been hiding behind the same of substance use forget how good it feels to actually BE proud of ourselves.  Let’s get re-used to that, shall we?

Thanks for reading along.  

Much love, 

Jacq

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