A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a local women’s group, the subject was “Overcoming Our Struggles.”
For three weeks prior to this event, I wrote and rewrote countless versions of what I would say. I have told my story before, always to a group of other recovering alcoholics; never to a room full of “normies.” I vacillated with being 100% transparent about my addiction, or toning it down.
Finally, the night prior to the event, as I started yet another vain attempt at writing my thoughts on paper, I realized I was using an old notebook as a sturdy surface to write upon. When I opened this tablet, the first few pages were filled with the words that follow, written at 6 months of sobriety.
It was exactly what I had been longing to find, to share with this group of local moms. It was an exercise I had done during my first of 12 steps for my AA sponsor: How I came to realize I was powerless over alcohol.
“How did alcohol, my addiction, render me powerless? When exactly did it take over?
It is odd, the irony. Initially the drink gave me pseudo power when I never felt I was enough. Power to gain popularity. Power to use my often intimidated voice. Power to boldly walk in front of my peers; not filled with fear. Alcohol truly served as my personal wolf in sheep’s clothing. This magic elixir, a cure all for my plentiful emotional ailments. My perceived social faux pas and devoted mask to face my biggest foe; self-imposed social scrutiny.
In time, through trial, error and immense pain, this myth of power (lending itself to miscalculated confidence) became my terrifying reality; spiritual chaos.
- I denied myself any amount of genuine success through self-sabotaging; jobs, relationships, and life in general.
- I was full of self-loathing and self-deception.
- My desire to drink overcame and replaced my ideals of love and personal well-being.
- Deprivation of self-care became apparent; directly affecting my self-esteem, my children, jobs, and love relationships.
- Preoccupation with my addiction misguided me through all of my life experiences; hobbies, social interactions, and employment all had to adjust to suit my needs to drink. I would only dine out where there was a diverse selection of beer and wine on the menu.
- Neglect of my children and their life experiences, due to my lack of honest engagement, consistency, and meaningful family moments.
- I became reckless, mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. Ignored my declining liver function and high blood pressure, and began to drive while intoxicated.
- Inconsistent thinking led to irrational decisions about my declining marriage and subsequent failed partnerships post-divorce.
I experienced the death of my life power when I ceased to enjoy my relationships; familial, spiritual, and romantic. When I started not giving a damn if I could recall and celebrate important milestones. When I simply would rather “sleep” under a blanket, behind closed blinds, all day rather than behave like a functioning adult.
The most profound loss of power happened during the last two years of my drinking. When I continued to indulge my addiction, realizing that I would likely die if I didn’t stop. I continued to validate my reasons for doing so. Each day, I would gaze at my reflection, through yellow watering eyes, longing to see someone I recognized. I would often pray for God to just take me, as I would have welcomed death over the lifeless existence I was suffering through. With each morning sunbeam, I realized the disappointment of having to endure another day with the bottle.
Finally, I relinquished all of my life power when I admitted to my own children that I didn’t want to live anymore. In a terrifying moment, they saved me. The two loves of my life, thrust into a situation only the worst nightmares can offer. I made my intentions clear as I held a bottle of pills in my hand.
This was the final surrender; my rock bottom.
The bittersweet dichotomy:
While I felt powerless, finally giving in with a suicidal admission, I gained a miniscule amount of power back with the exhausted abandonment of my addiction.”
I am grateful today to have survived that bottoming out over two years ago; life is amazing. Sobriety is certainly not perfect, without struggle or void of pain. Life is real. I feel everything, as a living human should. Now worthy of experiencing situations in a lucid state of mind and sitting through feelings I pushed into a corner for far too many years.
My reflection now seems more familiar; I appreciate the person looking back at me with hopeful eyes and frequent serenity in her heart.
My presentation went well. There were moments of old self-doubt, when I was positive I was not connecting with any of these new faces looking back at me. After the event, four women approached me with stories of their own; each with varying degrees of struggle, recovery, and hope.
Use your voice, keep your life power.
Grief: The Most Sobering Emotion of My Sobriety
By Kellie Ideson
My dad died. On December 20th, 2016 he passed away peacefully in the care of his wife, my sister, and my brother, three short weeks after I left him in a Las Vegas hospital with a hug and “I love you” as I made my way back to Montana.
That day, I knew he was going to leave us soon. I could see it in his eyes and felt that sinking feeling of grief, already settling into my stomach. This shift in perspective, as I boarded a plane, knowing in my heart that last embrace, truly was the final contact of our relationship here on earth.
I wrote down my thoughts, as follow, as soon as I buckled in and tuned out the flight attendant’s redundant emergency training dialog. These feelings raw and of the purest form, the true grit of sobriety; feeling everything. I experienced emotions on a level that is at once uncomfortable, yet so necessary to move through the rest of my life on these new and still obscure terms:
“His jovial eyes are nearing a void, twinkling only with the prospect of a nap or of going home.
Yet, he barely remembers home. For 49 years he has been my home. Without his memories of us, I feel like an orphan fumbling to find my way through the welcoming threshold of all that is pure and true.
I have faltered through the years, yet he remains my truth. Never judging me. Or maybe he has, but in a patient silence, allowing me growth through my errors.
Truth. Where is that now? Truth for him is in 5 minute increments, as that is as much capacity this wretched disease allows.
God loving and honest, he has lived within the golden rule. Today he swears, flips the finger, stomps his feet, his eyes often brim with tears, as he apologizes. For he knows, he is behaving out of character. Knows he is being stripped of his existence, and is still thankful after he completes a dreaded task. The goodness of this man lies deep within. Along with the knowledge that he makes mistakes, asks questions, and feels senseless.
I told him stories of my youth and the things we did. All that he has afforded us with his sensible and generous spirit. Lessons in all realms; emotional, physical, and spiritual.
On my knees today at the base of his wheelchair, I promised him he is going home in two hours as I board a flight to Montana and the life I have been unable to show him. I told him he is a good man. The best father a girl/woman can ask for, thanked him for all he’s done for me, how he raised me to be a good person, how he affected my life and how thankful I am and will always be. I asked him not to forget that…he said he would not forget it. In one last gesture, I showed him a photo of us from 6 years ago, his response, “You are beautiful, pretty, pretty, pretty…I love you honey.”
He, with one foot in this world we know, and a reluctant toe in the next.”
These thoughts of mine still seem random and scattered as my grief is in the mode of ebb and flow. There is a blessing here, enclosed in my sadness. I see the gift of my sobriety. It allowed me to be 100% present for those concluding moments with him. It gave me the capacity to devote a last week with him; this once would not have been a possibility. It gave my family the confidence to ask me to join them, to aid in the strategy to make his last days here as calm as possible. They WANTED me there. I WANTED to be there. And, I was THERE.
Not with my gaze in the bottom of a carafe, the obsession of my ensuing drink. The inertia of yet another hangover. The selfishness of wanting the symptoms of my own progressive disease to be nullified with another glass of something…anything. I was patient, present, and able to be…just be.
Be still with my dad, with sincerity in his presence. Retelling him the tales of my youth, now that my memories are uncluttered; real. Our time together, during his near final decline, are now some of my most beloved moments. I am sober; what a gift.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I had a mental list of reasons I would allow myself to again imbibe, no matter what. The top of that list; the death of a parent. I mean, really…who WOULDN’T expect me to drink over this? No one could possibly judge me for it. This was definitely a reason to find solace with that old friend of mine, shiraz or merlot. In fact, my dad and I shared many glasses of wine together, many cheers over beers. He certainly wouldn’t be ashamed of me…
Truth: I haven’t had a drink. I haven’t had a craving. I haven’t wanted to disappear from this despair.
I would know. I would be ashamed. I expect more of me.
And this is the gift of sobriety.
I was on the floor in my closet, inconsolable, two nights after he died. Crouched in the dark, crying like I never fathomed was possible.
I have raged at my family. Angry with God, not with them. I apologized.
I sat through Christmas morning, sad. Sober. Present.
Almost immediately, I found solace in putting the holiday décor in storage.
I am feeling all of this in its entirety. There is no heartbreak that compares. There is no way to prepare for this. I’m not handling grief flawlessly.
I am doing it.
I want to feel this now. I need to know how to grieve. And, grieve I am. Every sadness that has been sheepishly pushed in a corner for my entire life, is now reintroduced for me to handle. Sort it out. Talk it out. Pray. Meditate.
Much of my life as a child, adolescent, and young adult is now bubbling to the surface for me to evaluate, absorb, and let go.
It’s time. Thank God.
I miss my dad and wish I had many more years with him. If there are gifts to be had in the longing for someone and the natural and convoluted process of grief, it is that I have a new opportunity to do this thing called life.
“I wish there was a Tinder style app for finding a sponsor.” I exclaimed with frustration to my roommate last week.
“It’s genius! Each person would have their photos, a short recovery bio, their daily routine and a list of hobbies. You could swipe right (to say yes) on the ones that seem like a good fit, left (to opt out) on the ones that obviously aren’t. Then, after some texting, see it it’s worth meeting up to work on the steps!”
It felt silly to stack recovery up against the popular dating phone app. But I was getting desperate.
To my surprise, my roommate recoiled at the thought. “That’s too easy. Half the growth comes from overcoming that fear of asking someone in person. I’m sure it’s just the first of many awkward steps you have to go through in early recovery.”
Dammit. She was right.
And she wasn’t even in recovery. Just a wise soul capable of looking right through my BS.
The fact of the matter was, I was in need of a sponsor. I had been in need of a sponsor. However, I felt as though I was facing an impenetrable wall of both external and internal obstacles. No women in my AA group. An insanely busy schedule. My upcoming move to a new city.
But the most daunting obstacle was overcoming my sense of self-worth, or lack thereof.
I’ve always been one of those oh-I’m-sorry-to-bother-you types, often going out of my way to avoid being a nuisance to others. It’s a quality I generally mask behind ostensible independence. I act like I have it all under control without the need for anyone’s help when, really, I’m simply grappling with an overwhelming sense of unworthiness.
So, of course, the thought of having to approach someone I barely knew and ask them to help me navigate the darkest, ugliest, most shameful parts of my psyche left me feeling vulnerable. I didn’t feel ready to spiritually disrobe in front of a stranger. What would they think of my soul’s lumps, wrinkles, and cellulite?
Early recovery is like being a teenager again. We’re all just a couple of pimply-faced kids awkwardly wandering through the school halls of life. Asking someone to be our sponsor is basically the equivalent of asking someone to the prom. What if they say no? What if it gets weird? What I fart during the first meeting?
And then there’s figuring out how to go about asking.
Maybe I’ll do it like I’m asking someone to prom. How about I craft a sign that says “Will you be my sponsor” in rose petals , and hold it up in front of the seemingly wisest woman in the room. Too much?
At the end of the day, there’s really no right or wrong way to go about it. The lesson here is stepping outside of our comfort zone and learning how to ask for help.
It didn’t take long after I decided to stop stressing about finding a sponsor that one came to me. I decided I would do what was in my control, and leave the rest up to the universe.
Whenever I got selected to speak, I would casually mention I was looking for a sponsor. I would chat people up after meetings, even when I didn’t know what the ‘eff to say (usually a “Oh hey, I really like what you said about blah blah blah” makes a great ice-breaker.)
Anyways, I found a sponsor. Yep. It happened. After my last meeting, a lovely young woman floated over to me and casually said, “Hey! You really need a sponsor? I really need a sponsee!”
What? You really need a sponsee?
And then it dawned on me. When it comes to sponsors, we are just as much a part of their recovery as they are to ours. And all this time I was worried about being a burden to someone, when it turns out, that someone needed me just as much as I needed them. All my fears, my doubts, my weirdness evaporated at the realization.
It was match!
So when I think about my mind, I imagine myself paddling a canoe, with the water beneath me as my thoughts. Sometimes it’s a pleasant current underneath a warm sun. Other days, it’s a bit rainy, maybe a few waves, but manageable.
Today, on the other hand, I was getting tossed around tumultuous stormwaters. Lightening was striking, thunder was booming, and my paddles were flailing about in feeble attempt to steer my lurching vessel. It was exhausting.
And, in typical alcoholic fashion, my first instinct was to crawl into a hole. I yearned for isolation. I wanted to be far away from ANYBODY. You know, alone, with all those amazing, self-defeating thoughts of mine!
BUT that was simply not an option tonight! Because for my business I had to be present at one of the biggest community music events and be social. I was dreading it. UGH! MY LIFE, IN SHAMBLES, BECAUSE I HAVE TO BE BUBBLY! WOE IS ME.
So I went. And I saw that wine, and I thought…”Oh, I’ll just start again tomorrow. What’s another Day 1? I’ve already had a rough day and I’ve eaten tons of sugar and I want to feel social.. etc etc excuse excuse.” There I was, wanting to ENHANCE with booze.
But I let the thought come, and then I let it go. I was DETERMINED to PROVE to myself that, yes, I CAN have a BLAST sober.
And guess what? I totally did. It was awesome. Shared some great laughs with old friends. Came to a very profound realization that being present for and connecting with others really helps pull me away from myself (AH-HAH, so THAT’S how AA works!).
After it was all said and done, I drove home, set my stuff on the counter, poured myself a drink of water, went into my room, looked around, and that’s when I realized….
The water beneath my canoe was calm. I could practically see the full moon reflection shimmering on the water’s surface. Couple of frog chirps, even.
I had made it through the storm. I wasn’t sideways anymore. Everything is fine.
Sometimes we just have to trust that this, too, shall pass.
I have returned after a long absence! Things are proceeding along for me, and I’m over five months sober–157 days.
My neighborhood is surrounded by a major construction project, one of many throughout our fair city. I have determined this to be more than the usual “construction season” work typical for Minnesota in the warm months, in preparation to host the Superbowl in 2018. This is a huge time of transition for the city, and I only hope its effects are lastingly beneficial to the citizens.
What truly astounds me is that for only being a few blocks away, my home is still calm, peaceful, and amazingly quiet.
It’s easy to draw the connection, here. As I continue to reconstruct my life through this process of recovery, it can get loud. Obnoxious, sometimes. The inner turmoil of being under construction can be exhausting. Sometimes people close to me have to dodge and duck from mishandled rebar and concrete. I’m not a practiced worker, yet. Sometimes I knock out walls that are meant to be load-bearing with a flick of the wrist while helming a wrecking ball, when all I needed was a hammer. Really all I needed was a level (head).
But my head isn’t always level, and that’s where my Higher Power comes in, when I remember to ask for it. My HP is the site supervisor. It’s what props those walls back up, shuts things down when they overheat, and offers the right tools for the tasks at hand.
And when I’m really paying attention, my HP provides peace, tranquility, and serenity in the middle of a million noisy construction projects. My HP is what keeps the grass green and the trees blooming in the Edens at the eyes of the storms.
And my HP allows me to do a little damage sometimes, make mistakes and try things I’m not fully trained to do, because making those choices will ultimately teach me so much more. So I can grow like the gardens and the parks, live free and wild and always changing.
I hope I’m always a little bit under construction: constantly improving but never perfectly complete.
About the Author: Sarje Haynes is a grateful recovering alcoholic from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Learn more about her journey in sobriety at: https://nowbehere.org/about/
Once fragile, broken, and drunk I lacked the ability to function as a true adult. Just 23 months ago. After a lifetime of trying to fit, longing to be enough, striving to simply “be.”
Stunted in my emotional development at about the age of twelve. I followed the pack, shadowed those that were grander than me; this did not dissipate as I matured. Always making life decisions based on what I thought others thought I should think. How convoluted is that? Damn.
I dressed as media would suggest. I held myself to the self-imposed standards of my peers. I drank. I smoked. I snorted. Promiscuity followed the natural lifeline of indiscretion. Leaving me empty, powerless to set healthy boundaries.
Delight was shunned by shallow desires and temporary thrills. Once a hopeful young girl with dreams of being a librarian and author of her own story, I settled instead for playing the submissive and innocent character of a metaphorical fellow playwright’s tome.
Underlying desires of creativity, humor, and love gave way to the impermanent elucidation in a bottle.
The process was perpetual. At no time doing “the next right thing” but doing anything for right now. Depth was lost. Life was on standby.
Then I received the gift of desperation. After the loss of many adult years. Loss? Maybe not in the general definition.
I lost my words. More than words…my voice. Muted by my disease. Unable to set boundaries. Numb to speak of my limitations. I would yield to others with decisions. Big shit. Like jobs. Relocation. Life partners. All of it. None of it…was mine to claim. Life was simply a place to exist, instead of showing up.
Lately, I have been faced with choices. Many that I haven’t wanted to make. Most that needed to be made a priority, just as sobriety has taken precedence. Life, it is starting to happen. Just now, real time.
Relationships are paused, or ceased…for now. Ugly habits are disintegrating into the abyss where they belong. Shifting opportunities to suit my emotional stability. Whether I sit comfortably in my decisions or fidget through the process. I realize now, the only way to achieve growth, is to boldly walk through the wall of adversity.
Listen to your voice. Within the cadence, you will hear your truth. It speaks to you without random abandon. With powerful gentleness.
Get still. Be quiet. Listen. The boundaries, limitations, and choices are patiently waiting between the words.
Life is good. Real. Best played out within terms the universe suggests.
Be sober. Life happens when you are…I’m learning that one teetotal, miraculous day at a time.