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18 months ago, when I first dipped my toe into the sea of the sobriety social media scene, I observed people writing things like, “I’ve been in recovery for 10 years”.
This used to puzzle me. When I first gave up alcohol 12.5 months ago (it was not the first time I’d given up, but it was the LAST time I’d have to), I looked at online sober buddies with 60 days or – reverent gasp! – 6 months sobriety under their belts, and thought, WOW. They have it all worked out now. If you can weather out 2 months or more of beating down intense cravings, surely you feel so amazing and refreshed and gorgeous and slim and sparkly and rightly PROUD of yourself, then surely you’ll never be tempted to drink again. And I’m sure I’ve read that physical addiction to booze is all detoxed away in the first 10 days, right?
So… why DO sober people say they are “in recovery”, even after the initial hanging-on-to-cliff-edge-of-sobriety-by-your-bleeding-fingernails part is over? Aren’t they just milking the whole “recovery” thing? Is it really necessary to string this thing out and label ourselves as having an ongoing condition? We have a disease FOREVER! God, how awful, I thought. Can I face shedding my party girl clothes and assuming this depressing identity?
Well, in truth, I DON’T relate to the label “alcoholic” (can we all agree that labeling people is generally unhelpful?). I can admit that I was ‘alcoholic’ when I was in active addiction. I accept that any addiction lies dormant and can be easily awoken by reusing the substance. The same goes for my dormant nicotine addiction and to some extent, eating disorder (there’s a reason I don’t partake in fasting even though I’ve read of its great health benefits).
But I digress- being in recovery, 12 months later? Yes, I am very much still in RECOVERY from alcohol abuse, I see that now. I’m 37, and I’ve relied on alcohol and other addictions to feel safe, and to numb and silence every wave of fear and sadness that ever entered my adult life, so, for circa 20 years. In a way it was linked to perfectionism- negative stuff was not allowed in here! This person has to be shiny and perfect and happy! Of course it didn’t work, and I oscillated wildly back and forth between thriving and unraveling through my adult years.
Finally removing the omnipresent anaesthetic from my life was perhaps the emotional equivalent of getting one’s hearing back after 20 years of deafness. Everything was too loud (literally, even my hearing became very sensitive), too close, too bright, too MUCH. I longed to turn down the volume on life for about 5 months. I worried I had irrevocably damaged my brain, and would live in sensory overload forever.
Mercifully, that phase ended, and these days I can report only an expected level of overwhelm, considering my 3 noisy children and job as a music teacher, although I do suspect that I’ve always suffered a slight sensory processing overload since childhood, and that alcohol was something I instinctively used to soothe this with.
But now I know – seriously- it takes more than a few sober months to fully recover from 20 years of denying the existence of sadness and fear.
The RECOVERY part is this: learning new, non-destructive ways of processing the inevitable difficulties that surface in our lives. From the regular, everyday challenges, like getting 3 children out of the door by 8.15am with all their shoes on and bags packed without screaming or potty training mishaps, through to devastating moments where the earth falls from beneath your feet- receiving terrible news about loved ones’ health, grieving lost relationships, or the unexpected loss of a job.
Riding life’s most violent storms, whilst ‘in recovery’: sober, naked in the rain and thunder with no shield of oblivion, is HARD. But the difference is this: in sobriety, you have hold of the sail and the ship’s wheel.
So…. you won’t sink.
And every storm ends.
Let’s just keep going. We WILL reach the shore.