Saturday, November 21, 2015 is the 6th anniversary of my last mind-altering substance taken for recreational purposes. I have said that to myself at least 20 times in the last two days. To me, that is a remarkable feat. I never thought it would happen. When I relapsed after 10 years dry, but not in recovery, I thought it was just a matter of time before I would disappear from the Earth. I was a failure – again. The shame and pain was unbearable. How could I possibly let go of 10 years – thrown away like just some crinkled piece of paper stuck in my jeans pocket and run through the laundry, fragmented and no longer recognizable as anything of value.
Eight more years passed before I thought I might be sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was a failure at sobriety and I was a failure at living in a state of numbness. Eighteen years had disappeared from my life and I didn’t know where they went. I had walked through a chunk of my adult life and didn’t remember enough of it to make a decent story. I have a pretty decent drunkalogue until the mid 80’s and then life just became a blur of an alcoholic/addict with no substances still suffering from all the isms, and an alcoholic/addict using substances to feel nothing. Eighteen years with little joy – just my two wonderful kids. But many of those memories are fractured. It pains me to this day when my kids ask me how old they were when they reached a certain milestone or achieved something, and sometimes I have to say I don’t remember. Thankfully, I told them stories about themselves when they were much smaller, in the days when they would regale me for the same stories 10 times in a day. They remember those stories and they share them with me now and again. I still can’t bear to tell them that my memory lives vicariously through their renditions.
And yet, six years ago, I did finally decide enough. I didn’t want to be a zombie anymore. I had been numbing my way through the daily chores of a loveless marriage, pretending to be the perfect family and holding on to a job that was mentally stimulating but not really satisfying. Three months into a new dry period, I met the woman who would come to be my sponsor and is to this day. She asked me two questions – how desperate was I and was I willing to do whatever it took to find recovery? Was she kidding? Couldn’t she see? I had no idea what the answer to those questions really meant. I knew that I hadn’t had recovery before and if I didn’t find it, I would eventually be right back out there again. I had no choice. I had reached my bottom.
Still, not yet willing to completely surrender, I told her I was sure I had a problem with alcohol and pills but I wasn’t so sure I was actually an alcoholic and addict. I proceeded to explain that I had never had a DUI, never been to rehab, never lost a job, and maintained a nice home with 2 cars in the garage. I didn’t wake up in strange beds with strange people and I only drank heavily after everyone in the house went to bed. When she laughed at me, I felt a combination of incredulity and anger. Then she said, “Jackie, people who are not alcoholics do not feel compelled to explain why they are not alcoholics.” Reality. Like a wet towel being snapped in my face.
So, now it is six years later. The promises have come true in ways I never would have imagined. I try to live a recovery program every day. Some days are easier than others. Every day I start with measured breathing and mindfulness. I read a recovery prayer for contemplation. Then I get out of the bed and start my day. Joy has re-entered my life. Now, when I don’t remember something, it is because I am getting older, not because my brain is fried. I left a painful marriage and have learned to love AND like myself. I have room in my heart to love and like others. I sponsor others to the best of my ability and I say no when my plate is too full. I started back to school to get my Masters Degree in Addiction Counseling because I have figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I am planning to retire from the career that carried me through all the roughness to bring me to the place I am supposed to be. I have a great relationship with both of my kids. We have mutual respect and love. They know my past and watch my present. They want to be part of my future. What could be better than that? I am making new memories with my granddaughter and will with any other little ones that come along. I want to go live in a cottage in the woods and write poetry and sing at the top of my lungs – off key. And I am going to do that very thing.
Six years in recovery and I have my whole life ahead of me. I thank my Higher Power, my family and friends, the wonderful people I have met in recovery, especially my family from intherooms.com who walked me through the batshit time of years 2 and 3 and are still here to this day. All have taught me some very important lessons. First, I am worth it. Second, I get more when I give back. Third, forgiveness and acceptance feel damn good. And last but not least, love and music provide rapture. What’s not to love about life in recovery?