It recently occurred to me that I am the face of recovery for a lot of people. I get a lot of messages and emails from people who want to know about treatment options, meetings, therapy and so on. I respond to every one of them. A few weeks ago a friend asked me to connect with someone who is struggling with alcoholism. She specifically wanted this woman to read my blog. She could have sent it directly to her, but I think she thought it would mean more if I connected with her myself. So I did. I emailed her and slipped my blog into the email as a way of introducing myself. She responded and opened right up to me about her own struggle with alcohol. I had lunch with her this week. That’s a thing I do. If a person is struggling and I can be of service in my own small way, I am all about it. But, let me throw it out there that plenty of people reach out to me who have no desire to help themselves. I am learning the difference and learning how to have boundaries around that. Everything is a process, right? Not that I haven’t been that person in the contemplation stage of recovery, where I knew it was a thing I needed, but wasn’t ready to commit to it. I get it, but I don’t have time for it. On Friday I met this woman for lunch. I was sure it would be a bit awkward, but it wasn’t awkward at all. She told me she had read my blog and she asked me if I was afraid someone would find it on the internet and read it. WOW. That kind of blew my mind and gave me a full understanding of where she is in her journey. Hiding. I told her I hope lots of people find it and read it and connect with it. I told her I share so other people won’t feel so alone in their own struggle. I assured her that everyone has their own shit. Not everyone struggles with addictions, but everyone has their own shit that they are dealing with every day. Some people just hide it better than others. My heart hurt for this woman as I watched her hold back tears several times throughout the hour we spent together. She used the word ‘Shame” and it took me right back to early recovery. Shame is what kept me stuck for a long time. I could feel her loneliness. I could feel her grief. I could feel her unworthiness. All of these were so familiar to me. I wanted so bad to give her the freedom I have. The joy I have. The self love and self worth I have. But I couldn’t. I could just hold the space for her. I could listen to her. I could tell her all the things I needed to hear when I was where she is. I could answer her questions. I talked to her about treatment centers and outpatient facilities. I talked to her about meetings. I talked to her about meditation. I talked to her about finding things to bring joy into her life. I talked to her about the power of community. And over and over I just kept reminding her that she is worth these things. I tried to make sure that she really understood that. In addiction, those feelings of unworthiness are deadly. I know because I’ve been there. Fortunately, I had children that needed me to live. That made it possible for me to keep going before I understood that I was worthy all on my own. Figuring that out took work. That’s not something I can give to someone. I can give someone my time and attention. I can give my heart. I can tell them over and over that they are worthy with every positive affirmation in my being, but ultimately, they have to find it within themselves. And oh how I hope this woman finds it. I hope she finds her light and her strength. I hope she finds community to connect with so she can understand that she is not alone in this world. I hope she comes out of hiding and steps into a big world that is ready to help walk her through her process. When she expressed her concern about people finding my blog and reading it, I explained to her that for me, putting it all out there has been incredibly healing. No hiding. The years I spent hiding were the loneliest years of my life. Allowing myself to be seen in this world exactly as I am, not perfect, sometimes messy, awkward, insecure, and whatever else shows up on any given day has given me freedom. That freedom is there for everyone. It’s just a matter of stepping out of hiding and showing up in the world. However that looks.
I’m coming up on a sober anniversary next month. Anniversaries are always a weird and reflective time for “us sober people.” Last week I was all up in my journals from 2012. I got sober in 2013. 2012 was a difficult year for me as well as those close to me. It was 2012 when I landed in my “first” AA meeting. I mean, technically I had been to meetings when I was 21, but those don’t count because I was obviously in the wrong place. Right? People accidentally end up in AA every day don’t they? The morning of my first meeting I woke up hungover and still slightly drunk like every other day. I got my children ready for school. As I was preparing to drive them to the bus stop I couldn’t find my keys. Then I noticed my bourbon was missing. And my wallet. I hadn’t been anywhere the prior evening. These things weren’t missing. They had been hidden from me by my husband the night before to be sure that I didn’t go anywhere. And I was pissed. I took his truck to the bus stop, put my children on the bus and came back to the house. Since I couldn’t find my bourbon, the next logical step was to look for other alcohol in the house. And I found it. Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Those were a thing in my life. Technically, I drank Mike’s Harder Lemonade and because that still wasn’t hard enough, I added vodka to them. On this morning I couldn’t find any vodka. So I cracked open a Mike’s and called a friend. It was 7:00 am. I spent the next 10 minutes on the phone bitching to my friend about what a horrible man my husband was for hiding all of my things. I hated him. I hated him policing me and I hated him acting like he was my father. I told him this regularly. My friend interrupted my rant and asked why I was drinking at 7 in the morning. I didn’t understand then that I had no coping skills and drinking AT the problem was my solution. I was just drinking because I was pissed off. My friend told me I needed to go to an AA meeting. For some reason this excited me. Probably because I was just drunk enough that this sounded fun. It was certainly something different to do with my day. She said she would come pick me up and drive me to the meeting. She had already found one online and it started at 8 am. Perfect timing. I got off the phone and got ready for my new adventure. Here comes the good part…….My friend called back and said her car wasn’t in her driveway. She forgot that she had been drinking the night before and left her car parked elsewhere. She couldn’t take me to the meeting. At this point, I was ready and I was going to the meeting. I called another friend who seemed to think it was a great idea for me to go to an AA meeting. She came over immediately. I grabbed another Mike’s out of the fridge and jumped in her car. She drove me to the church and pointed out the blue AA sign that was hanging in the window. She was familiar with meetings and had been to many herself. Court ordered, I’m sure. I poured out what was left of my hard lemonade and walked inside. This new adventure was neither fun nor exciting, I promise. But, I am fairly certain I brought some excitement to the meeting. It was so weird. If you have never been drunk in an AA meeting at 8 am, you might not get it, but if you have, well, you know. There are no words. Keep in mind that I voluntarily showed up here. Nobody made me go. And it was in this moment that I chose to unleash every bit of anger I had inside of me. I was angry at my husband. I was angry at my life. I was angry that I was the one in the AA meeting when clearly, all of my friends should be there with me. The room was full of “old men drinking coffee” and one woman who I now know was new to recovery. She was probably terrified. I was asked to introduce myself but refused to do it the way they had done it. I would not call myself an alcoholic. I most likely told them “my name is Shannon and I am a mermaid.” That was one of my favorite ways to introduce myself in meetings there for a while. I let them know that the 12 steps were bullshit and they didn’t work. Obviously they didn’t work since I had been to a few meetings when I was 21 and here I was, not sober. I cussed and cried and called them names. They came at me with smiles and pamphlets. AA people are big on their pamphlets. They told me to “keep coming back.” They invited me to a speaker meeting that evening in the same church. They told me there would be cake and promised me that it was a fun time. Nothing about this sounded like fun to me anymore. However, I agreed to come back and told them I would bring a “fucking casserole to their sober party.” I still owe them a casserole. I called a different, more reliable friend to come and pick me up when the meeting was over. Now I was armed with pamphlets and a schedule of all the local meetings. We drove to my friend’s house (the one who couldn’t find her car), to tell her I had made it to AA. She was pleased until I snagged a beer out of her fridge. That part just confused her. I made a plan to hit the next meeting on the schedule. At noon. I am sure there were several beers in my life before I hit the noon meeting. My friend (the reliable one) actually went to the meeting with me. She was my designated driver for the day. Again, when the meeting started, I felt the need to unleash every bit of anger in my being. The AA people directed their comments to my friend. Probably because it was clear they were going to be lost on me. My memory of this second meeting is a bit more fuzzy than the first. Thanks alcohol. I promise I was an asshole. I like to think that was the last meeting I went to on that day, but I can’t be sure. I do know that I went back the next day. To a women’s meeting. I hated it and I hated them. I am sure I told them about it too. The women weren’t nearly as kind to me when I cussed and cried as the old men had been. I was not a fan of that meeting or those women and didn’t go back for a LONG time. But I did keep going to meetings with coffee drinking old men. Usually when I was drinking. Sometimes I would wait until afterwards. I went to meetings for a solid year without really trying to not drink. I kept thinking that eventually I would want to be sober, and when I did, I would just stop drinking. I honestly thought it would be THAT simple. Unfortunately, the not drinking part was the hardest part of getting sober. Who knew? I’ll tell you who knew…….every freaking sober person in the world. Every person who had been sharing at those meetings I had been going to. We all know how this story ends. I am sober today. I am sober because I took that ALL IN thing I do and applied it to my recovery. I went ALL IN with meetings sometimes going to two or three a day. I went ALL in with meditation, creating a local group to sit with and going to meditation retreats. I went ALL IN with yoga which is why I now own a yoga studio. These three things were the magic combination for me. It’s different for everyone but that magic combination is there for everyone. You just have to find what works for you. And now, here’s the kicker……the easiest part of being sober is the not drinking part. Seriously.