This week’s Sober Story comes from Harriet, a 66-year-old living in North Florida.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Harriet: August 2018 will be nineteen years, one day at a time without interruption.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Harriet: Toward the end of my drinking, I became paranoid and trusted no one. Not my family, friends not the people I worked for. I worked for the state in a paraprofessional position and no one trusted me, depended upon, nor respected me and I had trouble interacting with others. To say I hated everyone in my tough-as-nails persona was an understatement. Drinking was the reason I lived, I was a mental midget with my head buried in the sand. I became a liar, a cheat, and a thief, stealing money from my daughter and husband, lying about where I got the money or how much I had and what I would do with it. I would hide my booze and mix it in anything at all. I was a blackout drinker.
Mrs D: What was your final straw?
Harriet: The final straw was being overcome with paranoia. I believed my co-workers smelled booze oozing through my skin, and no matter how much I brushed my teeth my mouth felt lined with the smell and taste of booze. I felt as fragile as a plaster of Paris doll, void of patience, tolerance, and understanding, hating myself and the person I had become. I reasoned that everyone else was responsible for the mess that I was, and played the “If only….. game,” ad- nausium. Raging inside, I was terrified that if I burst, I would shatter into a hundred pieces and dissolve into nothingness. I wanted to die, and I tried to drink myself to death but reached the point where I couldn’t get “there.” I couldn’t touch that place alcohol used to take me, except to hate myself and pass out. Many times if I could find my own bottles, I’d wake up and drink again to go back to sleep.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family and friends when you started getting sober?
Harriet: My daughter and husband didn’t believe me. I invited my husband to come to an AA meeting, and he did once or twice but thought AA was more of a cult, some brain-washing organization designed to break up families. They were waiting for the day I would drink again, because that’s what I did.
Mrs D: But you didn’t?
Harriet: This time was different. I was done or I would die and I knew it. As I let go of incidental issues that used to send me into a tailspin and began engaging my family for help around the house the family retaliated, pulled away and my husband said, “I liked you better drunk.”
Mrs D: Jeepers. Have you ever relapsed?
Harriet: I spent 12 years “relapsing” prior to sobriety. During these years I swore off booze every other day. I tried just about everything they talk about in our literature: drinking only on weekends, swearing off booze for a lifetime; changing from liquor to near-beer, changing to drinking only at home, going to church, not going to church, hiding bottles in my home from family, and much more. I could not live with myself any longer and wanted to die. The day I walked into AA I never looked back. I knew if I did I would just end it because I could no longer live with the empty person I had become.
Mrs D: After you quit how long did it take for things to start to calm down for you?
Harriet: Oh, My God, I was such a Twisted Sister the first several years sober. I didn’t sleep well for the first six months. I was restless, irritable and discontented and leaned on my sponsor and my meetings out of pure desperation. My sponsor would say eat more chocolate but just don’t drink for the rest of the day. I had a hard time understanding why my family didn’t embrace my newfound sobriety like I did and experienced loneliness in a whole new way in my marriage. I remember though, so much more in sobriety than I do the previous thirty years of drinking. The first football game watching my daughter in the band was bitter-sweet. I remember sitting in the bleachers with my husband just letting the tears flow, crying sweetly, as if feeling them for the first time. What I know is that we mature and become stronger and more courageous each time we face life sober regardless of how the situation makes us feel.
I spent a long time “out there” experimenting, so I didn’t recover with walking-around sense as we hear it said, until well after the 2nd year of sobriety. Physically I was as strong as a bull with no residual side-effects other than sleeping and tremendous panic attacks. Emotionally and now nineteen years later, there still exists much I have no recollection of during the 30 years of my active addiction career.
Mrs D: Did you form a new peer group?
Harriet: We often find, as alkies sober up, that our new home-away-from-home, our meetings of AA, is really where we find solace, compassion and understanding for our disease. The rooms of AA continue to save my life as this is where I grew up. Because of our common disease, they like me were in the same boat together so socializing in AA was comfortable and easy, after a time. Socializing with work comrades was OK for the most part. I was the one that had acceptance issues; still, in the beginning, dealing with lots of self-loathing and self-deprecation that no one could possibly comprehend but me. Communicating, socializing with family members and others who knew about my newfound recovery was difficult for me. Either people didn’t trust my ability to maintain sobriety, or they did not understand why I couldn’t just act and BE normal. They didn’t have what I have and will never understand, and that’s OK. I’m the only one that needs to understand the broad and all-encompassing changes required of me to maintain long-term sobriety.
Mrs D: What sort of changes are they?
Harriet: For instance, while new in sobriety, I didn’t “go home” to my mothers’ home, family gatherings, weddings and the like where booze would flow like water in a tap. I learned new boundaries, how to say no and protect my sobriety for the baby that it was, precious and frail. I socialized more with like-minded alcoholics in my rooms of AA and “visited” family members, where emotional turmoil tends to be overwhelming in the beginning of our newfound sobriety. We call it going to any lengths.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Harriet: I learned that if I could stay sober for 24-hours, I could stay sober for another day. I learned I was so much better than I ever thought I was, and that I had a disease of perception. When I think, I drink, and I learned that I couldn’t stay sober my relying upon thinking and actions because these got me drunk. A power greater than myself is what I personally needed. It took me five years of “walking-around sense” as we say before my brain could interpret my world.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Harriet: The 12-Steps of AA come with many Ninth Step Promises we aspire to as we sober up. The first promise that came true for me was, “We will intuitively know what to do in situations that used to baffle us.” Were it not for this Promise, I would have continued with my head buried in the sand, coming out to eat or sleep. That was the first one. Today, I have become a person of integrity which, if you can imagine, is a change beyond measure. Today, all the 12th Step Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous have come true for me.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Harriet: The benefits are impossible to communicate there are so many. When I got sober, I knew I had to change everything one day at a time and I’m still a work in progress! The first page of my book, “Miracles of Recovery,” is a story of the same title. I talk about how the first miracle was finding the guts to walk into the rooms of AA. The second miracle was that I came back! Maybe the greatest miracle for this alcoholic is that people like me. No, let me say people respect me today. Today I have integrity and a love of self I never knew I could ever have. It is this integrity that helps to keep me sober one day at a time. The longer one stays sober, the more a person stands to lose because we’ve changed so much about ourselves. Imagine losing everything again, and wake up to that certainty that where I am is right back to where I started: pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization? A person everyone loved to hate, nasty, no patience, intolerable without integrity.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Harriet: Nothing. My life has unfolded; people and situations have all played a part of my life, the way it was supposed to be. I believe there are no coincidences, no “luck”, or chance. I believe everything is as it should be – good, bad, or indifferent – or it would BE different.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Harriet: If you are just beginning your sobriety hang tight. Don’t take yourself too seriously and just don’t drink for the rest of the day unless your butt falls off. We quit sometimes minutes, hours, but never more than one day at a time. This is a journey, not a destination. It is a process. The urge to drink will pass if we let it. We trust when we get up in the morning we’re still breathing. We learn to trust, too, that we are being guided by some “thing” bigger than us, so we trust that just for the next moments, we can do this and we do. And if we live through the night we begin again all over again, just for that day; and thank that some “thing” for keeping us sober another day.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Harriet: CALL someone in the program of AA. GET to a meeting! And then come back or better yet, stay there all day if the clubhouse will let you. Eat chocolate, hydrate yourself with lots of fresh water and juices and whatever you do – just don’t drink for the rest of the day. OH… I’ve said that already… You’ve already proved you can do this and if you’ve been sober for 24 hours, you can do it for another. Your life depends upon what you’ll do next. You’re better than you think you are, because you’ve proved it!
Harriet has a book coming out this year called Miracles of Recovery, a 366-day inspirational for those in and around recovery. Her website is here.