This week's Sober Story comes from Marilyn, a71-year-old living in Huntington Beach, California, USA.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Marilyn: I have been sober since Jan 4, 1988. That’s 32 years!!!
Mrs D: Fantastic! Can you remember back to how things were at the end of your drinking days?
Marilyn: There were several low moments leading to the realization that my life had become unmanageable. One of the worst times that I can recall had to do with my two kids. I was drunk and raging at my kids for being sloppy around the house. I went into my 4 year old daughter’s room and threw all of her toys and furniture off the second story of our two story townhouse. I can still remember the fear in her eyes as her things came crashing down. She fled into her daddy’s arms, crying, terrified. I knew then that this was not “normal” behavior for a mother. I was filled with shame. To deal with the shame, I reached for that bottle of booze and finished drinking it. A second “big” realisation occurred when my husband, who was also a practicing alcoholic, sought treatment for his drinking. I had been watching the way he drank for years while making snide remarks about what a useless human being he was. He had been a “low bottom” drunken cowboy whom I’d met in a country/western bar straight off his parents’ farm. He couldn’t keep a steady job while I had worked for years as a “functional alcoholic.” When he got sober, I suddenly found myself hiding MY bottles and sneaking off to the liquor store for my booze. There was something so strange about that bottle being MINE, not his. Finally, I got so uncomfortable drinking around him that I asked him to get me some pot. I said, “They didn’t tell you that you had to give up drugs, did they?” His answer was, “No, I don’t think so.” He got us the drugs and then he started drinking again. I was so glad he did. We were so enmeshed in each other’s lives that I couldn’t drink comfortably if he wasn’t drinking too. I was a probation officer who carried a badge. I got stopped dozens of times while drinking or drunk, but I managed to get out of the arrest when I showed them my badge. Today, I’d have been taken to jail—badge or not! There were multiple times over the years when I woke up drunk in a stranger’s bed. I can’t even recall their names or their faces. I knew then that there was something wrong, but I chose not to deal with it. I drove drunk with my son in the car and asked him when he was really young to pass me bottles of beer. He also witnessed inappropriate things like when I used drugs in front of him, and when he discovered a one-night-stand guy’s shoe in my living room. My son was old beyond his years and knew what it meant.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that pushed you into getting sober?
Marilyn: I participated in a human potential movement program called Lifespring. It was an intense growth seminar. They asked, right at the beginning of the week long seminar, if there was anyone who thought he/she might have a problem with alcohol. I found myself involuntarily stepping forward—and then breaking out in a sweat worrying that they might tell me I had to stop! In the course of the program, I did a “process” in which I visualized myself on a boat that was never going to return back to shore because I was a “dead” woman. That was the feedback I got from all the participants. I visualized my husband and children’s’ faces filled with grief. It was devastating. Right after the seminar ended, I made a decision to go see a substance abuse counselor.
Mrs D: And after that you stayed sober? How was it for you at first? What was most difficult?
Marilyn: I HATED being sober. Everything was so strange!!! It was hard, on the first day, just to last without drinking until my group therapy appointment that evening. I knew if I went home to my alcoholic husband, I’d never return to the counseling appointment. I hung out for about four hours at a coffee shop just so I wouldn’t go home and drink.
Mrs D: How did he react to the new sober you?
Marilyn: I told him that I could not stay with him if he didn’t quit drinking too. He lasted for two weeks, during which he was pissed off at me. In the beginning, he said, “Why should I quit when you won’t last a day?” I couldn’t argue the point because I didn’t believe I’d stay sober either.
Mrs D: What about other people around you? What was their reaction when you gave up drinking?
Marilyn: Almost all of my friends by then were other drunks. When I happily told them I’d figured out what was wrong with me and had quit drinking, they all stopped calling! No one wanted to be around a sober friend. It made them uncomfortable about their own drinking.
Mrs D: Did that make it hard for you to stay sober? Have you ever relapsed since you made that first decision?
Marilyn: No, I didn’t. From the very beginning, I found hope in the rooms of AA. I never wanted to drink again.
Mrs D: So you radically had to change your social life... how hard was that?
Marilyn: I wanted to have a social life when I got sober, so I agreed to go to every sober event to which I was invited. In the very beginning, I can remember going to my first restaurant as a sober woman. I became nervous just before the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink. I asked my friend, “What am I supposed to say?” She said, “Tell her you just want a Coke!” So simple, yet I was truly stumped about such a basic question! What surprised me was that I could have fun sober! In fact, I wasn’t even that ill at ease at parties and dances. I guess it was then I realised I didn’t really need booze to have a good time. In fact, the fun times drinking had passed long before I quit.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Marilyn: I’d say it was about a year or so. After getting my first year chip at AA, I realized internally that I was doing it—that I was really living a sober life as a sober woman. There were many times I needed help with specific problems that arose, but things started to smooth out at about a year sober.
Mrs D: What happened with your husband?
Marilyn: My family life got so much more stable. I got along so much better with my husband, whom I divorced when he started drinking in my first month sober. We remarried when he got sober too! His jobs stabilized, and we began having money for more than booze and drugs. We started to take fantastic vacations to other countries: Costa Rica, Nepal, Thailand, Botswana and Zambia. We joined sober groups on cruises to the Caribbean. While drinking, the “best” vacations we could expect were camping trips where all we did was drink and get wasted. In Nepal, we got to see a tiger in the jungle while we sat on the back of an elephant. In Africa, we saw lions track down and kill a buffalo for their dinner. These were exquisite experiences!
Mrs D: You discovered aspects of yourself that were surprising?
Marilyn: I was surprised to realize I could have fun and that I was FUNNY as a sober person. My life didn’t revolve around alcohol anymore. That alone was a huge surprise!
Mrs D: And you've achieved a huge milestone!
Marilyn: I just recently finished writing a memoir and got it published! It took me ten years, but I did it. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought I was good enough. I’ve gotten tons of praise about my book, which is about my crazy love affair with my “soulmate” Wayne, the man I married and divorced and remarried. I’m super proud of that book. It’s called “Starting at Goodbye”.
Mrs D: That is such a great achievement - congratulations! What are some other benefits that have emerged for you in recovery?
Marilyn: I’d say the main benefit is that I got myself back, the person I always wanted to be. I gained self-respect and now live a life of dignity and social consciousness. I don’t feel ashamed of my behavior, and I no longer despise myself. I’m grateful for what I have, and I want what I have. I’m no longer thinking that what I want is somewhere else. There’s an ease to my life, a peace and serenity. I get excited by watching the Monarch butterflies emerge from cocoons in my backyard. I thrill to see the plants I’ve grown in my garden. I care about my fellows and try to make a difference in the world. I volunteer at a veterans hospital and help out with veterans who are in wheelchairs or terminally ill. My life has meaning and is rich in the details. I could go on and on.
Mrs D: Would you go back and change anything about the past if you could?
Marilyn: No, probably not. Everything had to unfold just the way it did for me to be who I am. Sometimes I had to bang my head against that same brick wall a dozen times before I realized it hurt and stopped!
Mrs D: Do you have any advice for Living Sober members who are newly starting on this journey?
Marilyn: I would advise them that their lives will get different: sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. Yet, they need to trust in the process and not quit before the miracle. I would assure them that life without alcohol is a good life, that they can look themselves in the mirror and know that they are worthy and loveable. If I could stay sober through Wayne’s illness and subsequent death, they can stay sober through anything too. Sobriety is like a muscle: once you realize you have it, you have to keep it exercised to stay strong. There’s a huge power in surrendering to this disease and to asking for help. I was the strongest and most independent woman I know, yet I was beaten enough to ask for help. There are so many loving members in recovery who want to help you with your recovery. The fellowship in AA has brought me a huge family of people who are much like myself. They have carried me through the hardest days of my life and they have celebrated with me during the best ones. They have walked along with me on the journey of my life, cheering me on. You just need to reach out your hand, and you will find hundreds of hands ready to hold you. We are the lucky ones!