June 8 will be my “Golden” Soberversary (8 years sober on the 8th, yippee!). I think about my sobriety alot. Conservatively, let’s say, I have thought about it 10x a day for the past 8 years – that’s at least 29,200 times I have mentally focused on any or all of these things:
wanting a drink; regretting having past drinks; avoiding thinking about drinking; considering some of the reasons why I ever thought drinking was good for me; feeling disgusted by my drinking; feeling rage over the reasons why I turned to drinking in the first place; overcome with gratitude for finding sobriety; loving myself immensely for having the courage and persistence to keep working at sobriety; awe over the endless supply of love and support from my family; resentment over the fact that I can’t be a “2 drinks only” gal ever; amazement and joy from rediscovering my childhood self, acquainting her with my adult self and finding ways to meld the 2 together; hating the alcohol industry for convincing women drinking is a solution to meeting the exhausting demands of a family; fantasizing about a time when I am old, nobody needs me and I will be free to drink; envisioning my future self, a successful writer and strong family matriarch who never thinks about drinking; and so on…..
Clearly, you are starting to get the idea of how completely consumed I can be with the power of alcohol.
I have learned, after years of reflection, that we enter into agreements with ourselves (consciously or without awareness) . These powerful agreements, when acted upon daily, shape our future selves and deeply influence the people we love. 10 years ago, I was stuck honoring several disastrous agreements I made with myself. My children helped me understand how harmful those beliefs were. Fortunately, things my children said to me during this time helped me see I was not being true to my authentic self.
One Friday evening my daughter’s Freshman year of high school, I had started drinking again after sustaining sobriety for 5 months. (I decided to break my agreement with myself that I was a healthier, happier person without alcohol). My daughter had a friend over and they were about to be picked up by the friend’s parent to go to a party. I was the unlucky parent who won the 10 pm pickup lottery for the girls that night. Before leaving, my daughter came to me and pointedly asked, “Mom, do you think you can stay sober long enough to pick us up tonight?” Today I am sickened by this memory. I feel shame, guilt and enormous indebtedness to this sweet 14-year-old who simply needed assurance that I had her back. I think my husband ended up picking the girls up that night and I don’t remember what I said to my daughter in response to this. Sadly, I don’t think my response was very maternal or soothing – I am guessing it was sharp and defensive, giving my daughter none of the reassurance she was hoping for in that moment. Terrible behavior! I desperately needed to make a new agreement about my parenting. It would be another 6 months before this happened. I wish I could change the timeline and erase the damage, but I can’t.
My son had his own way of showing me how absurd my agreements with myself had become. We had good friends visiting from out of town, and I had spent the afternoon drinking wine with my Mom friend while my son played with her sons. When we got back home, he observed my intoxicated state and began teasing me by becoming an exaggerated version of me in that moment. Grabbing an empty beer can and throwing it across the room he yelled in a deranged voice, “You kids know NOTHING about LIFE!” It was very funny in the moment and we all laughed. I have thought about the scene many times over the years and each time I am more grateful that my son had the courage to show me who I was. He was telling me how ridiculous my agreement with myself was. I was not the Mom who could spend the day drinking with a friend then come home and have a peaceful evening with intelligible conversation. I became someone he didn’t respect or trust. A lot of kids (he was 12 years old) would not have had the courage to parody their caregiver in front of them to get their attention. I thank God my son did and I wish he never had to do that.
Looking back, instead of actual parenting during that period of time, I was mainly managing chaos, and mistakenly believing I was doing a good job. Our family was forced to enter into an agreement with an impaired caregiver that what I was giving them could be enough, even though it fell considerably short of the mark. When I was drinking, I was definitely not emotionally available. And when I was nursing my daily hangovers, the best I was giving them was empty words of encouragement without much of an example of actual follow through. I had recently agreed to give up on my short term goal of going back to school to earn credits towards becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant. When the Anatomy 101 class started getting really difficult, I stopped substituting popsicles for my 5 o’ clock glass of wine and gave up. I explained to my daughter, who noticed I gave up pretty quickly on a goal I had so proudly announced, that the homework and life balance was “just too hard.” She looked directly at me and said flatly, “Mom, I’ve never seen you try.” She, of course, was telling me about my behavior. She had no idea how consumed my every thought was with how I could manage moving forward in my life without alcohol.
In the end, I never became an Occupational Therapy Assistant. Instead, I agreed with myself I would become the best version of parent I could be, and not worry about the rest. It’s now 8 years later. My daughter has graduated from college and is pursuing her passions in a large city. My son is in college and working hard to build his own dream of a contented life. And my husband will be retired in a matter of weeks. He doesn’t lie, and he credits my support as a source of strength that has helped him get to this enviable point in life. It appears as though the shift I made was enough for them.
In my early sobriety, I used to resist the advice my sponsor often gave me to “put yourself and your sobriety first and the rest will all work out.” I was consumed with the weight of the responsibilities of parenthood and couldn’t envision the possibility of both taking the best care of myself possible and meeting my children’s needs. “How can I take the time to work on myself when everything at home feels so all consuming and urgent?” I would ask. I learned that I was paying more attention to the agreements I made about how our family appeared socially than what was going on inside our home. When I learned to let go of my attachments to external appearances, I stopped caring about earning the validation of our social group. I got to work loving myself and my family and that’s what finally ended the cycle of feeling consumed by the wrong agreeements.
It took years of hard work and weathering regrets and disappointments to be able to establish and honor new and healthy agreements with myself. The most important shift was from the underlying agreement that nothing I did mattered or made a difference (my self esteem was so low in addiction). In recovery, the fundamental agreement has to be that everything you think, say and do matters every single day! I have forgiven myself for not being able to pass Anatomy 101 at the local community college. I have a fulfilling part-time career as a rehabilitation technician (fancy way of saying I support physical, occupational and speech therapists) working with children with disabilities. Not one day goes by that I am not gratefully able to draw upon the wisdom and strength from my journey in sobriety. It’s a unique gift I am able to joyfully give. I’m consumed in a deliberate way now.