I can only share how it is I have gotten to stay sober a day at a time since I came in. I just don’t drink – no matter what! It’s just that simple. I can survive this life (and believe me I’ve survived a lot since getting sober) just so long as I never take that first drink. That’s not to say it’s always been easy. I confess, I have come close many times other than that night at the bar. However, if I take that first drink, all bets are off. I have no control over what happens next. Once alcohol enters my bloodstream I’m sunk. I have the disease of alcoholism. It’s a very real thing. I suffer from a physical allergy and spiritual malady. It cannot be cured, only arrested. But, in order to stay in remission, I have to take the medicine. I have to live a life of recovery with every breath I breathe. For me, it’s the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s living the principles of the program and surrounding myself with like-minded people. That means you will find me at a meeting on any given day somewhere in the valley, hanging around others in recovery, or writing about recovery in hopes of helping another. Recovery is my life. If not, then I will surely die an alcoholic death. That still doesn’t look like any fun. The countless faces I see return, prove that to me time and time again. Not drinking is my only option.
When I was first sober, I couldn’t conceive having a year clean time much less the amount of time I have now. That was just not a possibility I considered. People who had time weren’t real to me. I didn’t know how to stay sober one day, one hour no less. It was painful and brutal. Looking back, getting sober was the easy part. I had put down the drink many times. I have put it down for the night, for a day, sometimes a week, and even as long as ten months. Getting sober wasn’t the hard part; I’d done it plenty of times. It was staying sober that was the hard part. I get it.
I remember the old-timers in meetings, saying things like, “The longer you are away from the door, the easier it is to forget.” That never made any sense to me. Now it does – very much so. You see, when we get some time under our belts from not drinking, we see miracles start to happen. Our lives change. That’s when we are vulnerable. That’s when we can start slipping back into our disease.
We alcoholics suffer from back problems. We get our families and relationships back, education and jobs back, money and security back, freedom and dignity back. We even get our smile and laughter back. In short, we get our life back. That’s when the back problems set in. We are so focused on the life that recovery gave us, that we forget the life of recovery. We forget where we come from. The pain of even one moment of our last days disappears and is replaced with life, the thing people do every day. We forget and in forgetting we are at risk of drinking again. Vigilance is crucial to remaining relapse-free. The old-timers said things like, “Your disease is outside that door doing pushups, waiting for you patiently.” I admit, I still look at the door in a meeting when they say that and shudder at that thought.
When you have time under your belt it gets more dangerous. The disease of alcoholism is tricky. The Big Book says it perfectly when it says “it’s cunning and baffling.” When you’ve been sober awhile, you don’t think you need to work such a rigid recovery program. Why should you? You haven’t had a drink in (insert number of days, months, or years here) so you are ok. That’s a perfectly normal thought for an alcoholic. We forget. Pain keeps us real. Pain keeps us in the work. Therefore, the lack of pain can take us out too if we aren’t paying attention. The longer the pain is gone, the easier it is to pick up that first drink.
Our brain (the disease) lies to us, tells us things like: “You have been sober (X) length of time, you can drink one drink now. If you haven’t had a drink for this long, you can control it this time. Just maybe you aren’t an alcoholic. If you were, you’d be drunk still.” It feeds you all kinds of insane ideas. What’s crazier is that you question it. That’s where the chink in our armour is most glaring - our thoughts. So those that make it back from the depths of hell are invaluable to a person like me. They are invaluable to everyone in recovery.
CAUTION: Relapse ahead
I’m so very grateful for the people who are brave enough to come back into the rooms, sit down, and share their story with me. They are the most important people in the room, as far as I’m concerned. I must confess, that every time someone announces that they are a newcomer fresh back from a relapse, my ears perk up. They have my full attention. I sit up and lean in close, hoping to glean something new from them that might save my life.
Often times, I don’t even realise it until after their share, that the reason they are so important is because I was actually on my way back out just as they came back in. That sobering realisation frightens the hell out of me when I see that in myself, but it’s so very true. Usually, before their share is over, I am shaking and in tears, remembering the horrid first few moments I drew a sober breath. I remember vividly when I first sat down in that chair, head hung low, no make-up on, face swollen from crying, defeated and broken, the obsession to drink twisting my brain into painful knots. I was completely anxiety ridden, and wanting out of my own skin. I remember sitting on my hands just so I wouldn’t jump up and run away, watching the second hand on the clock inch around it at snail-like speed. And I remember, like it was yesterday. It’s then that in quiet reverence I bow my head, thank God silently for bringing them back safe, and then thank him for bringing them back, to save me.
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.
Tami Harper Winn is currently the featured blogger/contributing editor at Drunkless.com. She also guest blogs for several recovery programs. She has been asked to speak publicly and share her story in front of hundreds and has now added podcasting to her ever growing resume. With over six years of sobriety, she openly breaks her anonymity on a daily basis to help others who suffer from the seemingly hopeless disease of alcoholism and addiction. Tami’s day job currently is as a “superhero.” By night she spends her time enjoying her final year with her already published teenage daughter, and ironing her cape as she writes and markets her Sobriety Secrets. Tami was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she received her Masters in Partying. She completed her Doctorate in Alcoholism on 05/20/2010 by getting sober in Boise, Idaho where she now resides. She is the proud mother of three, Mema to five and soon-to-be empty nester/world traveler. Tami works an imperfect 12-Step Recovery Program with the help of a very huge Higher Power. She is also a graduate from Boise State University with a BS in General Studies and emphasis in Criminal Justice. She is currently writing her first book. You can follow her on...