Ten years ago today, I pulled into the parking lot outside of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group I had attended several times before. As I got out of my car, a woman named Tammy said hello and then asked me, “Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?” I wanted to throat punch her but simply said yes and headed for the door. I was exhausted in a way that words couldn’t capture and overwhelmed by the realization that I was about the lose the husband and child I had wanted my whole life. Finally, grasping that I could not control my drinking and feeling utterly helpless because I did not know how to stop, I walked into that room and took a seat.
I was fresh off of my most recent relapse, and my world was on fire. My husband and I owned two small bars that were losing money faster than we could make it. We were broke. I was not settling into motherhood or marriage very well. I had told more lies than I could track. The reality of my drinking was hitting me like ocean waves in a hurricane, and the levy was going to hold much longer. I went to AA because I did not know where else to go or what to do. I only knew I didn’t want to be who I was turning out to be.
I know now that I had been given the gift of desperation, but it didn’t feel like a gift then. Instead, it felt like being a foreigner in my own land without a road map or an itinerary. An old-timer appointed himself as my temporary sponsor until I found a woman who could be my sponsor. He made me read pages 84 and 85 of the Big Book of AA every night for 30 days. He told me to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. He told me to talk less and listen more. He told me to put down the shovel that I was still using to dig myself into deep, dark, dishonest holes. He drove me nuts, but I did what he said.
Our family moved a few towns over when I was 60 days sober, and I had to find a new AA homegroup. I hated the change and felt as if I had lost the security blanket helping me stay sober. One night, I showed up to attend the 8 pm meeting, and there was just one woman there. Before I knew it, we had been talking for 90 minutes without anyone else entering that room, and I asked her to be my sponsor. Still my sponsor today, she appeared to me in a way that most certainly was a gift from God, and I remain grateful for her. She gets me in a way that nearly no one else does, and I love her.
It is, honestly, hard to look back to my world before October 23, 2010. It is hard to think of the person I had become and not because I am ashamed. It’s hard because I can still recall the amount of pain, the incomprehensible demoralization, and the fear that cloaked every choice I made. I’ve often heard people talk about the things they lost while drinking or using, and while I can list off the friends, car parts, and money I lost, I lost something much more valuable. I lost myself when I was drinking and using. I spent years creating a suit of armor to protect myself without even realizing it. Suddenly I realized that armor was more of a prison than protection. I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted. I only knew that I didn’t want to feel the way I did anymore.
This decade of sobriety hasn’t always been a sea of unicorns and rainbows; it has had its share of ogres, scary clowns, and other assorted villains. I’ve still made poor choices. I’ve not always adhered to rigorous honesty. At one point, I realized that I replaced alcohol and drugs with food and shopping. I have not (gasp!) been perfect. I’ve struggled with defining just what my “program of recovery” is. I will always be grateful for AA as the foundation of my sobriety, but it’s not what sustains me. Instead, I have a collection of recovery tools that suit me and keep me grounded.
This milestone, while a cause for celebration, is not the end. I am grateful for the gifts of sobriety and the fantastic way my life has changed, but I don’t believe it indicates more than my having more practice staying sober today. Don’t get me wrong; I know how hard I’ve worked and continue to work to grow and evolve. However, I also know that yesterday’s shower doesn’t clean me today. For me, sobriety is a journey that will continue as long as I am alive on this earth, and I am grateful to be on the path.