I clearly remember the day I landed inside of a six month residential rehab, knowing that it was either do it or die, for me. I recall feeling both equally safe and insecure. After attempting to get sober several times in seven years, and failing hopelessly, I was uncertain of being capable of long-term sobriety. Yet, I wanted it. More than anything, I wanted to learn how to not pick up a drink.
I was so willing. I would have swam the Bay naked in winter surrounded by great whites, if that’s what they told me was going to keep me sober. Like most people in recovery, I was tired and desperate.
After rehab, I still felt very uncertain. It’s so easy to stay sober when you are under conditions such as an institution provides, and under the scrutiny of hyper-alert staff, but I wasn’t naïve to think I was in the clear when I walked out of those double doors. Rehab was merely a foundation for me. I had the rest of my life in open space to build myself back up with the recovery tools that were provided. It’s one thing to stay sober in rehab; it’s another to stay sober in the real world.
It took about a year in the real world for me to feel like I had a real shot at staying sober. I went to meetings, got a sponsor, and moved into sober-living apartments for ten months with my treatment peers. I backed off of my career and took a couple of mediocre jobs that didn’t cause me stress. I took things really slowly because I did not trust myself, and I did not want to fail.
I experienced what it was like to have a full-on alcohol craving without drinking. The cravings in my first year were brutal. I’m talking vampire-needs-blood-immediately, vicious cravings. Prior to treatment, I’d never gotten through a craving like some of the ones I had in the first year, but like I was informed in treatment, the cravings are temporary. They do pass, fairly quickly.
My longest craving lasted about two hours. I was so close to giving up and running to the liquor store for a bottle of vodka. I was so close that I could taste it. I wanted it desperately. I began shaking. I was so incredibly scared that I was going to drink. I didn’t know how to stop myself.
Before running to the liquor store, I took a moment to pray. My words were, “Please help me, God. Please help me.” A second later I found myself grabbing my backpack and running up the Berkeley Hills to the treatment facility where I got sober. The first person I saw was a former peer, who had gone through treatment with me. He relapsed and was back in treatment again for another six months. He was sitting at the front desk. No one else was there. I sat down on the bench in the lobby, and sobbed. I knew it was my higher power at work when I saw my friend’s face. It could have been any of several clients at that front desk, yet it just happened to be a former peer. I shared my experience with him, and also to a counselor, which immediately alleviated my craving. I spent a few more hours there, talking with the women who were still in treatment. I went to a group that day as well, and I came out of the day feeling like a champion. It was both emotional and terrifying, but I knew what occurred was a huge step forward in my recovery.
I am over two years sober now, and I can honestly say that I have not had a craving like that one, since the day it happened. I believe that it takes practice not taking a drink, under the wickedest of circumstances, in order to fully overcome addiction. Habits need to be broken by practicing a new way of doing things. Cravings have to be experienced in order for them to dissipate. Emotions need to arise and regarded, rather than embellished upon, in order to for you to heal.
Think of recovery as a re-balance in action. It’s simply a journey that brings a disconnected person, back to themselves. In order for this to occur, one should visualize their recovery as a long term goal. In order to meet the goal, you must overcome the circumstances provided to you (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually). You must face adversity, walk through doubt, acknowledge fear and keep moving forward. You should also remain compassionate toward yourself knowing that you are new to life as a sober person. Take things slowly and take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself and laugh when you are clumsy.
The greatest understanding I have received in my recovery is that every emotion I experience, is temporary. Nothing I a feel at any given time, is eternal. Everything will pass. Fighting or resisting emotions only prolongs the pain and discomfort. Buying into anger, stress, sadness, loneliness, etc., and taking a drink, will completely strip you of your self-worth.
I just want to say one more thing… I have never felt better, dreamed bigger, loved deeper, laughed harder or been more clearer than I am since it’s been my life goal to recover.