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Small Triumphs

by Brenda H. in Montreal

No, I don’t post that often, probably because anything I have to say has already been said far more eloquently by someone else. When I reply to other people’s posts, I do it personally, probably because I think if I’m too far off the mark at least only one person will notice this. Semi-lurker? Yes, that probably describes me best.

Today’s personal ramble probably falls into the category of ‘personal’ rather than of use to all. But it’s been on my mind all day, so much so that I actually did have the burning desire to post on the drive home from work. And as the title says, it’s about baby steps and mini-victories.

Perhaps I had hoped sobriety would be something more dramatic, that perhaps I’d have an apocalyptic vision or blinding flashes of wisdom. Maybe I had dreamed that my life would change overnight, that I’d suddenly be sought after by the movers and shakers of the world and recognized for the genius I thought I was. Maybe my debt load, accumulated during the years of wanton spending on alcohol and alcohol-related activities, would suddenly disappear. But last night it suddenly struck me that these changes won’t happen any time soon, perhaps not even in my lifetime. So what has sobriety brought to me, as I begin my third month without substance abuse?

Well, yesterday afternoon a neighbor called to discuss her very difficult first pregnancy. And I took the call. Why is that so astounding? Because for four years I never picked up the phone after my second drink because the slur in my voice would signal to the world that I was well on my way to oblivion. Last night I had to return to work for a special event. There’s nothing new about that. What WAS new was that I actually stayed around half an hour after I was free to come home, just chatting to people. This, too, is unusual because in the past I would beetle out of any social or work-related event at the earliest opportunity so that I could rush home to the waiting arms of my favorite companion, the bottle. Tonight I have a truck-load of things which must be finished by tomorrow. What’s unusual about this is that I willingly brought this burden home, knowing I’d be clear-headed enough to complete everything as the evening wears on because I won’t be unconscious on the sofa.

My fridge contains real food, not alcohol-friendly munchies. It may look like everyone else’s fridge but I know the difference because my fridge seldom contained more than crumbs during a non-pay week. Any spare cash needed to be hoarded in case I ran out of supplies before the following cheque. I can call a friend, walk to the store, drop in on a neighbor after dinner, things every person does without thinking but things I could never do because I could barely stand by dinner time. I can walk the dog for a full hour every morning at 5:30 a.m. because I wake up, under my own steam, and am ready to greet the day.

My sobriety has not brought me brass bands, flowers from strangers or engraved citations signed by famous people. On several occasions it hasn’t even brought me happiness. What it HAS provided me with is an enormous feeling of pride and increased self-confidence. No, I’ll never run a marathon, climb Mount Everest or discover a cure for some dreaded disease. No Nobel Prizes will ever come my way. But I can now carry on conversations without checking my watch, calculating the time it will take me to get home and get buzzed. I can mow the lawn or (more seasonally appropriate) shovel the driveway without first fortifying myself with a drink or six. I can write thank-you notes for gifts and invitations received, knowing I won’t say anything absurd (or any more absurd than most things I say) or outrageous. I can even recall, the next day, what I have said.

No, there were no bells and whistles which came with this condition. But it’s 4:00 p.m. and I’m able to type a note to you. And in a few minutes I’ll go into chat and (perhaps) say something intelligent. At 6:00 I’ll make a well-balanced supper and later on I’ll attack the work I brought home with me, and may actually get everything done. That’s FOUR victories in one short day.

When I first began with LifeRing on Sept. 20 I was told by several people to take ‘baby steps’. What I didn’t hear said was that I should take pride in baby victories. That’s why it took me two full months to recognize the fact that I have had a miraculous vision of sorts. It’s the vision of me actually completing life’s little chores and tasks, fully conscious, fully aware and fully sober.

Thank you LifeRing.

(greyhound) Brenda H. in Montreal

Posted 11/22/02

Day One Again

By John E.

I have had so many “Day 1, Agains” over the past 15 years. The first Day 1 found me physically exhausted and weakened beyond reasonable imagination. The next to latest Day 1 found me emotionally and intellectually broken and scarred. The latest Day 1 found me coldly angry and determined to recover.

My Day 1s have been bizarre emotional experiences. Sometimes part of me would be afraid I was going to die and I would be found with my racing heart having ejected itself from my body and my skin having painfully crawled to another room. Another part of me was afraid I would never die and I would have to live my life feeling this way forever. I had literally and quite successfully created my own 24 hour Technicolor hell.

Exactly eight weeks ago I had another Day 1. The latest relapse was about 6 weeks in length after a 6 year abstinence. For good or for ill when I woke up the last still drunk morning I wasn’t ashamed of myself. I just knew I had to stop drinking. I wasn’t afraid of what the next few days would bring, I just had to stop drinking. I checked into a hospital and essentially said, “Keep me safe for a couple of days until I can begin to take care of myself again.” There was no drama, no tears, no self flagellation. Just the simple unadorned knowledge that I had to stop drinking. Again.

After the 48 hour “rest” I came home and got prepared to fight this one more time. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it since AA was not particularly beneficial to me. Some people have allergies to penicillin, I have a mild allergic response to AA. But I made one important decision for me. I wasn’t going to lie to myself anymore. I am an alcoholic who doesn’t respond to AA so I have to find something else. Within 48 hours I had found the SOS web site and very soon started going to the one SOS meeting in Chicago. (Lucky for me someone decided to go to all the effort to start a meeting). After a fair amount of searching I hired a psychiatrist who specializes in alcoholism (recovering himself) and asked him to help me work through some issues that are bothersome. I met with my most important (financially) client and said, “Here’s the situation. You decide what you need to do.” There was a positive reaction to that. I began to put some of the disassembled pieces back in place.

I read this email list a couple of times a day. Each day someone writes something that contributes strength to my resolve not to drink that day. Each day I read the phrase “sobriety priority” and pay attention to it. Once a week I go to a meeting where a quiet calm supportive environment encourages me and reinforces the reality that this can work. Each day I am as truthful with myself as I know how to be.

For me it is a process. It’s been going on for a long time, it has been exasperating and sometimes painful. But, it is the way I have had to do it. Of course life is already better. But then, of course I knew it would be. Just as I knew 14 weeks ago when I decided to drink, yet again, that my quality of life would almost immediately be diminished. But the nature of my alcoholism is that even though I knew negative things would happen, not drinking wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t important enough. It is today. And I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing and I suspect that tomorrow will probably work out OK too.

It’s a hell of a ride. Thanks for reminding me of all of this. My day will be better for it. And I sincerely wish the same for you.

Oct. 29

At First You Fall Down a Lot

By Craig M.

[Jan wrote: I sure am having trouble staying sober….]

Jan –

You don’t really sound like you enjoy drinking at all anymore. I remember the last months of my drinking – hating every drop of vodka I poured down my throat, yet sneaking out and buying another “last” bottle….every single day.

Once I had decided that I had a problem with alcohol, I was never able to unambiguously enjoy it again – and I suspect that is true for a lot of people. That alone will not keep you from drinking, just from enjoying it.

For me a key realization was: “From now on, you will never be able to drink without feeling a little bad. There’s nothing you can ever do to change that, it’s like trying to run around the house 50 times without thinking of elephants – once you realize that alcohol is killing you, you can’t even try to suppress the thought without thinking it.”

The key thing that got me sober was an accident, but something I could have arranged if I had looked into myself a little deeper. I had all the pieces to the puzzle. Anyway, I have a deep aversion to authority, always have and always will. So this AA-nut-chemical-counselor-who-I-have-to-see-because-that’s-what-my-insurance-sends-me-to says “You’re too stubborn, too much denial. You’re not at a bottom, and I don’t think you’re ready to quit yet.”

Of course the only reaction available in my emotional palette is: “Fuck you. I can too. I’ll show you, bitch.” And I haven’t had a drink since.

So what is it that makes you tick? When you’re too tired to care and can’t even imagine getting up off the couch, what can shoot your blood pressure up 50 points and get you moving? How can you use your strengths (and turn what you might think are your weaknesses into strengths) to beat the bottle?

Right now, I hope you can dump the booze that you have and not buy more. You slipped up last night, that’s pretty common.

Stopping drinking is like learning to ride a bicycle. At first you fall down a lot. You might get mad at the bike, at your parents who bought you that dumb bike that doesn’t work right, or even at people who aren’t having as hard a time learning to balance. But if you keep trying, you eventually “get it” – the falls cease or become very rare, isolated experiences which certainly don’t mean “you can’t do it”. It becomes effortless most of the time, something you don’t even have to think about.

Keep trying and take care of yourself,


The Fuckit Switch

By Lin L.

C.W. posted: My last relatively lengthy abstinence ended while I was standing in Rite-Aid. Suddenly, I happened to notice the beer display and The Cloud descended over my head. “Why not?” “Who cares?” “What difference does it make?” These were my thoughts.

Ah, the infamous “fuckit switch”. As in, “Aw, fuckit, I’ll just have one.” Or, “Ah, fuckit, I need a break.” Or, “Ah, fuckit, I deserve a reward.” In other words, any drinking-related thought that begins “fuckit” is probably not a good one.

The use of the word, “fuck” in particular is important. That is a word that has a high emotional load — grown men have been known to commit assault and sometimes even murder when they hear it. It effectively shuts down rational thought (thus the “tripped-circuit” result) and allows only strong emotions to pass through to consciousness. And, what do we do with strong emotions, boys and girls?

Also, the “fuckit” portion is usually only the first half of the equation. The second half is usually one of the many excuses we use to drink. “Ah, fuckit; I deserve this.” “Ah, fuckit; I’ll show those bastards.” “Ah, fuckit, being sober never did me any good anyway.” So, we disarm our ability to think reasonably in a goal-oriented way, and then the little devil on the shoulder moves in for the kill, with a totally irrational thought that we — without the verbal land mine we just dropped on ourselves — would be able to handle in a blink.

Posted June 27 — July 1, 1999

Focusing On Sobriety

By Steve B.

There has been a lot said here lately about sobriety and relapse.  A lot of this takes the form of confessions, explanations, and remedies. The remedies I am reading here seem to involve pharmacology, psychology, or the distraction of keeping busy in one way or another.

At the present time, I haven’t had a drink for 13 days, and it has been easier than I had expected, so far that is.

I have been reading the posts every day, contributing occasionally, sometimes gathering a few pearls of wisdom from others, sometimes forming some conclusions of my own distilled from what I read as well as from my own experience. I would like to share a few of these.

Sobriety does have a certain momentum once it is set in motion, like a car moving down the road. However, it needs an engine to keep it moving, or it will come to a stop. I reach this conclusion from my experience of relapsing after six month of sobriety that I had initially set in motion through going to AA meetings. When I stopped attending meetings, my determination to stay sober began to weaken.

The support and sharing of thoughts and feelings among alcoholics is the true strength of any recovery group, whatever its ideology or absence thereof. This thought comes from my own experience as well as my noticing of people in this group speaking of needing to go to an AA meeting although they disagree with the most fundamental beliefs of AA.

Whatever we pay attention to grows. Focusing on sobriety, spending time thinking about it, writing about it, and reading about it places an investment in sobriety that makes us less and less inclined to give it up. Focusing on the shame, self-hatred, or helplessness we may feel as a result of relapsing only serves to increase these feelings and does nothing whatever to enhance sobriety itself.

The matter of staying sober is a lifetime commitment, something I will probably never be able to set aside and forget about.

Posted May 19, 1999