• Lisa Carmen

one year sober

Updated: Feb 17

My first year of sobriety has taken me four years to complete.

In the recovery program I am a member of, sober dates, also known as birthdays, are a pretty big deal. We celebrate longevity, and when you slip or relapse, you start over.

While my last drink was a year ago today, I think of my recovery journey having its own birthday, January 1, 2016. My original sober birthday.

The first two years, I valiantly pursued recovery like a degree. Lots of knowledge, lots of books, lots of podcasts. I studied, I journaled, I workbooked, I researched. I thought the more I understood, the stronger I would become. The better I would become at being sober. Unfortunately, for me, this became a roller coaster of relapses, the first one starting with a seemingly innocent thought “I think I got this.” A dangerous thought, I realize now. “I think I can have a drink at dinner tonight, like a normal person.” And that night, a few months into my sobriety, I did have a drink at dinner, like a normal person. I was quite pleased with myself. “Look at me!” I wanted to stand on the table and cheer. “I’m just like you guys now! A normal person that can have a drink at dinner!” (Little did I know, "normal drinkers" do not obsess about drinking like normal people, like, ever.)

A week or so later, I went out with friends and had a couple drinks, like a normal person. A few days later, I bought a bottle of wine, like a normal person. And then soon after, I was in my car, in a liquor store parking lot, on a Wednesday, before noon, shooting lukewarm airplane minis of vodka to have a better day, shoving a few deep down in my purse, for later.

Later that afternoon, I drove over a median turning into traffic and blew out two of my tires. Hiding the empty bottles behind an abandoned building, I thought this is not normal. Dammit.

I’d start over, knowing that drinking was no longer an option for me. I was done. I meant it this time. And I'd manage to stay sober for a while. Then somehow it would creep back in, convincing me that it'd be fine if I drank, just every now and then. Like an abusive lover, booze would beat me up and leave me in pain, yet it would come back around every few months, sweet-talking me, making me promises of how it could be different this time.

One day, after resetting my sobriety app yet again, determined this time, to do it, a voice in my head said “What on earth do you think will be different this time? You are doing the same old thing and in a few days or weeks or months you’ll be in the same place- hungover, depressed, discouraged and disgusted with yourself. Aren’t you sick of this cycle? YOU NEED HELP. YOUR WAY IS NOT WORKING.”

We all know the famous definition of insanity… I was expecting different results, using the same techniques. Defeated and discouraged, I finally did what I’d been determined to not do. I would try something different.

I started working the 12 Steps on my own. Russell Brand’s book Recovery had sat on my bookshelf collecting dust for many months, because I’d originally bought it not knowing it was a 12 Step book. My recovery program up til then was called “Anything but 12 Steps.” And that was getting me nowhere. I cracked it open and ate up every word. I wanted this freedom Brand spoke of. I did the first few steps, I wrote my Step 4 inventory.

Then I got to Step 5 which insisted I share my inventory with another human being. Shit. This was not going to be a DIY project like I’d hoped. I needed to enlist the support of others.

Reluctantly, yet holding onto a bit of hope, I went to a 12 Step meeting. I called myself an alcoholic. Out loud. Something else I swore I'd never do. I admitted defeat. I finally realized that if i was going to be successful at this sobriety thing, if I wanted to truly recover, I had to do the unthinkable. I had to recover with others.

Like much of my life, I approached this 12 Step recovery program as an experiment. I’d try this program for 30 days, and evaluate then. If I liked where it was going and how I was feeling, I’d keep going.

I liked it. Actually, I loved it. Much to my surprise, I’d found my people. It felt like going home. There were parts of that I didn’t care for, certain things I’d hear in meetings that made me cringe. But I also heard “take what works and leave the rest.” And that’s what I did. I got a sponsor, worked the steps, and began to finally feel like I was making progress in my recovery, instead of the repetitious booze-obsessed version of the movie Groundhog Day I’d been living for years. After the thirty day experiment, I kept going.

Since my first meeting, I’ve had two relapses, thankfully very short, night-long debacles. Those slips became information I used to deepen my recovery. I don’t think I threw anything away. I didn't lose my recovery work. I just got a new sobriety birthday.

Finally, today, I have one year of continuous sobriety to feel good about. It’s taken me four years and more sobriety reset dates than I can remember during that time, to reach this milestone. I am not ashamed of that. It's my story.

It takes what it takes, until it takes. It's taken a lot of work. A lot of honesty. It hasn’t always been fun. Parts of it have been really hard. Life is still life, after all, with its ups and downs. But my, have I grown. I'm still learning how to navigate my life with new tools. I have connected with a group of loving, supportive people I love like family. I have been helped. I have helped others. My life is completely different as a result.

I now understand the power of recovering in community. Now I am living my life unbound, present for it all. My sobriety is something I will not trade for anything at this point.

Today, I am one year sober. And I’m going to keep going.

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