The numbers keep climbing on my sobriety tracker app (yes, there is in fact an app for that), and so do I. As time goes on I feel like I’ve largely moved past the roiling murk of fear and uncertainty and bone-deep self-hatred that ran through me night and day back at the start of the summer. I’m stronger and healthier and I can feel the sun on my face. I’m hugely reluctant to repeatedly poke my head back down into the clouds to revisit all that led me here.

After several sessions with my counselor went by with me saying — truthfully — that I haven’t been struggling with temptation, she gently brought up the importance of not taking things for granted. I think the metaphor she used was something about keeping your shadow in front of you.

What’s that AA saying? Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Here’s another one that rings true for me: The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

This is something I’ve been mulling over and over lately: can I be successful without attending a never-ending series of meetings (because I have not been)? Can I be successful without constantly revisiting painful old ground? Can I move forward with my shadow at my side, maybe, instead of directly in my field of view at all times?

I’m reading Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, and where I’m currently at in the book the main character is a recovering alcoholic, ten years sober. He still checks in with his sponsor several times a week, and at one point they have the following conversation:

“You sober today, Danno?”
“Yes.”
“You ask for help to stay away from a drink in the morning?”
“Yes.”
“On your knees?”
“Yes, on my knees.”
“Why?”
“Because I need to remember the drink put me there.”

Oh, how those words leaped off the page at me. I don’t do this — ask for help, on or off my knees — but yes, that feeling of humble gratitude. The acknowledgement of the good things in my life and how terrifyingly easily I could throw it all away.

Maybe I’m in denial about what it takes to remain sober for life. Maybe you have to keep turning and turning over the dirt in your brain and listening to others do the same, or your past loses its power to keep driving you in the right direction.

That’s hard for me to believe, though. I don’t know about you, but for me the most amazing, heart-shattering memories all eventually fade like Polaroids in reverse, no matter how I fight to hold on to them. The terrible ones, the ones filled with humiliation and regret, are the ones hardwired to my body, so that I can recall things that happened decades ago and still feel a face-reddening gut-punch of shame run through me.

Which is to say, I cannot imagine ever forgetting what alcohol has done to me. What I have done to myself with alcohol.

Recovery is filled with slippery gray areas. Confidence, not complacency. Exercise, but don’t let it become a substitute for former addictive behaviors. Be present, don’t settle.

Gratitude, though … that seems like a pretty basic concept. You can’t be grateful without recognizing the big picture. You can’t be grateful and take things for granted at the same time. It seems to me that focusing on gratitude — carving out daily time for it, even — is a way to live in the light while still accepting the truth of those clouds.

I am so grateful, every morning, every night. A thousand times a day, and it is such a good feeling.

Comments

26 Responses to “Gratitude”

  1. Kizz on October 12th, 2013 12:10 pm

    “The terrible ones, the ones filled with humiliation and regret, are the ones hardwired to my body, so that I can recall things that happened decades ago and still feel a face-reddening gut-punch of shame run through me.”

    I identify with this so clearly. I thought it was just me. It’s awful.

  2. Wockyjabber on October 12th, 2013 12:38 pm

    I needed this today. 4 years 1 month 21 days sober and I was contemplating having a drink today. I didn’t, but the thought was there.

  3. Kelly on October 12th, 2013 1:06 pm

    I think the answer to whether you can walk with the shadow beside you rather than in front of you is probably not a super clear yes or no. I imagine some of the answer is carried in what led you to the relapse after having been in a dark place so many years ago…those drives and temptations might help you suss out what will best help you keep recovery fresh and current for you as you continue on. And I expect that the answer won’t be the same every day, like that quote you mentioned. Some days you might really need it in front of you while others maybe beside you will be good enough.

  4. Linda on October 12th, 2013 1:16 pm

    That is one truthy-feeling truth, Kelly. Thank you so much for those words.

  5. Jas on October 12th, 2013 4:04 pm

    I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, and I realize that we are obviously not getting all the details about your recovery and what all you’re doing, but the question I have upon reading this is: What is making this sobriety different from your previous?

    If you don’t go to meetings or ask for help or “keep turning over the dirt” as you put it, what is going to keep you on the path of sobriety this go round, and what failed you last time?

    I’m not asking you to answer me, but I hope you have answered that for yourself. I’m not sure if I believe that a never-ending series of meetings is necessary, either, but I have read so many times on this site about how grateful you are for your life and family, and that gratitude doesn’t seem to have been enough armor.

  6. Lesley T. on October 12th, 2013 6:15 pm

    Brilliant, Linda.

    Wishing you well in your continued sobriety.

  7. Artemisia on October 12th, 2013 6:19 pm

    Hugs to you.

  8. Betsy on October 12th, 2013 7:32 pm

    I am continually impressed by your progress. I think you are amazing.

  9. mona on October 13th, 2013 8:11 am

    My family celebrates sobriety every single day. Even if it’s not mentioned, or there are no trumpets, the joy that is here is because of that fight. It’s worth it, Linda. I’m very proud of you.

  10. Jess on October 14th, 2013 3:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this difficult part of your life with us. I had an uncle who for the entirety of my recollection was an alcoholic and my parents always kept it quiet and hush hush. I am so impressed that you shine some light here on these dark things. I’m so proud of you.

  11. anon on October 14th, 2013 4:55 am

    I think the important thing to remember is that recovery, like all things in life, differs both from person to person and day to day. We are not cookie-cutter human beings who deal with relationships, challenges, expectations, joy, and pain in the same way. We all have to find our own path in life, and be open and accepting of the fact that sometimes it is a herculean struggle unlike any other and other times it is smooth and shockingly easy. And honor both.

  12. Christy on October 14th, 2013 5:38 am

    Your strength is inspiring. I’m glad you’re able to be grateful for the positives, and I continue to root for you.

  13. pdxhadey on October 14th, 2013 11:13 am

    I read this quote on Humans of New York today, and it made me think of you and this post. “I’m afraid of sliding back to a place when I didn’t have the tools to be strong.” Very powerful. Original image here: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/63774275072/im-afraid-of-sliding-back-to-a-place-when-i

  14. Lori on October 14th, 2013 11:51 am

    We, too, are trying to find the balance. Whenever my husband feels irritable, restless, or discontent, he often goes to a meeting the following morning. I have to trust that he knows when he needs a meeting and when he doesn’t.

  15. fredin on October 14th, 2013 3:21 pm

    I leave an AA meeting and I want to go get trashed, to wash away the memory of the last hour wasted. Nothing (to me) is more depressing than sitting in AA, hearing John Q. talk about his latest, of many, relapse and all the drama that ensued. Meanwhile everyone nods sagely, as they all have been through it, time and time again. But, let us not forget the catchphrase, Keep Coming Back, It Works!
    Nothing will stop you from taking a drink, just like no one forces you to take a drink, except yourself. When you really, truly, deeply, in your soul, want to stop drinking, you will. And you will grow, and learn, and become a different person.
    I quit 14 years ago, and have never taken a drink since. I mix my wife cocktails, serve wine at parties; there is no thought of drinking or relapse.
    Linda, please please, don’t fall in to the cult of AA, which is self serving, and built around the continued failure of yourself and others. If everyone quit, there wouldn’t be a need for AA. Every message they preach is that you NEED AA to make it, to get through your day, you cant function without them. You have to keep coming back, and reliving all the misery of yourself and others.
    Just remember that *you* are in control, you chose to take a drink and you can choose to not take a drink. You and you alone are your strength. And you have it in you to never do it again, so that you never have to relive these moments, or to step back into those dark spaces.

  16. willikat on October 14th, 2013 8:18 pm

    There has been a lot of science lately around the concept of neuroplasticity–that is, we can reshape the synapses in our brains to create different emotions, reactions, states of mind. There’s a great TED talk about it (Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, here: http://daringtolivefully.com/best-ted-talks). One of the things that can change neural pathways for the better is ….. gratitude! Three things a day for better mental health. I just think it’s way awesome that it’s scientifically proven. Sort of a sidenote, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. (Also the concept of “Flow” is great, too.)
    I know you can do this!

  17. Tracy on October 15th, 2013 6:02 am

    <3

  18. Anon on October 15th, 2013 9:29 am

    I am the same “anon” who wrote when you took down your earlier posts, saying I was doing something terribly destructive for my family but that I was stopping, and that you were inspiring me to take it one day at a time.

    I am still stopping, one day at a time (always on the verge of relapse, frankly) and I kind of feel like there’s got to be some gray area between sharp, horrible, searing, constant self-loathing on the one hand and everything’s-great-let’s-keep-a-gratitude-journal on the other. The shadow image is fine, but look at nature. You cannot grow a garden without shit. There is no joy without loss; there are no muscles without painful sweaty workouts and relapses on the couch. Acknowledging it, thinking it through, on however regular a basis works for me, is just common sense.

  19. MassHole on October 15th, 2013 10:55 am

    Holy crap, that’s good stuff.

  20. Anonymous on October 15th, 2013 11:01 am

    This is exactly what I needed to read today, Linda. Thank you for your superhuman candor.

    Folks in the recovery community are keen to remind us that recovery is a spiritual pursuit, not an intellectual one. If it was as easy as just deciding to quit and outsmart the disease, there’d be no need for AA. I suspect that you and I are a lot alike in that the God talk in recovery is so foreign and off-putting that we keep it at arm’s length (e.g., staying away from meetings). But maybe that total surrender and “acting as if” is exactly what we need. I’m told by people who know better that surrender, like sobriety, happens one day at a time.

  21. Liz Kreiger on October 15th, 2013 7:05 pm

    I was one of 3 children of parents from a generation that glamorized drinking, making it look sophisticated, smart, a wee bit naughty and it waas what smart and sophisticated people did. Think Nick and Nora movies. But to my dying day, I will wonder what our family life would have, could have been like, if my very smart, very educated, very sophisticated parents didn’t drink several martinis or glasses of scotch every single day of my life and until their lives ended. I can see that your family life is the life I wish we could have had, and that makes it worth caring for yourself, because I can see that those beautiful boys and your loving husband mean almost the whole world to you. Gratitude is a part of it, but fierce protection of what is most precious in life – that is family life – is what kept me from following my parents’ example. My brother is gone now, lost to an overdose alcohol and drugs stepping out of a cab in Spokane, turning blue and taking his last breath. Your writing is so honest, so human. I read your blog to check in to know you are still in there fighting for an authntic life on your terms, and I love your determiniation that you will risk the internet trolls and the self serving pious judgemental people out there to put your authentic self out there when you write. Stay well, Linda, you are an original with a wicked sense of humor and an amazing writer’s voice. So many like me are rooting for your happiness, success and health.

  22. Mary on October 16th, 2013 10:31 am

    I am a recovering alcoholic (almost three years) and I have never been to a meeting. I participate in a couple of online recovery groups, because I need to remember, always, what it was like. I think the person who said it’s a day to day thing is correct. Most days, I never even think about it any more. Some days, I’ve kind of amazed how much I have to think it through. Having a resource to go to when you are tempted is so important.

  23. Sundry on October 16th, 2013 10:34 am

    Mary: I totally agree with you! I have a really great FB group that I turn to on a regular basis for that purpose.

  24. Maura on October 17th, 2013 10:40 am

    There is a simple AA slogan I like “A grateful heart will never drink”

    This quote from the book Wild is how I forgave myself. I spent years in therapy and upon reading this quote I was free, she wrote exactly how I felt.

    “What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

    ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

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  26. Humberto Gawrys on October 31st, 2014 11:21 am

    An awesome time Saturday night. We surprised my parents and they were thriled when they got there..Thanks! I had been informed by the photo booth person that footage would be online. Where are they?

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