I’m mostly out of the woods detox-wise and it’s scary how the more I come back to myself, the harder it is to connect to how bad it was. I’m already having a hard time describing what it was like, those days/weeks leading up to stopping. Well, that’s not true exactly, I can find the words, but they’re not as raw. The feeling of it is fading away so quickly.

This is the slippery heartbreak of memory, at least in my experience. Most of the things I want to hold so tightly seem to get filed away in boxes wrapped in packing tape and plastered with descriptive labels. They’re there, inside, but muffled, almost like something I could have read about. Like how an amazing vacation begins to leak sensory data as soon as I step on the plane. I can tell you where we went and what we did, but I can’t smell the salt of the ocean or feel the heat of the sand or hear the laughter of my children.

It probably doesn’t make much sense that I wish I had the power to fully tap into the ugliness of my active use — re-living last year’s trip to Hawaii would be a far more pleasant experience — but as things get less vivid, it takes more and more work to hold onto the full story. You can start remembering a partial version. Then you start thinking that if you just do XYZ, you could control it this time. You wrap more tape around the very worst moments and rewrite the label. You begin to romanticize the exact thing that was destroying your life.

Meanwhile, addiction is a patient, calculating, lying motherfucker. Something goes wrong, some hurt or frustration or sorrow descends, and a solution looms into sight. It’s a vision packed with false promises that shouldn’t have a shot in hell of being convincing: you know better, after all. But it keeps expanding. It’s so goddamned hard to look away.

Sometimes it’s like a Polaroid that takes days or weeks or months to fully develop. Sometimes it’s as terrifying as an out-of-nowhere desire to turn down the wrong aisle in the grocery store.

I never again want to forget how things were. But how to stay close to that reality, without drowning in the self-loathing that comes from scrabbling to keep a death grip on every painful choice I’ve made?

I’m not sure if there can be a one-size-fits-all answer to that, but I finally understand, at least more than I did before, why there is so much talk of gratitude in recovery. I used to think the gratitude stuff was about forcing positivity — all those cheesy slogans! — but I think the real magic is that gratitude gives you acceptance without the damnation.

I am so grateful for the peace of living in honesty, for instance, is a completely different way of thinking than Jesus, I was such a lying piece of shit. It’s about focusing on the light instead of dwelling on the dark … while still acknowledging the darkness. Gratitude keeps my past in focus while simultaneously reminding me how much better the present is. It is both tool and reward, and it’s rooted in the now instead of relying on scenes in the rearview.

I’ve spent so long trying to escape life instead of celebrating it, gratitude does not yet come naturally to me. It takes practice, a deliberate intent. But oh, when I can be grateful, I know a truth stronger than addiction’s lies. I can see what’s really around me, the countless reasons I have to stay.


18 Responses to “12 days sober: Gratitude and hope”

  1. Dawn on November 13th, 2016 11:02 am

    It’s good that you write these things down. Believe in your worth. The rest of us do.

  2. jill on November 13th, 2016 11:04 am

    I spent some time with a patient this week who is an alcoholic. He said all of the people at AA who stay sober start their day on their knees, telling God how awful they are and how they can’t make it without him. He thinks this is what he needs to do to stay sober.

    I challenged him on that. Why not start the day reminding yourself you are loved, and are a person of worth? Telling yourself that you matter?

    I know you’re not into God. I still want you to hear this: you are loved. You are a person of worth. There is light IN YOU. You matter. And I am grateful for you.

  3. Julie on November 13th, 2016 11:25 am

    Thank you for being brave and telling your story.

    You are most definitely not the only one struggling to learn from the past without drowning in it, or to be grateful. I am, however, grateful for you and the chance to read your words.

  4. Kim on November 13th, 2016 11:37 am

    In two weeks I’ll have nine years of sobriety racked up (which makes me cringe to think of that last non-sober Thanksgiving at the inlaws’). I know I couldn’t have made it this far without monthly therapy and Suboxone, a medication that’s used, mostly long-term, to treat opiate addiction. A big memory I try to hold onto is that terrifying phone call to make my first therapy appointment and the embarrassment/relief I felt at its completion. I’m often pissed I don’t have my crutch to use anymore (which I mostly take out on the ice cream container at night), but I’m also so, so grateful.

  5. Martha on November 13th, 2016 12:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing your true self.

  6. Deb on November 13th, 2016 1:24 pm

    I’m proud of you and so grateful that you are writing this down. I’m not an alcoholic, but my mom was (and died of cirrhosis), and my husband is in recovery. I learn a lot from your words.

  7. anne nahm on November 13th, 2016 1:53 pm

    Hugs to you. The only time I ever considered a tattoo was for this kind of situation, that I could wear something on my forearm to remind me.

    True shit, that tattoo was just going to be “NO.” in heavy black lettering, so I could reference it immediately when I got into that maybe? Perhaps this would be OK? place.

    I didn’t get the tattoo, but it did make me realize there’s something valid about an idea being so important you must remember it forever, and at the same time so toxic it maybe should not always be kept in the forefront of your mind.

    Also, more hugs.

  8. hannah on November 13th, 2016 1:56 pm

    “all of the people at AA who stay sober start their day on their knees, telling God how awful they are and how they can’t make it without him.”

    Well, I can’t speak for all of the rest of the people in AA who have stayed sober, but in 11 years I have very rarely prayed on my knees and I don’t know that I’ve once started my day by telling my Higher Power how awful I am. I know I can’t stay sober on my own, so I do express gratitude for that fairly regularly, but my relationship with my Higher Power is more nuanced than your patient described (and has changed over the years). I know others in AA have different experiences but the ones I have heard lead me to believe there’s vastly more variation in how that part of it works.

    It is very hard for me to remember how bad it is which is a part of why I still go to meetings- hearing from a newcomer who has just gone through what I went through and can pull those memories so much more vividly is usually all it takes to bring it flooding back.

  9. Pete on November 13th, 2016 10:00 pm

    I wish you the best.

  10. Mary Clare on November 14th, 2016 8:05 am

    Thanks for your raw and honest words. I’m rooting for you.

  11. Donna Brubach on November 14th, 2016 9:31 am

    The rabbit hole? I’m looking out of it myself. I get you. The sides are so goddamn slippery aren’t they?

  12. JD on November 14th, 2016 10:53 am

    I am very happy to see you writing again. I’ve followed you since the Diaryland days and watched the babies come along. I, too, have been way down in it. I once drove out to the desert with a street substance and cache of pills to put an end to it. I’ve also had a few other occasions to put an end to it. I ruined my career, drove others away, and fell right through the bottom. I turned to blogging recently to just pour it all out. I am not religious in that I do not adhere to a structured set of doctrines, but I am passionate about God. Regardless of our set of beliefs, I believe we can all lift each other up, show each other love, and give each other kindness. Life is hard and raw and downright traumatic. I am rooting for you and will always be rooting for you. Be kind to yourself. And, if you want to blow your inner critic away and shut that voice up, Brené Brown has an awesome set of videos about shame, transparency, vulnerability, and the voices of our critics. She rocks and she was the nudge I needed to start unwrapping myself from the layers of shame that kept me bound to certain patterns of behavior. The addiction cycle most certainly runs on shame, guilt, doubt, blame, and fear. Best wishes and keep on pushing!

  13. Anonymous on November 14th, 2016 12:48 pm

    You are so brave to write about your addiction. And, as the daughter of an often-relapsed alcoholic, it is enlightening to read them. I often resented my dad for relapsing and I could never understand why he would relapse when it meant he lost so much. It’s helping me understand what he went through, how much I’m sure he wanted to be sober to keep his family (and grandchildren) in his life. How, ultimately, he couldn’t and that I shouldn’t blame him for it. So, thank you thank you thank you. I am so hopeful for you and your family.

  14. Mariya on November 14th, 2016 1:33 pm

    You are brave and strong, and the world is a better place with you in it.

  15. Barbara on November 15th, 2016 5:08 am

    As with everything – not just addiction – we are a warrior in the moment or we’re not. We can’t just declare, “I am a Warrior!”. No. It’s in the moment. Or not. Always. So many, many moments test that. Daily. Hourly. And the tests come in so many different ways.

    Life is fucking hard. And fear (what it all boils down to) tells us how it is. Tells us how it’s gonna be. And we go hang out with fear and embellish it. But fear doesn’t know – fear lies – fear is the ultimate bullshit artist.

    So hard to walk away from fear sometimes, to turn our back on it, to tell it to go fuck itself.

    Still, we must. Some days I have to remind myself to return to soft belly a thousand times, some days a hundred, some seemingly every moment. For me it’s returning to awareness, and BEing in the moment, which I’ve learned is the highest high. There’s no higher high than being fully present and conscious in the moment. Wish I’d known that all the years I was getting high on something else, but am so very grateful I know it now.

  16. LD's Mom on November 17th, 2016 6:16 pm

    I just randomly decided to check your blog this week and was so thrilled to see your writing again. I’m all caught up now, and man, life is hard. And senseless sometimes. The way you express your struggles with words connects with so many of us in this crazy world. It seems like sometimes you are so down on yourself for all the times you slip, but I want to thank you for helping all of us out there that slip a lot too; and helping us come to terms with the fact that we are human, the past is the past, the future is the future, and today is the day that we can have some ounce of control over.

  17. Amy on November 26th, 2016 4:39 pm

    God, Linda. Your writing…. your description- it’s painful & so spot on. Addiction is patient. It is clever. And I can honestly say, opening that door was the worst choice I ever made. I never imagined I’d be fighting this battle at 40- with the man of my dreams (whose always been sober) and 4 kids. I want for nothing, except the one thing that could destroy everything. Every time I come back to the crossroads, I’m surprised to see my husband is still here. This past year has been especially eventful. I’m currently 13 days sober. You’re not alone. You know you’re destined to overcome. I know this and I’ve never spoken to you. Your story has much more to it. So does mine. Love and light to you, sister.

  18. Kent on November 29th, 2016 12:53 pm

    I work all 12 steps and get better or my daily reprieve. Or i don’t work all 12 steps and get worse and go completely insane or die. Simple, not easy

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