This post was originally published on December 18, 2014.
There’s something magical that happens when someone makes the decision to walk into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, raise a hand and say, “Hi, my name is Danielle and I am an alcoholic.” Whether the person truly believes she’s an alcoholic or not, there is a level of willingness and surrender that comes with that simple action and it’s a miracle, no matter how small. So it’s perhaps no surprise that many newcomers find themselves swept up and riding the wave of their newly found lease on life, inspired to not only put down the bottle but also to quit smoking, do yoga every day, stop drinking soda, start juicing, sign up for cross-fit, go paleo—no vegan—no paleo, hike, do The Artist’s Way, run a marathon…the list goes on. And while all of these are positive on their own, when combined with the struggle of new sobriety, they can be an impetus for failure that can lead to relapse.
I was somewhere between 60 and 90 days sober when I saw this girl speak at a super hip, slick and cool Hollywood meeting. I used to love meetings like that when I was new because it made me feel like I wasn’t some uptight teetotaler who was taking a nose-dive into the grave by quitting drinking (oh the irony!) The more full-sleeve tattoos, ultra low-rise Frankie B jeans and chain wallets a meeting had, the better. And this girl at the podium had it all: she was gorgeous, ripped, tatted, pierced, dreaded and had seven years of sobriety. She was a total bad ass and a beacon of hope.
She started her story by cataloging her drinking and drugging escapades, as many speakers do. It was highly entertaining but I didn’t exactly relate to it: she had been a drinker-turned-crack addict and found herself living on the streets and prostituting herself for rock; worlds away from my Valley barfly existence. But when she began talking about the confusion and loss she felt when putting down the pipe and picking up a meeting directory, I started to plug in. That was exactly what I felt: loss. By committing to not drinking, I had not only lost my coping mechanism for life but I had also lost my night and weekends too. I had no idea what to do with myself without drinking and time between meetings started to feel like a rolling abyss.
Then she said something that changed the entire scope of how I treat myself in sobriety. She said, “If you are new, I strongly suggest you get a great pair of pajamas.” And I don’t know how but I understood what she meant. Quitting drinking was not like switching cell phone providers or boycotting your local ice cream shop because they didn’t let you use the bathroom; it is a huge life change, one that requires you to clear a path big enough for it to fit or else it isn’t going to fit and the next thing you know, you’re going to be drunk again.
So I did what the tattooed, dread-headed sober chick suggested: I went to Macys and bought myself a pair or Egyptian cotton pajamas and a robe made out of what I can only assume to be newborn baby cheeks. I was ready to get into the business of being comfortable. I had spent the better part of the previous decade going out, getting ready to go out or recovering from having gone out. For the first time in my adult life, I gave myself the permission to spend a Friday night at home, in pajamas, watching the first season of 24. I had no idea I could do something this pathetic and not immediately die of old age. Through this, I began to understand how self-care and simplicity played into staying sober. It wasn’t that I was going to spend the rest of my weekends on my couch in an adult onesie (although I can’t say I was 100% sure of that at the time) but I became willing to, if that’s what it was going to take.
So what does all of this have to do with paleo diets and Bikram yoga? It’s that getting sober isn’t a New Year’s Resolution; we don’t not pick up a drink and instantly transform into someone who gets to the gym by 5 am and no longer needs cream in coffee. It’s a process, a slow one at times, and you can’t speed it up by trying to fit it in between a facial and a spin class. In fact, if you do, I can almost promise you that you’ll crash and burn. One day at a time, one task at a time. Embarking upon a new chapter of your life where you change your entire perspective on people and yourself is enough without throwing the pressure to quit smoking or train for a marathon on top of it. We need to give alcoholism the respect it deserves; we need to give it time and space. And sometimes it needs to be handled with kid pajamas.