This post was originally published on April 11, 2014.
Getting sober can be a tough job for anyone, especially after spending years getting everything centered and comfortable around your addiction. You know when and where your dealers are at all times of the day and night, when bars open and close, which bartender will give you a tab, which one will slide you free shots, what streets you can use to avoid getting pulled over again and which houses are the best crash pads. There are the pills that you left hidden around the house, the friends who prefer to pay back their debts to you in bags of marijuana and the rich corporate guys who come to you for their very light and very over priced purple, hairy marijuana. It almost seems like the easier thing to do would be to just stay drunk and loaded. But, it seems for some of us, there comes a point when timing matches up perfectly, a window of opportunity opens and there’s an ounce of freedom and hope. For me, that day came on June 6, 2005, a day I will never forget and one I can only barely remember.
But this isn’t about getting to that day. This is more or less about the hardest part of my sober journey—the part where I look back and realize just how much the odds were stacked against me, not necessarily from that warm, summer morning but from birth. See, my story starts way before I ever ingested any drugs or alcohol. I spent my first night in jail in utero at eight months. I took my first motorcycle ride on the front of my father’s 1976 Honda Goldwing while he was intoxicated. And I watched my mother and father leave me with the babysitter night after night to go barhopping right around that same time. Their idea of a good weekend usually involved lots of alcohol, more drugs and plenty of violence. I saw things no one should see and learned early to keep my mouth shut, never talk to the cops and do what I was told. Not too long after that, I discovered that I was the white sheep of the family.
Most people give me an odd look when I say that; if I can compare it to anything, it would be the kind of dumb look a very large dog gives you when you ask it if it wants to go for a walk. I then explain that every member of my family is what most families would call in disgust the black sheep. I, on the other hand, am the antithesis of that. My coat is white. I am the only high school graduate, the only college graduate, the only one with some sort of desire to be something more than a waitress or a thief. I enjoy learning, I want to be a role model and I enjoy waiting for and using the crosswalk. Most importantly, I do not want to deal with the hand dealt to me. So I was the one that not only said I had a problem but also decided to do something about it. Most of my family stays drunk their whole lives, with jails and institutions and some deaths as a part of their story. To drink for them is not to die but to live. It is just the way we are. Every holiday and story is centered around alcohol.
To say that getting sober was going to be difficult is definitely an understatement. There would be no intervention—no cameras, no ultimatums. I would not have my car taken away if I didn’t stop drinking and using. There would be no money for rehab. There would be no check-ins from the family to see if I needed my laundry washed. I would not have a mother or a sister to call in the middle of the night when I felt like I was finally going to have my nervous breakdown. I would be alone in this adventure. And not only would I be lacking in the support area but I would also now be treated like an outcast in my family. I was the square, weirdo, narc oddball. Loneliness had been with me for most of my life but as I settled in my first days and weeks of raw physical sobriety, I was to discover just how separate I was from them. There were many long and daunting days and nights of just trusting that I was where I was supposed to be.
Today, there are plenty of shows that focus on getting sober, being sober or the overall fight of addiction. They usually follow someone in trouble and someone else in fear for that person’s life. There is an intensity you can feel, often by the tears streaming down their faces. Someone will be lost if the opportunity is not taken. My kind of white sheep isn’t usually shown.
So, to make the story short, I did it. I got and stayed sober. I allowed myself to be the odd man out in my family long enough to realize that it was actually amazing to be considered square. I remember sharing in meetings in early sobriety about feeling so boring and bored and unappealing and square. Others would slowly share their experiences with me. They would tell me of their mothers and fathers. They would show me photos of their homes and I would cry and say, “I can relate. I can finally relate to something that exists in the light of day.”
A peace came upon me those first five years. I felt a part of something that I would learn to trust and I allowed myself to believe in the back of my mind that I could now be an example to my family, even if they thought I couldn’t be trusted. At first, things were very awkward. Eventually, everyone got set in their new ways and I was trusted in their homes. For some reason, they still thought I was going to steal their drugs, drink their beers or take their money. It was an odd feeling to allow that cloak of an outlaw to slowly fall off of me and onto the floor. I thought I wasn’t someone with or without it. Now I know I am somebody no matter what.
My dad just came out to visit me a couple of weeks ago. I told there’d be no drinking or drugs in my house. He only had a beer or a bottle of wine with dinner and his sleeping pills every night. Despite our different perceptions, I was able to stay sober and he left on good terms. It was a nice trip and I didn’t feel like either of us are better than the other. I am just a sober member of society and he is still an outlaw.