This post was originally published on July 28, 2015.
Shortly after I got my one year medallion, I did what a lot of people in AA do—what my sponsor called “going on tour”—sharing at all my regular meetings and picking up medallions. It was part well-deserved celebration, part ego-fest and, while most of the comments I got were in the “attaboy” vein, many of the congratulations were peppered with warnings:
“It’s a celebration, not a graduation…”
“It’s a day at a time.”
And the Boston staple, “You still can’t fucking drink.”
Yeah, yeah, I thought. I get it. But I’m good now, I’ve been sober for a whole fucking year, so I know what’s going on.
The worst was definitely behind me. I detoxed in my seat for the first month, I didn’t sleep for the first couple of months, the obsession that subsided after four or five months came roaring back at eight months and I almost drank, but the obsession was now gone. I also went through a brief but powerful depression at nine months, but that lifted, so I should be on my way to Nirvana, right?
It turned out to be more than just PMS—Post-Medallion Syndrome—although there was a little bit of a letdown when I stopped picking up the cheap plastic chips and my anniversary cake. During my second year I found out that there was a reason that I drank, and it wasn’t because I liked the taste. Like a guy in my group says, “I didn’t know how fat I was until I lost weight, and I didn’t know how crazy I was until I stayed in recovery for a while.”
My first year was well over a decade ago, and since my life has improved so steadily in the program, I forgot how fucked up I still was during the second year. But a handful of guys from my home group entered their second year in 2015, and they remind me that year two was probably not the picnic I remember.
All three of these guys are in their early 30s have sponsors, go to five or six meetings per week, and two have formally gone through the steps. On the day of their last drink, two of them were seriously contemplating hanging themselves and the other one was arrested and court-ordered into treatment. Here are some of their thoughts on life after their one-year anniversaries:
Steven—15 Months Sober
I think my recovery is much slower than I had hoped it would be.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot better than it was when I was drinking, but one thing I’m still having trouble with is coming to grips with my emotions, now that I can’t drown them with booze or drugs. I don’t have the obsession to drink anymore, but I still want to get out of my own head, to figure out how to feel less squirrely. I find that the best thing to me is to stay busy–meetings yeah, but also work and movies and playing tennis and a lot of stuff I wasn’t doing when I was drinking and drugging.
I still feel like drinking sometimes, and I’ve come close, but it’s always when I’ve gone a few days without a meeting. So I try to build my day around a meeting and that seems to work best, because it forces me to slow down. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still at meetings and I want to bolt, because I feel like I should be doing “something” but I’m usually glad that I stayed.
I’m still very self-conscious, and worry a lot, and the thing that’s still very difficult for me is that I want to get better yesterday, but I know it doesn’t work that way. Being patient is very hard, and I still have trouble when my sponsor calls me on my shit. I still get overwhelmed sometimes because I realize that there are more issues than just the booze and the drugs—I think there are also some legitimate mental health issues. I got sober with a bunch of other guys, I know a lot of them feel the same way I do.
The good news is that I’m starting to remember my dreams and am finding the ambition that I lost for about 10 years and that’s a gift. I’ve always been very hard on myself but now I’m starting to believe in myself again.
Mike—16 Months Sober
I’m not sure what I expected after my first year of recovery. I know I wasn’t going to be some sort of sober recovery spiritual shaman, but I did think that once I had a year, I’d have it figured out and there would be no reason that I wouldn’t be able to stay sober–that I’d be really, really rock solid. And that really isn’t the case.
I heard a speaker tape recently and this guy was saying that he was a “recovered alcoholic.” There really isn’t any way to match that phrase with the way I feel. In the Big Book it says, “Recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body,” and I guess what they’re talking about is the physical compulsion and the obsession. Using that definition, I’m definitely recovered from that state.
But I also thought I would have the problem licked by now and that it would never be a struggle and everything would be smooth sailing. As far as the obsession goes, there are moments when I contemplate drinking, but they’re just moments. I think it’s pretty natural for an alcoholic to think about drinking and even consider it from time to time, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change.
In my first year I learned my active alcoholism was really serious shit. It took getting and staying sober to see how bad it was. I hate using program language, but I saw how far down the scale I’d gone, especially for someone my age, and how comfortable I was living a completely fucked up life. Without getting sober, I wouldn’t have seen that.
Now that I have my year, there’s not that cheering squad behind me that I had when collecting chips. I guess it’s just on me to show up and do the work.
Mark—17 Months Sober
After I got my year, I started to feel a little more confident about being able to stay sober. That just ended up putting me into dangerous situations and they don’t turn out well. Not by drinking, but more because things don’t ever go the way I plan. I thought after a year I’d be able to do anything I wanted, that I could hang around bars and do things that people with many years can do with no problem. Turns out, those things are detrimental to my sobriety because they put my head in a space that’s not very healthy.
I don’t have the obsession anymore, but I do want to drink sometimes. What I am realizing is how completely mental I still am. A week ago I was feeling really good about my sobriety and the work I had been doing, but when I started speaking at a meeting from the podium, a wave of insecurity came over me and I suddenly felt terrible.
I find it’s not so bad when I’m going to a meeting every day, but last week I took a couple of days off in a row to study for an exam. Suddenly, I came up with the idea that once I reached a certain level of achievement, I could drink again. I thought, by now, I’d get it through my head that I just can’t drink. Unless I want to die in a snowbank, like I almost did before I got sober.
Luckily, I have a sponsor and other guys in my group telling me that once I got my year, nothing much was going to change. I kind of listened, but I always had it in the back of my head that I really would be magically cured.
What I have to say to new people in early sobriety, is that nothing has come when I expected it—there’s no timeline. Every good thing that has happened in sobriety—like my new job—has been completely unexpected. But when I look at each one, I can attribute the outcome directly to the fact that I’m not drinking and I’m in recovery.