This post was originally published on June 19, 2014.
In AA meetings, you’ll often hear that the newcomer is the most important person in the room. I tend to agree—and also to shudder when I hear stories about cranky old-timers ordering newcomers to take the cotton out of their ears and stuff it in their mouth. It’s this interest in newcomers, in fact, that led me to the idea of regularly sussing out their thoughts at various stages of their sobriety. Sort of like that British Up series but with far less of a time commitment and without, of course, a film crew.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, we celebrate various lengths of sobriety. On a group level, we acknowledge 30, 60 and 90 days as well as six months, nine months and, of course, a year of continuous sobriety. The reason for this is to not only to celebrate the accomplishment of the chip-taker but also to create momentum for other newcomers and retreads in the room. And there’s another reason for newly recovering alcoholics to reflect on their chip-taking markers: to recognize their own progress and see the fruitage of their willingness to take suggestions and stay sober one day at a time.
In this second installment, APC catches up with Sarah F. again—this time celebrating 73 days of sobriety. She is still feeling a bit restless but has made some nice strides and is reaping the benefits of her surrender to change.
Danielle: We last checked in with you at 43 days sober. Do you feel better or worse after 30 additional days of sober time under your belt?
Sarah: I feel about the same. I am still wishing I could drink but constantly reminding myself why I can’t. I am checking in with other sober people to talk it out and am constantly being told it gets better. In my gut and based on countless stories of people who have years of sobriety, I believe them, so I’m sticking to it.
Danielle: What have you learned, if anything, in the last 30 days?
Sarah: I have learned that I’m not going to feel good all the time, just because I’m sober. Trying to feel good all the time is why I drank so much. I’m now learning how to walk through, rather than numb, the fear, pain, loneliness—whatever emotion I might be feeling that’s not fantastic euphoria.
Danielle: Have you found a sponsor? If so, how has that changed your life in sobriety?
Sarah: I have found a wonderful sponsor. We have a lot in common so she relates to me very well but has nine years of sobriety and AA under her belt. Nine times out of 10, whenever I call her and talk something out, I feel better. It feels like free therapy.
Danielle: Have you begun working any steps? If so, which steps and what do you feel you got out of them, if anything?
Sarah: Yes, I am currently on Step 3. It’s actually been quite eye opening to think about praying for God’s will for my life and not what I want God to do with my life. Working the steps also helps my confidence because it makes me feel like I’m being proactive about bettering my life. I’m not just quitting drinking; I’m actively dealing with all the reasons I started abusing alcohol in the first place.
Danielle: What’s a typical day like for you now?
Sarah: Well, my life is a bit sporadic right now because I’m transitioning out of a job where I traveled a lot and trying to find full-time work. So my day is a combination of AA, exercise, job interviews, applying for jobs and working a part-time sales job that’s keeping me busy (and earning me a little—emphasis on little—money) until I find something full-time.
Danielle: Are you still having cravings to drink?
Sarah: Yes. I still crave alcohol but the cravings pass pretty quickly. I sat down for a friend’s dinner last night really wishing I could drink wine with everyone else. However, within a few minutes of being there, I was over it and grateful this morning for being present the whole evening and for being able to drive myself home and also again for waking up this morning remembering everything and being 100% certain I did not make an ass out of myself.
Danielle: What have been some of the hardest struggles so far?
Sarah: My social life has suffered a bit. I have plenty of friends I can hang out with sober but I’m less inclined to want to go “grab a drink” with someone and I’m also the first one to want to go home at any social event. I miss drinking after working a long day, too. I’ve been numbing out with junk food and candy and cigarettes. I know none of those things are good for me and I keep justifying it with “I’m getting sober,” hoping it will all balance out with more time booze-free and working the program. Everyone seems to think these behaviors are totally normal the first year of sobriety so I’m trying to go easy on myself.
Danielle: What are some things you love about being sober?
I love having brighter eyes and better skin. I love being less bloated. I love waking up clear-headed with a minimal amount of anxiety. I literally wake up relieved every single day because for so many years I woke up every day thinking, “Oh shit, what happened last night?”—which was a response I had regardless of whether I just stayed home and drank a bottle of wine alone or hit several bars barely able to form a sentence. I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I wake up and start my day like a normal person. I feel like I’m giving myself this enormous gift of never having to deal with a horrendous hangover.
Danielle: Do you struggle with the God concept?
Sarah: No. I’ve pretty much always believed in God with brief periods of doubt here and there throughout my adult life. For the most part, I know in my gut there is something bigger than me in control.
Danielle: What would you tell someone who is brand new coming into the program?
Sarah: I don’t really know…I guess that gradually, after 70-some odd days sober, my life is improving and that if you really, truly believe you’re done, it’s a great way to improve your life and keep yourself accountable to the decision to stop for good. It’s definitely impossible to do it alone. There are so many times I probably would have had a drink by now if I’d just make a vague promise to myself to quit. Being in the program and knowing people in the program is a constant reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s also just wonderful to have so many people who can relate and help me push through the times I really want to give up and say fuck it. So far, I’ve decided to stay, “Fuck it. I’m staying sober, even if it’s scary and hard.” If transformation were easy, more people who do what it takes to significantly change their life.
Here are some questions that came in from readers on Sarah F. at 43 days:
Rich: How do you choose a regular meeting to go to, or choose a home group for that matter? It’s been one of a myriad of things I’ve been resistant to.
I just kept going to different ones until something clicked. And the more desperate I got to stay sober, the more meetings I tried out…the home group I settled on ended up being the right combination of walking distance to my home, in a comfortable setting for me (an Episcopal church) and full of friendly people who approached me my first few days to welcome me with open arms. It’s also an early morning meeting, which I love. I am a morning person and find my brain just absorbs better early in the day so it’s when I get the most out of a meeting. I would try to find the combination of factors that work for you and, like everything else with AA, go easy on yourself about it.
Matt T: I have three weeks and have been in and out of AA for two years. Hopefully I get it right this time. The biggest struggle I had that sent me flying off the wagon was accepting the fact that I wasn’t and couldn’t be a normal social drinker. What advice do you have to finally come to terms that I just can’t drink anymore period?
I think we all struggle with coming to terms with that and it’s a continuous process. What I’ve been told to do is just focus on not drinking today. You can even tell yourself, “I’ll drink tomorrow but today, I’m going to just make it until my head hits the pillow without having a drink.” When I really want to drink and my alcoholism tries to convince me it wasn’t that bad or I can drink normally if I go back, I’ll just be extra careful this time, I consult a Word document I’ve had on my computer since early 2013. It’s basically a journal chronicling my feelings in and out of various, short periods of being on and off the wagon. Reading that is a sobering (pun intended) reminder of what happens when I drink. I also take the time to look around the room at social events serving alcohol now and think about what I’d be doing if I were still drinking. I’m not sure how old you are but I’m 30 so most of the people I socialize with are in their 30s and for the most part, people at that age are drinking moderately and not obsessing about if their glass is full. By the end of my drinking career, how much and what I was drinking was my primary focus at any event or gathering. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s normal.
We’ll continue to check in with Sarah about her sobriety so be sure to look out for our next installment. And if you have any questions you’d like to ask her, send them to [email protected] and we’ll make sure she answers them.