Sobriety in the Time of Covid-19

I am always grateful for my sobriety, but right now I am extra grateful to be sober! Are these wild times or what? I’ve gotten over the whole “we are living in a sci-fi movie” feeling (that was SO March 2020), and have moved on to acceptance. Acceptance that life as we knew it is over. Acceptance that all the things I had planned for this year most likely won’t happen. Acceptance for the fear and uncertainty this pandemic has brought into our daily lives. Acceptance that I really am doing the best that I can right now.

The start of this year was a bit of a whirlwind, and in January my coworker let us know that she was taking a new job after 17 years with our college. I decided immediately that despite her position not being what I thought I would ever go for in my field, I needed to apply for her job. I work at a tiny academic library, and this would most likely be my only way to move up professionally for a long time. I’m happy where I am at, and would like to be able to stay in one place for a while. So I busted my butt trying to learn the basics of this position for the next month, applied for the job, and I got the promotion. Shortly after, the Covid-19 bomb went off and life hasn’t been the same.

As a regular NPR listener, I’d been hearing about the virus that was ravaging Wuhan but it naively never occurred to me that we would be in danger of an outbreak here. Two of my coworkers were panicking way ahead of the curve, and I found their fears to be over the top. My husband and I had plane tickets to fly to Cleveland at the end of March so I could celebrate my 40th birthday with family and friends, but it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be flying anywhere.

All of a sudden my entire weekly routine was out of whack, and that’s when I started to panic. Two major parts of my week day routine that helps me to keep my head on straight are classes at my gym and AA meetings. All of a sudden we were told to stay home and avoid contact with others. I was at a small concert on March 18th, and next day the band canceled the rest of their tour. The NBA had suspended their season. TOM HANKS HAD THE DAMN VIRUS! Things began getting more real, and more weird at the same time. My boss and I were the only ones working while our campus turned into a ghost town over spring break. Each night we were told to take home our laptops and essentials in case we were told not to return to work. Meanwhile, my husband had been working from home indefinitely since March 17th. My last day at work was March 25th as our city’s shelter in place rules would begin to take effect the next morning for the next 30 days. Our shelter in place has since been extended while yesterday our city had the highest spike yet in recorded infections.

Thankfully my AA home group began running via Zoom on the 25th, and my gym started its online classes that Monday. I immediately dove in to keep myself busy and help stifle the panic that flopped around in my chest like an awkward baby bird. I turned 40, and while I got to enjoy a beautiful spring day scoping out an amazing old cemetery (social distancing at its finest), underneath it all I was disappointed. I wasn’t able to see my family or friends, and I couldn’t even celebrate with a nice meal out at a restaurant. First world problems, but I was bummed. Obviously a birthday is just another day, but 40 seemed special and my big day was overshadowed by impending doom.

Meanwhile, my new sponsor was in an emotional free fall. She suffered a loss immediately after we started working together in December, and subsequently fell into a deep depression. It turned into a nosedive as the threat of coronavirus and quarantine creeped in. I was struggling too, but I was also really worried about her. We finally came to the mutual agreement that it would be best that I find another sponsor. Our time working together was short, but I love her and wish her the best. We are in the same home group, and still text every couple of days or so. Within a week, I had a new sponsor. She is also in my home group, and has been a friend since I moved here. She is retired, lives alone, and is grateful to be working with a new sponsee. We immediately began our step work, and it is going so well.

I discovered early on that life in the time of Covid-19 felt much like early sobriety. Since this pandemic is an entirely new experience for all of us, I had to learn how to deal with life and manage my emotions just as I did when I was newly sober. In early sobriety, I was afraid of everything, had zero armor to protect myself emotionally, and my feelings were all over the place. Scared one minute, happy the next, crying after that. As quarantine loomed and shit became REAL fast, I was riding a roller coaster of emotions. Every hour I seemed to be feeling something different: fear, then anxiety, then gratitude, back to fear, then dread. It was dizzying and I felt brand new all over again. I was incredibly grateful to be able to work from home, then I realized how hard it was to work from home. I was tired all the time, mentally exhausted, and trying to do my old job, the new job, and train the new guy. I unloaded all of these frustrations at a meeting, and was quickly snapped back to reality. A home group member and dear friend said, “Listen, you aren’t just working from home. You are stuck at home during a time of CRISIS, and you are trying to work.” It sounds so simple, but I hadn’t been able to make that connection in my brain. As usual, my expectations of myself were entirely too high! It took some time, but I have come to a level of acceptance that I am doing the best that I can right now. We all are.

The big perk of working from home is the stellar commute! I quickly developed a routine where I could sleep in 20 minutes later than normal, shower, grab some coffee, then head upstairs to have some quiet time to center myself before starting my day. I would read several daily meditations (Daily Reflections and The 24 Hour Book), do some quarantine journaling based on these questions, then text my sponsor. It was a great way to center myself, and get back to the basics. Having a structured routine is really important to me, and I think the change in everything was another big reason for my panicking at the beginning of all this with the gym and AA. In the meantime, I’ve had sessions with my counselor every other week via Zoom. Our sessions are productive, but I’ve discovered that they really wipe me out. We always meet at 9 a.m., and by my lunch break I am exhausted. So much extra energy is going into our new worlds, and I am trying to be kinder to myself and except that sometimes I just need to lie down. So on those days with counseling, I lie down and sometimes I get a nap in during my break. If I don’t sleep, I still feel better after letting myself relax and be still for at least 30 minutes. Old me would have felt that I was being lazy; new me knows that I have a lot going on and that it is perfectly okay to rest!

The past two weeks I’ve felt worlds different mentally. I am also feeling better after extreme screen time/Zoom/talk exhaustion. I was spending a lot of time each week checking in and calling my Mom, Dad, brother, and two grandmothers that I felt worn out. For some reason I thought I would have so much time and energy to catch up with old friends, video chat, play games with people online….and crickets. Again, high expectations of myself. This has been a challenging learning experience in so many ways. I thought that I would have so much more time and energy to do things, when I’ve ended up being wiped out. I am in no way bored, and I’m not just sitting on my butt doing nothing. Survival mode is rough. It’s not just about goofing off all weekend, it’s about being responsible and taking care of yourself. Thankfully I am sober, or else I would probably spend most of this quarantine being blacked out, sick, paralyzed with fear, and doing horribly irresponsible things because I would need to get out and get more booze.

I hope you are all healthy, safe, and doing what you can to take good care of yourself. I know it’s hard when things are scary, but really taking it one day at a time is so, so helpful. Try to stay into today, and know that you are doing the best that you can right now. And I am proud of you!

Day 2,448

One of the tools I’ve learned in sobriety is to look at a problem or issue in my life and ask, “What will I learn from this?” When it’s painful or difficult, there is usually an opportunity for growth. This summer I started feeling a weird sort of distance from my sponsor. Things were fine when we got together to catch up and do work, but everything felt different otherwise. When I would text it would sometimes take a day or two to get a response along with a lighthearted “I thought I responded to this but I didn’t!”. Sometimes it would take time to nail her down for an actual phone call. We were still in touch, but I started feeling like I was being held at arm’s length.

Naturally my self-esteem (or lack thereof) began to whisper to me that maybe this was my fault. I started telling myself that I wasn’t a good enough sponsee, because my life was perpetually busy and I wasn’t doing enough in the program. I thought that maybe she didn’t like me anymore. While the negative self-talk grew, so did my resentment against her. I am a 39 year old woman who has grown leaps and bounds emotionally the past six years, but all of a sudden I was unable to ask a women who knew everything about me if she liked me/wanted to work with me anymore. 

In meetings, I started scoping out the women who raised their hands to show that they were willing to sponsor. I was drawn again and again to a woman in my home group that has been sober since I was the in first grade. I kept making mental notes to talk to her, but I never did other than the usual pre and post meeting pleasantries.

Fast forward to the Sunday before Christmas. My sponsor and I met at a coffee shop for a catch up. After I filled her in on my usual busyness, she tells me that she has something important to tell me. Over the summer, she was overseas for a work trip and she relapsed. It was only one drink, and she says it was an accident but she knowingly finished the drink. And didn’t tell anyone about it for almost 6 months. 

Classic alcoholic behavior. 

She thought I would be furious, but at first all I could do was blurt out that I knew something was wrong and I was relieved that it wasn’t about me (addicts and alcoholics are really, really good at thinking only of themselves). But then I approached her from a place of love and understanding, which I’ve learned to do in AA. 

I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.  

Despite my growing resentment, she is my sober sister and I love her. I also know that she is full of shame and beating the shit out of herself in her own head. Why would I add to that?

We had a great talk for several hours, and she cried a few times. I came close to tears as well. It’s emotional stuff, cunning, baffling, and powerful stuff. As her story unraveled in front of me I could see her distance, and how this relapse took shape in her life. The relapse begins to happen in our heads long before we pick up that drink. And she’s lucky she only had one; she could have stayed on a bender overseas and lost her job. And yes, it was only one drink but she obsessed over alcohol for the rest of the trip.

After our meeting, I was hurt. Pissed off. Seriously, I was lied to for six months? WHAT THE FUCK?! As soon as my hissy fit left my system, I started to turn this scenario into a learning experience. What can I do to prevent a relapse? How do I stay strong, and keep my sober toolbox at the ready? 

My next soberversary is year 7. I know SO many people that have gone out again at 7 years, and I’ll be damned if that happens to me. Yes, my life is busy but I stay committed to my sobriety. I have a home group that I attend weekly, I’m in a committee in that home group, I volunteer and take AA meetings into our county jail, I work the steps, I try to remain spiritually fit, and now I am working with a new sponsor. 

To some it may seem like a lot of work, but thanks to this program I rebuilt my life. Scratch that! I BUILT AN AMAZING NEW LIFE! My life is still incredible to me today, even on the shitty grey January days when my brain protests winter and the lack of light. Even on days when my anxiety is out of control, my life is such a blessing. I refuse to accept anything less now. 

Onward and upwards, friends!

Day 2,196

Sunday I celebrated my 6th year of sobriety. SIX YEARS. I’m still baffled and humbled by this process. How has it possibly been this long? I wish I could tell me at 6 months that it gets better, easier, that it’s an incredible journey. But that would be cheating, right? Every day, month, and year that I am sober equals growth, and I am so grateful for the all the lessons and victories along the way.

Like every year, this past year has had its challenges. The hardest was dealing with the death of my grandfather, which is thus far the hardest loss I’ve experienced in my life. Just yesterday I was eating breakfast with my husband and a friend, and the tears and grief washed over me after seeing an older man that reminded me of him. He didn’t look like him at all, but I think it was the New Balance tennis shoes that did it. I had to wipe my eyes and carry on, before the ugly crying came out in full force. I try not to stifle my emotions these days, but for me there is a time and a place for ugly crying (ha).

Speaking of emotions, I’m now trying to come to grips with anger. After speaking to my sponsor on my soberversary, it became clear that I am struggling with my temper these days. This doesn’t mean that I am in a bad place or am pissed off all the time, but when something does happen my anger has been going from 0-100 in seconds. AAers like to say that “more will be revealed”. This is currently my “more”!

The anger has been an issue since my grandfather’s death, and I think it ties in to me being away from my Ohio family and friends since getting married. I love my life here in St. Louis, but I miss a lot of people terribly. When I am back in Ohio and visiting, it is impossible to see everyone. Family is number one, and I am lucky to also have so many friends and members of my Akron AA family that want to see me. But it’s incredibly frustrating that every visit feels like speed-dating and exhausts me. I wore myself (and my amazingly patient husband) into the ground over Christmas. I realize that is on me trying to be a people-pleaser, but I really miss all these people and want to see them. When I don’t have the time to see EVERYONE, it makes me feel like shit. So I guess it is all a part of me still adjusting to my new life, and living away from home for the first time ever outside of college.

I am also working on upping my service work in AA! I am my home group liaison to the Women in Corrections Committee, and I hope to be able to take meetings into jails. I have all the paperwork to volunteer for the jail, but am worried that my past criminal conviction will keep me from doing so. Ironic, right? Time will tell, but all I can do is try at this point.

My life and heart in general remain very full. My husband and I bought a house last fall, and adopted a greyhound. I am active in AA, and I belong to a great women’s gym. I love my job, and I work for a great college. None of this would be possible without my sobriety. While I now have 6 years, it still comes down to the day to day. We stay sober, one day at a time.

Dear 2014 Me

I wish I could go back in time and give 2014 me a hug. Let her know that everything she’s been through, everything she’s fought for, all the tears and fears and doubts will one day be worth it. Let her know that she is loved, and she is most certainly strong enough.

Four years ago today I walked out of maximum security jail after being incarcerated for six months. My mother, father, brother, and friend Lisa were waiting for me in the lobby. I will never forget the sound of my mother’s sobs as she held me.

At this point in my life, I was almost 19 months sober. I had lost everything, and had to move in with my mother. It would take another 2 ½ years for me to be able to drive again, and I had resigned from my job. Despite my master’s degree, I was terrified that no one in my profession would take their chance on a felon. I was scared and my self-esteem was in the toilet.

Five days later I wrote this on my blog:

I am slowly adjusting to life post-incarceration and am reveling in simple pleasures: sunshine and fresh air, real coffee, walks with my dog, fresh fruits and vegetables, being able to hug friends and family, sleeping in a real bed with a pillow, wearing my own undies, etc. While I am grateful to put the past six months behind me, there are still many obstacles looming on the horizon. I’m scared and hope I have the strength to get through all this. One day at a time right?

Dear 2014 me: You’ve got this! Keep fighting and never give up. Your life will be amazing. YOU are amazing.

I got through it all by taking baby steps. Baby steps don’t seem like much at first, but soon you look back and realize you survived a marathon, and then a triathlon. Only these distances are not measured by speed, but by dedication and perseverance. Four years later, every bump in the road, every time I’ve struggled to keep my head afloat in shark-infested waters, it’s all been worth it.

In the meantime, there’s no end in sight. The work remains, and I strive to keep moving, to stay sober, to keep learning more about myself. I also have a hell of a time doing it! Life today is a blast. I wish I had the strength to do all this work before I hit my bottom, but that’s how my story goes. This is a hard time of year, so please reach out if you need to. Also know that it will get better and better.

Dear 2014 me: The best is yet to come! Trust me.

Before & After

IMG_20180817_222050_321

It is the tail end of National Recovery Month, so I thought I would publish a quick before and after. I posted this on Instagram for a Clean Challenge a few months back. Here’s what I wrote:

The first photo is from Labor Day weekend 2012, and I am completely blacked out. Even though I got in a cab with a friend, I end up coming to the next morning in the pouring rain, having passed out in a park. Despite that terrifying ordeal, I kept drinking until May 2013 when I had an even more horrific incident happen. The photo on the right is from April 2018, less than a month shy of my 5th year of sobriety. No more my dead eyes, blackouts, shame, unbearable anxiety and 2-3 day hangovers. Sobriety remains the hardest thing, and the best thing I’ve ever done. 

So much gratitude…

Stumbling Through Grief

grief

At five years sober, I am still encountering new terrain and challenges. The most recent is the death of my grandfather. This is the hardest loss I have had to go through in my life, and during my grandfather’s one week stay in hospice I was terrified. All I could think about was, I don’t want to feel this. I am scared to feel so much pain. How do I do this???

Compounding the situation was my distance from him and the rest of my family. After I got married last year, I moved to St. Louis. Within two weeks last fall, I got married, moved, and started a new job. Scary? Yes! But I did it. Just like when I spent six months in the pokey when I was 13 months sober. Terrifying? YES! But I did it. Every time I go through something else in sobriety that seems utterly terrifying, I have to remind myself of all that I have been through in this journey. And then I do my best to muster up some courage and barrel through.

I was not able to make the trip home to say goodbye to my Pappy, which was excruciating for me. I felt disconnected from my family, and it all caused a lot of emotional anguish. I did get to say goodbye to Pappy via my dad’s cell phone. Dad said he opened his eyes while I talked to him, and I am hoping he heard me. That was on a Friday, and he was gone three days later.

In the meantime, I was Googling grieving in sobriety. I spoke out in my home group about my fear of losing someone so dear to me. I kept in touch with my current and former sponsor. I didn’t hide from this fear, I laid it out there for everyone to see. I prayed for strength and said the serenity prayer A LOT. When he passed, I kept talking to people: on the phone, via text and email, in person and in meetings. I cried and I yelled. I got pissed that first night that I couldn’t take the edge off with a drink or a cigarette. I acknowledged that anger, then I let it go. In sobriety you don’t get a buffer for the pain, you have no choice but to keep moving through it.

My husband and I made the long drive back to Ohio for the visitation and funeral. I was scared to go into my grandparents’ church, but thankfully I was met by my mom and two of my best friends before I walked into the door. I was scared that I would see his body in the casket and cry so hard that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. I was nauseous, but I did it. And I cried a lot. I brought him one of my sobriety coins to put in his casket, and was grateful that he saw me turn my life around. His own father was an abusive alcoholic, and because of that, Pappy did not drink. Not only that, but he was an amazing father and grandfather. I am so lucky to have had him in my life.

Of course I am still dealing with residual icky feelings and sadness, but I am continuing to put them out there. The old me would have used this as another excuse to drink more, to isolate and keep everything inside to fester. It also would have been another excuse to eat tons of junk and feel like shit about myself. I let myself grief-eat sweets over the weekend (I’m not fucking perfect!), but I stopped and agreed to treat myself with kindness this week. I went to the gym, ate better, and made an effort to get more rest. I am so grateful for a program which has given me so many skills: on living, on coping, etc. Life will never be easy, but we can get through anything one day at a time.

Wish me luck!

Tomorrow is my driving test! I’m totally nervous because the BMV refused to give me temps so I could practice. I guess it doesn’t matter if you haven’t driven for over three years. Sink or swim, that’s been my entire journey thus far. This scene of Cher in Clueless taking her driving test has been in my head all week! I know I won’t reach that level of suckage, but I’m feeling nervous all over again about the manueverability part of the test. Ughhhh. Fingers crossed! 

Freedom

freedom

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”

I made it! I’ve finally earned my freedom from felony probation after three years. This includes: a six month stay in a county jail, losing my home during that time (i.e. getting officially booted from my ex’s house where I had lived for eight years prior) along with my mind for a short period, resigning from my job, having to move back home with my mother after my jail sentence, being completely broke and having to sign up for government benefits and medical insurance, getting a new AA sponsor and going to new meetings in a new town, being sentenced to 4 meetings per week once out of jail, my license being suspended for three years, paying several thousand dollars of court costs, restitution, and BMV fines (after spending 12.5K on a lawyer), getting a job back with my university library in February 2015, moving back to Akron into a tiny studio apartment, living ON MY OWN (with no roommate or boyfriend) for the first time ever, learning how to live independently without a car (public transit here isn’t the greatest), having to get forms signed and get permission every time I left the state, getting sued, waking in up terror some nights wondering if I forgot to check in or do something correctly with probation, living in fear of being hauled off to prison (not jail – my judge was trying to get me 2-5 YEARS in prison) if I so much as sneezed wrong, and what else?

 

OH YEAH. During this time I’ve stayed sober! I found another new sponsor and new home group when I moved back to Akron, I reworked the steps, I started sponsoring, I started giving leads (other people call them speaker meetings) despite being terrified of public speaking, I became active in my home group, and in general I gave back to AA as much as I could because I owe this program my life. If it weren’t for the program and the fellowship, I would have crumbled. Instead, my life became better than I ever could have imagined.

After my accident, I wondered why I escaped death. I had all these obstacles in my path that I could not see an end to.  How could I do it? I felt like my life was over. There was seemingly no way out.

Kids, if you are new to the program please stick around. Be willing. Ignore the icky God stuff at first or merely think of it as “Good Orderly Direction”. Ask for help. Go to meetings. Get a sponsor. Work the steps. Grit your teeth and ride out all the new uncomfortable feelings. I promise it will pass and that it will get better. One day at a time it gets better, and we recover. I am living proof that this thing works.

Don’t ever give up on yourself. I’m so glad I didn’t.

 

Four Years (5.12.17)

sober

It’s still amazing to me that I’ve gotten to this point. God willing I will continue on this journey, and will find the accumulation of each new year just as magical as the first. I remain a work in progress, and hope to be a student of sobriety for the rest of my days. AA has saved my life, and I must continue to give thanks for all that I’ve received by carrying the message of hope to others. It can be done. Life gets exponentially better! Please stay while you are here.

4

I finally got my coin yesterday, as I left town on Friday and got back Tuesday. In a way, I’ve turned a corner on my recovery this year. Or maybe it’s just in my personal growth? I’m sure I’ve written here how I’ve struggled with my sobriety date. It’s a day of both pain and joy for me. The past three years I’ve absolutely dreaded the week of my sobriety date, because on the day before, I relive my car crash. Of course I don’t remember the crash, but I am wracked with guilt and pain because of it. Thanks to the intensive work I’ve done with my amazing counselor, this year I was at peace with May 11th. I see her again next week, and I cannot wait to tell her how I did last Thursday. Nothing I can do will change the events of that day, but it’s such a relief that I made it through May 11th this year without stirring up a horrible maelstrom of emotion. I acknowledged the past, I prayed for my victim and her family, and marveled over how I am alive today. What an incredible blessing!

Cheers, Friends!

 

Marty Dobbs

Do any of you watch the Netflix show Love? Despite it being created by Judd Apatow and having a main story line involving addiction, I struggled to get through season one last year. I remember warming up to it slowly, and finally getting into and enjoying it by the last few episodes. I finished season two a week ago, and was much more into it. I also  sometimes found myself identifying with the main character Mickey, the alcoholic-addict. I remember watching season one and being infuriated with her! Funny, right? God knows I was a right pain in the ass for a lot of years.

The episode that struck me the most was “Marty Dobbs”. In it, Mickey’s father is visiting from out of town. He’s an alcoholic, and they butt heads because they are so similar to each other. Mickey’s love interest, Gus, is invited to act as a buffer, but instead he blows her AA anonymity to Marty. The visit is a complete shit show, and ends badly. Mickey and Gus are fighting on the way home, and eventually Mickey pulls the car over and gets out because she can’t even handle being in the same car with him anymore.

Mickey: I’ll just give you a ride home so you can have a break from me.

Gus: I don’t want a break from you. (awkwardly hugs Mickey)

dobbs

I can’t tell you how many times that has been me. Navigating through early sobriety is pretty terrifying, as is the realization that you are relearning how to do life all over again. Even worse is learning relationships, especially because I never learned the first time around. I desperately wanted to connect with people, but didn’t have a clue how. I remember feeling that I was incapable of being a good girlfriend, because KC in active addiction was a terrible girlfriend.

But back to Mickey…that was me. Sadly, my fiance has often been on the receiving end of that sort of exchange. How many times did I try to push him away because I felt that I was too fucked up to deserve love? Or that I was an unlovable mess? When that rough day snowballs into a terrible week and those character defects start to come out again. Thinking how the hell could someone love this?  Why would they want to?

There was never a button that clicked, where I suddenly realized that I am capable and deserving of love. It just sort of happened. Life got easier and I stopped fighting it and other people. I know that my journey of sobriety will continue to unfold as will my journey of learning to love myself. In the meantime I will remain grateful for all the people who stood by me and hugged me and loved me when I hated myself. I hope in season three Mickey will get to experience the growth and love that I have been on the receiving end of in my own sobriety. Until next season…