In Louisiana, we don't just embrace crazy drunken behavior...we parade it down the street. I mean they don't call it the dirty south for nothing! Whether it's SEC football, Mardi Gras, mud riding or deer season (because mixing alcohol with firearms and ATV's is totally safe...wtf?!), or Tuesday we find a way to incorporate celebrating with copious amounts of alcohol. It's engrained in our culture; it's our unofficial state motto for God's sake. Then, of course we all repent on Sunday (but that's an issue for another day).
So, with carnival season officially kicking off...I wanted to share how I beat the Cajun crazy.
Is it hard to get sober here? Are you kidding me? Is it hard to breathe without air? In early sobriety, it felt incredibly isolating & lonely. I had to distance myself from any event, any activity, & any person that celebrated alcohol, and it pissed me off. Sure there are a few gentle options: the family friendly zone on parade routes, family tailgates, etc...but I knew these wouldn't work for me. I didn't watch a single football game. I didn't catch the first bead (or show my boobs to anyone so that was definitely a win for the dignity column). I passed on all invitations to bonfires, festivals, tailgates, and boat days (Sundays on the Red River, after church of course, are the redneck version of a Midsummer Night's Dream). It felt like a horrible punishment, but I did as I was told and changed EVERYTHING and EVERYONE.
Instead, I prayed. I read, and I journaled. I worked out hangover free (what a glorious concept), went to therapy, & a lot of meetings. I drank a shit ton of coffee and bubble water. I cried. I traveled. I connected to people and to myself. For the first time in my life I discovered what made my heartbeat. I worked on Rachel, and I committed to it.
And then something magical happened...while I was busy distracting myself, I accidentally created a life for myself! (aha! plot twist). I began to see the old ways, the crazy & chaotic 'fun ways' for what they really were...emptiness. Not only had I engaged in these old behaviors and dialogues, I had romanticized them. I don't want to escape anymore. I want to vibrate on a higher frequency. I want to live and feel everything! I want to live in Technicolor, and you can't do that if you're off your face on vodka.
“The good news is, now that you’re sober you’ll start to have feelings. The bad news is, you’ll start to have feelings.”
I will never forget these words that my first sponsor spoke to me the day I met her. I was 72 hours sober and sitting quietly and fearfully in the back of the room. While we don’t all choose AA to recover, we do all get to choose how we deal with our feelings sans alcohol. No one ever told me this would be the hardest part.
How was I supposed to deal with sadness? Anxiety? Overwhelm? Those dreaded panic attacks? Oh and don’t even get me started on the ex husband. What was I going to do after a hard days work? Kids that don’t listen? Then a good day deserves a celebratory drink also, amiright?! The Titos bottle is what made everything better, helped me sleep at night and kept me going. The panic slowed when I was drinking. The ex husband...what ex husband?! A hard days work and out of control kids slowly faded into the background with that first delightful sip. Pretty soon nothing else mattered. And repeat. Day after day; year after year until I just couldn’t go on. After 15 plus years of drinking, death was inevitable and while I didn’t want to die I didn’t want to go on like this anymore either.
Alcoholic addicts don’t choose to drink because we are living our best lives. We drink so that we don’t have to deal with the hard stuff called life and we do our damndest to avoid all reality. As we learn however, covering up real life feelings with drugs and alcohol just leads to bigger life problems.
Honestly, addiction isn’t even about alcohol and drugs at all. It is the absence of self, a hole in your soul. Recovery starts with healing the parts of yourself that you’ve been at war with for so long. It is about loving yourself enough to do the hard work day after day for the rest of your life. Your recovery MUST come first so that everything else in life that you love doesn’t come last.
First things first...find a tribe! Whether it’s a recovery program such as AA, a local group, a sponsor, a Facebook group such as this...whatever it is, FIND IT and rely on those people to help you. When I say no one will judge you, I promise that is the truth. We all have a story that we aren’t proud of, no ones is worse than the others. You belong here and deserve the happiness that recovery brings! The first days are so damn hard and you can’t do it alone - lean on your people, let them love you even when you don’t love yourself!
Start a new routine. Meditate each morning and every night. Start with just a few minutes a day and work up to full meditations. Finding yourself and your own breath is so very important. Get in your head and your heart and learn to heal from the inside out!
Find good, therapeutic grade essential oils. Addiction starts because of feelings or lack thereof. We need to feel good and using essential oils as part of our daily routine and meditation practice will help our overall mental, emotional and physical healing. We are addicts in recovery trying to remove all the chemicals from our bodies. An all around chemical free life is the best life to live.
Talk to a therapist. While you might not need a therapist forever, one in the initial stages of recovery can really help you learn about yourself. Learn why you are putting up those walls. Why you feel you aren’t worthy of love and affection. Honestly, when I first got sober over four years ago, I thought I knew why I needed to drink and what was causing it...boy was I wrong. I learned so much about myself and found emotions and feelings I had been blocking out for years. Once I was able to let those go, I was able to feel more freely. Truth be told, I still see my therapist once a month because who doesn’t love just blurting it all out to someone who isn’t going to judge you and is just there to listen?
Finally, have grace on yourself. We aren’t perfect humans, there is no such thing; perfect doesn’t exist. Strive daily for progress, not perfection and if you fall, get that booty back up and start again girlfriend.
Recovery IS worth it. You ARE worth it. A sober life IS the best life. Go live yours my FRIEND!
This past Christmas, my daughter Lil got a hoverboard.
She immediately cracked it out of the box, and started whipping around on it all over the house, hair fluttering behind her. She looked graceful, like a beautiful robot-ballerina.
Although I’ve never been as graceful as a ballerina or even a robot, I still thought maybe I should give it a shot. Because man! that hoverboard looked like fun.
I climbed onto it and started hoverboarding. I navigated the living room shakily, moving forward at a pace of .0000025 miles per hour. Frankly, I was surprised at how well I was actually doing. After what was probably five entire minutes, I decided that it would be wise not to press my luck.
So I stepped off.
When I did, I forgot to pay attention to keeping my foot level and the hoverboard spun around beneath me. It rolled over Lil’s bare foot, and sent me crashing to the floor in a spectacular fashion. Right on my back. And because Lil was kindly holding my hand as I got my hoverboard bearings, I pulled her down on top of me.
This whole past holiday season has felt like that. It looks like it’s going to be fun, then it lands on its back with a thud.
Here’s a sampling of my inner monologue:
The fun: “My son’s choir sings so beautifully!”
The thud: “This is the last holiday choir concert of his I’ll see!” [he’s a senior]
The fun: “Oh look! The Christmas music box my mother-in-law gave me when I got married 20 years ago.”
The thud: “She’ll never be here to give me another gift.” [she passed away three years ago]
The fun: “Remember that funny story my grandpa used to tell about when my uncle met Santa?”
The thud: “We’ll never hear him tell it again.” [he passed away a year and a half ago]
The thuds are what I used to drink to forget. Not crazily. Not desperately. Definitely as a salve, though.
After a couple beers, I could laugh again without having to intentionally choose happiness.
But I stopped drinking forever, 15 months ago. And unlike last year, when I was a new non-drinker and the holidays felt like one giant conspiracy to get me to drink again, this year was easier. I didn’t find myself resisting the urge to drink to just get through it.
But I still found myself still wishing for an easy out.
This is definitely a time when I would have poured a stiff one, I kept thinking to myself, as I addressed more cards and ordered more presents and hung one more ornament adorned with a tiny handprint on the tree.
Instead of drinking, I tried other things.
I read books and I watched TV and I did my nails and I curled my hair.
I binged on cut-out stars, meringues and chocolates, and a package of chalky, soft peppermint sticks. Santa doesn’t come here anymore, I figured. Someone has to build up flesh that shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
I watched my teens gleefully open their presents on Christmas morning, two fools unaware that the clock is ticking for all of us. We’re all going to get old and die! I wanted to shout. MERRY CHRISTMAS. I hope you like that sweater.
It wasn’t all bad. But nothing ever really drowned out the thud completely.
And now that all the decorations are put away, all the family recipes have been made, and all the old stories told, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Things feel fresher and not so heavy with memories.
In January, it’s easier to recognize that empty place inside as just a part of me now. It doesn’t need filled with booze or fiction or nail polish or anything else, in the same way that the hole in a bagel doesn’t need filled. The hole is, in fact, what makes it uniquely a bagel in the first place, and not just a weird chewy bun.
So here’s to 2019. The year of keeping that hole delightfully and painfully empty. And perhaps the year of maybe stepping back on that hoverboard.
Laura Rees is a writer, a mother, a meditation teacher, a happiness advocate. She's living her best dry life in Central Ohio. Connect with her at her site, mantrasandmocktails.com, or on instagram, @mantrasandmocktails.
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