On June 5, 2010 I was arrested for DUI. Before that moment, I was a closeted, suffering alcoholic feeling trapped in my addiction, desperately wanting to escape it but unable to see a way out. The moment I saw cop lights in my rear-view mirror, I knew it was over. In a nightmarish instant, as I was handcuffed and placed into the back of a police car, the solution presented itself: Just. Stop.
There is so much noise and dogma in the world about recovery, twelve steps, one day at a time and higher powers. Before the arrest, all of that overwhelmed me. Escape from my alcoholic patterns felt inaccessible, as if it required a gauntlet of complicated machinations of which I was simply incapable. But in that moment as I heard about my right to remain silent, I crossed a threshold into a new reality that had been there all along: Just. Stop.
That day was the beginning of what the addiction treatment world calls my recovery. A fuck-ton of recovering did indeed occur in the weeks, months, and years after that day. Contrary to the tenets of the “disease theory” of addiction, I do not consider my recovery from alcoholism a lifelong state requiring perpetual focus and work. Rather, it was a finite series of phases I passed through, ultimately emerging as a recovered person. This is not to say that I rid myself of the tendencies and fundamental wiring that led me down the road of daily alcohol abuse, but I learned how to see those parts of me with honesty. I learned how to be healthy with their presence as part of my being.
For the first three months, I was overjoyed at how easy it was and how brilliant the world had suddenly become with my newfound sobriety. I had solved my drinking problem! I was already on the other side of it! Life was amazing! I didn’t know it then, but it is common for newly sober people to experience this “pink cloud”: a period of euphoria and manic energy in the first few months. It is fueled by the physiological jolt when the daily inebriant is suddenly discontinued. There is an acute awakening of emotions and sensations; every day feels like a thrilling adventure. I remember being excited to go to bed at night during that time because I JUST COULDN’T WAIT for the next amazing day.
The three-month mark is a common point of relapse for addicts and alcoholics, and I know first-hand why that is (although I have never relapsed myself). As autumn began, my euphoria began to give way to a much less pleasant state of being. I had lost significant weight over the summer (removing several hundred calories per day and exercising like it’s your job will do that), and my weight loss continued to an unhealthy point. I started having trouble sleeping, and soon was sleeping only one or two hours at night. I became anxious and irritable, feeling like my skin had been peeled off exposing every nerve. I felt incomplete and became intensely dissatisfied with myself and every aspect of my life. I began taking anti-anxiety and sleeping medication and was able to return to a semblance of normalcy, but piercing angst was my constant companion for the next year.
In hindsight, I see that all the years of drunkenness had inhibited my development of basic coping skills. I thought about drinking sometimes because I knew it would cure the pain I was feeling. But, I had mentally removed that option from the realm of things available to me on the day I was arrested, so I never got anywhere near close to going there. No “one day at a time” for this gal – it’s all or nothing with me. I never wanted to revisit the decision again, and I never really have. I don’t drink; that’s part of who I am and will be for the rest of my life.
Over the next two years, my life became unrecognizable from what it had been before. Where I lived, where I worked, who I lived with, my role as a mom, how I looked, what I did with my days, how I thought… It all changed, drastically. I escaped the life of a lost, sick, and guilty alcoholic. I figured out how to blow my secrets into oblivion and claim my freedom. I gathered my shame into a pile and set it on fire. I flailed and squirmed and hurt and suffered as my being expanded into who I really am. I went through a period of self-absorbed narcissism as I woke up, and l hurt people I love. I behaved unpredictably as I rushed to fix everything. It felt like an emergency that my life was not what I needed it to be. It all worked out. New truths announced themselves, and I found the strength to accept them. I did the work of honest self-examination and self-acceptance. I settled down and learned how to live with balance.
On June 5, 2010 I decided to Just Stop, and I have recovered.