What I’ve Learned From Seven Years Of Sobriety

What I’ve Learned From Seven Years Of Sobriety

Woohoo! Happy Birthday to me! I’ve been sober since July 1, 2013!

Each year, I learn new things in this journey. I re-learn each year that this is a good and noble pursuit that is definitely worth whatever I have to go through to keep on staying sober.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not a diagnosis or treatment for any disease or anything anyone sees as a disease…this is not to be seen as professional and/or medical advice. It is not given in the form of advice, coaching, treatment. This is merely one person sharing her lived experience and lessons learned.


It’s amazing

How much I have changed in 7 years.

What makes this last year different is the roughness of it.

Also, I completely left the recovery community. I got sick on July 2, 2019 and never returned to my para-social work job at the recovery center as a “peer mentor” or “recovery specialist” or “sober coach” or whatever you want to call it. So this is my first full year since I’ve been sober that I haven’t exposed to a anything close to a “meeting.”

I haven’t been in the recovery world at all.

I stopped going to meetings years ago but this has been my first full year of not even being around it due to no longer working in the addiction field. It’s impossible to work in a recovery center and not hear “recovery speak” like cliches, slogans, victim blaming, spiritual bypassing, etc.

Year Seven started out pretty rough.

I ended up on food stamps and fighting eviction monthly. (What online coach will ever tell you the truth like this?) Employment was pretty sketchy for a while. I tried everything from Postmates to temp work and every work-from-home-for-extra-cash scheme I could find. UpWork? Did it. User Testing? Did it. All while applying for “real jobs” and working on this website, Reiki, and coaching business. I was treading water. Without the help of friends — some even worse off than me — I would never have made it.

Here’s where I bet you expect me to say how much I wanted a drink, right?

That’s the stereotype, isn’t it? Times get hard, the former alcoholic drinks, right?

Nope! Didn’t want to drink at all. I know who I am and I know the choice I made not to drink. I don’t doubt that decision. I don’t need “meetings” to remind me daily. I know what a nightmare drinking was; I know what dysfunctional alcoholics I from which I come.

That’s been a new understanding in Year Seven, too. Thanks to the pandemic, I had plenty of time to sit at home researching my great-grandparents. I DON’T know if they were alcoholics. What I DO know is they raised my grandfather, who was a pretty reckless and nasty drunk. He kept a roof over his family’s head, but he was his own boss, owning his own carpentry business. If he was late and hung over or dysfunctional on the job, he only had himself to answer to, or his clients didn’t care.

What I also know about my great-grandparents is they were first-generation Americans, coming to the U.S. in the late 1800’s and settling in Cleveland. Guess what is close to Cleveland? Akron! The home of AA! My grandfather would have been a young alcoholic in his late teens or early 20s when AA was born in Akron between Bill W. And Dr. Bob. But Old Gramps and his parents were devout Polish-Catholics who attended the famous St. Stanislaus Church in Cleveland. I’ve often wondered if AA would have been at odds with their traditional Polish-Catholic way of life and I am guessing those two ideologies were NOT a match.

I’ve often wondered this year whether sobriety could have been kept at bay for those generations because of our Polish-Catholic culture. I wonder if AA had found my family in Ohio back in the late 30s or early 40s, would they have laughed at it? Accepted it? Been intrigued by it? If AA crossed their paths, I will never know; they are all long gone now.

What I do know is AA did intercede in my life, thankfully derailing me from the path I was on seven years ago.

But I also evolved past it.

I lost friendships when I left. The AA community doesn’t support you once you leave. You are only supported for staying “in the rooms,” which is why so many are afraid to leave. As I endured my rough patch in 2019, AA people weren’t the ones jumping to my aid or standing by my side. My Christian friends did, and so did my old AA “sponsor,” who no longer acted in that capacity but had become a family member for life. My “normie” friends supported me. My trans friends supported me. Every type of person EXCEPT AA people helped me. And I stayed away from AA people because I’d only be chastised that it was all my fault, I was a horrible person, and I’d better get to a meeting — because, sure, that solves everything.

I walked away from the 12-step community and have only been met with ugliness over it.

Staunch AA folks shunned me. I know how they think — their belief system states that I will use again without using meetings, a sponsor, and the Big Book. But here I am, years without a meeting, sponsor, step work, a Big Book, etc., and doing just fine — no, better. The toxic and defeating messages of AA our out of my head. I’m free.

After AA, I sought out anti-AA people, which was another mixed bag of unsupportive people.

I loved it at first, joining a few Facebook groups who were anti-AA. I’d gone from one side of the spectrum to the other and that never works for me. I did enjoy some laughs and did learn some things. Yes, those people seemed particularly angry and bitter. But they held my same viewpoint. They’d had even worse experiences than I had had. I was stalked and triangulated by a convicted rapist — and his girlfriend — at my “home meeting.” No one stepped in to help me or ban them. But at least I hadn’t actually been violently attacked or even murdered as some women who attended AA in other cities had. The anti-AA groups taught me about some dangers that were out there I wasn’t even aware of as I’d been attending/hosting groups in very pro-recovery Wichita, a place with around 600+ “meetings” a week. (Or at least years ago & before the pandemic).

I even fit in OK in the anti-AA groups until I was chased off for telling a woman to stop having a pity party for herself.

I was told that was “too AA speak” and told to delete my comment in the group discussion. The woman truly WAS having a pity party. She did need someone to help her snap out of it and realize it. I did take that chore upon myself — wrong or right. Others had done it for me in the past; I have an understanding that sometimes the bear needs to be poked. The ugly truth must be revealed. But in the unspoken rules of that group, I guess I was to add to the pity party and help the woman to continue on feeling sorry for herself — which solves nothing. So I was happy to get kicked out. Hey, if you want to sit around and pity yourself, go right ahead.

When a group is unsupportive ad unproductive like that, it’s not for me. n

Yes, we are all human and prone to self-pity at some point. Feeling sorry for myself is something I put a cap on. I can have one shitty day, just 24 hours to feel my feelings & process. Then I need to turn to the solution. Or just go on living. Especially this year. I will feel my feelings but only to an end. I can’t let feeling sorry for myself, or self-pity, or any other hurt get in the way of my life. I can’t let feelings drive me away from logic or staying the course either. But AA won’t let you have your feelings or thoughts — everything YOU think is bad and feeling anger is always wrong under any circumstance.

I am not the poster child for recovery.

I don’t like to call myself “a person in recovery” or a “person in long-term recovery.” I don’t like to call myself an addict or an alcoholic. For God’s sake, I STOPPED doing that stuff years ago! I stopped doing drugs in 2001. I cannot call myself an “addict” or an “alcoholic” when I haven’t done any of that crap in YEARS. (I may be 7 years sober but I’m nearly 19 off drugs).

I decided to change my language to what the recovery community doesn’t approve — which is, “I am a former addict.”

I also call myself “retired” sometimes. Other times, I am a “recovered addict/alcoholic.” Usually it’s one of these three and whatever comes to me in the moment. AA people and the recovery community want you to use, “recovering,” as in “you’re always a work in progress,” or “once an addict always an addict, you can always use again.” I decided I have earned the right to call myself a RECOVERED ADDICT using past tense as years of living like a normal person award me that right. While I agree we are all works in progress, acting like I am forever and always an addict/alcoholic is NOT the identity I choose.

Let me call myself an alcoholic around all these professional people I come in contact with daily on my job. That makes it sound like I am STILL USING. For those “normies” I work around now, they think “addict” or “alcoholic” and automatically think I’m some toothless, homeless bridge troll who hasn’t showered in months. That’s what the real world thinks. Sorry, not sorry. This is why I choose the language I do.

I am living proof you don’t need connection to stay sober; I have been mostly alone since March 15 of this year.

(A small group of us at work stayed exposed to only each other outside our homes). You don’t need meetings. When I worked on Senate Bill 6 for my agency, I saw with my own eyes what the folks at FWD.us had already learned in their research — that intensive supervision DOES NOT work.

So what does work?

I have a pretty strong desire to NOT be intoxicated ever again. I understand cause and effect; I drink and bad things happen. I learned new coping skills. I learned new ways of living. But that wasn’t just a 90-day path that was meant to set me up for life. I KEEP on learning and growing. I honor this path. I honor that I must grow and evolve. Not all friendships, coping skills, jobs, people, places, pastimes, etc., are meant to follow me into Year Eight. I KEEP on letting go in this way.

The wolf is not always at the door, as my adopted AA dad always tells me.

We are not always, “one step away from the fall.” At some point, we have to believe in ourselves. We have to learn to trust. We have to learn to build ourselves UP and we also need to learn there’s nothing WRONG with that! There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be sober, happy, and living a good life. Just like there’s nothing wrong with choosing to save money and take vitamins.

Heading back into the rooms, the message I’d hear would be, “You suck, you’re less than, you’re always ready to fail, all you do is self-sabotage…” Or worse, the other message — because I’m doing well — would be that I’m just full of pride and ego, then they’d snicker behind my back that I’m about to drink. You can’t do well in AA. They will tear you down. But share widely that you feel like a constant failure and those groups will eat you up. They’ll just love you!

I’ve ended up MORE successful than I’ve ever been since leaving AA.

Finally this year, I landed a good job. I spent my time applying to job after job last fall with only an internet hotspot on my iPhone — not sitting in meetings feeling sorry for myself. Sure, there were hard times. But I didn’t drink. I didn’t even think about it. I thought about smoking cigarettes, not going to lie. But I didn’t do that either. I didn’t waste my time in meetings. I spent it job searching.

I’m as content and happy as anyone can possibly be right now in this pandemic. I am pursuing the things I want in life. I am getting to live the life I choose — a life that wouldn’t be possible if I started drinking again.

I still think drinking sucks.

Those anti-AA groups exposed me to another subgroup of people out there who started drinking again. They engage in some kind of controlled drinking AA tells us is bad. But yet, there are people out there doing it just fine. Good for them, if they are happy, healthy, and legal in their lives. It’s not for me. I don’t have to denounce what they do. I don’t have to care. Same thing with medical marijuana — you do you. If it doesn’t work, stop. If it’s working, more power to you. Same if you love the steps and meetings, do you. I do me — that means I can stop reading the same book over and over for the rest of my life and don’t go to meetings anymore.

The recovery community has lost this ability to let people decide for themselves what they need. So has the justice system which loves for force 12-step meetings on people whom they deem “have a problem.” The two systems feed each other.

This subject is a whole different blog post…for another day.