I’m here, I’m here

Hello! So it turns out that if you don’t blog for a couple of weeks, people contact you and express concern that everything is still alright, which is code for ‘have you started drinking again’. Which is very nice of them. I mean that quite genuinely: everybody in my real life has either accepted that I no longer drink or they never cared much in the first place, whereas the sober community, I think, understands that it continues to be something one has to work at, year after year.

So, first things first: no, I’m not drinking again. I’m just channelling a lot of time and effort into changing career direction, which is rather like turning around a juggernaut in terms of energy expenditure versus discernible effect. And there are only so many hours in the day, after all. I’ve let a lot of other things drop recently as well; my long evenings of cooking to music; indulgent baths; any form of exercise.

All of which brings me to the second thing. So, I’m very busy in a happy, engaged, interested sort of way. And I can’t imagine how on earth I ever had time to drink, and I can’t imagine having time to do so again – there are so many more interesting things to do with one’s time, it turns out.

But! There is this little voice of doubt at the back of my mind, asking me whether or not it’s ‘safe’ to dial down the sober work.

One of the things that I dislike about a certain subset of AA adherents is this: it feels like there is an attitude that there is only one way, that sobriety is something to be worked at forever, and that if we let down our guard for a moment, a bottle of alcohol will leap out of a dark alley, mug us and leave us for dead. Now, I’m not saying that’s any of you lovely folks, but it’s something I’ve seen in comment threads time after time, so it’s definitely out there as an attitude.

And of course, the blogosphere has a selection bias. We only hear from the people who do continue to do the work, week after week, whether that’s AA work or other work (Belle, of Tired of Thinking about Drinking, estimates that she does about 4 hours a day of sober work, for example. It’s not step work, it’s emailing and blogging and sober podcasts and a million other things).

But what of the people who just get sober and then move on? Do they, in fact, relapse because they’re no longer plugged in? Or do they step into a new life, and we just never hear from them again because they’re no longer thinking about sobriety?

I have no idea. But it’s untestable: either I step away and see if I relapse, which doesn’t seem like a great option, or I don’t, and I commit time that could be spent doing other things. If I knew that committing that time was useful, of course I wouldn’t resent it – it’s less time than I spent drinking, as I’m sure some of you are already itching to point out. But I don’t drink now, and my days and nights are very full, and it is time taken away from other things.

A lot of people talk about ‘trying moderation’ one last time. I never did, because so many of them came back and said ‘Well, that didn’t work’ and absolutely nobody came back and said ‘Hey, you know what, I’m magically cured!’. So although I do have thoughts about not being really sure I’m an alcoholic, I don’t want to test it, because the possible gain – I get to drink some fermented grape juice and not get drunk from it – is so much less than the possible loss of everything I’ve built up.

That’s fine. I’m clear about that. I just don’t have to drink, and like magic, I remain sober. But the doubt creeps back in. Is being sober enough? Or am I fooling myself and just ‘staying dry’ if I stop blogging and connecting on this level? I do hate people telling me that there is only one right way to do something, and I also hate fear mongering, but then again. Some of you have been sober a shitload of time longer than I have, so if you want to talk, I’m listening.

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17 thoughts on “I’m here, I’m here

  1. Super honest! I don’t believe that there is only “one right way”. My sponsor taught me to take what works for me from the programs of those who have what I want and tailor my program. I do believe that meeting makers make it. I go to as many meetings as I can. Not sure how few I could go to and still stay sober, but just like you, I don’t really want to test that out. It’s really just a balance. It’s a healthy fear. If you cut back a bit and start feeling the shits, ramp back up. Staying super honest will help you immensely. Good for you!

  2. Interesting question Allie which I don’t have the answer to either. At almost a year sober I wouldn’t drink now but is that because I’m here?? It’s a bit like the drinking question – you have to step off and risk to see what the outcome is 🙂

  3. Hi, I have a history of relapses. I drank again after 3 1/2 years sober and then again after 11 years not drinking. Now at nine months sober.

    For me, given booze is so insidious in my history, I have to stay plugged in to recovery support, to me that is AA. My replapses started out as as you said above… “But what of the people who just get sober and then move on?”. I moved on to new jobs and getting married and having kids and starting a business and teaching college courses, etc.. Many steps foward and years later, I found myself drinking again!

    There are many ways and I don’t like the one size fits all preaching either…

  4. good thoughts here, Allie (lovely to see you, btw!) and completely agree on the selection bias of the blogosphere….however surely if there were a shed load of people successfully moderating surely some of them would pop back to say it is possible? even one? and have actually seen more ghosts than successful moderators…but that’s a story for another day 😉

    Patrick at spiritualriver had a good post on the marginal value of attending meetings, much of which also applies to our partaking of the blogosphere – http://www.spiritualriver.com/why-you-should-not-sit-through-aa-or-na-meetings-for-the-rest-of-your-life-in-order-to-stay-clean-and-sober/

    his premise is that we should be focusing on holistic personal growth, not merely on attending meetings. and I concur quite strongly that we need to take into account not merely our time, but the opportunity cost of our time – ie the benefit we are not receiving from the activity we have foregone in order to spend an hour on sober blogs, say.

    one ‘fact’ that is often quoted around the internet is that more relapses occur when things are going well than when things are going badly. if anyone seen any direct studies to back this up I would be really interested – otherwise it is just one of those things people say. but if it is true then it adds a real urgency to our need to stay in touch with our support networks, so that they are there if we need them.

    best of luck with your oil tanker! xx

    • I agree entirely about the moderation, which is why I’ve never been (very) tempted to try it. But what I meant was that the selection bias re relapse is stronger: because the only people we can track are the ones who keep showing up to meetings, or to their blogs. What about all the people who just moved on?

      And I am really resistant to the ‘when things are going well’ warning, although I could be wrong about that. Again, it feels like a way of keeping people in a certain category forever.

      Studies in this area are really problematic. AA has a very high relapse rate, but then again a lot of the people who attend AA are court-ordered, so might not really be in a place to recover yet. I know, personally, people who would have met the diagnosis of alcoholism at one point and then just…stopped, but they won’t show up on any studies. So…I don’t know. Who knows.

      • There are a certain percentage who are court ordered, but it’s a very small amount. 95% of the AA members are there outside of court orders, I would estimate in my area. It’s a debate even among AA members about relapse rates. AA doesn’t poll people, so there is no real way of telling what the relapse rates are. Same thing can be said with those who don’t use AA. My personal belief is that relapse rates are probably similar across the board, regardless of method. I feel that it’s not the program itself (or whatever method you use to stay sober), but in the willingness of the person to continue doing what works for them. But as you said, none of this is quantifiable. No studies can support any views on the efficacy of programs.

      • Yup, that makes perfect sense to me. And no studies can support any views on whether relapse is inevitable, or whether it is true that relapse happens if you do or don’t do a certain thing, or ‘get complacent’, or … well, anything, really. Which is why it’s frustrating! At least with the other aspects of sober recovery, the power of group wisdom can really help (I DEVOURED blogs in my early months, drawing comfort from the fact that everyone had also felt exhausted at first, etc). But with relapse, I feel like it’s so hard to pinpoint what happened and why. And when I read about long term sobriety that leads to relapse, I feel … hopeless, I guess? Like, I’m never going to be safe.

      • I don’t feel that fear mongering is helpful either. I think one has to be comfortable in themselves to affect a more holistic or natural change within. I used to drink vodka while reading about the horrible things that happen to the body. Nasty stuff. And yet it didn’t frighten me *enough* to stop drinking. And remember that for every long term sober person that goes back out, there are probably a hundred or thousand that are still sober 🙂

  5. I am only on Day 10 and have been writing my blog every day (will you have a look? It’s annieuk101@wordpress.com). One of my worries is that I seem to spend so much time blogging, checking my blog, replying to kind comments, reading others’ blogs etc. I guess I have to do that at the moment, but I do wonder for how long? Your post helps me to think about this. Thank you. Annie x

    • Annie you are right on schedule for thinking that you’ll get sick of doing so much work every day if it keeps up forever! It does ramp down. I think I spent the first three or four weeks reading blogs, memoirs, blogging, etc. And then I still thought about it a lot, and blogged, and checked in on others, but less often. Now I think about sobriety issues only in the sense of an abstract, like ‘hmm, I wonder how many recovered alcoholics are out there? Nobody tracks that’.

  6. I don’t have anything useful to offer on the sobriety angle, since I don’t have experience of this particular battle. My comment comes really from the very selfish perspective that I follow your blog because I enjoy what you have to say and how you write, and would miss your blog if it no longer existed! It’s a treat for me in a usually busy day to find another post sitting among a load of boring e-mails. But you’re not blogging for other people’s entertainment, you’re blogging for yourself. I wonder if turning it into a chore, however, might diminish the support value you get from it? Or is it like exercise – you can’t say, ‘Oh, well, I’ll be OK if I don’t run for a bit’ and then be surprised if you lose fitness? I really hope, from my selfish viewpoint, that you do find a happy medium and continue to blog about sobriety, motherhood, feminism, the new novel, whatever, because it will always be worth reading.

  7. There is no one size fits all solution, in many regards. There is AA of course, but also Rational Recover, SMART, Women for Sobriety, Life Ring and also things like therapy, CBT, etc. Some folks bristle at going to meetings, and have other ways of achieving sobriety. Sometimes it’s pure abstinence, and sometimes it’s more recovery. I know lots of folks who just stopped drinking one day and that’s it. No meetings, no programs, no anything. And they are happy. Some aren’t happy, but don’t drink. Same with AA. Some are happy, joyous and free. Some are abstinent and grumpy. Depends on how one goes about it, I suppose.

    The one thing that is common, across all methods, that I have seen in “successful” sober folks is that they spend some time on personal growth / recovery. For Belle, it’s those 4 hrs a day (fantastic!), for shlubs like me, it’s meetings plus sponsoring other men, and of course blogging. I also pray and meditate. I do emails and phone calls. Some days it’s only 30 minutes total. Other days it’s more. Some go to their therapists, do yoga, blog and do some reading. Some talk to others via Skype or email or connect in some way to other alcoholics. In the end, affecting some change from within seems to be the key to success.

    I don’t think “one day at a time” nor do I think “forever”. I am just in the present and in my heart know that I probably won’t pick up again. But I do have to keep the conditions favourable for me in that regard. I’ve seen way too many guys with 10, 20+ sober years go back out because they thought they had it figured out.

    Anyway, good post. Food for thought.

    Paul

  8. I have some very good friends who don’t give “sobriety” a thought — they did AA (where they met in their twenties) for a couple of years, but they have totally “moved on,” as it were. The same with my uncle who has been sober for over 40 years and a handful of other people I know. I dislike the forever diseased narrative of the 12 steps — forever diseased and forever confessing one’s sickness and seeking redemption. Anyway– one of my dear friends referred to herself recently as “chemically dependent,” to which I pointed out that she hadn’t touched a drink or a drug in six years. Hardly seems dependent to me!

  9. HI Allie, great post and it is food for thought, all of the comments are great and Paul hit it closest for me.

    I did spend a lot of time in my first months at AA meetings and on line with Women for Sobriety (and a lot of other sober living blogs), and they were very helpful for me when I was just getting my legs under me. I never did hook up with a sponsor in AA that was ok with my atheism, not did I find my social life fulfilling in AA. While I was always welcomed at meetings and would be today too, I guess I needed more than just not drinking together as a basis for any ongoing friendships from being in those rooms.

    Really, it’s been the things I’ve really been able to engage with in my own life that have kept me thrilled with being sober. One of the biggest changes (and the one that got me into rehab) was in my tai chi practice. “Take a step into your practice and stand inside yourself”, well I did that and really did not like the person I was when I was drinking. Being sober has allowed me to take my ability to learn, remember, and practice to many deeper and meaningful places and relationships in my life. I also go to a gym and have just started in a yoga class but the biggest and best changes have been in my personal relationships with partner and friends.

    I’m not saying every day was or is easy, but the days when I find myself thinking, “I need a drink” are far, far fewer and much further apart. I’ve got so many other tools to use and such great joy in being and staying sober. In my heart I also know that I probably will never pick up again either.

    I do love reading your blog but can also see how your relationship to drinking and sobriety has changed over the past months. Keep writing about what you are finding and experiencing but not at the cost of not doing or experiencing. Getting sober opens doors, staying sober opens experiences.

    Love to you in all you do,

    Laur

  10. thanks to all of you for your well thought out posts. I’m on day 128..or so. I’m not a blogger nor I’m a regular at anything, except dabbling maybe. I dabble into blogs, get millions of emails from BFB everyday, mails from Belle. I don’t do just one thing, but I check in. I am glad you are all out there because you have helped me tremendously.
    I like this sober life. I don’t want to go back to that other one. I’m not thinking forever because…forever sound too impossible. But the new me is the sober me, and a better me.
    PP

  11. At 9 months I have no wisdom to impart. I still read sober blogs and sober books.
    As time goes by I feel more and more inspired by my own sobriety and want to help those earlier on the path in any way.
    I expect to keep spending some significant time on recovery in my life. I plan to train in recovery yoga at some point, both for myself and because I think there are so many people out there looking for a sense of connection. Maybe I can contribute that way.

  12. So glad you’re back. And so glad I got to read this, “…if we let down our guard for a moment, a bottle of alcohol will leap out of a dark alley, mug us and leave us for dead.” And chortle heartily.

    I will never disparage any path to sustained sobriety and recovery but there are certainly this who—regardless of means or method— project their recovery on others’ and cavalierly extrapolate outcomes. I don’t doubt they do it with the best of intentions but it is rarely the ideal way to demonstrate support.

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