Basically, I’m having a tantrum

I’ve been thinking about why I’m writing so many negative posts about AA and recovery work recently, and I think it’s because I’m scared.

I’m scared because I read John saying that spending his time creating art, starting a business and feeling good wasn’t enough to prevent a relapse because he wasn’t in active recovery.  That’s three years of being busy, focused, artistically fulfilled, and it wasn’t enough.

I’m scared because Ellie talks about her relapse after years of not just sobriety but active work in the recovery community – Ellie is the founder of Crying Out Now and a stalwart of the sobriety blogging world – and she says

My depression came out as manic energy – impulsive, compulsive, obsessive.  I didn’t stop from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until the moment I fell into a fitful sleep.  My mind never, ever stopped.  To the outside world I looked on top of my game – productive, full of life, passion and drive.

I’m scared because of Robin Williams, who (years before his death) relapsed after twenty years of sobriety.  And because as soon as Drunky Drunk Girl posts about moving on from recovery, her comments fill up with warnings of doom.

I see myself in all of those people.  I fall asleep with ideas for articles bubbling in my brain, and I wake up with a list of things to do – that I’m excited to do – before the next day.  I feel like I’m running to keep up, not because I’m falling behind but because there’s always the next, even more exciting, thing around the corner.  I am parcelling out hot baths and cups of tea like medicine, doses of calm to counteract the amphetamine energy, because you guys, there is this whole life out there that I want, and it is just over the next horizon, and I can’t stop.

And because I’m scared, I’m angry.  I’m not angry that I have to live without alcohol.  Living without alcohol is easy.  I’m angry that I don’t get to just fucking well move on.  That I have to be vigilant, and scared, and worry about the damn thing.  I’m sober!  And happy!  And busy, and fulfilled, and artistically creative!  Isn’t that enough?  What if it isn’t?

Here is an article reporting on a study that I can’t access, which also makes me angry. I realise this is completely irrational, but I also pointed that out to my toddler this morning when she didn’t want to wear clothes to daycare (“Toddler”, I said.  “You are being irrational”) and it didn’t change her position either.  That study says that if you get to a year of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than half, which is … mildly comforting, I guess.  At five years, your relapse chances are more like 15%.  SO that’s something.  But it’s not everything, and I want there to be an everything.


I knew for years before I quit that I’d have to stop.  I knew it’d be hard, and I’d feel the loss of it, and it’d have been better if I’d never let my drinking develop into a problem in the first place.  What I didn’t factor in, ever, is the idea that once I did steel myself and quit, it wouldn’t be over.

I don’t drink.  That.  Should.  Be.  Enough.


16 thoughts on “Basically, I’m having a tantrum

  1. I feel you. From my About page:

    “THROUGHOUT MY FIFTH YEAR OF SOBRIETY I HAD BEEN OVERCOME WITH A MALAISE I COULDN’T SHAKE and couldn’t quite define. The calm, comforting feeling of contentment that had followed the initial highs and lows of early recovery had gone. I had the sensation that I had beaten this thing, the more immediate benefits had become commonplace—I was beginning to take my sobriety for granted. I was possessed by the idea that I deserved more for my efforts and success. I’m certain I had asked (myself): “What do I get next? What now?”

    I WAS CLEARLY UNDER THE MISTAKEN IMPRESSION that I needed to be challenged and/or rewarded for my sobriety to maintain it. My lone friend in recovery at the time (Jeff, now Since Right Now Podcast co-host,) and an AA regular, introduced me to the notions of “second-stage sobriety” and the “pink cloud.” I had finally fallen off my cloud; I was struggling with how to embrace and maintain my sobriety for the long-term.”

    Have you heard of or read Stage II Recovery by Earnie Larson? It’s what Jeff recommended to me and at the time it was just the nudge I needed.

  2. I feel you. From my About page:

    “THROUGHOUT MY FIFTH YEAR OF SOBRIETY I HAD BEEN OVERCOME WITH A MALAISE I COULDN’T SHAKE and couldn’t quite define. The calm, comforting feeling of contentment that had followed the initial highs and lows of early recovery had gone. I had the sensation that I had beaten this thing, the more immediate benefits had become commonplace—I was beginning to take my sobriety for granted. I was possessed by the idea that I deserved more for my efforts and success. I’m certain I had asked (myself): “What do I get next? What now?”

    I WAS CLEARLY UNDER THE MISTAKEN IMPRESSION that I needed to be challenged and/or rewarded for my sobriety to maintain it. My lone friend in recovery at the time (Jeff, now Since Right Now Podcast co-host,) and an AA regular, introduced me to the notions of “second-stage sobriety” and the “pink cloud.” I had finally fallen off my cloud; I was struggling with how to embrace and maintain my sobriety for the long-term. ”

    Have you heard of Earnie Larson’s Stage II Recovery? Jeff recommended it to me and it was just the nudge I needed at the time.

  3. I love this Allie.
    I get it!
    I remember at the very first meeting I went to there was a woman taking a cake for 30 years of sobriety.
    30YEARS????? WTF!!!!
    what was she still doing here? she’s cured, why, why?? I was really upset. I had figured I’d come in, stop drinking and get on with my life.

    here’s the thing though…because I came in and got sober I was able to get on with my life. If I hadn’t stopped drinking (and I did it in the rooms of AA, using the steps) I am quite sure I would be dead. I am absolutely positive that if I weren’t dead I would WANT to be dead.
    That woman keeps coming back because she gets satisfaction from helping others find what she has.

    I love the way you describe your life today….so full, exciting, ready to go and do and accomplish and….NONE of which would be possible if you were still drinking, right? My life is infinitely more satisfactory then it was 3 1/2 years ago. Huge changes have been made, my life is very different and happily so.
    And all it takes for me to keep this so much better life is to stay in recovery. I work the steps. I help others. I go to some meetings every week. Tonite I went and got some soup for a sick friend…what was that, a half hour out of my day? But it’s those things that keep me sober, that remind me that i’d rather be the person who gets soup for a friend than the one surfing the net, crying and drinking jack daniels out of a bottle hidden in my desk drawer.

    I’m not that scared or worried, but I am vigilant. And because of that I am not scared or worried. I take the time I need to do the few, simple things I do for my recovery and then i move the fuck on with my day, with my life.

    It’s not that complicated or mysterious or irritating, it’s really not.
    It just is, life just is….
    my favorite thing about step one is the fact that once we surrender to the fact that we are powerless over alcohol, we explode into the fact that, if we stay sober, we become so powerful, so full of life that everything is possible (or at least attemptable 🙂 )

    Let the anger go, it serves no purpose. Listen to John and Ellie and Robin, learn, and move ahead with your life.
    That’s what I am doing.

  4. Allie, firstly – need a cut and paste comment for your posts – something along the lines of “wow, what a great post, really made me think!”

    secondly – those statistics are truly abysmal, aren’t they? when we are in the early days of sobriety anyone with more sobriety than us seems like such an impossibly high achieving sobriety guru – how can it happen to them? and it can…

    that post of Ellie’s also gave a great description of what she discovered – that she had built her sobriety on the shifting sands of her depression and anxiety. and how can we know that unless we get there? unless we excavate down to the foundations to check? and what if the digging distracts us from the building a new life, thereby creating its own instability?

    I know you like Lucy Rocca’s approach to getting sober – did you see this post on Soberistas back in January? ? this is the quote I have previously quoted on my blog, and hug to myself when those ‘is this FOREVER?’ sirens pipe up:

    “Gradually, being alcohol-free morphed into being my choice, and so the idea that I was somehow diseased and would be threatened by temptation for the rest of my days was/is totally bizarre. I don’t wish to make it sound an easy thing to resolve an alcohol dependency – it wasn’t and it took a hell of a lot of soul-searching and emotional pain. But now that the hard bit is over, I feel as though I am reaping the rewards of making the choice to stop drinking – which, in my opinion, is a far healthier way of looking at things than sticking the label of ‘alcoholic’ on my head and worrying about booze for the rest of my days.”

    some combination must be possible of forging ahead into new exciting lives AND of checking for any cracks appearing which might indicate the need for checking on the foundations. at least I hope so because that is my planned strategy! along with, of course, NEVER PICKING UP A DAMN DRINK ever again 🙂

    lastly, I try to remember that where statistics fall down is that I am a sample of ONE. so it is only what happens to me that matters. and however I can improve my eventual chances of being in the 85% of those who do NOT relapse after five years – I’m taking it.

  5. Hi,

    My view and it may be very simplistic is even though all of the blogging and recovery sites are fantastic when you are looking for the reasons why to quit and how to make it past X days, at some point if that ‘world’ is not left behind you remain stuck in it and you will constantly have it on your mind and when your thoughts get tired of the same old stories (most of the stories are so damn similar) we get bored and then starts the worrying we may lapse and the ‘yay’ I have made X days starts to mean less and less.



  6. It’s so hard not knowing if what works for me right now will be enough in 2 or 10 or 20 years. I guess it won’t, and by then I’ll have moved onto something that works better. Might be meetings, might well be something else. It’s important to hear the relapse stories, though they’re scary as hell. They remind me of what can happen if I drink again. I’ve yet to hear from someone who says they drank again and were cured, with no problems moderating. Today I won’t drink because I know this and I’m not missing it, and that is more than enough.

  7. If not drinking were enough, we wouldn’t need any recovery programs. We would just “put the plug in the jug” and move on. But we are predisposed to pick up a bottle, or think about picking up a bottle, when we don’t feel “right”…or centered. When we’re not comfortable in our own skin. For me, going to AA helped to show me the causes and conditions for me wanting to pick up. Once I could get to those, then picking up a bottle no longer had an allure. It wasn’t about distracting myself to not pick up, but getting at the root causes for me running to vodka or wine or whatever.

    I think the comments so far are great, and show a wide range of experiences. And that is the reason I still go to meetings and blog – I get to hear myself at different stages, through others. I get to see that I am not alone in my sometimes nutty thinking. I feel a sense of community. Reaching out helps others and helps me. I too used to wonder about those people with 30+ years still doing service and hitting meetings. They are maintaining that spiritual center that helps them stay content. Recovery is fluid, and takes different things at different times, I find. I don’t hit too many meetings these days, but I have other things that are working for me. I no doubt will hit more meetings soon, as I now compelled to stay in contact with others face-to-face. It’s all about being vigilant and having some balance between life and recovery.

    Things are different now, and for them to be different, different things are required. I know for me, distracting myself does nothing but wear me down. But the more serenity I have, the more I get done…sounds oxymoronic but it’s true. And we all have our ways of getting there.

  8. This makes me think of one of my most favourite sayings:
    ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’ Anais Nin, I think.
    If you view recovery as a drag, a ball and chain around your now sober neck then perhaps that is what it will be. If you think of it as a gift, or maybe something precious which requires a little work, a little effort to maintain then perhaps it won’t feel so onerous.
    As much as I love reading your blog do you really need to write it to remain sober? I also love writing but knew at the beginning of this sober journey that it would consume too much of me to maintain and that in failing to keep up a blog I might transfer those feelings of discontent, that disappointment at failing into feelings about my sobriety. So, I just read the blogs (and make occasional comments like this, lol). I find that doing so keeps all of the reasons why I gave up drinking relevant, it provides great a-ha moments and insights into other struggles I may be experiencing and I have also made some lovely friends.
    At this stage that’s it for me. 5-10 minutes most days, not all (which is down from around 11-15 hours a day during those first few weeks). There was a time when I found it all consuming so I cut back. I now only check at night before bed.
    It’s a process, not an event – you’ve got to keep that in mind too, I think.
    My lovely uncle has battled lung cancer for the past two years and is actually winning. In order to keep on top of it he has to take a chemo pill every day for the rest of his life. A few minor side effects, occasional mild nausea, lowered immune system etc. A pill a day could be considered a pain in the arse but trials with this drug have shown he might have an extra decade of life. He’s making the most of it. I’m trying to do the same.
    I hope this doesn’t sound too bossy – it isn’t meant to be 🙂

  9. Great post, Allie. This fear, or despair, gets me now and then, too. It’s the reason I have left websites aimed at helping people stay sober. I had a hard time coping with the relapses. It made me feel hopeless, rather than acting as a warning. Now, I only read a few blogs, to keep mindful. I like what mishedup said about being grateful for the life you have now, doing a few simple things and moving on with your life. Surely that’s doable. There are many people who stay sober, with or without AA. I was recently surprised when a friend admitted he had not touched alcohol since 1982. I didn’t know he had ever had a problem. He did it on his own and has not relapsed since then. How encouraging! I feel the need to balance stories of relapse with success stories

  10. This is a fantastic post and the comments are all worth taking to heart. AA has been great for my wife and me — a genuine lifesaver. That being said, I simply don’t ever see myself getting my 20-year token. Just not gonna happen. I’ll be gone from AA long before then. Alcohol is so much just another symptom of my wounds. And after nearly five years of this stuff, one thing I have concluded is that my goal is not to be like any of these people who apparently feel they are incapable of life outside the rooms. I know that sounds arrogant, but I’m tired of hearing that AA is the only way to quit drinking, and once you do quit drinking you’d better stay in AA if you want to stay sober. The world is bigger than that, and we are capable of much more.

    • Greg….

      if you noticed in my comment above I made mention of why people keep coming back to AA…to help others.
      It was a lifesaver for me too, and I feel compelled and grateful that I can help others find that life raft. I don’t know very many people who feel that they can’t have a life outside the rooms, as a matter of fact I avoid that type. But I also don’t want to be the person who comes in, takes what they need and then blows off the whole point, which is to help another alcoholic.
      It is a big world out here…gratefully I have stopped drinking my way through it. I’m glad you have found some peace too.

      • Point taken. I haven’t even been here five years. And I just started the blog last month. I imagine I’ll be haunting the halls of Club East for some time to come.

  11. Hi Allie,

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to read this post. Not glad because you are having a tantrum, but glad that you are explaining the last two of your posts. When I read the last one (at least I think it was the last one, the one about the cough syrup) I will sheepishly admit to being agitated enough to log off WordPress. I say sheepish because that was my version of a tantrum.

    I say agitated because that post, and the one before it (with the amazingly awesome analogy of alcoholism being like a mugger in a dark alley, you have a magnificent way with words, my friend!), seemed like two dramatic left turns from everything else I’ve ever read from you. And, like in travelling, two left turns has you going in the opposite direction, which was distressing to me, but at the same time I felt like anything I could say would be from one who has “drunk the AA Kool Aid,” as it were, so I figured I’d better keep my mouth shut.

    So, short story long, thank you for explaining your thought process, this honesty is exactly what has me coming back to read you time and again. And I get it, this disbelief… the “WTF THIS IS A LIFE SENTENCE” thinking, I get that way time and again. I especially get it when I attempt to compare my program of recovery to another’s program… oh no! I only go to one meeting, she goes to two, I only have this many followers, yadda yadda yadda.

    Part of the reason I don’t think I will ever separate from the recovery community we have here is so that I see that recovery happens in so many ways. If you read my blog you know I am a pretty faithful 12-stepper, but I will candidly admit to having concerns as well. I believe the 12 steps are a guide to living from which anyone, alcoholic or not, could benefit. That being said, there are some parts of the program, mostly the human parts, that seem contradictory to the happy, joyous and free part of recovery for which we are all aspiring.

    So the long and the short of it is this: when I get overwhelmed with the life sentence that is alcoholism, when I am feared up in reading about the relapse of someone with longtime sobriety, or if I am anxious that I am remaining vigilant enough, here is my litmus test, and it has worked every time I used it: I stop what I’m doing, I look down at my feet to remind myself to stay in the present moment, and I ask myself: Am I sober today? Am I confident that I can get through the rest of this day without a drink? Invariably, the answers have been yes (and God willing they always will be), and invariably, I can take a deep breath and continue about my miraculous day. Because, honestly, today is all we have, isn’t it?

    Well, now that I’ve written a post, I will get going. I hope you are feeling better and better with each passing day, and I look forward to the next wonderful read! Josie

    • Josie, the thing is that I’m never looking for an excuse to drink again. When I talk about making alcoholism too big, or whatever, I don’t mean ‘what’s the big deal if I have a glass of wine?’. I know that’s a big deal, and I don’t intend to do it, and in fact I have no desire to do so. I only want to feel safe. Sometimes these long-term relapses make me feel as if I will somehow accidentally drink again no matter whether I want to. That’s what scares me, and what I’m reacting to. Does that make sense?

      I do remember feeling a bit like this in the early weeks as well, actually. Scared that although I fiercely wanted to stay sober, I would somehow ‘get sobriety wrong’ if I didn’t do exactly the right ratio of self-care/treats/healthy living/whatever. And then I realised that as long as I wasn’t drinking, I was probably doing alright.

      Maybe it’s because some of the people I mentioned above are, like me, writers that it’s hit me hard this time. I am so very grateful to have been given another go at getting my life right, and this time I’m going to try and be the writer I always wanted to be, that I am furious to hear that for other people, this has somehow not been enough.

      That’s all.

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