As a recovering alcoholic, I have definitely been a late bloomer and slow learner. I got sober at age 24. It’s not really fair to say my recovery started at that point though. Sobriety means no alcohol. Dry. No more hangovers or blackouts. Very important indeed, but only the start of moving from dis-ease with daily life to ease with myself. Being sober can also mean raw and fragile emotions. Recovery means handling those emotions in safe and healthy ways and living life on life’s terms.
Part denial, part over-sized ego, when I admitted my addiction and sought help, I didn’t jump in with both feet. I started hanging out more with others in recovery, and appreciated what they had to say about daily work to deal with our daily disease. But I didn’t apply the suggested actions to my own life. Stubborn and too smart for my own good, I was “strong” enough to handle it my way. “You” may need those things. “I” have my own ways. I later learned a term for this kind of thinking: terminal uniqueness. It would have eventually killed me because it would have led me back to the alcohol sooner or later.
Somehow, I did manage to stay sober, but the void that I used to fill with alcohol was still a lonely and dangerous place. I was young and single, teaching and coaching. It became really easy to overwork, and then work some more, and then do the same the next day. My self-worth became too tied to what I accomplished in a day. I was driven by fear and perfectionism as well; striving to be prepared in the classroom and ready for my coaching duties so people would think I knew what I was doing, so I would believe in myself just enough to proceed. Striving. Always striving. I was exhausted. And my favorite escape route was gone.
Sober, but a raging workaholic, my recovery was almost dead in the water. Active workaholism is as debilitating, defeating, progressive, and lonely as active alcoholism or any other addiction.
Somehow, in my early years of sobriety, I slowly tore down some of the walls I had built, but I was on precarious ground. The void had gotten a little safer without alcohol, yet was still dark and large in my life. I was coming to terms with some of my emotional baggage and I was proud of the sobriety I was amassing. I was learning a little about what “one day at a time” really means. I got to know others in recovery and appreciated that they seemed to understand me in ways others not in recovery simply couldn’t. There is a special bond between alcoholics and addicts who feel safe to share the mess and the hope with each other.
So I had sounding boards in my life, both those in recovery and in my workplace at the time. But I was advancing in my emotional health at a snail’s pace. When I decided to move to a different community hours away for a new job, I knew I had to make some changes in how I approached my recovery. If I didn’t, it was only a matter of time before I would drink again. Voids demand filling.
I moved as I was approaching three years of sobriety. I was feeling better about myself, for sure, and that gave me the impetus to make some changes when I settled in to my new home, new job, new recovery community. I started following some of the suggestions made by others in recovery. The learning and the blooming of living, not only a sober life but a life of recovery, began in earnest for me. They continue to this day. I could never have dreamed where walking a recovery path and working at it daily would lead me. Amazing grace.