24 years ago, one day at a time

24 years ago today (tonight) I was wondering how I’d gotten drunk and high again after telling myself I was going to quit. In fact, I had quit drinking! for three months! It’s just that I celebrated how easy it was to quit by drinking a lot of vodka lemonades and getting stoned. (It made sense at the time?)

24 years ago, I didn’t know I was allergic to alcohol. I didn’t know my brain worked in some very specific mixed up ways. First, putting alcohol into my system sets off a phenomenon of craving that I can’t resist. I don’t just want more. It feels like I *need* more. I MUST have more! It’s an allergic reaction (abnormal reaction) beyond my control. (Just like people allergic to peanuts have a reaction they can’t control.) This inability to control how much I drink leads to all the kinds of ugliness that getting too wasted can bring (to put it mildly).

The second way my brain is mixed up is that I’m not able to hold on to the truth that I can’t drink alcohol safely. There’s a gap there that never goes away if I rely entirely on education, intellect, or personal will power. If I TRY with all of my might to remember that drinking alcohol leads to bad, bad consequences, I’ll eventually forget and I’ll drink again.

As a part of a community of people with the same problem, I used what is commonly known as a “twelve step program” to clear away the wreckage of my past and start growing spiritually. Through that work, I found freedom. Life still has its ups and downs, of course, but I’m able to hold on to the truth that I can’t drink alcohol safely. That truth stays in my brain because I’ve developed a spiritual life, a connection to a power greater than myself. I call it god, but that’s really a shortcut for “whatever is just beyond human understanding” so what it actually *is* changes all the time.

Living a life without alcohol and drugs is my normal now. It’s simply not an issue. Because I need to keep enlarging my spiritual life, I stay connected to that fellowship of recovering alcoholics. I share my experience, strength, and hope with other people with substance use disorder. I mentor people who want to know “how I did it,” in the same way I was mentored over the last 24 years. The people who remind me what it was like give me so many gifts! And I get to say, hey, it doesn’t have to be a struggle to live without drugs and alcohol. :-)

The other day I was talking with my daughters about being in long-term recovery, how I was trying to remember what it was like to hear someone say they were sober for as long as I’ve been now. I think early on I would’ve both been awestruck and also terrified and horrified. There’s a reason we talk about taking things one day at a time. If I would’ve tried to commit to never drinking again, I surely would’ve lost it. I was able to take it one day at a time (sometimes 10 minutes at a time) and not drink. As the time free from alcohol began adding up, I was able to work on my spiritual life and find a way to know peace.

24 years ago tomorrow was my first 24 hours on the journey of recovery. It’s a good life.