It’s been ten years since my last drink. It’s my soberversary! Ten years without alcohol or mind/mood altering substances.. unless you count caffeine. Or fingernails.
Memories of how I ended up in rehab have played in my head these last few weeks. Some brought up embarrassment, but I no longer feel looming shame or guilt. Mostly I’ve experienced a sense of relief that I don’t live that way anymore. I’ve also felt a lot of gratitude for the people who caught me at my lowest point and supported me during early recovery.
This soberversary, like every soberversary, I’m reflecting on how much I’ve changed. Ten years ago I wanted to die. My husband was ready for a divorce. I had tons of friends, but none of them close. I could hardly bear the affection of friends who really cared for me. I lied constantly, so much so that I couldn’t even remember what was true anymore. I had different stories and personalities for everyone in my life. I drank to black-out almost daily. Sun-up to sundown was hell on earth, but some how I still had hope.
The biggest change I can see in me now is how much less anxious I am. I didn’t even know I had anxiety until recovery. I thought that’s just how people lived – obsessing over what other’s thought, planning for every scenario, imagining catastrophe. It wasn’t until I learned about mindfulness that I recognized how these deep mental patterns affected my interactions with the world, my relationships, and my personal peace.
I joke about the fingernails, but I would chew on my fingers till they bled. It was painful! This is what I did in my extremely anxious states. If you ever see me nibbling on my nails now, know that I am overthinking something.
The second big change between now and ten years ago is that today I have a home. Not just a physical home, fortunately I was never without a place to live, but I mean a sense of home – that warm, safe feeling of being in my own house and community, and also in my own mind.
When I was a kid, we moved a lot. It was really hard for me to make and keep friends. Even though my family eventually stayed put for my high school years, there was still a lot of stress in our house. I was confused often and pretty lonely. I was also a natural born people pleaser, I became who I thought other’s wanted me to be. “I hope they like me” was my basic operating system into my 20s and 30s. In social scenes, I interpreted innocuous cues as indicators that I’ve done something wrong. I’d write a whole story in my head about how awful I am and I’ll likely be abandoned and alone for all eternity.
Ten years into recovery and I’m in the same house, with the same husband, and the same kids. I’m not abandoned or alone for all eternity. I have a smaller group of friends now, but they are people who really care for me, people with whom I can be myself. They support and inspire me, and I think I do the same for them. I have a wildly different appreciation for this dynamic than I did ten years ago. I used to think having tons of friends would spare me from loneliness, but I’ve come to learn that a handful of really good friends is what makes me feel connected and appreciated. The friends I have now feel like home.
I found a home in my community as well. I carved out a place for me in the recovery community, the local school community, my neighborhood, the YMCA, and more. I made a role and purpose for me in each of these areas. I may be a little confused about people and places at times, but I’m not lonely.
Home is in my head too, and I had a lot of improvements to make in there. A popular expression in Buddhist recovery meetings is “Don’t believe everything that you think!” That idea was news to me! There’s been a lot of un-learning and re-learning these past ten years. “Head renovations” With help from other people in recovery and some time in therapy, I reprogrammed my thinking for a happier and healthier life. I’m not done, it’s the kind of work that’s never done, but today my mind is much more peaceful, kind and beautiful.
The house I live in needed me to run it. After getting sober, I left my job (that I didn’t love) and became a full time stay-at-home-mom (which I absolutely love!) and I made my house a home. I’m a homemaker! Now my house is the calm, cozy, loving home I’ve always wanted.
A sense of home wasn’t something that was given to me. I had to build it. I’ve changed my relationship with friends, my place in the community, my own thinking, and the household I live in these last ten years giving me a feeling that I craved but could never achieve as an alcoholic. This foundation has helped tremendously with the anxiety too.
I wonder where I will be ten years from now. What will I remember from 2022 as the things that have changed? I don’t ever want to drink again, and that requires work everyday. I don’t mind the work though. I enjoy self-reflection, living with intentions, and seeing the results of my better choices. Maybe a decade from now I’ll have what non-recovery people call “free time”. Or maybe I’ll have really, really, really long nails.
Jenny Hasted is a grateful person in long term sobriety and founder of the Cecil County Recovery Sangha. She lives alongside the Chesapeake with her family.
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