Friday, July 25, 2014

Will I EVER be Happy Again?!

Early sobriety sucks. 

Memories of my first 90 days in sobriety are sufficient motivation for me to not pick up a drink. I don't know if I would be willing to walk through that torturous emotional hurricane again. 

In the first three weeks, I woke up with panic attacks every night between 2 and 4 am.
When I woke up, the first thing that crossed my mind was whether I could get drunk or kill myself that day.
I was terrified all the time. 
Nothing was funny.  
I tried to convince my mom I could have one glass of wine with dinner. Because-after all-it was Thanksgiving...and everyone drinks wine on Thanksgiving. 
I obsessively wrote the serenity prayer in my journal during meetings.
Everywhere I went, I was sure everyone hated me. 
I didn't know who to ask for help.
I often cried at work and ran into the bathroom hoping nobody would see me. 

Then literally, on the 90th day, a switch flipped. 

On that particular day, I was working on the Coast Guard ship I was assigned to. (There was a brief period of time where I returned to the ship between my Captain's Mast and the day my therapist recommended I be temporarily reassigned to a shore unit.) It was a Friday and it had been an exceptionally long day for me. 

I had a headache from doing my hair up in a bun that was too tight. 
I felt drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. 
I was desperately lonely, wishing I had my parents in town to hug and reassure me instead of at their home 3,000 miles away.
I desperately wanted a drink.

Then I remembered something I was taught in rehab: H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.

If you've never heard this acronym before, it is a way to check if you're meeting your physical and emotional needs before you run to pick up a drink. When a craving hits you, stop and ask, "Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?" If the answer is yes to ANY of the four, stop whatever you're doing and address that need immediately.

Since it was the end of the workday and all I had left to do was change out of my uniform and go home, I opted to roll over into my rack (military jargon for "bed") and take a nap. 

Four hours later, when I awoke, I felt physically different. The heaviness that had been resting so comfortably on my chest and shoulders for three months was GONE. I didn't feel anxious. I wasn't lonely or depressed.

And then, for the first time in many many months, I smiled.

In that moment of craving, I did the best possible thing for my sobriety:

I followed a suggestion that had been given to me.

People don't suggest you go to rehab or meetings for recovery programs (like AA, SMART, or LifeRing) because they want your money. Those programs are suggested so that you can learn ways to cope with your cravings without getting wasted. 

One of the most common concerns from people who are afraid to quit drinking is this: will I ever have fun again?

The answer is a resounding and assuring YES, although it may take a while. For me, it was 90 days before I had the first inkling that my life was about to improve. 

There are absolutely ways to be happy in sobriety. Just like it's absolutely possible to be miserable. Just because you get sober, your life isn't always filled with sunshine, puppies, sparkles, and unicorns. 

We learn how to keep sober through ALL the stuff that happens in life: break-ups, new relationships, death in the family, new baby, losing a job, getting a new job, and so on. And because life has many stages, and it just keeps changing, the learning process never ends

In the mornings, I choose to make a conscious effort to improve my life. For me, that starts with accepting that I'm an alcoholic. Then I have to accept that I have no control over the people, places, or things in my life EXCEPT for what happens in my own head. 

If I can remember these things, today might actually be a good day.