sobriety universe hope haven

A Gift of Service

Friday was my 5-month sobriety anniversary. It was also the day that my company held their first annual day of service as a gesture in giving back to the community. For those of you who don’t know, I work in an industry that plays a large part in providing affordable housing developments for low-income families and seniors across the country. The organization we selected to assist may not have immediately seemed to have a connection to our industry, nor did it need to, but it turns out that the affordable housing conversation was very relevant to the people we were about to serve. It also turns out that the people we would interact with were very relevant to my own personal journey.

Leading up to Friday, I hadn’t fully let the organization we chose to work with sink in. Hope Haven is a foundation of recovery. They provide life skills for chemically dependent adults and families, helping them through healthy recovery and rebuilding their lives. Our job that day was going to be serving lunch, but until I arrived, I had no idea that the biggest part of that job meant that we were going to interact with the residents. In fact, we were encouraged to talk to them, ask about their stories, break bread with them and share a part of ourselves. As I sat in the conference room listening to the overview of their program and how we were going to spend our next hours, I was struck by the power of how I would get to spend my 5-month anniversary. Call it what you want, but in that moment, it felt like the universe was delivering me a gift.

As the men and women started to line up for their lunch trays, I decided to dive right in by saying hello and asking their names. There was some awkwardness between us here and there as they tried to figure out who I was while I tried to find my footing, but it wasn’t long before it came together. One of the first women I spoke to, Mary, had a pretty purple t-shirt on and she initially didn’t seem too pleased to see me. She scowled a bit when I introduced myself, but as soon as I told her how much I loved the color of her shirt, she lit right up. Through an excited smile she told me about the talent show that was held the night before and how she was wild about Prince and sang his song, Kiss. Mary would ask me if I knew the song and I told her I knew it so well that I could sing it for her, but I promised she wouldn’t want to hear this voice of mine destroy it. She laughed and patted me on the shoulder, telling me that she had so much fun the night before that she had to keep honoring Prince by wearing that purple shirt. A sense of ease came over me and I knew I could do this. I spent time approaching people across the room, offering to bring them drinks, clean up their trays, and sometimes sat down to talk with them.

Most of the people I spoke with were anywhere from one week to 3 months into recovery. For a number of them, this wasn’t their first time trying to quit alcohol or their drug of choice, but it was their first time in a program like this one. I saw eyes filled with love, fear, trepidation and hope. When I shared my sobriety with some, it was received with so much love and encouragement. They accepted me as someone who wasn’t just here to do service, but who also understood some of the struggles with addiction. They talked to me about time spent living on the streets, the loss of their families and the struggle to find a job. We spoke of the difficulties in finding an affordable place to live and their fears of being able to make ends meet. I heard how some had what might be considered a perfectly normal life early on, but then they lost it all to alcohol or drugs. They hugged me, they invited me to their AA meetings and they encouraged me to keep going just as I was encouraging them.

I saw my father in that room and I even saw myself. While I’m in no way comparing my personal journey to the severity of what many of them have experienced in their lives, there is also no reason why it couldn’t have happened to me. It happened to them, didn’t it? There is a common bond in recovery that we all share. No matter who you are or where you’ve come from, addiction can impact anyone. Addiction can change your life forever. I saw my father, a smart and highly capable man, lose his job and his ability to find a new one. I watched him teeter on the edge of homelessness and slowly destroy himself and everything around him. Addiction is fierce and it can escalate quickly and take us to levels that we never thought were possible. Just ask any of the men and women who were in that room with me on Friday.

I wish everyone that I met strength and sobriety as they work so hard to rebuild their lives. They are fortunate to have support and the foundation that Hope Haven is giving them, but they will continue to have a long battle ahead. This will be the journey of their lives and with this opportunity it is possible for them to survive. Those hours spent with them made a difference in my life and I know I won’t be the only one.

Mary, may you keep wearing purple and that beautiful smile for years to come.


fear social anxiety

Social Anxiety Is A Very Real Thing

A goal that I had for myself this year was to try something new each month. It could be attending a class or Meetup group, or even just hitting a new museum or yoga studio. The idea was not only to help me push through fear (because social anxiety seems to be a problem for me these days), but to broaden my exposure and maybe even make new friends along the way. Developing friendships outside of my usual social circle has become of particular importance to me now that I’m in recovery.

January went by without much action on my part, but deciding to get sober in February brought this goal of mine to the forefront. My first step was giving a new yoga studio a try, which may not seem like a tremendously brave act to anyone else, but it did force me to step outside of my comfort zone. Next, I’ve been browsing the Meetup site looking for groups that are sober focused, but the only one I found was geared towards 20-somethings, which clearly wasn’t going to work. I next thought maybe a fitness related group could do the trick, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for a 50 person 5-mile hike just yet, and some of the other categories felt downright intimidating. After weeding through various women’s social groups, buried beneath all of the Happy Hour and Cocktail Night activities, I did manage to find a simple dinner and dessert meetup for women at my favorite café up the road. That sounded promising because the place is familiar and there was no mention of alcohol. The café does offer wine, but it isn’t what they are known for, so I figured this was a safe choice.

I put in my RSVP about two weeks ago and felt completely ready for it. I wasn’t even nervous, until about 3 hours before I was due to attend yesterday and wanted to cancel. This has been so typical of me in recent years and it’s what I desperately want to change. I constantly cancel events at the last minute because I’m suddenly filled with anxiety and the driving need to stick with what is familiar and comfortable. While this isn’t so terrible sometimes, it’s turned into an awful habit that is holding me back from so much experience in life. I don’t know how I became this person who is filled with fear and trepidation. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, but not to this degree. In fact, I used to be quite the social butterfly, or at least I thought I was.

On Thursdays I work from home and I went from waking up in the morning feeling ready to take on the day to feeling agitated and questioning if I should go to this meetup at all. I couldn’t stop feeling like it would be so much easier to stay home and then somewhere in there I started craving a drink and craving it hard. I was pacing around my house thinking of the gin bottle still in the freezer. I had gotten rid of the vodka, but kept the gin because it was so full and I thought friends might enjoy it one day. I almost poured it out right then, but I was scared that the smell of it would push me over the edge. I then remembered reading on a blog somewhere recently that a craving supposedly only lasts an average of 18 seconds and if you can make it through that, you’ll be okay. I counted slowly to and from 18 about 6 times until I decided that wasn’t working. I somehow managed to refocus my attention on my work for a while, but I kept shifting over to group’s meetup page to hover my mouse over the cancel button. It came close, but I never pressed it.

I continued to think about how important attending was to me and how disappointed I would feel in myself if I didn’t go. I also knew that if I stayed home, it might mean it would be easier to give in to drinking and the fear of that happening outweighed my fear of this new social activity. It’s no secret that I’m still finding my way on a spiritual level and I’ve been turning to the energy of the universe as my higher power of sorts. So, I stood over my kitchen island praying to the universe out loud. I turned over my fear and asked to learn from and find peace in this moment. I read the faith statement that I recently created for myself, compliments of guidance from Gabby Bernstein, took a deep breath and headed out the door. I was going early, but I convinced myself that if I could make it as far as the café parking lot, I wouldn’t be able to turn back. That almost wasn’t true.

I arrived about 30 minutes early and the anxiety over this had built up so much in my body that my back and head were aching. I was uncomfortable and wanted to pull back out of that lot and head towards the house. I sat parked for a moment before hopping on my phone to consider hitting cancel through the Meetup app. Instead, I accidentally hit the icon for the app store and I was reminded of a search I did earlier that had been interrupted. I had originally been browsing sobriety apps and staring up at me was one that provided the closest AA meetings and schedules. I hit download. I then knew exactly what I had to do without any question. I either go in to this event, or I attend an AA meeting. There was no choice, it had to be one or the other because if I went home, I was likely going to drink. I found the closest and next meeting and was moments away from putting my car in reverse when I saw a woman get out of the car next to me and start to head in to the café. I didn’t allow any more time to think and instead got my ass moving out of my car. I approached her and sure enough, she was with the group I was here to join and we walked in together.

I won’t go into the blow by blow, but I spent two hours with a group of 5 women who were all different from one another, but the one thing we had in common was our search to meet new people. I was nervous the entire time and felt a little bit awkward, but I know I wasn’t the only one. In the past when I’ve been in a new social situation I’ve been much more at ease and can usually chat with anyone about anything, but I also normally have alcohol in my hand. This is the first time that I can recall that not being the case and it was very different. While there were no life-long friendships on the verge of forming at this event, it was still a great experience and one that may have saved me last night.

As I drove home, I felt so proud of myself. I was proud for having courage and I was proud that I chose this instead of drinking. I know it’s a step in the right direction, and I do believe that I can find my way back to being more at ease in social situations, it’s just going to take a little practice and time. As much as I have been trying to convince myself that I may not need it, I think the next time I push myself should be by attending an AA meeting. I can see how important being around other sober people is going to be for me in my recovery, even if I was secretly hoping I might be different somehow.

For anyone wondering, I poured out that bottle of gin this morning.


sober strength

Telling My Truth To Friends

I was apprehensive about this past Saturday. We had an evening planned with our usual circle of friends, the six people that are a regular part of our lives and who I adore, but only two knew I was off the sauce. Those two thought it was temporary and didn’t know the real reasons beyond me just taking a little break for health. I’ve already written about making it through an evening of sobriety with those two, but now I had to face them all, not to mention my sobriety is no longer in temporary status. These are very good people and we always have a great time, but I’ll admit that our most commonly shared interest has always been alcohol. We all met as an effect of being heavily involved in the craft beer scene in our area and we’ve carried that into evenings of bottle shares and cocktail making for years now. Other than an occasional movie together, I don’t believe we’ve ever had sober interactions.

Once again, I had my trusty bag of club soda, spicy ginger ale and limes in tote and once again, I was nervous. I had decided to just stick with the simple story that I was taking a break for a while so that I didn’t need to go into any details. The reasons for my not drinking and the permanence of it weren’t something I felt ready to talk about, especially in the setting of a fun evening out together. God knows I didn’t want to be the Debbie Downer. I thought my quick story was going to be enough, until it suddenly wasn’t. We were a few minutes late that evening, which is not typical of us but we were held up a bit while finishing a deal for my new car. I would have expected that to be painful enough to drive me to want to drink, but it was surprisingly pleasant. I mention the late arrival, because everyone already had cocktails in hand as we walked through the door. While we exchanged hellos and hugs one of the women immediately offered me a taste from her martini glass which contained a lovely smelling fruit drink. I politely refused and told her I was not drinking at the moment. I thought she might fall off her stool. I’ve never turned down a taste of anything, so I could see that it took her a minute to wrap her head around what just happened. She next said the obligatory, “Good for you” followed by something I didn’t plan for, “What’s the time limit you have for this not drinking? When can you start again?” That shook me. Here I had barely walked in the door and I was faced with a specific question that I suddenly didn’t want to fake my way through.

The next thing you know, I hear the words “I think this is forever” come out of my mouth. That, of course, prompted even more surprised looks and further questions. Now I was standing in front of two of the women and heard myself blurting out that I’ve come to realize I have a problem with alcohol, something about how my father was such a brutal alcoholic and I could see my situation growing worse and not wanting to ever be like him. They continued to look at me with what I interpreted as shock and I guess I took that as an indicator that I hadn’t said quite enough, so I kept up the word vomit. I nervously rambled about how I drink alone all the time and woke up drunk and sick in that hotel room in October thinking I might die and how I’ve been taking things too far and how I haven’t been making healthy choices. My neck and shoulder muscles were suddenly seizing up and it was getting a little tough to breathe. Seriously, it was like I opened my mouth and spewed a jumble of nonsensical words about some of the deeper realizations I had taken so long to uncover and managed to do it in the span of about a minute. I could hardly understand what I was saying as it all spilled out, it felt like I wasn’t even the one controlling my vocal chords, someone else had taken over and was making a mess of things. I didn’t know how I was going to recover from this, and then I was saved.

My husband had noticed what was happening. He was keenly aware of me throughout the whole night, and started it out by stepping beside me in this moment and placing his hand on my lower back. His simple touch of reassurance brought me back to myself, and I was able to relax a little. There it was. My truth was out with these two. It might have been a bit much, it wasn’t a perfect delivery and certainly not one I had ever planned for, but it was done. After picking their jaws up off the floor (which is what I envisioned was happening – like something out of a cartoon), both women started commenting that they could never do it. One of them, who I’ll call H, said “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I love my wine too much, but I don’t drink it during the week, so I’m okay.” The other, I’ll refer to her as L, said something to the effect of “I love my wine, too. But I’ve got to have it every day, there’s no way I could stop. I don’t know how you are doing it.” It was such a weird position to be in. I wanted to explain more, I wanted to tell them not to think that just because I was doing this didn’t mean that I was judging them or that they should change anything. I was filled with worry that they would start doubting their own drinking habits, but then I snapped myself out of it. This wasn’t about them, it was a choice that I had to make for me. I was creating a story around their thoughts that I had no way of even knowing existed. I wanted to immediately make sure that my actions weren’t making them feel bad, which is a terrible habit that I’ve carried with me since childhood. None of this was about anyone else, so I let it go.

Their next comments made me feel as if they weren’t taking this very seriously, that they thought this whole stopping drinking thing must be easy for me. They couldn’t believe I was turning down the countertop filled with cocktails, wine and beer bottles to be shared that evening. I desperately wanted them to know how difficult this was and that it didn’t come easily at all. I managed to tell them it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and much like them, I also loved my wine and my whiskey. I really didn’t want to have to let it go, but it was necessary. I could tell that I was losing them, and I was honestly ready to stop talking about it. Again, I didn’t want to be that Debbie Downer in the room, so instead I grabbed my club soda and moved to a new conversation.

The rest of the evening went smoothly, overall, with just a few odd moments popping up. I think some of these friends are just trying to figure out how to deal with a sober friend, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s a brand new concept that I don’t even know how to handle yet, so it has to be foreign to them. As an example, when I walked into the dining room, it was easy to tell where I would be sitting because there were filled wine glasses at each place setting, but one was left with an empty glass. At first, I thought it was strange to even place a glass there, as almost a ‘just in case she changes her mind’ attempt; however, I had to tell myself that maybe it was done in case I wanted to pour my club soda into it. The one thing that did bother me was when our host was pouring refills of wine around the table later in the dinner and as he walked past my chair he held the bottle in front of my face and said “See what you’re missing.” Just when I was feeling let down by this, his wife, L, piped up and told him to stop being so mean. She said I should be proud of what I was doing and that he needed to back off. Now, I love L, but she is honestly the one person that I expected to give me a difficult time about not drinking more than anyone else in this group. My husband and I both thought she would be the biggest challenge, and it turned out on Saturday that she was my biggest supporter.

As we said our goodbyes to everyone that night, two somewhat profound things happened. First, H approached me and asked if she could make dinner for me next week while her husband was out of town. She made a point to say we could just hang out and there was no mention of a drink. As long as we have all been friends, we’ve always only done things as couples, none of us have ever had a one-on-one like this. Her offer was both surprising and sincere, so I immediately accepted. Then, as we made our way out the door, L gave me a big hug (she is not a hugger) and told me again how proud she was of what I was doing. She said I needed to keep it up and that it was something she could never do. Tears filled her eyes, she could barely talk and had to turn away, but I was so struck by her emotions around this, that I also started to cry as I made my way to the car. L is not one to ever show an emotion and when she’s been drinking, as she had this night, she usually turns feisty and will easily give someone a hard time. I fully expected an ‘Oh my god, why the hell aren’t you drinking?’ versus the encouragement that she doled out.

I am about to get a little ‘woo-woo’ here, but when I got home that night and lay in bed next to my husband, my heart felt light. It was as if the universe sent me two beautiful gifts, maybe even a reward for my decision to stay sober. As stressful and confusing as the rambling of my truth may have come forth, the unexpected moments with these women later that night only reassured me that I am doing something big here. My sobriety is starting to feel powerful.