Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Which I Answer The Question I Get The Most

***Submitted by Ellie and originally posted at One Crafty Mother

A note from Ellie: I don't usually post things from my own personal blog here: your stories are so important and your voices help so many, that I would rather read your words than broadcast my own. But, for whatever reason, I have gotten many more emails than usual lately asking the exact same question, so I thought I'd post this here, too.  Thanks for reading, thanks for your emails and most of all thanks for helping to keep me sober with your own brave words


How did you do it? people who are struggling want to know.   How did you stop?

This question makes me itchy, but it is the question I'm asked the most.

It makes me itchy because there is no one way to get sober, and nobody is an authority on how it is done.  But just like I share my stories of drinking and addiction, hoping someone can see themselves in my words and find some measure of comfort, I realize it's okay to talk about my recovery the same way.

I don't like giving advice.  I like sharing stories.  But on some level, I guess, they are one and the same.

Looking back on it now, I can see two main things that kept me sober even when I really didn't want to stop drinking:  talking and breaking patterns.

I found sober women.  I found them in recovery meetings - I didn't know where else to look, and I knew they would be there, so that is where I went.   A lot about meetings was completely overwhelming at first, and much of it was downright off-putting, to be honest.  But the people, OH - the people.  It was such a relief to talk to people who understood, who weren't pointing their fingers at me and asking: why did you? or how could you?  or what's wrong with you? 

I came to understand that these people were safe, that I could pour out my feelings and my truths, share the burden of my shame with them and lighten my load.  They didn't have magical answers, but they would nod their heads in empathy and understanding, and just the act of unloading made me feel light, free and hopeful.

Some people were full of advice - lots of  you should do this and you shouldn't do that.  I listened to all of it, discarded the advice that didn't work for me and embraced the advice that did. At first the advice felt crippling; I was caught up in the 'right' way to get sober, and felt like I was doing it all wrong.  Finally, one of my new good recovery friends gently pointed out that the idea was to find the way that worked for me.

"Are you drinking?" she asked.

When I replied that I wasn't, she smiled and said, "Well, then whatever you're doing is working."

Even when I wasn't sure at all why I was there, I kept going to meetings, because for all of my confusion I felt safe there, my mind quieted and I felt peaceful. So I kept going. I found the people that helped me the most and I clung to the them for dear life.  I am not a clinger, and falling back into their arms is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but it worked.

I talked.  A lot.  I talked wide-eyed in wonder about the all the feelings I had, the ones that I had stuffed down for so long.  I was so angry - at myself, at the fact that I was an alcoholic and couldn't drink.  I was so scared.   How was I going to navigate life without the soothing effects of wine?   These people understood why I felt that way, because they had lived it, too.  When I would ask people not in recovery how I would live without alcohol, they would blink and say, "well, just don't drink!"

In response to the same question someone in recovery would say, "it seems impossible, doesn't it? But it is possible, although it's going to get harder before it gets easier, so hang on tight and keep on talking."

The other important part of my early recovery was breaking patterns.  I looked at my triggers and could see there were times of day, situations and feelings that always made me want to drink.   It was hard to look at my triggers, because the number one item on the list was my kids.  Admitting my kids were my biggest trigger, and having safe people to talk to about it, was the turning point in my early recovery.

The toughest time of day was late afternoon and early evening, and I spent the first couple of months white-knuckling it, muddling through, until I followed the advice to change my patterns.  During the tough hours I would talk to another recovering alcoholic on the phone, go for a walk or lose myself in video games or mindless movies.   I had two small kids at home, so I couldn't just escape any time I wanted to, but I would pile them into the car and head to the playground at 5:30pm if I had to.   I walked in a different door of my house for a while. I rearranged furniture and I cleaned like a maniac.  It didn't matter what I did, really, as long as it helped me get out of my head for a little while.

I slept a lot.  Life was so bright, loud and chaotic, and the feelings were so pointy without the numbing effects of alcohol, that sometimes my brain would simply shut down.  It took me some time to understand that sleep was a safe way to escape, to drop away for a while, so I didn't beat myself up about it, although it freaked my family out.  Seeing me sleep at odd times of the day was a trigger for them, and with the help of other recovering people I found the words to explain to my family how I was feeling, why I needed to shut down sometimes.

But the single most important thing I did in early recovery, was get honest, both with myself and with other people.  Those things I didn't want to think about, let alone talk about?  I started thinking about them and talking about them.  I wrote in a journal, before I started this blog.  Honesty is the antidote for denial, and denial keep you stuck.

And lastly, I stopped drinking. Such a simple thing, but it is the hardest step.

If you are trying to stop and you physically can't, get help.  Talk to a doctor, or go to rehab.  Rehab is such a nasty word, isn't it?  To me it smelled of failure, of bottom-of-the-barrel drinkers.  I wasn't expecting to find other Moms, other smart, funny, creative and interesting people who were just like me, but that's what I found.  Rehab isn't a dirty word; it is a place of healing, and it is full of people who will understand you, and get you safely sober and on the path towards recovery.

If you can physically stop but your mind goes nuts, start talking.  If you are triggered because you're irritated - be irritated.  Get to the other side of an unpleasant emotion without the numbing effect of alcohol.  Be in it, ride it out.   And then do it again and again.   Get through anger, hurt, resentment and boredom.  You can do this on your own, but it is miserable, so find safe people - ideally sober people - and start talking.

You can find sober people at meetings, or in chat rooms, or on blogs.  I get emails every week from people who say: "I've never said this to anyone before, but I think I'm an alcoholic", or "I can't stop drinking, even though I want to."   I know exactly how brave it is to admit that to yourself and to someone else, and it makes my heart soar because I know this person just broke through denial and gave themselves a fighting chance at sobriety.

Sober people are the bravest people I've ever met.  They are authentic and compassionate, and they exist in the truth.  It is a beautiful, beautiful place to live.

Come join us.  It's amazing here.


  1. Great job. I can't wait to get past all the voices telling me to drink. Strong enough to tell them to leave me allone and I love drowning them with H2O.
    I love how you explain to feel the feelings we experience everyday. Hurt, anger resentments were so much easier to deal with when drinking but life isn't always supposed to be easy. Life is living it sober and fully alive!

  2. Beautiful, Ellie! I love your posts, no matter where they are posted. You are a recovery hero of mine. Everything you wrote, and I mean, EVERYTHING, felt like what was and is true for me. Finding my people, my "tribe" was just magical, even when I was in so much pain. And although we live miles and miles apart, you are part of my tribe. YOU are the kind of people we meet when we are trying to get sober. Sending so much love and gratitude. xoxo

  3. thanks SO much for your words!!! i am celebrating 2 years today. blessings to all on your journey~~debbie

  4. Thanks, Ellie. Your advice to get through difficult emotions, to "be in it, ride it out", is so important. If I just get overwhelmed with these emotions, I can go to a place in my addictive mind that says it is just not worth it to stay sober, when I can get rid or soften these emotions with drugs and alcohol. This seems to have happened with a few weeks after stopping - the good physical feelings of clearing the drugs out have leveled off, and then here it comes, the full blown emotional tsunami, which seems almost unbearable. I am finding out it is indeed possible to ride out any emotion, they change like everything else, and I simply need to take the opportunity to learn new ways of dealing with them. Over and over again, which is not a problem, it is what it is. Conscious mind training is a huge part of recovery.

  5. Beautiful writing and I love the sentiments expressed--they speak for me too.

  6. This is such a great post and I hope that newcomers out there see this and really take what you have said to heart. It DOES get better even though it is so scary at first. I love what you said - latching on to other women in the program and changing patterns/places/things, etc. was key to my sobriety. I had to completely change how I had been living and that was so hard but it was so necessary. I am so thankful that I have a large women recovery group in my area. Not everyone has this and I can't imagine doing it without the women that I have been blessed to have put in my life. Again, great post. I would have loved to have seen this early on my recovery. Thanks for writing it!

  7. I am very grateful you wrote this post and hope the incredible and beautiful woman I love reads it and chooses to fight her illness.

    My beautiful Ellie is addicted to drugs and an alcoholic. If she asks me, i have promised to walk beside her on her long road to recovery-protecting her when she feels threatened or scared, catching her if she stumbles or falls and most of all-loving her more each and every day.

  8. Love this post and your emphasis on finding a combination of things that work for you in recovery. Meetings worked for me too, though I also struggled with those things I didn't like about them. But yes, the people -- they were the wonderful part and what ultimately helped me get sober.

  9. I never thought of how our coping skills might be a trigger for our friends and family. This is very helpful to know whatever our struggles are.