As I celebrate 4 years clean and sober it has prompted renewed reflection. So much has happened between this time last year and now. Much of it has not been as positive as we would have hoped but then sh*t happens whether you are sober or drinking. Some of it has been stressful, emotionally overwhelming, and felt downright difficult and unfair but again such is life. One thing is true through all of this though – at no point has the thought of drinking crossed my mind as a good idea.
So when I wrote last years 3 year soberversary post I hoped that we would now be living in Australia and that isn’t so. Our plans took a turn for the worse at the end of June when the Australian govt announced that they were reducing the age cap on the permanent residency skilled migrant visa from 50 to 45 effective 1st July. As I’m 48 that was pretty much the end of the road to our emigration plans. We may get the opportunity to go over on a temporary work visa for 4 years but it’s highly likely we’d have to return after that. The odds aren’t looking good so we’ve accepted as a family this is most likely the end of the living there dream but we can still go back on holidays to visit our family whenever we wish.
I hoped that I would have been able to successfully publish my Cambridge research and that isn’t so either. It is however my writing and so I can publish it here if I so wish, and I do. So here is my research paper written last year for the University of Cambridge Postgraduate Diploma in Education Studies (Counselling). This isn’t a true academic piece of writing because it is written in the first person rather than the third. It uses much of my lived experience (phenomenological approach) so is a mix of qualitative and quantitative research. That is partly why it isn’t suitable for academic publishing without a great deal of rewriting. What I would ask is that you are respectful to the personal content contained within it.
If I had to write a time-frame of what this journey has been like to date I would say this:
- Year 1 was about escaping the physical & psychological pull of drinking & getting through all the social triggers or big sober milestones (week-ends, weddings, parties, Bank Holidays, birthdays, Xmas & New Year, holidays, seasons).
- Year 2 was about living sober – having made it through the milestones this year can be harder than the first because it is now ‘normal’ to be a non-drinker rather than a drinker in these social situations. As Mary Karr writes in Lit: “If you live in the dark a long time and then the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then – for me, anyway – a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new one’s aren’t yet operational.” Sums it up beautifully 🙂
- Year 3 was where I started to process the emotional sobriety elements of living in recovery. It was too soon to start deep diving in to the issues but I started to tentatively explore the work that needed to be done later and build my emotional resilience in preparation.
- Year 4 has been the mother-load of emotional recovery work for me. Now I’ve felt emotionally robust enough to deep dive on some of the underlying reasons why I drank and to be resilient enough to sit with those feelings and it not trigger an emotional relapse that is then a risk for a full relapse. And again in the words of Mary Karr from Lit: “A lot of therapy is looking through a child’s eyes, she says. This is looking through an adult’s” Again, absolutely bang on!
This is only my experience of sobriety though and we are all very different in how we experience both drinking and recovery. Melody Beattie in her book: Beyond Codependency describes the stages of recovery as expressed by Timmen Cermak as: survival/denial -> reidentification -> core issues -> reintegration -> genesis (which beautifully mirrors my years 1-4 so far!). She goes on to say: “This is the recovery process. It’s a fluid process, with carryovers and crossovers at different stages. There isn’t a fixed time frame for moving through these stages ….. Recovery is a healing and a spiritual process. We travel from self-neglect into self-responsibility, self care and self love. I’ve learned that self-care isn’t narcissistic or indulgent. Self care is the one thing I can do that most helps me and others too.”
And of the genesis stage which is where I now consider myself:
This isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning. We’re no longer carrying around our “imprisoned” selves. Nor are we indulging in all our whims and desires. Discipline has found its place in our lives too. Like butterflies broken loose from a cocoon, our selves are “flying free” … We’ve found a new way of life – one that works.
I would not have changed any of it and remain certain that my decision to stop was one of the best of my lifetime so far. My life would have been poorer were it not for the friendships and connections I have made out here on the inter-webs because of that single decision to put down my last drink on the 20th September 2013.
Although drink holds no appeal right now I am under no illusion that like Smaug in Lord of the Rings my addiction is like a sleeping dragon that one drink could awaken. Because as Tolkien wrote Smaug is “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked wyrm”. I remain alert and resolute heartened by the knowledge that as I head on towards 5 years sober this time next year, the risk of relapse drops to around 15%.
And to end this post? The only way I know how to celebrate – with a tune! Orbital ‘Straight Sun’ and some fantastic timeframe video of the UK 🙂