There is always a lot of discussion about our lives after we got sober or what particular “bottom” resulted in us getting sober. There’s talk about our drinking careers, lives ruined, people pissed, DUI’s, jobs lost, blah, blah, blah. Then there’s talk about the first day, the second day, the first weekend, the first birthday, first Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and all other reasons we alcoholics loved to get our drink on but were no longer allowed. We cheer for milestones because, let’s face it, if this were a cake walk I wouldn’t be blogging and I suspect neither would a lot of my friends. We even discuss our methods of staying sober whether it’s AA, SMART, blogging, therapy or some form of medication. It’s awesome that it’s out here, for anyone to read and to take what they need and leave the rest.
Recently however, I’ve noticed a gap in all of these heartfelt and thought-provoking discussions. I call it “The Before”. For me The Before was the time when I knew I had a problem but hadn’t yet truly committed to sobriety. I was still drinking, or relapsing, or drinking or relapsing. What’s more I was thinking and thinking and THINKING about how I needed to maybe be sober for like…forever but not today. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week – on Monday. Or Thanksgiving – no wait…the Holidays are hard maybe New Year’s day since I’ll already have a hangover.
See what I mean.
When I look back I see that this was the most difficult part of my journey. Not the first few days or the first weekend or the first birthday or the first anything. It was The Before. The Before was the toughest because I had no peace of mind. Hell…I had no peace of anything during that time. My brain chattered on and on and on and just would not be still. No matter what I did I could not convince it to just shut the fuck up and leave me the hell alone.
It’s a funny thing about my brain, or higher power or conscience or whatever. Once an idea that is fundamentally right has been awakened it will not rest until I’ve done something about it. The thing is that this can conceivably go on for years and years and years before I actually get around to doing something about it.
Finally putting down my wine glass was no different. I remember very clearly the first time the idea that I had a problem popped into my head. The hubs and I had just moved in together which means I was in my early twenties. We came home from a night out and I could barely walk. I face planted into the bed and said, “I think I have a drinking problem.” He thought I was kidding but I knew, way down deep in my gut, that the way I drank wasn’t normal. I also knew that one day I’d have to do something about it but the thought was so repulsive I stuffed it down…for the next 25 years or so.
As the years went on I grew more and more aware of how much I drank and that, once I got started I was not able to quit. What frightened me more was how much I thought about drinking. All that planning and thinking and manipulating was not only tiresome but it signaled a much deeper problem. One I refused to admit out loud but that my gut knew was true. Then came the second time I saw my son cry because I was drunk. That’s when I knew something had to be done.
I can’t count the number of starts and stops I had after that moment but there were a lot of them. I’d get a few days or weeks or even months under my belt before I’d proclaim myself fine and start The Before all over again. The Before that resulted in the looks of disappointment on the faces of my family when they saw me bring in a bottle or three of wine. The constant beratement of myself because I was weak, or a fraud, or a bad person or bad mom or horrible wife until I finally just had to drink away the self-deprecation which only made me hate myself more. The promises before my feet hit the floor the next morning that I would never drink again…followed by a loss of my resolve somewhere around 2:00 pm which led to the grocery store and more wine. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Then there was the endless noise in my head about drinking…always about drinking. Why, when, and how? What it was doing to my kids. What is was doing to my marriage. My job. My health. When will I quit again? (There was no longer an issue of “if” it was now “when”.) Planning, planning, planning for that day – only to chicken out at the 11th hour and start the planning process again. I was unhappy no matter which way I turned. If I didn’t quit I was horrible, if I did I was angry. Lose-lose. I was a loser no matter what.
Of course one day something clicked and here I am almost five years later sober as a judge and healthier and happier than I’ve ever been. I wish I could tell you what switch finally flipped but I can’t. I can (and have) told you what made me try…again, but I can’t explain why I stayed sober. I guess I just got so sick and tired of the constant negativity in my head and I felt that I didn’t have any other choice. I think I just decided that I couldn’t listen to that crap for one more goddamned day (little g).
The rest of the journey was difficult, at first, but the thought of going back to The Before is what kept me sober that first year and still, quietly, keeps me sober now. That dark and ugly Before is not a place that anyone should be.