On Happiness and Recovery

A friend of mine has a husband who is an alcoholic.  He went to detox and, rather than go to rehab, he decided to do it on his own with the help of AA.  He says he goes regularly and she has no reason to doubt this.  He’s still sober after all.  But he’s not happy and that’s making her not happy.  She’s trying to make things okay for their family (three fairly young children) but daddy being so unhappy is beginning to spill over on everyone.  Their marriage is in trouble.

He’s angry.  He really didn’t want to stop drinking but really didn’t have a choice.  Just like so many of us functioning alcoholics, there were no DUI’s, he didn’t lose his family or friends, he didn’t lose his job.  To tell you the truth I’m not really sure why he finally quit because there wasn’t even any kind of ultimatum from my friend.  I guess he just got sick and tired of being sick and tired.  But maybe not enough.

I think this is what they mean by being a dry drunk.  He’s sober but after 18 months he still hasn’t started recovering.  He’s  hanging on by his fingernails day after day.  It must be exhausting.

I don’t know what his program looks like or if he even has one but here’s what I do know about me.

The drinking wasn’t really my problem.  It was a symptom.  There were others that told me I wasn’t quite right; that I had some work to do, but I didn’t recognize it until the big one hit.  I was obsessive about certain things (clean house, clean kids, etc.).  I had to be in control of everything. I smoked.  I drank.  I had an unhealthy relationship with food.  I was extremely insecure.  Those were all symptoms that I needed help but I didn’t realize it until the drinking swung wildly out of control and I quit.  And then I still wasn’t right…I was just sober.

I spent two years sober before I realized that it wasn’t enough.  Unlike my friend’s husband, I wasn’t angry.  Quite the contrary.  I was extremely grateful to be sober…but I can’t say that I was happy either.  After the pink cloud lifted, I was left wondering, “Is this all their is?”

Then I went to AA and started my step work.  While I didn’t remain with AA (because it wasn’t a good fit for me) the step work was the single greatest gift I have ever given myself because that’s when I began to recover.  That’s when I started picking at that scab.  I made it bleed, then I picked at it again until is was finally, blessedly, healed.  I turned over rocks and dug through shit that I didn’t even know I had.  I cried and screamed and wrote (and wrote and wrote).  I read books about this disorder and that disorder and children of alcoholics and healing and forgiving and loving.  I spoke to a therapist (complete waste of time and money…wrong therapist). 

And then one day I realized that I was at peace.  The voices had stopped.  There was quiet in my head and from the quiet grew a bloom of happiness like I had never felt before.  It was happy just because.  There wasn’t anything particularly happy going on, it was just an average day.  There was no big event I was looking forward to.  There wasn’t even chocolate involved.  I was just…happy.

That’s when I knew the happiness was coming from inside rather than outside.  I wasn’t waiting for someone or something to make me happy…I actually had the power to make myself happy.  That was a really startling day for me…still is.  I still have a lot of work to do and I like that it’s different every day, every hour and every minute of my life.  I love that I’m improving and changing every day.  I love that I’m learning to love who I am.  That, in and of itself, is a fucking miracle.

I hope my friend’s husband can find the strength to do the work required to find his happiness.  I say strength because it is HARD.  But as my mother used to say, anything worth having takes work.  And what I’ve found is the more it’s worth having, the harder the work.



15 thoughts on “On Happiness and Recovery

  1. “White knuckling it” is a phrase I hear to describe someone like this. You need to accept it – he hasn’t, he is resenting it. That is tough. I know people came in who were forced by family, work etc. but then they got it – sometimes at the cost of that which forced them in as they change and then they no longer fit. Maybe that is his worry – who knows – but changing yourself has a potential risk that others who like you now won’t like you then or you won’t want to be with them anymore. It is frightening – I remember for a while not being sure I could change with my family and keep them with me. I almost left as I thought it unfair for them but then realised I was doing it so I could relate with them better. I stayed and worked hard and it worked for me… luckily.

    So much in here – step work – peace in your head – drinking a symptom – the happiness being inside not external etc. brilliant post

  2. I am beginning to learn the truth of what you are saying- that becoming sober is not simply the absence of drinking, it requires facing, processing and understanding all the reason that lead you to think escaping into alcohol was a good idea in the first place. Until you do this, you’re not moving past that place of gritting your teeth and saying no.

    1. EXACTLY!!! But it’s hard and so many of us are just not ready (or willing?) to do the work. But it’s SOOOOO worth it when you do – no matter the outcome. Otherwise we’re just one crisis away from picking up.

      Thanks for commenting Carrie.


  3. Oh, what a beautiful post! After I read your comment on my post I clicked on over here and read this and it really struck a nerve. It made me think that is perhaps what I was doing those 7 months I quit. Not drinking but also not really healing myself in other ways. White knuckling. And wondering if this is all that sobriety had to offer – the occasional pink cloud but also a whole lot of feeling flat, left out socially and therefore a bit isolated. This just reminds me that I need to do something new, something more, this time if I want to make the deeper changes that are going to lead to long-term sobriety. Thank you. x

  4. I use the phrase ‘work in progress’ a lot to describe my recovery. Getting sober is the first bit of the work.. and learning how to stay sober whatever shit comes our way.. but learning how to process emotions and stay calm and happy… well on that score I am most definitely a work in progress. I wish your friend luck xxx

  5. This is a wonderful post. I’ve been in recovery since September, 2012 – 18 months. I’ve had three slips though, the last one on the night of my father’s funeral in October, 2013. I’ve tried to do the work I need to do, but I sometimes wonder if I’ve hit a wall. I’m not angry, but, like you, I’m very grateful for the many gifts sobriety has brought into my life.
    But my whole recovery has been a closely guarded secret. I have a husband and five kids, aged 18 to 32, and I’ve never said the “A” word to anyone except myself. My family thinks I quit drinking in order to lose twenty pounds, and no one has openly questioned why eliminating only alcohol has enabled me to lose twenty plus pounds in a few months. I’ve never considered recovery meetings; my husband has a high profile in our community and I’ve worked hard to be the perfect wife and mother over the years. Of course I know that this was and still is a major part of the problem.
    Lately I’ve been very protective of my sobriety – I never want to go back to how I was before. I’m thinking I should sit my family down and tell them I’m an alcoholic in recovery, and that I need to protect that at all costs. I just don’t want them to think I’m trying to control them in some way. For example, my two youngest kids still live at home, and are still experiencing the ups and downs of growing up – very stressful for mom. But, I don’t want them to think that they are in any way responsible for my behaviour. I need to make sure that they understand that we can continue to have our very open relationship with each other, and they don’t need to hide things from me or somehow protect me from stress so that I won’t drink. I want to set boundaries without alienating them I guess.
    I’ve never before posted a reply to any of the blogs I follow, but for some reason I felt compelled to today. Maybe others will have some insight to this problem. Thanks for listening.

    1. Here’s what I’ve found to be true about children…they thrive on honesty…they hate mysteries. Believe me when I say that they knew you were drinking too much and that they are loving that you aren’t now. But they are probably sitting around waiting for you to start back up again and it may be making them a little crazy inside.

      They also take things at face value. If you tell them that everything is okay, that this isn’t about them – it’s about you and that they don’t have to do anything about it…they will take you at your word. They generally aren’t like adults who read things into every single statement and worry about things they can’t control.

      My own were like this. I was very upfront and honest and I said the “A” word to them long before I believed it myself. We continue to have our open and honest relationship and they come to me for everything (and I mean EVERYTHING). I cherish that and I know it wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t quit drinking AND been so upfront about it.

      It also helps now that they’re off to college and have to start make drinking decisions on their own. I had to make sure they understood the implications of coming from a long line of alcoholhics and that they likely carried the gene.

      This is what has worked for me with all six of my kids. The boys are easier of course but my girls have found it helpful as well. They like that they know what’s going on with me and that they don’t have to wonder (especially now that they are grown).

      Feel free to reach out anytime. If you want to drop an email I’m happy to chat more. I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone…because you’re not. There is a whole host of people out here more than ready to lend an ear or a word if you need it.

      Hugs and endless belief…

  6. “The drinking wasn’t really my problem. It was a symptom.” Yes! It took a lifetime for me to get messed up and it won’t surprise me if it takes the rest of my life to recover. Not drinking is just a part of that. Fantastic post, Sherry.

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