The other day I had lunch with a friend I met in recovery meetings when we were both wobbly and unsteady in sobriety. She always looked perfectly put together, but when I first heard her speak, she sounded tiny and scared and I instantly identified. She is one day shy of one month behind me in sober time, so we’re both closing in on two years. If you believe the statistics on the success rate of 12-step programs, or any program of recovery for that matter, you’d think that’s really something. The statistics don’t explain why nearly everyone I still keep in touch with from meetings is also still sober. Most of the bloggers I’ve followed here for the last year are still sober too. I know sobriety is never guaranteed and that we must work to keep it, but I’m not sure why fear seems to rule the roost.

My lunch friend still attends almost daily recovery meetings. I haven’t been to a meeting since September. While I got a lot out of meetings and believe they saved me in a way I couldn’t have saved myself that first sober summer, I had started to feel more put upon than helped. I would go back if I felt the need to, but for now meetings are not for me.

It was mostly an issue of not enough time for meetings and not feeling ready to give back through sponsoring others and chairing meetings. Each time my youngest kid saw I had left the car parked in the driveway at night, she would ask “mommy, do you have a meeting tonight?” If I answered yes she would say “oh” in her sad voice. If I told her no, that I wasn’t going to a meeting, she would say “yay!” In a dual-income home with tricky schedules and no easy childcare, giving up precious family time to go to meetings caused more strain than support. My family is my number one priority right now.

One thing I kept hearing at meetings, though, is that my sobriety should always come first. The idea behind this is that if I don’t stay sober, I don’t get to keep all the good things in my life, like my family, my job and that elusive peace of mind. I just don’t see regular attendance at meetings as something I need in order to stay sober anymore.

In the months after I stopped going, I watched my moods with hypervigilance for signs that sobriety was slipping away. When I found I felt more peaceful and stronger than I had before (likely a result of continued, strengthened sobriety more than anything else), I started to relax and worry less about relapse.

Just like it took a leap of faith to go to meetings in the first place, it took a leap to step out. The thing about this particular program is that when you stop going to meetings but stay sober, there’s little distinction between you and someone who goes back out and starts drinking again. If you’ve seen the depressing statistic that less than 5% still attend AA meetings at the end of one year, you too might assume the remaining 95% percent relapse. It’s more likely that many of them took what they needed and went on to work sobriety in a way that suited them better.

I just finished reading a book called Sober for Good . I heard about it when I was still new to AA but purposely avoided it when I saw it dispelled the myth that AA is the only program that works. Even though intellectually I knew this was true, at the time AA was meeting my needs and I already felt baffled by the animosity I saw directed at the program – often by people who have never been to a meeting.  I just wasn’t ready to hear about other approaches at the time. Now I’m in a place where I’m not only ready but maybe need to know there are others out there finding and maintaining their sobriety in non-traditional ways.

Sober for Good tells the stories of 222 “masters” who quit drinking for at least five years, many for much longer (note: a very small percentage continued drinking moderately, but the book’s focus is on abstinence). More than half of those interviewed got or stayed sober through non-traditional methods, ie not AA. Many of them used other programs, such as SMART recovery , Women for Sobriety , or Secular Organizations for Sobriety.  Incidentally, none of these organizations hold meetings in my immediate area, yet there are about 15 AA meetings within a 15 mile radius every single day. There’s something to be said for convenient face-to-face contact with other people going through the same thing as you.

Sober for Good mentions that most problem drinkers are pushed towards traditional 12-step meetings, while little information is given or even known about other treatment options. It’s much harder to find alternate help and almost easier to try it completely on your own. This is what a lot of people do. Successfully. Is their sobriety any less real than someone who went to rehab and then AA?

Yet it does seem that we make up separate, almost warring, factions in sobriety. Those in AA often speak the language and take flak for doing so. It doesn’t seem to bother them, except maybe when they have to defend their beloved program against accusations that it’s really a religious cult.

If you’re doing it on your own, you might bristle at the term dry drunk. I first heard it from a counselor and later by random individuals to describe someone who gives up alcohol but doesn’t participate in a formal program of recovery. It’s equally insulting.

At lunch with my old AA friend, I brought up the isolation I sometimes feel because I stopped going to meetings. I was quick to add that I hadn’t felt that from her or any of the small handful of people I still keep in touch with from AA.

My friend said “I think we’re all just afraid we’re not doing it right.”

I think she nailed it. I used to feel more threatened when I heard about someone’s markedly different approach to sobriety because I was too new to my own. My life was still in a fairly constant state of chaos and upset. I was still relearning how to cope and celebrate and frankly just live without alcohol. Maybe I was struggling too because I hadn’t found the right program of recovery for me personally. Maybe I haven’t found it even now because it keeps changing as it needs to.

Right now I follow a pretty satisfying routine of family time, work, running, writing, reading and seeking harmony in the world around me. I’m not going to list all of the substance-free vices I still indulge in, but I’m pretty sure they’re part of my recovery right now too. The most important part of my recovery are the principles I learned in AA and still use to stay centered and healthy. If I were a different sort of person, I might have learned them from another program or from a book or a blog. To each his own.

One more statistic I want to highlight from Sober for Good is this: of the estimated 7% of Americans with serious drinking problems, only 10% will pursue treatment. (I know the blogging community is diverse, and imagine this number applies to other nationalities as well.) It would seem then that if you’re reading this and you’re sober or working towards sobriety, you’re already part of something remarkable. The blogging community offers a unique view of the many ways to get and stay sober. I’m proud to be a part of it and I hope one day we all find more tolerance and support and that even more people come to know the joys of sobriety.

Sometimes I can be scary

Imagine a grown woman first crouching down behind a tree and then scampering back and forth between several more trees in the middle of a mostly deserted park that is mostly used by runners. Imagine this woman chuckling a bit maniacally and the only thing that might save this woman from looking completely insane is the five-year old child with her. But mind you, this child is rather small and so the woman runner with earbuds might have only noticed me acting like a weirdo.

I thought about calling out to the runner “I’m only playing hide and go seek!” but some reassurances do not reassure. Anyway, I wasn’t about ready to give up my spot (which was a very good hiding spot) so I continued to crouch behind the fattest tree and the woman runner diverted off the running path and got the fuck out of there.

Afterwards, I felt really bad. I had just read Running on Sober’s poignant, ultimately uplifting piece on what it means to be a runner after the Boston marathon bombing. I realized this woman runner I spooked was probably on heightened alert after what happened in Boston. As a woman, I would not want to run in this park alone because it is secluded and I am a scaredy cat.

I got sucked back into a thrilling high stakes game of hide and seek and forgot about the woman runner until I saw her drive off in her car, which had been parked near the trees where my daughters were then hiding. I like to think she saw them lurking and running and crouching and realized our actions were not sinister.

Incidentally, this was the first time we’d been to this park in more than 7 years of living in the area. It was like stepping into a Miyazaki film, which is what I love most about where we live.

Nestled in a huge tract of land, the focal points are an ancient, ornate water tower and mansion, which once served as a summer home and later a retreat for sick white women. I mention the white part because that was apparently a stipulation of the man who willed it to the Episcopalians in 1893. Part of this land is now home to a drug and alcohol rehab where I had a humbling speaking experience last summer. I had been asked to share my story at an on-site 12-step meeting, but was not prepared for the mostly black male audience.

I think of this as somehow full circle from the land’s intended purpose as a retreat for sick white ladies. I was sick from alcohol, afterall, and I am white. Sometimes I even still act a bit sick, especially if you see me crouching behind trees and scaring lady joggers. If you look beyond race and gender and afflictions, I was really just a person playing hide and go seek with with my kids in a spot of heaven on a perfect spring day. Nothing more, nothing less.

The water tower near the tree I was hiding behind, and of course you can’t see me because I am an excellent hider.

An old something I wrote

I wrote the following bit last January, shortly before I took up running. I was a little over 6 months sober at the time. I thought about it this morning when I went running past the house with the Peter Rabbit statue. The old house with the mean dogs changed owners and is currently under renovation…probably being flipped is my guess.

I found out the hoarder house belongs to one of two spinster sisters. The other lives in the house across the street with the tangly yard. They both spend most of their time at a vacation home in the Poconos.

You can learn so much in a year.

If you’re newly sober, I’m not advocating that you take up running or being nosy. Reading or rollerskating will do just as well if they keep you engaged and challenged. I’m just grateful I harnessed the restlessness I felt at the time. I think running saved me in a lot of ways.

p.s. I still haven’t spotted those white deer since.

p.p.s. You’ve probably already seen this link on other sober blogs, but a graduate student asked if I would post a link to a survey for married couples where drinking has been an issue of concern. If interested, go here!

Running – January 10, 2012

Every day I do 30 minutes of exercise, but it’s all very old-lady like, so that’s probably why I’m not cut and buff and ripped and all those hard words fit people throw around.In the basement I have an elliptical machine I bought with my bonus check four years ago. It runs on two D batteries and I only ever put it up to level 3 because level 4 feels like trying to walk through sand up to my thighs. It slips off track if I use the arm levers, so I don’t use the arm levers. I read and tread in small, slightly resistant circles for a half hour to work up a fine bead of sweat and then finish up with 120 situps. I know that sounds like a lot of situps, but I do them on a situp bench, which is like doing 10 situps on the ground, only it’s easier.

My preferred exercise is a 30-minute 2-mile lap around the neighborhood behind where we live. It’s the sort of workout your grandmother could keep up with, plus we would have a lot to talk about during our walks.

For about a month, I saw two white deer almost every time I walked. I only managed one fuzzy picture of one from far away, but I swear they were real. I haven’t seen them in months, though I always look.

This is my favorite house to walk past. It’s a hot mess of old cars, plus someone spray painted Ball Star on the basketball backboard. It’s right across from a park where someone defaced a baby swing by painting a cartoonish penis on the front. To tell the truth, I never much noticed the penis until my older kid pointed out one visit that it was no longer there. Where did the penis go? So many mysteries.

Sometimes when I walk, I see moving trucks and feel like I’m losing a neighbor, though I don’t know them and it’s not even my neighborhood. Once I saw a man in his late 50s bring a box of loose this-and-thats out to a U-Haul trailer. I’d never seen him before, but I knew his house because it was the one with the dirtpile backyard and two mean-ass barking dogs tied up to weak-looking ropes. I transferred my dislike of the dogs to the man and imagined his wife finally had enough of his mean ass. I saw a pickup truck pull up and the man walked over with his box still in hand and talked with whoever was inside – an older couple – and I walked on because it was not my neighborhood or my neighbor or my business.

When I turned and got to the end of the next street, the pickup truck drove past and pulled into the driveway of a house I knew because I’d seen the guy walking his schnauzer before and both were very friendly. Days later, I was surprised to see this Peter Rabbit statue in the friendly man’s yard because it used to be in the mean man’s yard.

I wondered if their conversation had been about the statue.

“Jean told us you’re moving out. Patty and I are just so sorry.”

“Yeah, that bitch can go to hell. You want this fucking rabbit? If you don’t, I’m going to break it into a million pieces and feed it to the dogs.”

Though what kind of mean man has a Peter Rabbit statue in his yard? It is possible I snap-judged him wrong.

Maybe you think I’m too nosy, and this may be. At least I’m not like the neighbors who came outside to openly stare when police pulled up and walked to the front door of the house where an old woman lives. I’d seen her many summer nights sitting in a camp chair in front of a one-car garage, which was open and packed to the ceiling with crap. It was all stacked neatly, like some impossible game of Jenga because it was all real stuff like broken chairs and tea kettles and empty wooden frames and folded army tents.

The policeman wore a brown short-sleeved shirt and brown shorts. I had no idea policemen could wear shorts until that night. I was walking past – staring discreetly, not like those neighbors – but I saw the policeman talking and pointing to her open garage in a respectful, almost apologetic way that made me feel equally sorry for him and the old lady. Hoarders is my least favorite show of all time, outranking even The Beverly Hillbillies, so the whole short scene just about broke my heart.

Lately when I walk, I feel like I want to start running. Maybe it’s boredom with routine (though the route has plenty of hills, so it’s challenging) or maybe I’m anxious to get back and get things done (though the down time and fresh air are wonderful), or maybe I don’t want to see any more heartbreak in things.

If I go by faster, things will look different and I will get a better workout. I’m ready for a change.

Warm and fuzzy math

If you had told 7th grade me I would one day use math every day at my job, I would have said get the fuck out, minus the fuck because I was a pretty good kid. I was not good at math, though, and in fact struggled so much I was downgraded to a class for math misfits. I muddled through, with strong hope that I would at least not need to remember algorithms and linear equations. And I don’t, but I do a lot of simple math every day.

Yesterday I went back for the third time to the early morning runner’s group I joined to learn to run faster. The first time I showed up late and had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Everyone else ran really fast and I left feeling pretty discouraged. The second week, I showed up on time but didn’t understand the directions and everyone else ran so fast I lost the group altogether and felt even more discouraged. Walking back to my car, I started talking with a veteran member, who told me his pace one day increased mysteriously. Yesterday I showed up and again didn’t really understand the directions and again was passed regularly by herds of runners who remind me of light-footed gazelles. But yesterday I also beat my old personal record from October. I did some math and calculated a 27% increase in speed from when I first got my running watch in June. I’m elated and motivated and so glad I didn’t give up.

I’m also doing the Camp Nanowrimo thing this month, though I’m only 6.7% through my self-prescribed word count goal and already 10% through April. I’ve decided I won’t get 100% bummed if I don’t make it because, you see, for the first time ever I’m sitting down to write creatively and so far I love it. Plus I still have 90% left of April. And please don’t correct my math if I’m wrong because I didn’t even do any better in that 7th grade class for math misfits. I transferred back out because if I was going to get a C in math, my parents figured it might as well be in regular math.

I’m reminded once again why it’s important to stick with something. Oftentimes I have this quiet but persistent voice in my head telling me what I’m doing won’t work and why. Occasionally, another voice that is never my own will offer another point-of-view. It will tell me I can get faster or write something substantial and all I have to do is keep running and writing, though never at the same time. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other or huddling over the keyboard in my spare time (ha), I may one day not recognize myself anymore, but in the best possible way.

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