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Notes from the Field – Reflections on 15 months of sobriety (Part 1)

I am 33 years old. I have lived and worked all over the country, and overseas, and have degrees from elite American universities. In many ways I have lived a full, meaningful, and beautiful life. I also suffer from addiction, and I have been struggling with addiction for 7 years. Although I have worked hard and spent about 80% of those 7 years sober, I have experienced serious and very life-disruptive relapses. As of now, I have 15 months of consecutive sobriety, largely thanks to my loving family and friends, a wonderful and comprehensive in-patient rehab, therapists, medication, AA, and sober living. (Among many other things.) 

Around March 2020, I entered rehab after a total collapse of my life after I had relapsed on benzodiazepines and alcohol for several months. While I was in rehab, I lost my job, my car, and my apartment. I had broken up with a long-time girlfriend a few months earlier while I was descending into addiction. I was full of anger, self-loathing, and despair. For awhile I was acutely suicidal and, at rehab, felt like I was moving through the days in a fog. I remember being woken up at 6:30 AM to attend morning meditation at the rehab, which was located on a beautiful compound in the Texas countryside, and simply feeling like I could not go on. For two weeks, as the addict side of my brain continued to utterly eclipse my rational thinking, I plotted my escape from rehab just so I could–what? Go be homeless and drink? In retrospect it is terrifying that my addiction was telling me such things–that, regardless of the consequences, I needed to do anything just for that one more drink. There was no way any therapist or counselor at rehab could get through to me; they were simply talking to the disease of addiction and not to me.

I was convinced to stay at rehab due to the tearful pleadings of my parents and the fact that they set hard boundaries with me, stating unequivocally that I would lose all their support if I left but that, if I stayed, they would do everything in their power to help me. Looking back, it was truly an act of God that I decided to stay, and to shoulder through the long days and weeks that it took for my rational brain to come back online. I would probably be dead or homeless or in jail otherwise. 

The full three months at inpatient rehab saw my brain rebuilding itself. I could think again. I could stand separate from the disease of addiction and understand that I had to fight it. But my life had truly collapsed, emotionally, materially, and socially–it would be a long road back. I stayed in rehab and at their transitional house for a total of 7 months during which I worked hard at AA and made a lot of friends in sobriety. Gradually, as relationships with my family got better and the work I was doing with therapists began to show dividends, I saw a semblance of hope and actual happiness return to my life. I was looking forward to and enjoying normal pleasures again–cooking dinner with a friend, going for a walk, or listening to nice music. The brain is a remarkable organ and can heal itself; the same goes for the human spirit.

A lot went on in the next 8 months after that. I moved into a regular sober living home, with less accountability and clinical support, assuming more independence and responsibility for my recovery. I started working with a sober coach. I found work as a writer and editor and began to chip away at the staggering amount of debt I had accumulated. I had a great sponsor and diligently worked the 12 steps, sponsoring others for the first time and making difficult 9th step amends. And slowly, and then more rapidly, hope and joy and peacefulness began to return. 

Today, coming up soon on 15 months sobriety, I find myself doing what I’ve often done–looking  back at the past year, at its successes and horrors, and wondering just how it all happened, where the time went, and how I’ve gotten to the place of peacefulness where, gratefully and by the grace of God, I am now. 

What went right? What still needs work? Where do I go from here? I believe in God more than ever, and in the miracle of AA. I believe in myself, I trust my sober friends and clinical support network to guide me and support me, and I have learned a lot about what sort of lifestyle changes are necessary, for me, to maintain sobriety. I still do not understand how to navigate romantic relationships, I struggle with my finances and with work, and I have a lot of character defects and failings that need to be prayed over and worked on. When one gets sober, one experiences happiness for the first time. At the same time, one experiences true sadness and fear and loneliness for the first time, in many ways. And part of maintaining long-term sobriety is looking at the roots of that sadness, that fear, and that loneliness–exploring it, understanding it, growing through it. I’ll be looking at all of this in depth in Part 2.