Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Five years of sobriety - a check in

Monday marked five years sober for MFD. He knows four dates: his sobriety date 11-12-13, his birthday, my birthday, and our anniversary. His sobriety date is most important. It is the bedrock of everything else and takes priority over everything else. That's how vitally important sobriety is to his existence and our existence together.

Six years ago, if you told me we'd be here, I would not have believed you. Six years ago I was preparing myself for divorce. Five years ago I was certain I was headed for divorce. But the days went on and MFD worked his program with commitment I had not seen from him before. I offered no encouragement. I sat back. I waited.

About six months into his sobriety, I kept my eye on the door and waited for the other shoe to drop. Nine months in, I exhaled. A year in, I felt my shoulders move down from around my ears. Five years on, we have problems and challenges, of course. Everyone does. But nothing like we did before. Five years of sobriety for MFD is a good place for us to be, marriage-wise. He is as committed today to maintaining his sobriety as he was then, and know that it is a daily commitment. I don’t worry about it because I have always known that it is up to him and him alone to grab it, live it, and maintain it.

People do recover.

Five years of sobriety is also a weird place to be. The weird place has to do with external forces entirely: people making light of something our life is contingent upon, most of them probably not even realizing they’re doing that. Our life, in the sense that there is no marriage without his sobriety. His life in the very real sense that he'd likely not still be alive or living outside of prison if he didn't get sober five years ago. That’s how serious this is. I’ve come to understand that people who are not sober or close with someone who is are unfamiliar with what sobriety is and what it means.

I distinctly remember someone many years ago telling me he was sober and me being like What? Oh. Okay! Well if you change your mind, there’s beer here. I cringe when I think of that now. I was an idiot who still thought drinking was part of life and everyone did it some just more than others. I didn't understand sobriety and how much it meant to someone to say they were sober, to live that. How hard it is for people to get to that place and then to stay there. How sacred sobriety is. 

I never fully understood what it meant and the commitment it took to be sober until MFD got sober. I'm sharing it with you so you also know and maybe won't respond like I did once upon a time - like it was no big deal or an option that could change day to day, minute to minute. When we ourselves don't have a problem with substances, it can be hard to understand that there are people who do, and that it is a big fucking deal. It is life or death to them. 

Five years in, people have started offering Michael drinks, like they forgot he is sober for a reason. Lots of sober people are private about it. He is not, so it's not like it's an unknown thing. This summer someone who has known us for YEARS implied Michael got sober five years ago and became religious so he could use it as his political background story, that he didn't really NEED to be sober and was just doing it for attention. And then my favorite, the people who talk about how much more fun MFD was when he was a drunk, usually said in an effort to shut him up on something he's passionate about.

Yes, tons of everyone who didn’t have to deal with the fallout of someone systematically destroying themselves and your life as an unfortunate side effect to their struggle. If anyone who has ever said anything like that lived through some of the nights I've lived through they would know saying he was more fun when he was a drunk is less a knock on him and more wishing direct harm on me. Five years on I still feel like tearing people from limb to limb when I hear it, it's that visceral of a reaction.

These comments roll off of MFD - his sobriety is his responsibility to maintain. Someone else's opinion of it simply doesn't matter. He doesn't get upset or angry with people. That's all me. Some things don't change. I am 100 times more protective of our life post-sobriety. If you knew how hard I’ve fought to keep things together through everything, you just would never.ever.ever be so casually cruel.

I think it's easy for people who aren't living right up against substance use disorder to make thoughtless comments. I’ve been that person. Once you live inside the belly of the beast, you're not so flippant. If your life depended on your sobriety, it would never be a joke to you or a remark you'd toss out. When you do, you’re not just slagging the person who has this issue - you’re invoking harm on everyone close to them who is an innocent bystander if things fall apart. We’ve been through enough, trust me.

Yesterday I read something Glennon Doyle wrote and it struck me. 

When I first wrote about addiction, I realized it couldn't be off-limits anymore because we can't end the stigma of addiction if we don't talk about it, all of it, including old behaviors and attitudes that aren't something to be proud of and what it’s like to live with it from a family perspective. I want to be really clear that when I write about this (it's only the second time in over seven years, but I am planning on not avoiding it anymore) it's not a look at what he's done/look how strong I am/ look what we've made from a pile of shit - this is a we're here, with you, you're not out there alone if you have this in your life, no matter where you are in the spectrum of addiction. It's not shameful and it doesn't have to be isolating. And since it's me and not MFD writing, it's specifically about being a loved one who has been through this. This is a huge part of my life, so not writing about it because it’s not “mine” is not showing myself. It’s not letting people fully see me so they can be less afraid if they feel alone in this. Anyone out there living with or closely related to an active substance abuser, I see you. I was you. You are not alone down here. People living on the other side of it, I’m here with you now. All of us: we can talk about it. This is the substance abuser’s story, certainly, but it is our story too. If you want or need to be heard, I will listen. 

As for me, I still drink, and I think that surprises people sometimes. It shouldn't. I don't have a problem with alcohol. Michael can be around people drinking and not drink - it's a concept that is lost on many because people use alcohol as a social lubricant. He simply removes himself from the situation when he feels uncomfortable or gets tired of it. We don’t keep alcohol in our house but we don’t avoid where it is.

What I don't do anymore is romanticize drinking or elevate its importance. I actually hate when people say they can't get through something without alcohol, like they won't survive the day or homework or an awkward or stressful situation or whatever - because you can, and saying you can't feeds into the drinking culture and there are people out there that will spend years without a drop of alcohol to preserve their very lives, their sanity, their health. THAT is survival. Not clutching a wine glass to make it through new math. You like your wine. You’d survive without it. There’s a difference. That's my thoughts coming from where I am now. Experience and perspective of living with an alcoholic has changed my thoughts on a lot of things related to alcohol.

Five years of sobriety for someone other than myself has been one of the most unexpected gifts of my life. I’m thankful for it daily. As with the first time I wrote about this, if you would like to talk privately email me at And as with the first time, I am okay, I’m just writing. I am happy to help you find resources for support or to just listen and support you in any way I can. 

Happy birthday to Melissa today and happy anniversary to my brother & Aubrey!

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