When I first had to stop drinking and using drugs 23 years ago I was well aware that even though I knew that I was looking at certain death if I carried on a large part of me didn’t want to stop. Alcohol particularly had been my solace and my shield since I was 14 and I wasn’t sure that I could live with or without it.
My first two years of sobriety were spent mourning the loss and wanting to drink more than when I was drinking. It was a confusing time to say the least and one that didn’t start to improve until I got peer support. I learned a lot from my peers and a large part of it was about how I didn’t want to be. I knew the answer wasn’t to be the opposite of what I didn’t want but to be different.
One thing that struck home for me was how much time people spent in meetings and talking to other addicts. The world was a place they went to when they weren’t in meetings and, it seemed to me, meetings were pubs for the soul. I’d used alcohol and drugs as a way of retreating from the world for a long time and it seemed that they were promoting a way of life that encouraged a retreat from the world. There was a lot of “people out in the world don’t understand us” talk. What they appeared to be saying that was, within the meetings, nobody is special or unique but walk out of the door and we’re all so special nobody could understand us. A very wrong assumption to make; none of us are unique and everyone is misunderstood for one reason or another.
I thought then, as I do now, that recovery is a loaded word. Recovery for me means living the life I have to lead to do what is best for me as a whole person. The alcoholic is a part of me, not my entirety. The far greater influence on my life is Bipolar Disorder and that has to be managed first. If I don’t manage that then I don’t have a cat in hells chance of maintaining a life of sobriety. For this I am criticised by other alcoholics, some of whom purport to be friends. They assume that the medication used to treat Bipolar Disorder is mood altering as opposed to mood stabilising. I don’t even take a mood stabilising medication but the presumption is that I do. The only medication I take specifically for Bipolar Disorder is one that is used to treat epilepsy. I also take levothyroxine to help my under active thyroid gland. None of these drugs give me highs or take the edge off the world but they do take the edge off illnesses that push me far too closer to drinking than I’m happy with.
Being clean and sober is exciting and it’s tempting to challenge the world and want to right the wrongs especially in the early days and years of recovery. Many of my peers decided that working with other alcoholics either as a profession or in a voluntary capacity is the only way forward. They want to immerse themselves in a closeted world because they are convinced that being part of the real world is a sure fire way to drink again. Is working with alcoholics and addicts truly leaving the old life behind? There are ways of changing the world and paying back debts to society that don’t include staying in a destructive world. I see the temptation but I have not desire to inhabit a dangerous place because it feels familiar. I didn’t stop drinking to find myself equally imprisoned by a way of life.
Freedom from drink and drugs should be unconditional. It’s important to concentrate on recovery and get to know yourself but you can’t do that by inhabiting the old world even if it is in a new way. You easily become absorbed in a world that has a new terminology and is perhaps more of a crutch than you care to admit. Recovery is about breaking out of comfort zones and daring to live again and you can’t do that with one foot in the old life no matter how well meaning it is. I’ve done voluntary work within my local community and would still be doing it if Bipolar Disorder allowed me to. The last thing I did before I stopped voluntary work was to act as a troubleshooter between the local council, traders and contractors in the revamp of a retail street whilst the road was resurfaced. My role was to make sure things went smoothly enough so that traders could keep on trading and to minimise their losses and to make sure that everybody was kept informed about what everybody else was doing. Voluntary work isn’t always about charity shops & community programmes, it can be as high powered as you need it to be. There are high flyers at all levels of society.
When I stopped drinking I was still in a worthless marriage and got divorced a year or so after I stopped drinking & using. I then took a deliberate break from that kind of relationship and concentrated on re-establishing the relationships with friends and family as they had seriously been affected by my behaviour. It was all part of the getting to know myself process and I slowly began to change into a better person. At least one man I knew decided that I was desperate to be in a sexual relationship with them but there are amazingly simple ways of chasing them off.
A couple of years after I stopped drinking I was eventually diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder and the management of that became, and still is, the centre of my life. If I don’t manage it then I don’t have a life and the things I do to remain mentally healthy also help maintain sobriety and growth.
I became involved with a man shortly before I was diagnosed and when I was incredibly vulnerable. What seemed to be a healthy relationship was actually destructive. He was mentally abusive in a subtle way and pushed all the buttons that made me feel worthless and insignificant yet at the same time he made me feel as though he’d fall apart if we split up. It took me nine years to get away from him in what was a 13 year relationship but it has made me a lot wiser about relationships now. I don’t demand that relationships are solely on my terms to but I don’t enter into or stay in relationships that aren’t give and take.
There is a lot I would change with hindsight but if I did would I be the person I am today? The person I am today is the person I like being. I’m not interested in being popular or being at the centre of attention of things. Give me my camera, my animals, time and space and I’m content. I’m happy being a hermit and I’m happy with my hermitage. I have come to terms with who I am and I’m not that bad after all.