Friday, March 26, 2010

Back In The Day

One interesting side effect of going through hell is that is changes how you define success forever.

In the throes of active alcoholism, I worried about success a lot, in a really backwards and messed up sort of way.   Back then my definition of success involved getting from one end of the day to the other without getting too drunk, or too sober, and without anyone discovering my terrible secret.     I considered it a banner day if I navigated the waters of guilt and fear, leap frogging over bad or inadequate feelings with a drink, or the anticipation of a drink.    The object of the game was not to feel too much, ever.

Measuring success in early sobriety was simple:  get from one end of the day to the other without a drink.   Simple, but not easy.    Life in early sobriety, for me, was measured out it the smallest increments of time, sometimes just a minute or two.   Without my anesthesia and chock full of bad feelings, I considered it a victory to get up, get dressed, and wait for the next minute to pass.   I couldn't think about a whole day, not yet.    By cautiously stepping from minute to minute I set an achievable goal, with the focus on reward and not punishment.

A few months into sobriety I could picture hours without a drink and not succumb to crippling terror.    A year into it a day was an achievable goal, and that is how I take it now:   one day at a time.


Lately, as I've been writing about, I've been feeling overwhelmed.    There are practical reasons for this, of course, with practical solutions.     But there is a deeper sentiment here, one I have to pay attention to or I could be in trouble.   I've been getting hung up on the big picture, asking myself broad existential questions, like is this what my life is really all about?  Is this what I want?   Who do I want to be?  Am I getting all I can out of life? 

Sounds admirable, to a degree, pondering existence in the interest of living your best possible life, doesn't it?

As an alcoholic in recovery, though, I have to be careful.   Big picture thinking gets tricky for me.  Having a great day?   I start to get unrealistic expectations:   I've got this down, I'll never feel badly again.    Having a bad day?  I begin to think that I'm terrible at everything, that I'll never feel good again.    It is my disease knocking at the door, waiting for me to lose sight of the little victories, letting me roll the little failures into insurmountable obstacles.

I have been taught to keep it in the day.   To keep my head where my feet are.   That wasn't so hard to do in early recovery, when each sober moment felt like a victory.    Overall, now, I feel good.   I feel capable.   When I get a little of something, I want more, more, more.    But there isn't any such thing as more sober.

The other day I was all twisted up, angry, resentful, bored, stressed.  My head was full of lofty ideas - what I wanted to do, all the dreams I have - and my feet felt tangled in the wires of everyday life.   That night I went to a meeting.    It is a meeting I love, the place where I first got sober, and I had a moment, a flash of insight:  I remembered how I felt when I first dragged myself into this room.

It changed everything, immediately, and I thought: today is a good day.   It doesn't matter what tomorrow brings, today is good.

I am an alcoholic who doesn't want to drink today.   That is a successful day.


  1. I made pretty much the same statement to my therapist yesterday morning and in my "home" meeting yesterday afternoon. If I keep my head in the same place as this moment, that is success. No guilt about the past, no worrying about the future. Of course, easier said than done. But I know now that it works. And when I find myself "getting in that place" I am realizing that I CAN get myself out. Without the aid of substances. ;) xoxo.

  2. Keeping my "head where my feet are" is a constant struggle for me. I, too, find myself getting caught up in ideas and expectations I have for myself for tomorrow, a month from now, two years from now. Typically after my head gets so far detatched from my body I get irritable and depressed. No wonder! It's not natural for one's head to be too far from the body. Thank you so much for that visual.

  3. I don't know much about the recovery side of things, but I wanted to make a point about the flip side: spending too much time thinking only about today.

    The day-to-day can suck up so much energy and time: making lunches, doing homework, getting laundry done, monitoring screen time for the kids. For me, it can create despair. I can't see anything beyond figuring out what to make for lunches tomorrow.

    At some point I have to look beyond this day and ask myself some questions: am I getting fulfillment? Is my job right? Do I have time for me? Am I doing the right things with my ME time? What can I change to stop what is dragging me down?

    The life we want, I think, is not created by accident. While overall I'm not going to change the big stuff, I think some tweaks can make me more fulfilled with what I have.

    Of course finding time for this reflection, is another thing.

  4. I needed this. As you probably know :) I do this, always have, the bigger picture thinking. And it stresses me out beyond what I can handle right now.

    And I loved "and there isn't any such thing as more sober." OY. I think I've been looking for "more sober." So thank you. Yes, I really needed this.