January 9th has become a new holiday for me these past few years. I celebrate this day like any other of significance, such as a birthday or Christmas. This day holds personal meaning only and I give it attention in a way that helps me remember it as triumph each year.
This day in January that seems rather ordinary is anything but for me. On this day, in 2020, I celebrate 8 continuous years of sobriety. I celebrate the turmoil that led me to salvation.
During my sobriety birthday celebrations, I also include silent moments for those who didn’t win their battle with addiction. The many friends, family, and acquaintances who I know did not make it out of the streets alive. I truly keep a piece of my heart open and aching for you all and your loved ones.
In the hopes that one life is spared, one night be less restless, or one soul feels less alone — I am sharing what small amount of wisdom I have gained over these years. Use this please as a guide and not teacher, for these lessons are personalized and not standardized.
1. Utter and True Humility in the Face of Sobriety
Humility in addiction can be the hardest truth for us to face. In the throes of our worst benders, we do not value anyone else’s opinion or perspective. It is our way or the highway and an addict is a fast driver down those roads.
Sobriety is hard found without a hefty dose of humility. Facing the flaws and faults of our persona without a veil of substance is daunting. Doing the facing while embracing being humble even more daunting still.
Shame is embedded in our psyche the day we stop using whatever substance of choice. Shame for what we have done while using, shame for not stopping sooner, and shame towards what our life has been reduced to. This is where humility steps in to save us if we allow it.
Humility is the ability to let go and acknowledge that others may know more or know better than we do. It is that simple. You deserve to have someone by your side when you are in need. Sobriety follows this same rule.
Socrates stated that wisdom is, above all, knowing what we don’t know. Aristotle went on to classify humility as a moral virtue. He stated that humility is stuck between arrogance and moral weakness.
In the morally weak moments of our lives, humility can prevail if arrogance and shame can be worked through. Sobriety is not the only facet of life that benefits from a big spoonful of humility.
2. When You Relapse, Find Strength and Love
The relapse rate for substance use disorders stands at 40–60%. I use the term “when” intentionally as opposed to the word “if.” While there are many who live with life-long continuous sobriety, it is far from the norm.
This does not mean we do not attempt to achieve sobriety. We do not go into the easing and quitting of our substance use thinking that we are just waiting for the next time we get high or take a drink.
This does mean that we go into our sobriety with all the supports and coping skills we can muster in preparation for relapse. Before obtaining eight years of sobriety I attended six different rehabilitation centers and stayed sober twice for a year at a time. I even thought I could quit by just using occasionally and not daily. Only when I humbled myself to ask for help did my sobriety stick.
Most importantly, meet yourself with love and kindness if you do fall off the wagon. The shame and disappointment of using or drinking again can be heavy and this is where our strength comes in. At the point of relapse, we can reach out to the support system we have built and allow them to be our strength. We humbly ask those around us to be our strength. In this, we are stronger than ever.
3. Some Won’t Forgive, You Will Learn to Accept This
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Forgiveness is something we ask for in abundance when newly sober. We ask our family, friends and acquaintances to forgive our transgressions and walk with us in this new light of sobriety.
If you are a 12-step aficionado, you are aware that Step 8–10 is centered around us humbly accepting our faults and making amends with those we have harmed while in the grips of our addiction.
We are also aware that our transgressions against others are sometimes not forgiven. When you make amends with someone you have hurt emotionally, physically, or psychologically the intent is that this apology will alleviate the pain.
While another may forgive what you have done, this may not mean they want you back in their life. Or, maybe your position in that individual's life has had to shift for their wellbeing.
If you hurt a friend in the past then this friend may be more distant. That time you stole from your grandparents may make them wary of having you at their home. The partner you cheated on when using may not welcome you back with open arms.
This tale of forgiving spills over into everyday life.
How often do we apologize to another who doesn’t accept our apology? How often does this lack of acceptance spark anger or insecurity in ourselves?
The power of making amends lies in releasing our own shame and guilt. Once we humbly acknowledge our wrongdoing and make healthy amends, we can begin working through the guilt and shame we felt.
We can only control our reactions and actions. If someone you know will not accept your apology, this is out of your control. You have done all you can, within your control, and must move forward with your life.
Time will help your heart and mind see the benefit of forgiving with no intent attached.
4. Love Yourself More Than All Others
My work as a crisis counselor affords me the opportunity to use cliche statements of inspiration often. My favorite is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Society has tricked us all into thinking that being selfish and loving ourselves are one and the same. Loving ourselves is a must in order to stay sober. I learned this early on.
When you begin to reflect on your character flaws in sobriety, you are the last person you want to love. Until we remember that the same young girl who started using to escape reality is the addict of today. We deserve more love than anyone else we can bestow this love upon.
Selfish-lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
We are not ONLY loving ourselves when we shower ourselves with love. We are able to love our friends, family, co-workers and lovely humans we pass on the street. Love is infinite. Love will stretch as far as you allow it.
No love can stretch nor grow if we are not showing ourselves the immense amounts of self-love we deserve. Sometimes, self-love doesn’t always look as pretty as it sounds.
Boundary setting is a form of immense self-love. Allowing others to enter and leave our lives, focused only on our actions and reactions, is a form of self-love. Working less in order to enjoy life more, no matter a monetary sacrifice is a form of self-love. These are all forms of tough yet important self-love.
Eight years into a life-long tango with sobriety has taught me enough to publish novels. These four life lessons are the most prominent things I have learned yet. While these life lessons are not cures or fixes to life’s ailments, they are good starting points for coping with life on life’s terms.
To the recovering addict and to the girl who has never touched a substance but feels the guilt and shame of life, all the same, I hope these takeaways provide a light. They will not fix you but they will guide you on a path of humble forgiveness filled with immense love.
Do not forget to add to this list of takeaways. What lessons has life taught you? Which lessons took a few tries to stick?