The first year of sobriety is a physical, emotional, and spiritual roller coaster. When I got sober in 2010, I knew that I was in for a ride. There were plenty of ups and downs, laughs and tears – but man, there is just nothing like finally picking up your one-year medallion! Here are 10 things that I learned during my first year of sobriety.
1. The Only Person I Can Change is Me
For the longest time, I didn’t think that I was the problem. My chaos I thought, stemmed from anger at family members, lovers, employers, you name it. Everyone had wronged me, and I reveled in my pity party. “Life just sucks,” I would often say. It wasn’t until I made the decision for a different life that I learned I have no control over any person except for myself. I cannot control the world around me, but I can certainly control my attitude about it. I found that as the dark, icy, anger around my heart began to melt, the world seemed just a little bit brighter.
2. Surround Yourself with Those Who Want the Best for You
You will find out who your true friends are when you get sober. I was quick to learn who were friends and who were just drinking buddies. The difference? While my non-alcoholic friends didn’t quit drinking, they were very respectful about having it around me. They wanted me sober just as much (if not more) than I did. My drinking buddies had no concern and even after explaining to them that my life had to be different, they would still call me and ask me to go out drinking at the bar. Two words. Buh Bye!
3. Feel the Pain
Probably the worst (and best) thing about getting sober is that every emotion you start feeling is very raw and extremely uncomfortable. You have to work through it though. You have to feel the pain to get to the other side. For me, this was done by working the steps with a sponsor. By looking at my past on paper, I was finally forced to face everything that I had been smothering for so long. My emotions went a little haywire for a while. I can remember at about 6 months sober, breaking down into tears and uncontrollably crying for a solid hour. I felt myself changing, felt myself knowing that I was moving away from who I was and – well, it scared the crap out of me. Sounds dramatic, I know – but I had never really dealt with myself before. It was new and it was necessary.
4. Don’t Let Your Past Define You
If you’re a 12-stepper like me, you’re familiar with the phrase “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” I am not the person that I used to be and as a result of working through it, I no longer regret my past. That being said, I still keep that door cracked just a bit. I try to always maintain a glimpse of how it used to be so that I can be reminded of what I never want to be again.
5. I Cannot Get Anyone Else Sober
Man, this was a hard one to learn, and my first lesson with it was with my first husband. I immediately thought that if I turned my life around, he would want to do the same. Sadly, that is not how the story turned out. It seemed like the first year I wanted everyone to experience the relief that I was feeling. I wasn’t a slave anymore! Time after time, I would feel like a disappointment if someone didn’t want what I had. I finally learned…well, you know the saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.”
6. Happiness is Real
For years, as I was drowning in my misery, I was disgusted by happy people. Surely, they were full of it. For how could anyone experience happiness in such a crazy world? I realized that I could! As I began to put the pieces of my new life together and make wonderful friends in the world of recovery, I began to feel joy. I can remember being with a friend and laughing maniacally about something. As I stopped, I realized it was the first time I had really laughed in a long time. Boy, did it feel good!
7. I Can Stay Sober no Matter What
While my first year showed me a lot of beauty, I can assure you that I had many challenges. Not only was I beginning to face the long list of consequences that I had accrued, but I went through a very painful divorce – and I mean painful. It was the first time that I had ever really gone through something in my adult life and not sedated myself with something in the process. I felt all of it. I cried, I vented to my friends in recovery, and I wore out my sponsor’s phone – but I didn’t use a drink or a drug as my solution.
8. I Can’t Be Mad if You Don’t Forgive Me
This was something that I learned during my amends process. When I make a point to make an amends to someone, I don’t get to be angry if they don’t accept it. The purpose of the amends is to right a wrong. I don’t get to decide how I affected someone when I hurt them. At the end of the day, I have done the right thing, and my side of the street is clean.
9. Great Things Take Time
It took many years of bad decisions before I got to a place in my life where I wanted to get sober. I had to understand to not expect a massive change overnight. Just because I get sober, does not mean my life is going to magically be okay right away. My first year I worked my tail off in retail, went to as many meetings as I could, and did whatever work I could on myself to grow with a power greater than myself. For me, that’s God.
10. I am Worth It
I think for the longest time, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be happy. In my mind, I had already done so many terrible things, and the guilt was too much to bear. The only way to ease that guilt was to smother it. One night, I realized that I was worth more. Guess what? You are too! You are worth all the hard work and deserve joy, my friend. If you are reading this and you don’t believe that, I pray that you will.