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I Refuse to Bow to the Recovery Taboo

The first time I got sober was a hidden secret between me and the handful of people I could no longer hide it from. My bum liver and pancreatitis landed me in the hospital. I was drinking up to a bottle of vodka daily, mixed with anything available. I’d cut the corner off my daughter’s Capri-Sun and pour it into a glass half full of booze instead of coffee.

I felt guilty but could not control my drinking, even on the days I swore I wouldn’t touch it until after daycare pickup.

I could not make it to noon, much less 5 PM. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” was my mantra, shrouding my inability to actually make it to 5 o’clock anywhere. I thought I had it under control as a highly functional but full-blown alcoholic teetering between a career as a professor at a university and the crushing weight of parenting alone. I now see it as a gift that my health gave out before alcohol destroyed my life.

Makeup couldn’t even save me anymore. My hair was falling out and my stomach so bloated that I looked nine months pregnant. When people assumed, I smiled and nodded to avoid explaining the grim truth. I wore lipstick and dresses that hid my belly to pass as myself. But my toddler needed me more than ever. I had quit drinking. Not moderating or making deals because they never stuck. The negotiations were over and sobriety my only choice.

I had defined myself through drinking for over half of my life: the party girl, the functional drunk. I never wanted the party to end even when it stopped being fun. Eventually, I was a one-woman-party and alcohol was the only guest that mattered.

A 90-day intensive outpatient program helped me understand my drinking. I finally had the tools to stay sober. Or so I thought.

I could list all the reasons I relapsed but it came down to my failure to maintain a support system. After completing my program, I let my sober network unravel. When I got sober again, I used those tools to put it back together.

But I did something else different too. I quit keeping my sobriety a secret. I started living my sobriety out loud. Not only among friends and family but in my daily life and among my social networks online. Living over an hour away from family and being a single parent, it would have been easy to slip. I had to increase my accountability. I needed another layer of people between me and my weakness.

My online community includes the usual collection of people: friends, family, former students, colleagues, people I grew up with but haven’t seen in years, the mom from gymnastics, a dad from preschool days…these are the people who come to mind when I share online. What will Josie’s dad think? Will I create a stigma for my daughter? Might my boss think about my past when evaluation time rolls around? Valid fears but compared to how I presented myself when drunk, sobriety is less dramatic.

I leaked it out a little at a time until I shared my “one year,” my “500 days,” and then my “two years” sober. On National Sober Day (September 14, 2019), I shared more details about my struggle on Facebook. The positive response from others blew me away. But what blew me away even more? Three different mom friends reached out and asked me about my recovery. They all expressed a need and/or desire to quit. I shared resources and offered kind words and support. I knew how much even the simplest connection helped me when I was struggling to get sober.

Seeking accountability, I became a resource and even an inspiration to others. This reinforces my own sobriety.

When I achieved one year sober, a friend gifted me a shirt with “Sober AF” emblazoned on the front. I loved it but felt embarrassed to wear it. I was proud of being sober among people who knew I was sober. If I wore the shirt, everyone would know, even strangers. I dabbled with it, wearing it to run an errand or hang out with friends who knew. But the response I got when I wore it made me wear it more.

People shared how long they had been sober. Others asked where I got it. I got a thumbs up, a high five, and even a hug from the grocery store clerk. If you want to meet a sober person, wear a shirt that says you are sober. I found them everywhere. It was rewarding to make those simple yet profound connections throughout the day. To not only feel but know you are not alone in the struggle.

Now when I wear the shirt I forget I have it on. I have normalized my own sobriety to the point I can talk about it without lowering my voice. Addiction thrives on secrecy. If you can, talk about it, and let others know it’s okay to talk about it, too.

There is such taboo around recovery, especially for women. We can change that by refusing to make our own recovery taboo.

There are many stories to tell within this one but I want you to remember where it started. Not sober. Not sharing. And not living a life worth living. To some of my sisters reading this, it may seem a million miles away to sobriety, sanity, or salvation, and it may be. But you have to put one foot in front of the other and start walking. And start talking—to one another. It’s like learning to live again. Then you learn to live louder.

The most rewarding part of making my sobriety public is that I don’t have to hide anymore. I hid my drinking for so long and then I hid my sobriety. Now I am living my truth to the best of my ability, right here, right now. I still fear judgment and the weight of others’ opinions of me. But I don’t let it keep me quiet anymore.

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