Everyday Miracles: Doing the Two-Step by Kiki Ryan
Recovery isn’t easy, but if you do what a sober person does, it is likely that you will have what a sober person has. I never again want to do the recovery-relapse two-step.
I was really good at early sobriety, having repeated it at least 50 to 100 times. But who’s counting? The thing is, it’s not something you’re supposed to get good at. Early sobriety is something you suffer through and possibly repeat a few times before you move on with recovery and life. Plenty of alcoholics and drugs addicts relate to doing the early recovery two-step long after the record stops playing. Fortunately, I eventually took off my dancing shoes and sobered up.
By the time I began drinking alcoholically, I was a wife and mother with the reputation of being hyper-responsible. I was a loyal, dependable friend. I lived a seemingly “normal” life, except for the fact that I was a fearful, anxious mess. My outsides did not match my insides, and my screwed-up insides were always in control.
Eleven stints in rehab made it clear that I was an alcoholic. At the age of 16, after having my first drinks at a party (three drinks gulped down in about as many minutes), I went into the restroom, looked in the mirror and thought, you are not good at this. Then, I returned to the party and drank until I blacked out.
As I went from teen mother to struggling single parent to financially secure professional and wife, my drinking incidents were spaced far enough apart that they failed to raise alarms. When I got married at 24, it was time for me to exhale. The years of juggling work, parenting, college and a social life were over because I had a partner. Life was settled and peaceful, but not for long.
One evening I came home wound more tightly than usual, poured myself a glass of wine, nestled into the couch, took the first sip, and the happiest feeling washed over me. It was an alcohol-induced orgasm that instantly took away my fear, anxiety, insecurity and longing to be something other than what I was.
From then on, I could not get enough.
Life took on a frightening pattern. I’d get drunk, bad things would happen, my family and daughter would be devastated, and I’d be sent off with the hopes that I would find the solution to my problems. My family wanted someone to cure me, and all I wanted was to go to rehab, get the heat off, get back home and get drunk.
I had no intention of moving beyond early sobriety. I had no intention of stopping drinking. Ever.
My drinking was killing me and hurting everyone I loved, but I loved vodka most and could not imagine a life without it. I suffered indignities and consequences that should have made me want to stop. Hurting the child I loved, who came in a not-so-close second to vodka, should have made me stop. It didn’t.
My true journey of recovery began on an ordinary day. I was sitting on an icy folding chair in a church basement, my entire body shaking, not from cold but from an overwhelming desire to steal five dollars from the collection basket heading my way and then sneak out of the meeting, purchase a bottle of vodka, then return and drink it in the bathroom before the closing prayer.
As I planned my escape, I glanced up and saw a classy but disheveled man whose place in the hierarchy of social structure was hard to pin down. From his first sentence, I knew without a doubt that I wanted what he had and that he could show me how to get it.
Hearing that he had been exactly where I was now but wasn’t anymore, I realized I had been lying to myself. I did want a life free from drunkenness and the accompanying insanity. I did want to stop drinking.
I sat there, an hour post-release from a mental ward and with a limited attention span, listening as best I could. I heard snippets of my story in his: the dysfunctional family, the revolving institution doors, consistently falling short of my potential, my self-loathing and awareness that although it was destructive and hurtful, I couldn’t stop.
I introduced myself to Bob after the meeting. Talking with him in the parking lot until my husband picked me up, I learned that being as delusional and manipulative as he had been, I would require a complete psychic change to get sober.
I humbly climbed into my husband’s car after setting a time with Bob to pick me up in the morning. I knew I’d be okay. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew it.
Bob picked me up the next morning, and the 90 mornings that followed. He shared his experience while driving me to meetings, sometimes three a day. He introduced me to solid sober people; found newcomers for me to help; reminded me that I wasn’t special, and called me on my BS; and spent hours on the phone with me, talking about whatever would keep my mind and body from turning to drinking.
During those months, I learned from Bob and the many other sober alcoholics I met in the meetings – including a close-knit group of women with whom I spent regular, necessary time – that sobriety, especially early sobriety, was about service and letting go of self-centered behaviors. So I made coffee at meetings and listened rather than talked. I stuck with winners – the sober, productive, doing-their-best-and-making-amends-as-needed winners.
It was about getting well, but it also was about making amends to my daughter and my family by being there for them. There was no big declaration that I was cured because they had heard that before. Rather, it was me doing what I should have done all along.
Now when I made my daughter brownies it was no longer to manipulate her into forgiving a drinking episode, it was to do something kind for her. I was present and took care of things I had neglected. I gave rather than took, and I slowly regained respect, trust and love.
Each addict and alcoholic is unique, yet there are actions and experiences common to those who achieve success. One of the most important things for me, and for thousands of other recovering alcoholics, was having a daily routine. Early on the days felt endless, but as I filled them with things to do and ways to give, they became manageable. I quit being bored and quit my drinking thinking because I had so much to do.
By listening to that first person who gave me hope, and every person thereafter, I was able to follow a program of recovery. Before I knew it, the days turned to months and years. With each passing anniversary, this year marking my 16th, I feel such gratitude for sobriety that I want to shout it from the rooftop.
Recovery isn’t easy, but if you do what a sober person does, it is likely that you will have what a sober person has. Today I work a program that includes meetings, working with newcomers, rigorous honesty, righting wrongs and being the best person I can be. I never again want to do the recovery-relapse two-step; I’m happier doing the sober, gratitude dance of living.
Kiki Ryan is a Los Angeles-based healthcare project manager who previously worked as a healthcare lobbyist and public health advocate in New York. She volunteers with agencies supporting the homeless and those protecting LA’s beaches. All possible because she is a grateful, recovering alcoholic with 16 years sober.