My sobriety birthday, or anniversary, is coming up next month. This time of year I tend to become introspective about the passing years and take some time to remember where I was 16 years ago and all the trials and tribulations I’ve overcome in achieving sobriety. I’ll share some of these thoughts with you over the coming weeks. I can’t believe almost 16 years have passed since I took my last drink of Hot Damn 100 Cinnamon Schnapps in the parking lot of a Home Depot and did my last hit of crystal meth in a lonely motel room. In hindsight, if I had a choice, I probably would have picked a better last drink than that!
I’ve overloaded myself a bit with work lately due the launch of our new 6-week course. Because of this, I’ve suffered from writer’s block in recents weeks – nothing horrific – I just have a lot going on and sometimes writing takes a back seat. I shared my problem with my husband and he asked me, “What’s the best advice or the worst advice you’ve received since you got sober?” Aha! What a great topic – hats off to you John McCauley!
Let’s start with the worst advice and save the best for last.
The Worst Advice I’ve Received in Recovery
Probably the all time worst advice I received in recovery was that if I didn’t start going to church, I wouldn’t stay sober. Hogwash, I say hogwash! While spirituality plays a very important role in the 12 Steps and my recovery, in no way does spirituality and organized religion mean the same thing. In fact, the authors of the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous devoted an entire chapter called “We Agnostics” for this very reason! For you newly sober people out there, if someone says this – run in the opposite direction!
The next piece of horrid advice I received was that you shouldn’t take medication for mental health conditions, like depression. Numerous times, people informed me that if you took medication for a mental health issue, you weren’t really sober. That if you worked the 12 Steps harder or more thoroughly, you wouldn’t need medication. I wonder how many people this advice harmed, or even killed! Both Kendall and I are very passionate on this subject and in fact, Kendall will devote an entire article soon on taking medication in sobriety. The fact is: yes, sometimes medication for depression is overprescribed and yes, a healthy diet and lifestyle can alleviate or relieve some of the symptoms. But…sometimes people do need medication and that may not have anything to do with how well they have worked their 12-step program and could even help them become stable enough to achieve sobriety!! Please let’s leave this to the medical and psychiatric professionals!
This one falls on the controversial side of things – a really bad piece of advice I received was to do whatever your 12-step sponsor tells you to do no matter what, no questions asked. NO!! Use your common sense, a 12-step sponsor’s job is to take you through the 12-steps, that is all. YES, it won’t be the easiest thing to work the 12-steps and it will be challenging but it is oh so worth it for the growth that accompanies it. However, it absolutely should not include totally unrelated demands such as helping them move or housecleaning or working on their household budget – all things a sponsor once asked me to do. And for gosh sakes – don’t get into any financial dealings with them either!
Now on to the best advice!
The Best Recovery Advice I’ve Received
I think by far the best piece of advice I received came from what we affectionately refer to as a “sober old broad” or SOB for short. An SOB is an older woman who has been sober for many many years and really tells you like it is not holding anything back. There are men that fit this description as well only I have no idea what they’re called! So this SOB was my sponsor’s sponsor and at the time she had been sober for over 30 years. She overheard a bunch of us ladies sitting around a table talking about man troubles – specifically, dating-men-in-the-12-step-program-troubles. She said something I’ll never forget, “Why are you shopping at the asylum?!?!?” Which I interpreted to mean that maybe dating men who were in a 12-step program wasn’t the best idea. It really made sense to me because the 12-step meeting rooms made me feel safe and if I broke up with a guy who went to the same meetings, my safe place, my haven, would be tainted with negative emotion. The place where I once felt like I could breathe would become thickly polluted and suffocate my recovery. Thinking about the consequences and the sage advice of the SOB made me seriously reconsider the sea I was fishing in. Switching up and leaving my love life to the powers greater than myself, my most wonderful husband landed right in my lap! The one man on the planet that truly understands me and lets me be me – crazy and all!
The next great words of wisdom came from a man in the program near and dear to my heart – I’ll call him BC. I had finally broken up with my long-term not-sober boyfriend – a relationship in which I could sum up in three words: Very. Very. Bad. When I told BC of the breakup, he recommended I take some time to get to know myself, a soul-searching sabbatical of sorts, maybe a year or so. Since I saw the 40 year mark quickly approaching and heard the incessant tick tocking of my biological clock, I just ignored what he said. Luckily, my higher power had a humorous agenda planned for me and paraded men through my life that were either annoying or boring to me – so much so that I would rather sit at home on a Friday night watching TV with my cat Shamu, than be out on a date with any of them! Whether I liked it or not, I was getting to the nitty-gritty of my soul-searching, with Shamu as my sidekick. I think those few years spent alone really enabled me to truly appreciate meeting the man who later became my husband and the love of my life!
The last piece of awesome guidance I received was to always be honest with doctors about my drug and alcohol problems. This is good advice for everyone because I think we all withhold vital information from doctors at some point in our lives. In my opinion, doctors and dentists tend to overprescribe medication especially opiate pain relievers and cough syrup. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard in a dozen times, people with long term sobriety often relapse after taking opiate medication, especially for chronic pain. Over the years, I’ve always let medical professionals know on the intake paperwork and in person at my first appointment that I’m a recovered drug addict and alcoholic. Oh I’ve taken medication when needed – for me that’s been limited to strong pain medication after surgeries. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can never take any kind of medication for pain or any other issue (see worst advice above!). This advice really proved true over the past year as I’ve been suffering from chronic back pain. I made absolutely sure to inform my back doctor at my first appointment like always. A few months later, I asked him for something stronger since I had a trip planned to Europe and was worried that the pain would interfere. He looked at me with that doctor-know-it-all face and said, “Take some Tylenol and you’ll be fine.” LOL! And yes, the trip ended up a success, no Vicodin required!
There you have it – the best and the worst advice I’ve received in sobriety. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Have I done everything perfectly? No, but I have used my better sense of judgement to take the good advice and forgo the bad, and faithfully believe that my higher power will always have my back – no matter what.
What bad or good advice have you received? What works or doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear your stories!!