There are many wonderful things early sobriety might bring to your life. Following are four very positive changes that I experienced during the first year of sobriety.
To my great surprise and delight, I noticed early in my sobriety that I seemed to have more money. Once I stopped spending every extra nickel on booze, cigs, and blow, I suddenly had money to spend on things like food, gas, and rent.
This is one of the first things many people discover; as soon as they quit wasting all their funds getting loaded, magically, they have cash in their pockets when they wake up in the morning. Imagine waking up WITH cash and WITHOUT a hangover. Miracles do happen!
Having money in my pockets added a new dimension of joy to my recovery. I was able to buy things I wanted or needed without freaking out or scheming. Meeting my financial obligations became easier.
Granted, I was also in deep debt. I owed a lot of money on a car I couldn’t afford and had ruined my credit over the years. This was a serious issue that I would have to fix. Part of recovery includes repairing the financial damage we’ve done to our lives through irresponsible behavior. Many of us mess things up financially while we’re drinking. I certainly did. I can’t count how many times I hid from landlords, credit card companies, and banks, hoping they would leave me alone when payments were due each month.
If we drink long enough and hard enough, every detail of our lives becomes infected. The lifestyle that accompanies long term alcoholism seeps into every corner of our existence, poisoning things that normal people handle without difficulty or drama. Money is one aspect of life that many heavy drinkers struggle to manage. Not that there aren’t plenty of wealthy alcoholics who never have a financial care in the world. However, the majority of people who spend years or decades drinking alcoholically do significant damage to their financial condition.
I was one of those people. I screwed things up royally, and it was going to take time to make things right. Eventually, slowly over a few years, I would fix all the financial damage I had done and repair my credit. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, I got it done (if you’re struggling with money issues, I wrote a book called “Sober and Broke” that might help).
In the short term, I always seemed to have money in my pocket, which was strange to get used to at first. I was so accustomed to being flat broke all the time that I was slightly confused by the sight of cash in my wallet each day.
Having money was certainly better than being broke. It improved how I was feeling and offered a great deal of relief and happiness to my recovery. I was starting to feel like an adult, which was pretty strange.
I had spent the better part of my life trying to drink away my problems. My goal was always to subdue the fear and anger that swirled inside my head. It wasn’t until I was able to remove the numbing agent of alcohol from my body and mind that I realized I was searching for peace, both mentally and spiritually. Once the booze was removed from my life, I needed to replace it with something else that would fill the void and bring comfort and serenity to my chaotic brain.
Meditation proved to be the source of strength, hope, and serenity I was seeking.
Before I started meditating, I didn’t understand what it was or how it works. The easiest way to describe meditation is to call it mind-training. If we can go to the gym to train our bodies, then we can go to our minds to train our thinking. Every time we practice meditation, we’re trying to train our minds to be calm and quiet and to accept life as it is (i.e., life on life’s terms).
When I first tried to meditate, the noise in my brain was loud and confusing. Every time I closed my eyes to meditate, I was bombarded by multiple thoughts and ideas, all crashing together, each one demanding my attention. There was a tornado of activity swirling inside my head. I was unable to hold a single thought for more than a few seconds before another idea, or disturbing image would blow through the door of my subconscious and twist and spin across my brain.
I would quickly open my eyes, startled by the chaos inside my mind. Some thoughts were amusing, while others were frightening. I would close my eyes and try again, only to quickly open them as soon as the thought-storm commenced. It was overwhelming.
Thankfully, I stuck with it and never gave up. Over several weeks and months, I slowly began to incorporate simple techniques that allowed me to sit for longer and longer periods with my eyes closed while I tried to focus on my breath. Being able to sit with my eyes shut for five minutes was a huge accomplishment. Eventually, I could sit for twenty to thirty minutes peacefully.
When I began meditation, I was searching for a way to find serenity. I knew I had a disturbed and restless (“untrained”) mind. If there was a way for me to quiet the noise in my head and soothe my aching spirit, I was determined to find it.
Our mind is a lot like a garage filled with junk that has accumulated over many years. We know the garage needs to be cleaned, but we keep putting it off as long as possible. Then one day, we turn on the light and are confronted by a mountain of rubbish. Sooner or later, we have to empty the garage, or the problem is going to keep getting worse.
When I first confronted the rubbish heap in my brain, I was shocked by how much garbage I had been hoarding. It’s shocking and sad to look back on it now and realize the amount of negative crap I had accumulated over my lifetime. As I advanced in my meditation practice, I began to learn that most of my negative thoughts were a result of selfish craving. I craved wealth, power, popularity, sex, influence, and glory. I wanted the world to recognize my greatness and adore me. Since that wasn’t how things had turned out, my cravings eventually turned into bitterness, which I tried to drown in booze.
One of the great things about meditation is that it allows us an opportunity to recognize our source of suffering in order to release it. If we’re able to see what is causing us pain (negative thought), we can then identify it for what it is and let it go with a smile. We can train our minds to release the negative thoughts that hold us hostage. Empty our minds of destructive cravings, and our minds will fill with acceptance, peace, and joy.
I often use the image of a red helium balloon being released into the sky. Once I have identified a negative thought, instead of holding onto it, I think of it as a balloon that I want to float away. I let it go and watch as it drifts upwards into the clouds, finally disappearing out of sight. Perhaps it sounds too simplistic, but it often works.
There are times when negative thoughts are buried so deep and are so painful, that we need to seek professional help to dislodge them. But meditation can be helpful to almost anyone looking to explore the inner workings of their mind so that they can begin letting go of the harmful debris they’ve been hoarding.
Meditation was, and is, one of the essential factors in my recovery, helping me immensely by calming the storms that once raged inside my head and replacing it with the peace and serenity I had been searching for my entire life.
Early recovery is like a full-time job. It takes up most of your waking hours and requires dedication and hard work. There are many struggles along the journey that, hopefully, result in more successes than failures. Ultimately, the harder we work, the greater the rewards we reap.
Having spent the better part of a year completely immersed in my recovery, I was starting to feel more confident and optimistic than I had in my entire life. I say that without exaggeration. I felt good about myself and the path I was following. I was no longer imprisoned by my addiction nor poisoned by fear and resentment. I was learning how to cultivate hope and serenity. I was sleeping better, eating better, exercising, meditating, and attempting to repair my finances.
Not that I was entirely out of danger from relapse. I never will be. Protecting my sobriety is a lifelong endeavour, a job that never ends (yikes). This is just the reality I have learned to accept, like a diabetic who has to be forever proactive about taking insulin and eating correctly. I have to do whatever it takes, every day, to remain clean.
Whatever danger there was for me in the world, I was ready to face it head-on.
It took me a long time to realize that not everyone is obsessed with alcohol and drugs. Most people spend the majority of their time focusing on things like family, careers, vacations, and paying bills. While I had spent decades pickling myself in alcohol, other people were out creating real lives and fulfilling real dreams. I wanted to figure out how to join that world.
My reintroduction back into the world of normal people started when I took an assignment as a freelance publicist for a small company. For several years before getting sober, I worked as an independent public relations consultant. I worked with anyone who would hire me. I wasn’t too picky about whom I worked for or how much I got paid as long as their checks didn’t bounce. I had a background in corporate marketing (having lost every job due to my drinking), so I was able to piece together enough freelance work to feed my drinking habit and keep the lights turned on in my apartment.
The new job was simple; I was to promote the company (a consumer electronics business) to the media and develop the company’s online visibility through a steady stream of press releases and news stories.
The most significant part about this assignment was that it required that I occupy an office within their corporate headquarters. This would mean showing up each morning (on time!) as an employee, as well as interacting daily with the regular staff. In other words, I had to show up every day and talk to other humans.
I was nervous but took the assignment without hesitation. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
The job was temporary and only lasted a few months, but it was a great experience. I showed up on time every morning, NOT hungover. I worked at my desk all day and achieved excellent results for the company. Most importantly, I felt comfortable interacting with the people in the building, who were all friendly and kind. And when I was required at times to speak in front of the management staff, I didn’t panic and hardly blushed (though I did blush a little).
I did my job without bursting into flames. And I never had the urge to run out of the door and drink. Not once.
This was the first of many new clients I was to land. Equipped with the confidence and self-discipline that I had developed in sobriety, I was able to build my freelance business into a lucrative operation that sustained me for years to come and helped me climb out of debt.
I was finally starting to interact in the world, taking slow steps forward as I continued to rebuild my life. And when things got difficult or I became overwhelmed with anxiety, the people in AA were ready and willing to help. I was learning how to straddle both worlds– the world of normal people and the world of broken toys — and starting to feel comfortable in both.
There had been so many changes over the last eleven months that it was difficult to keep track. In a relatively short period, everything had changed dramatically. I was clean and sober and improving every part of my life – mind, body, spirit, and even finances. I was staying busy, being productive with my time, making new friends in and out of AA, and getting healthier by the day.
One bright, clear morning, I was walking towards my favorite coffee shop. I had developed a ritual of waking up early, meditating for twenty minutes, then walking to the coffee shop where I’d read the paper and watch people (people-watching is one of my favorite hobbies). I loved this daily routine. I also loved the fact that I was rising at a decent hour each day, feeling rested, and without the bitter hangovers that had made mornings painful for so many years.
On this one particular morning, heading for my coffee, I began to look around at all the trees that lined the sidewalk. It was like I had never noticed them before. They looked beautiful, swaying gently in the wind as birds flitted amongst their branches. The air was fresh and crisp. The sky was bright blue, a few fluffy clouds drifting overhead.
I stopped in my tracks to stare at the world around me, taking it all in, appreciating my neighborhood for the first time.
In that moment I experienced deep contentment and joy. It washed through me in warm waves. I was acutely aware that I had passed through the most difficult challenge of my life and had come out on the other side, free from the demons that had haunted me for so long, cleansed of resentment and anger, and hopeful for the future. For the first time, I felt happy, joyous, and free.
I stood there for about five minutes, allowing the warmth to run through me. Then I bowed my head, said a short prayer of thanks, and continued on my way.
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