Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Me as Me

I found myself in a situation that would normally make me feel sad, apologetic, and back pedaling so people wouldn't be mad at me, or think bad of me.

I have a dear friend who is having trouble staying sober. And I called her on it. 

I'm pretty sure that violates all the AA rules and also the ones I learned in my therapy group too. 

But I've only been to two AA meetings, and the first one was 20 years ago. My therapy group turned out wonky and sad. So now, here I am, making up my own rules. Which aren't rules, but more like this one sort of guideline: be firm but understanding with an open heart.

One of the hardest parts of recovery for me is all these rules everyone seems to have for what you can and can't say. "Don't give advice!" and "Use only 'I' statements". I also sort of infer ones like "Always say 'Yay'!" and "It's better to sugarcoat it!". Since I have mostly been on my own with the help of other sober bloggers and books as the backbone of my sobriety I really don't know all the nuances and catch phrases. It makes it hard to navigate when a lot of people do. It makes it even easier to sit down and shut up before I put my foot in it and get in trouble. 

But, you see, this friend is struggling. And has been for a while. And maybe it's only a sponsors job to tell hard truths (I heard that once) but what if I don't go to AA? Does that mean I just have to keep quiet when I see someone I love lying to themselves? Isn't it my job to, as a successfully sober person, help others who are struggling? Am I only allowed to help if I'm being encouraging? Am I not allowed to tell hard truths? Do people who need to hear the hard truth even ask? 

I have this sober pen pal I've been writing to for the past two years. We hit it off immediately. I know if we were in the same city we would be coffee once a week friends. But, this person struggles to stay sober. So I tell her: you might be in trouble soon. It happens faster than you think. I told her the story of how I was just drinking and drinking and then going out and doing drugs and staying out all night while my family wondered where I was. My children only 4 years and 9 months old. My husband at a loss. Why? I ask myself? Why didn't anyone speak up and say "This shit is FUCKED UP." Why did everyone just act like it was fine when it was clearly NOT FINE. 

I told her that it wasn't fair to breeze in and out of writing her sober blog. That it helped to stay engaged. Engaged in sobriety. To hold oneself responsible to the people who read you and care for you. I got a little bossy.

Through all this I have learned more about me. I have to live my life: me as me. I cannot worry about the so called rules of this or do's and don'ts of that. I know how to behave. I know how to not be an asshole. And I know how to apologize if I am one. I cannot be one of those helicopter parent types cheering people on for just doing the tiniest amount required. I cannot say "It's OK" to someone who, after expressing a sincere and heartfelt desire to quit drinking drinks again. I can say "YOU are OK" but not "It's OK."

Sometimes in this place there are hard things that need to be said. Sobriety is not easy. It is hard. It's an every fucking day hard thing. To feel safe in my place in the world I have to be able to speak my truth the way I see it, not to curtain my words to soothe the sensibilities of others. This is true for all aspects of my life- not just sobriety. One really great thing about being almost two years sober is that I am finally learning that me as me is fine. That it's OK if I don't hold with popular opinion. That it's fine for me to say what I feel, to like what I like, to do what I do. That when I read my friends blog about this situation and comments say things like "Sounds like your 'friend' is trying to shame you" I can know that I wasn't do any such thing, and that the person who is struggling knows this too. 

It was hard to say something difficult to someone I love. It took a lot of courage for me to send an email (for godssake) and say these huge things. And it took a lot of courage for my friend to respond. It made me think hard, really hard, about the choices I'm making in my life: where I waffle back and forth. It made me have my own come to jesus with myself about the lies I've been telling myself about things that haven't been working in my life for a long time. Things I can see because I stay sober. Truths I can tell myself and because my friend could hear me I could be brave enough to hear my own.

We are all in it together. We are. We are here to hold each other up. We are here to cheer on, to love, to look to. But we must be able to tell each other the truth. Even when it hurts. 


  1. Oh lordy you just made me cry… second blogger in two days that made my get teary!! (other was Thirsty Still).. what a brave and amazing post Amy.. bloody marvelous… mainly because of the 'settling into yourself' that seems to be going on.. and also your strength in being firm and loving to your friend.. I think if you do know someone that well it's ok to be tough..? I don't know the 'rules' either.. but I got your back lady. Sending hugs xxx

  2. You know what people like you are called? A true friend!

  3. If a friend spoke their truth to me in love, I would be so grateful. I envy your courage. You are a true friend with a beautiful spirit. XO

  4. What you did was a caring, honest thing. You were being honest with her and with yourself.

  5. I was in that same situation exactly today, when my friend asked me to catch up before her (first) appointment with a physchiatrist. I took her to lunch. Listened to all she had to say about how miserable and detached she felt from her life, her child, her man, how dreadful she was feeling about past events, people she'd hurt, blowing her whole inheritance, her inability now to engage, focus, concentrate, and whoa there was more. I tried to give reassurance that these feelings will pass if she allows herself to really feel them. I mentioned how what you think about expands, so to be careful not to dwell on everything negative as she will attract more of it. I reminded her of who she really is. I reminded her that all she is dwelling on is in the past and out of her control now. And although I was trying to bite my tongue, I eventually asked her if she was still drinking much. "A couple of gins and about a bottle of wine a night, every night". I reminded her of how happy and together she was when she gave up drinking for 7 months about 10 years ago after waking up, upside down in a river after driving her new Cherokee Jeep through the bridge, pissed! How she was baking and gardening and looking great, and happy. I asked her to tell the physciatrist the truth when/if she is asked about her drinking. She said she would. I told her that giving alcohol up is something that a person will only do when they are ready. When she left and I gave her a hug, I did look her in the eyes and say "I know that you know that the wine every night is magnifying and compounding all of the bad feelings you are having, and allowing no time or energy to identify and heal your sorrow". I am worried about her. I don't regret stating the flipping obvious, whether it annoyed her or not.

  6. I struggle with this. Some days I think that holding up the mirror to someone will help them see how self destructively they are acting. Other times I think we all just need love and support and maybe it will reach them.

    I think when it comes to real friends, who you know and understand, that the truth is always good, even if it hurts a bit. An offer to help someone struggling will always be appreciated. If not immediately, eventually.

  7. "YOU are OK" but not "It's OK." Bingo Amy - thank you for the words that I've been struggling to form myself :) xx

  8. We care *about* the alcoholic, we don't care *for* the alcoholic. I know the suggestions that AA members offer (share your own experience, don't lecture, etc.), and I understand them for what they are. I also know that we're human beings and we don't always follow suggestions (especially us alcoholics...lol). When someone is ready, they are ready, and while I have been the "tough love" guy at times, I also have learned when to dial it down a bit. Love wins at all times.

    What works for one person may not be for another. Whether it be in sobriety, how one gets (and stays) sober and even something like a blog. For me (and I state this as opinion only) - I don't mind when someone is in and out with their blog. I wish recovery for all, but I think it's important to see how it manifests in the struggle. Relapse isn't part of recovery - it's a part of alcoholism. The guys and gals i see in meetings who relapse often are the ones that tend to be marginalized...even in AA for God's sake. How stupid is that? So I think that is why I have an almost affinity for those who are in and out - it's hard enough maintaining sobriety when yo-yoing like that. I was listening to the Bubble Hour yesterday and they had the relapse episode...wow, that was very powerful!

    Anyway, I apologize for rambling - but I think that you are right in that we can love and hug someone to death. We need to also be able to say things. It's in finding that balance that is the tough call.


  9. What a great post. I think you get to say whatever the hell you want to whomever the hell you want. But I think there are always going to be people who disagree and who open the door for discussion. What you discuss with someone in "private" (i.e. email) is between the two of you. If it ends up out here on the blogs, then people will voice their opinion.

    I remember thinking why didn't somebody say something when I was drinking as well. What I figured out was even if they did - I wouldn't have listened. I had to come to it on my own terms in my own time. I think that's why it doesn't bother me when people come in and out on their blogs. If they need to write then they need to write. It's a process and everyone's is different. But that's me.

    You are one of the most caring and honest people I know. Don't change one single bit.


  10. Great post.I have struggled since my teens.I went to a rehab meeting twenty years ago was told I'd die if I didn't get help.I was refused the big book until in front of the group I called my mom and fessed up.She told me to go home don't use.That was the extent of any help from my family.Your friend is really blessed to have you.It all boils down to helping ourselves.

  11. Amy, you are such a great person, you have no idea how many of us look up to you. Courageous as hell. How you finally understood that you were on the wrong road and you got off and you stay off is a mystery and a miracle. There are all kinds of sayings about hitting one's bottom before surrendering and so forth....I wish I knew. You called her on it. Nobody calls me on it. I go to work, I'm clean, I have a good job.....nobody calls me on it. Why? Probably because its very painful. God Bless You for calling her on it. There needs to be more of that, a lot more..

  12. WOW! This is the first post I have read by you.
    It is powerful.
    I am only 66 days sober myself, but have been trying for years. It was finally only after I decided enough was enough that I got serious. I really like your blog!!!

  13. Amy, I'm slow to comment here, but I wanted to say, I really love this post, I also admire how tough you are in being honest and kind at the same time. And your last line is amazing:

    "We are all in it together. We are. "We are here to hold each other up. We are here to cheer on, to love, to look to. But we must be able to tell each other the truth. Even when it hurts."

    That's so true. If we turn into a bunch of individualistic sober-bots -- without getting that being connected to each other is not some extra bit, it's the way this whole thing works -- then we all lose out. And to stay connected, that takes courage, which you have in heaps! Big hug to you as you! xoxo

  14. Arrgh I can't believe I just saw this but, as the friend in question, I just want to reiterate what everyone said, and that, as I have told you, I appreciated your bravery and honesty in the tough love and took it on board I do think it makes you a good friend. And I'm glad it's helping you continue to examine your own journey too. Lilly xx

    1. Thank you both for posting about this very moving situation. Friendship can be hard and sometimes we need our true friends to be honest with us even if they risk hurting our feelings. I can tell this is a strong friendship.

  15. Gut-instinct is invaluable. A year or so ago I had lunch with a woman friend who had a sneaky little drinking problem she didn't like talking about and most of the time I thought it was none of my business. I knew from the odd admission that when it got bad, it was bad enough for blackouts.

    She said wistfully at lunch that she had just seen her gynaecologist and was was going into early menopause or a more-intense-than-usual peri-menopause. Hot flushes starting, depleting hormones, mood swings, erratic menstruation, forgetfulness. My own memory of the menopausal year I sobered up for good flashed before my eyes and I said, 'For God's sake don't drink in menopause, you'll never figure out what is caused by the drinking and what is a treatable menopause symptom.'

    It was an awkward moment and I could have bitten my tongue hard. Then she called and thanked me a few months later, said she'd told her gynae about the drink problem and found a recovery group. Sometimes we do need to point to the elephant in the room.

  16. Amy, I am the commenter who accused you of shaming your friend. In reading both this post and her post yesterday, it is clear that my comment was a swift and unfair judgment of your intention. I am truly sorry that I misjudged and hurt you. You are so correct about truth telling both to ourselves and others. I admire your authenticity and courage in telling your friend the truth.

    1. Ack! I am so sorry it took me an age to reply to this! Thank you for your understanding- and you weren't alone. I think when we speak out from the heart and not from fear then we really connect to each other. I feel like your comment here is just that. xoxo

  17. Amy,

    I could not possibly be more in love with this post, and I am sharing it on the Sober Mommies facebook page immediately. I do not know why we believe that there's a way we're all supposed to behave once we get sober or where the rule book came from, but AMEN!

    It has been my experience that friendships involving honesty, regardless of the topic, are the ones that last. I know what my responsibilities are in them, and I try my best not to shy away...even (especially) when it's ugly. True friendship isn't shiny. It's messy and probably sticky, and it has snotty tissues and ABC gum stuck all over it. Like you, I speak from my heart when I see a friend in trouble with the hope that she'll understand how difficult that can be to do sometimes. Recovery, slogans, rules, steps, no-steps, and the like aside, if I love you, I'm invested - like it or not.

    So, YAY!! (just kidding)

    I do applaud your honesty both with your friend, and your fabulous blog. I've only found it today, but I'll most certainly be back.