I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What?
By Jeanine Bassett
In January of 1986 I entered a treatment program for my alcohol and methamphetamine addictions. I did what was suggested and jumped into the rooms of recovery, and haven’t had a drink or a drug since. In February of the same year, I went to my first meeting to address the dysfunction I carried from growing up in an alcoholic household (along with the minor detail that I was still sleeping with my heroin addicted, drug dealing boyfriend and wondered how I could help him get clean). Measuring my co-dependency recovery isn’t as easy as marking abstinence, but over time, I’ve learned the value of staying on my side of the street. I’ve never regretted the decision to follow directions and make the 12 Steps a working part of my life.
That was over thirty-three years ago. Thirty-three years. I am amazed on several fronts.
- I truly went into treatment on the thirty day plan, with the notion that I could win back my ex, who’d already left the country and married someone else. I did have a tiny smidgen of hope that life could be different, but didn’t even imagine that would involve staying clean forever.
- This whole passage of time thing really freaks me out. Where does thirty-three years go? I’ve earned a couple of degrees, traveled, completed ten marathons, gotten married, am enjoying a long-term career as well as friendships over time – but thirty-three years?
What does it mean to be in long term recovery? When I hit the twenty year mark, I thought, “OK, this is my life. I am a recovering person.” It’s not that I felt less than sober all those earlier years, but I couldn’t argue with twenty. Twenty years felt as solid as anything I’d experienced in my life to that point, and then I blinked a few times and hit thirty. Crazy. Love comes and goes. People come and go, as do jobs, health and money. My recovery, one day at a time, can be a constant – as long as I remain mindful of my daily reprieve. And, it can be a challenge to keep it fresh, stay engaged, and continue to grow.
What strikes me is that if the next thirty goes as quickly as the last, I need to wake up and pay closer attention. Self-care is no longer a theory. “Someday” is NOW, that elusive here-and-now that I read about and glimpse from time to time. I cannot stay in recovery based on what I did ten years ago, or even ten weeks ago. What is it that I need to do today?
Having time comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I am an elder. What does that mean, and how does one practice being a wisdom keeper without veering into know-it-all land? A friend, who recently celebrated forty years sober, describes a stepping back in our groups, a turning over the reins to the younger generation. Maybe being an elder means sometimes keeping my mouth shut.
If I’ve learned anything in these thirty-three years, it’s that I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure of the questions sometimes. It remains important for me to connect regularly with others on the path – maybe now more than ever – those I walk with hand-in-hand and those leading the way. I can tell myself that I don’t need to pick up the phone, that “I know what she’ll tell me,” that somehow I’m supposed to know what to do. Ha! When did that ever work? I can now recognize these thoughts as my dis-ease in subtle action. My alcoholism rarely announces itself: “Hello! Let’s take a drink today!” No, these days it is more of a whisper: “You don’t really need to go to a meeting… Ah, don’t bother her… Let’s just stay in tonight.”
The “we” of recovery has a depth that is only just now beginning to sink in. I need do nothing alone. That certainly applied in early sobriety when I was inspired to stay clean one more day by the example of those in the rooms. It definitely applies today as I navigate a new(ish) marriage, think about retirement, relax into being a step-mom, learn to live with loss, and recommit to my recovery on a daily basis.
I need the new member, for certain, to remind me of the gravity of the disease, and enchant me with the wonder of early sobriety. And, I almost desperately need my peers – those who I share history with, and those I’ve just met. I get that in meetings, online, or in someone casually passing on the title of a book that rocks my world. My first sponsor always talks about remaining teachable, which involves humility and an open mind. One day at a time, it’s a glorious life – ups and downs, for sure, but compared to what it used to be like, every day is a gift.
Jeanine Bassett has worked in the addiction field for over thirty years, with teens, adults, in medication-supported recovery, and, currently, as Program Manager for a prison-based residential program. Helping to facilitate change and watching people re-gain their lives and repair relationships, continues to be her passion.
Jeanine began writing a weekly blog in 2016 on the joys and challenges of long term recovery. You can access her website by clicking here: Sober Long Time – Now What? Readers are invited to participate in the conversation by posting comments and their views of the various topics raised by Jeanine, each and every week.
In addition, she has published a novel, Shadows and Veins, available through most online retailers, based on her experience with crystal meth and those who manufacture it in clandestine labs. She is currently drafting a workbook addressing some of the concerns of the often-neglected recovery long-timer.