I recently read a poem by Natalie Diaz with a line that struck me: “I am riding the night on a full tank of gas, and my headlights are reaching out for something.”
For me, during COVID, that something has been practicing self-care. I’ve made this a time to choose compassion for myself and others, spend time with my family in nature, pay attention to my health, and work from home at my dining room table.
There were times last year that the pain brought me back to the kind of thinking that led me to abuse drugs and alcohol in my twenties.
COVID has seriously challenged my commitment to taking care of myself. The isolation, grief, and profound disruption to life as we knew it reignited my desire to drink and use drugs. It was so tempting to escape all of it by drinking a bottle of wine, popping some edibles, or smoking some pot.
Last year, like so many of us, I lost my beloved mother to COVID, and my talented and hilarious brother-in-law and my sweet dog Rosie died all within weeks of each other. On top of it, my daughter—my only child— goes off to college in late August.
There were times last year that the pain brought me back to the kind of thinking that led me to abuse drugs and alcohol in my twenties. All of the loss has broken open my heart, and at times it’s taken everything I have to keep going. Some days, it is still hard to feel productive and motivated. And now, as we become vaccinated and our cities and towns open up, I still worry about the virus surging again.
My faith in recovery and my community keeps me going. The good news is that my years of experience with living sober have taught me to understand that moments like these will pass, and practicing self-care never fails to defuse my desire to pick up a drink.
As my years of sobriety have accumulated, the choice to stay sober has gotten easier. My life is stable, joy-filled, and purposeful—and completely doable without drugs and alcohol. I am grateful to say that I have been clean and sober for thirty-four years.
I have learned that my healing toolkit includes meditation, prayer, yoga, my women’s support group, connecting with others in recovery, and going to 12-step meetings. And knowing my anchor, my AA sponsor (a mentor in recovery), is always just a phone call away.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I decided to speak out about my history of addiction and my recovery. I’m from a generation of addicts who did not talk about our experience publicly. I find the current generation of young people in recovery inspiring, their openness about their disabilities has encouraged me to speak out.
If you are experiencing these challenges or know someone else who is, please don’t give up. Ask for help.
Addiction is a progressive brain disease with no cure, and the chances of an addict getting clean and sober and staying that way diminish each year. It takes time to re-pattern the brain and to replace negative behavior with positive approaches. Combating the urge to self-harm requires practice. Disregarding the self-harming voice and cultivating the loving voice inside is something I’ve practiced every day for more than three decades.
If you are experiencing these challenges or know someone else who is, please don’t give up. Ask for help. If a loved one in your life is struggling, make yourself available to listen and offer support. It’s difficult to put into words what living a life of sobriety has given me. It’s a life-long practice.
We all have it in us to learn to be our own best advocate. Life keeps getting better. I promise.
Kath is the founder of Madera Group, a consulting agency providing strategy, communications, and fundraising to promote progressive projects and policies. Her team works with clients to raise funds that better humanity worldwide. She lives in Kensington, CA, with her husband, college-bound daughter, and beloved animal companions.
If you are struggling with active use and drinking, please reach out or go to your local Alcohol Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. If you have a family member or a loved one struggling with addiction, I encourage you to go to an Al-anon meeting.
If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. 800-273-8255.
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