I asked the BF the other day if he noticed any changes in me since I’ve been sober for almost 60 days. To my dismay, he couldn’t really name anything concrete. How can he not see the new-found gratitude I have when I wake up hangover-free? How can he not see the joy I now experience when I light a yummy smelling candle, burrow under a fluffy blanket and can just “be?” Why can’t he notice the clarity I feel in my brain when we have deep discussions and I can actually communicate how I’m feeling and what I think?
I was bummed. I felt like all of the hard work I’ve been doing was all for naught. I feel like an entirely new person – or at least I feel like a shiny, polished off, “truer” version of myself….why can’t my friends and family see this?
Once I stopped sulking, I gave myself a reality check. I was looking for validation. I was essentially saying: “Look Mom, look what I’m doing! I’m not drinking! Tell me how great I am now that I’m not drinking!”
Here’s the thing about getting sober (or recovery from any addiction for that matter) – it’s one of the only events in your adult life where in order to succeed you have to NOT do something. You don’t pick up a drink. You don’t make the stop at the liquor store on the way home from work. You don’t get behind the wheel of your car after taking shots. Unlike most accomplishments in life, you don’t get a degree, a prize, a monetary award, a promotion, an award, a car, or a certificate by abstaining from alcohol. No one will tell you “Congratulations on not getting wasted out of your mind and embarrassing yourself last night.”
My boyfriend is not going to tell me that he is proud of me for not passing out drunk at 5pm on what was supposed to be a date night; or for not calling him names and being a complete asshole for no reason. No one is going to pat me on the back because I didn’t get drunk, have suicidal thoughts and try to slit my wrist with a butcher knife. Unfortunately (fortunately?) that’s just not how it works. Don’t get me wrong – the fact that I am not doing those things now is a very, very good thing – but I don’t deserve praise for it from anyone but myself. If not for my addiction, I would never have needed to be recognized for these “non-actions.” Normal people don’t walk around saying “I could have just walked up to you and punched you in the face just now. But I was courteous and pleasant, so be thankful for that.” We are not celebrated for being respectful and decent human beings.
Progress and success in recovery is measured by subtle internal shifts, which often aren’t noticed or can’t be seen by the outside world – at least not right away. Yes, I can use my “XX days sober” count as a measure, but the real victories are happening inside. I can’t see them, but I can feel them. They are the sudden surges of joy I feel when I am driving home from work, knowing I can spend the evening with my boyfriend; they are the belly-laughs I have when talking with a friend; they are the small doses of confidence I now have when interacting with my boss; they are the moments of clarity I observe when realizing I am exactly where I am meant to be. I may never hear the words “great job, you did it” from an outsider. I probably will, because I’ve kept my family informed of my decisions and of my progress – but even if I don’t it doesn’t matter. The true validation, the only one that matters, is my own.
Congratulations dear one, you’re doing it.