A Love Letter to the Sober Community
“I got you,” my daughter says with a whisper. She lovingly wraps her arms around my neck as we descend the stairs. I’m holding her, but she’s got me. I didn’t ask for her caution, nor did I issue one of my own, not this time at least, but she’s heard it before. Surely, I’ve said it more times than I can count with each hand-held venture down the hard, wooden steps of our new apartment. There in that quiet morning moment, with her face just a mere centimetres away, she gave back what’s been given to her. Unasked, in complete tender, toddler purity, she did what she’s seen done to her.
As my foot hit the bottom landing, the similarities started to flood my brain. That’s what the online sober community has done since social-distancing orders were issued! This is why I’ve been in such peace. This–THIS–is the beauty of the recovery community.
They got us. They held us. They welcomed us. They opened their arms and provided a safe refuge with no questions asked. And no one asked for this care either, at least not at first. In the same way my daughter expressed her love and care so in-the-moment, so genuinely, so did the online-sober world in the wake of this pandemic. With unconditional love, they said, “I got you.”
And then we were born;
They came, they came,
A hallelujah, we saw ourselves.
My heart’s a little in love right now. These words want to jump out of me and yet they stay inside, dwelling in my chest. Each time I go to write about this experience I feel I can never quite articulate the depth with enough accuracy. And, I know it’s only the beginning of all the good that can come. Yet I’m careful not to call this virus good, because something that kills in this magnitude is never good. I am allowing myself to grieve as necessary and feel what needs to be felt. And yet, I cannot help but see my spirit through it all. This period has highlighted holes in my foundation, it’s helped me to see where darkness existed before.
I joined my first Zoom-Sobriety meeting on St. Patrick’s Day. I figured this day would be as good as any, better than most. Although the desire for a green beer was far from my mind I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to hear Laura McKowen speak. Laura is the author of the recently released sobriety memoir, “We Are the Luckiest.” I had plans to see her on her book tour in Vancouver before it had been cancelled. And so when I saw that she was hosting these meetings, it felt like the next best thing. At the time I logged on I wasn’t even sure if I wanted the “sobriety support” but something lured me anyway. It did not take long for me to realize how much I needed this company.
Last week I celebrated 15 months of sobriety. From the start, my sobriety has always been about empowerment, personal choice, and breaking the status quo. I was transparent about it from the beginning yet determined to just make it my own thing. I wanted to see where it would take me. And for those first few months it was an exciting sail. Each day uncovered something new about myself; something that was always there but now within reach. I still wasn’t sure where this alcohol-free life was going to go, which was a near one-hundred percent of why I stopped in the first place, but I already had proof it was life-changing.
Aside from being open with the people in my life, I still mostly went at my sobriety alone. I read Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind, at the very start, which was an absolute game-changer for me, and I watched Kate Bee’s Sober School videos for inspiration and motivation, but beyond that it was me and my journal and a desire to step into the unknown. That gave me everything I needed. Yet, around the six-month mark realized I wanted more sober connections. As beloved as my journals were, I wanted some company in this amazing party I was having all by myself. At the least, I wanted to talk about it with people who understood! At best, I wanted to start making some sober friends. Maybe it was the sobriety speaking or maybe it was a general feeling of missing friendships, but I felt lonely. It took awhile for me to even name that–to know and recognize that I was missing people. I was missing connection. I was missing belonging. I wanted a sisterhood, a collective, like I never had before. Interestingly, anyone I spoke to about this also disclosed the same sentiment. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone in this thinking, but I also felt sad that so many of us in close proximity felt the same way. If only we had known how much we could have helped each other. In hindsight I can see how much this also reveals about our stranded society.
Nonetheless, at that time, I had a move on the horizon so I felt even more empowered to build new relationships, particularly sober ones. Perhaps from all the years of repression or due to the sparkle of self-actualization I was beginning to see, I had space I wanted to fill. As Laura McKowen also describes in her book, I, too, had words bubbling inside of me. They wanted to be let out. I wanted to share; To write, to speak, to communicate my being. So, I started doing just that. I joined the This Naked Mind message board and began seeking out inspiring folx through social media. At this point I had fallen in love with A Sober Girl’s Guide Podcast and secretly hoped that when I got to Vancouver, Jessica Jeboult and I would become best friends. (Jess, if you’re reading this, the offer still stands). Beyond podcasts, it did not take long for me to see how positive the sober community could be, particularly on Instagram. In fact, using a sober-hashtag began to feel like a hero’s welcome. Some days I’m still blown away by the support–and still a little astounded it actually exists! I was not expecting to be cheered on along the way.
Still, it was easy to do this work alone. And that’s where I was. Alone. I started chats with strangers and began to feel genuine connections from afar but that’s where it stopped. Me on the other side of a phone still had its limitations. I knew I wanted more. I wanted more in-person connection to make it all seem real. But I was still on this side of the screen. I hoped once we crossed the border things would start to happen.
When I moved from California to Canada nothing went as planned. Starting with my mother’s cancer diagnosis in July and ending with a shattered illusion of safety due to a mouse in the house, all of my usual comforts were gone. It was a five month teeter-totter of resistance and growth. What I was once looking forward to now felt so hard. New city, new country, new stay-at-home parenting job, new kid behaviors, new weather patterns, new routines, new, new, new. Not to mention, that which still needed to be acquired: new friends.
With all the planes of my existence up in the air, I’m surprised I had any ground left to walk on. Despite this my sobriety stayed strong. In fact, it was around this time I started to realize that the not-drinking part is actually quite easy and it is the willingness to overturn your life that is difficult. I finally got the chance to connect in person with Jessica Jeboult through her Sober Girl’s Guide mixers and I joined a local meetup group, Vansober. It felt so nice to step back and see I was actually starting to make some sober friends. I was doing it!
Still, I was going through a host of transitions and feeling the full gamut of emotions. I felt out of it. I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt confused. I felt resentful, bitter, jealous. I felt judgmental. But interspersed between the sit-on-the-stairs-and-cry-days I also saw light. I also started to feel compassion and acceptance and gratitude. Deep, deep gratitude. I felt uplifted. Proud. Loving. My spirituality was growing. I could see all the parts coming together. Even those hard moments I wished away and hated so much were helping me to learn grace and forgiveness. I could see things were unfolding in the timeline they needed.
Yet, before the clouds fully cleared, I still wore the weighty realization that I was lonely. In part to a relentless desire to help myself, I seek out more books than I can really afford. I am driven by the written word. I could list more than a handful of books and authors I’ve read and turned to during this half-year transition time. I find solace and refuge in the pages. Even though I am a glutton for print, I knew deep down I wanted more. On a primal level, I knew I needed more. I wanted the things that were professed. Back in the Fall, before I’d be struck with weeks of relentless rain and gray, I joined an online-motherhood group, Momming with Truth, led by artist Jamina Bone. Then later, following my intuition, I enlisted in a “Soul School” course created by Catie Fenn. Entering these spaces was new for me and because I didn’t have many in-person connections, I sought them virtually.
However, I still found myself toggling between: How much energy do I want to give to social media and the like VS being face-to-face? Honestly, it’s still something I grapple with. Yet I knew that what I put in I would get back. If I withheld, then all the good would be withheld, too. Like most things in my life, I strived to find a balance. (Psst…I’m still learning that balance). Taking the similarity of discussion topics in these forums to heart, I found myself taking time to explore my needs. How often we forget to ask ourselves this basic question: What do I need right now?! And so, with the support of these women, I persevered in this work. It took a while. I just couldn’t seem to find the words to even articulate what I needed–no wonder I have been in such a fog! It took about two weeks for me to nail down what this moment called for. Then, after a few sketches and iterations of the same list, I posted index cards of my needs, penned in varying Sharpie brightness, to my closet wall. It was a personal masterpiece, a statement to me and to my husband: we’re gonna do better. Which, really, was to say: Let’s support each other.
And one day, after weeks and weeks of pain and rain, the flowers started to bloom and I felt the warm breeze. I was thankful for the spring. And more importantly, I was thankful for the seasons that brought me here. To this moment. I was able to take back my reins and lift myself once again. I started to see past my own shit. I was ready to make the change. I started putting in the work, again. That loneliness? Well, maybe I could do something about it. I was ready to take responsibility for my emotional state, again. And my needs? There. They’re up. I was going to look at them daily and hold myself accountable. It felt so good to be in this space again. I had reached my equilibrium once more. I started to see the seeds I had planted in the fall begin to sprout and with my refreshed lens I could fully appreciate them.
And then Covid came.
This is the part of the story where you expect it to all fall apart again. But it didn’t. Not for me. I had already been blown to pieces over the last few months and my most recent glue application held me back together. Well more accurately, taped back together with the same blue painter’s tape I used to hang my index cards. Tough stuff when it needs to be. Overall, I was getting my needs met and my self-care was strong once again.
Strangely, thankfully, I felt unmoved as the world started to shake from Coronavirus. Little had changed for our family. In the middle of social-distancing orders, school closings, work-from-home statuses, grocery story crazes, sickness, and death I had peace. I had calm. If anything, I was finally getting what I needed–outside time and help at home. With everyone now stuck at home, I felt a pressure I didn’t know I put on myself subside. For the first time in a long time, I could just be.
Re-enter the online recovery meetings.
Did I? Did I need this? Let me just see…
After Laura’s meeting on Saint Patrick’s Day something shifted.
That day my heart widened. From the mindful meditation to the heartfelt, honest group shares I was captivated. The poem at the end sealed the deal.
I was blown away. I was hit with such power I didn’t know what to call it.
“I knew I had been lonely, but is it something more? Is this what I’ve been missing?” I wondered.
The experience was so powerful for me I wrote about it shortly after. All of a sudden I felt connected to the world. But how did I get there? Why did I get there? What’s happening?
You see, for so long I did not consider myself part of the recovery community. For so long, I was not in recovery. My entry point to sobriety felt so atypical, and those I surrounded myself on Instagram reinforced the shame-free path of a sober life. I didn’t want to be in recovery because I thought that meant I’d have to live in shame, and moreover, it would mean I was an alcoholic. That wasn’t me.
I joined one meeting and I learned I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I had been! I was ready to start calling myself an alcoholic–something I swore I’d never do, or have to do. But there, in those 60 minutes of pure human connection I saw myself like I never have before. I saw myself in those souls who shared. Despite our differences, I saw how similar we are.
Earlier this week I saw a tweet that my former-teacher eyes recognized instantly. It was a pyramid of needs, taken from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and adapted to fit Covid. It was a reminder to parents and educators about what is important for students, for children. Although I noticed the figure immediately, I had forgotten its specifics. So I looked closer. And there I saw it. In plain sight I saw, I was missing a tier. Something I once regarded so carefully in my professional world somehow became forgotten about in my personal one. I had failed to apply this learning to my own life. I was missing the middle section. At the bottom of the pyramid is safety and security and at the top is esteem and self-actualization but right in the middle, the heart of the person, is “Love and Belonging.” Somehow I had managed to slingshot my way to the top of the pyramid but when I looked closer it was no surprise my ground had been shaky all this time. It was no surprise that despite a rather successful sobriety I still felt something was missing. It was. I was missing love and belonging.
It’s been over three weeks since that first meeting and I still radiate when I think about it. My heart is tingling and my stomach is a little in knots just typing these words because I fell in love. I fell in love with people I’d never met, yet who mirrored so much of me. Me as a drinker and me as a person. I fell in love with the vulnerability of connection.
The onset of Covid did not affect me in the ways it has for so many but it showed me something I didn’t realize. It showed me how isolated I had already been. It showed me what I had been searching for this whole time–connection, and perhaps more specifically, belonging. And I found it in all places, an online sobriety meeting.
Of course, it didn’t stop there at that one meeting and that’s what makes the recovery community so amazing. More meetings popped up. And then some more. More voices, more cheerleaders, more people rooting for you–reminding you that you are capable. You are loved and you are welcome here.
From the beginning the sober world had us. They wrapped us in their arms and carried us down the stairs to the cool, dark basement of emotions we hadn’t visited in awhile. They checked on us. They sheltered us as we sheltered-in-place. With unconditional love, they were there. This is what I know to be true: they will continue to be there. Until this pandemic heals, they will be waiting in kitchens and living rooms and bedroom entryways waiting to receive you–waiting to hold space with you. In every city they will be there. When you are ready, they will be there. They’ve got us.
This was originally written in April, 2020 and is featured on the Seek Purpose Now blog. Seek Purpose is a growing recovery collective based in Port Moody, British Columbia. The co-founders, Brooke Robichaud and Suzanne Logan, recently launched Just 4/24, a live panel event which hosted Recovery and Wellness experts to bring awareness and support to addiction and recovery.
You can catch more happening with Seek Purpose Now on their Instagram page or through listening to their Podcast. Join the community!
Image from Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons