Somebody wrote in last week asking me to write more about how to stay sober long-term—when obsessive thoughts about picking up come back, and while the body is healing from the damage substances do. The top three things I do to stay sober long-term are:
- Take care of my body (eat mindfully, exercise, get rest).
- Take care of my spirit (pray, meditate).
- Take care of my mind.
Taking care of my mind means connecting with sober people I can trust to tell me the truth.
In sobriety, my nuclear family is made up of my sponsor and the three women I take through the work.
My sponsor is a 67-year-old woman who grew up in the next borough over from my neck of the boonies. Our high-school football teams were (still are) fierce rivals—the Mustangs v. the Indians.
When I talk with my sponsor I usually go to her house, or else we meet at Whole Foods and get something healthy to eat.
One thing I love about my sponsor is that she doesn’t play phone games. We don’t do the work by text or email. We talk over the phone so we can hear each other’s voices, or we meet so we can look into each other’s faces. If the phone goes to voicemail, I trust that she can’t pick up the phone. She doesn’t screen calls. This has taught me not to screen calls with the women I work with. I’m straight-up with them: If I can pick up the phone, I will. If I can’t, I’ll call back as soon as I can.
I tell them something Sluggo told me: always have three women on hand you can trust will take calls from you in the middle of the night. I always have three in mind. My sponsor is one of them.
This connection is important. When I got sober, I had no clue that anyone would want to have anything to do with me, maybe ever. I couldn’t trust myself; why would anyone else want to trust me? I thought poorly of myself (I’m still tempted to think ill of myself; this is part of my alcoholic-addict mind: the warped thinking will somehow pull off any fucked-up contortion to entice me to pick up) and just picking up the phone was difficult. It was easier to pick up a drug or a drink because I didn’t have to risk my pride. Drinking or drugging meant I didn’t have to be vulnerable with anyone.
In sobriety I’ve learned the only way to protect myself from the fear of making mistakes is to avoid all relationships. I can only do that if I use. I’m wired to be social—we all are.
When we make connections with other people, it changes our outlook by changing our neurology. The hormone oxytocin is released when we form a new relationship. Powerful substance, oxytocin: also released during breastfeeding; also, in both sexes, during orgasm. The “afterglow” hormone. The comfort-and-joy chemical.
The women I work with
This comfort-rush is good for me, and I get it when I pick up the phone for the women I work with. There are three right now.
Georgia came first. 24; artist who studied at NYU. (I’ve gotten permission from all four of these women to write about them here.) Went for a while to the (private, expensive) high school my son now attends. Hipster. Vegan, wears no makeup with her simple haircut and skinny jeans. I learn so much from this young woman. The first time we sat down to do the work, I could see she has a very strong internal guide, a kind of compass that invariably swings to True North. The main thing I do when I talk or meet with Georgia is to gently help her stay in touch with this compass. Which helps me stay in touch with mine. We’re all born with this guide. Quakers call it the Inward Light. It can become warped by sitting in the coals of addiction.
Watching Georgia walk the walk gives me so much hope.
Then there’s Phoebe, who used to live in a house I own as a rental property. I mentioned to her that I have three apartments on this one street, and she said, “I used to live on that street.” When we drove by, we determined that the house I own was indeed her old digs—and the place where she used to deal drugs. What a coincidence, huh?
She was busted 20 years ago in the second-floor flat. The cops got her cash and her stash, pulled it all from the kitchen drawers. For Phoebe it’s been hardest to kick the drink. She relapsed hard late in 2011, racked up a bunch of DUIs, and is now on house-arrest. And she’s doing well. What I learn from Phoebe is to take life, even at its most difficult (especially at its most difficult), one small step at a time. At one point Phoebe had been facing jail time. A bunch of us wrote letters to the judge in her support, and today she is not incarcerated. She’s working, volunteering, staying fit (she was a gymnast as a kid) and living a sober life. Phoebe teaches me to be vigilant and persistent. She also reminds me to be grateful for simple things.
And then there’s Dora the Explorer, a 20-something cyclist and yogini who originally comes from the Pacific Northwest. She loves my city—this makes me so happy, that she loves my city.
Dora and I first met online when she wrote Guinevere an email one day. We met IRL (in real life) for a business thing last year; then she decided she wanted to try to quit smoking weed. She popped up at meetings. We’d have coffee. She asked if I’d be her sponsor. Some time passed, after which she looked at me shyly in the Quiet Storm one night and admitted that she had been reading my blog for a year before she’d written me.
“Your online voice sounded a lot like my mother’s,” she said, “except sane, and sober. So I thought of you as my Sober Blogger Mom.”
Turned out that she lived exactly three blocks away from me.
Small world. Or so they say.
I can’t describe how all this makes me feel—the Sober Blogger Mom thing, the woman dodging jail teaching me vigilance and gratitude, the hipster kid whose compass points to True North trusting me with her inventories and her life-story.
I trust all these women, and they trust me.
Trust. That’s what keeps me sober long-term.
Trust, and good organic food, and exercise—yoga, running, strength-training. And prayer and meditation—spiritual strength-training.
Trust is a powerful force. I believe there’s a certain percentage of folks who need “medication-assisted therapy” or what we used to call “maintenance,” folks who can’t stop picking up no matter what they do. But I also think a lot of folks don’t give the spiritual solution enough of a try. It requires me to trust, which is tough for an egomaniac. In addiction I lied a lot. The lies warped my sense of truth.
My sober family helps me sort the truth from lies. Dora and Georgia come to a Buddhist recovery meditation meeting my sponsor leads at the Shambhala Center Tuesday nights. I sometimes see Dora and Phoebe at a Saturday-morning literature meeting. And Friday nights, at a women’s meeting, my sober family and I are quite often all in the same room.