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Amanda's Recovery Share

Today I am grateful for every day it took me to get here.

My name is Amanda and I’m an alcoholic. On September 26th, by the grace of God, I celebrated one year of continuous sobriety from alcohol. I don’t take this milestone lightly, because it has taken me over three years to reach it. Three years, eight months, and 21 days to be exact. Yes, I’ve been counting.

I’m dedicating this blog to anyone who feels hopeless or at a loss with their drinking… anyone who is drinking against their will, or willingly giving away friends, family, jobs, and partners for their addiction. I was there so many times over the course of my journey. I’m here to tell you to please not give up because I genuinely believe that if I was able to get sober, anyone can. We are worth it, so please don’t stop fighting.

I first began to confront the damage of my drinking in the winter of 2017. Shortly after my first nephew was born, I was in Florida visiting my sister and her young family in Tampa. It was during that visit that the uncontrollable tremors in my hands caught the attention of my sister and mother.

"I think my hands shaking has something to do with my drinking," I'd confessed to my sister as we drove home one day after manicures.

"I think you're right, Nutty," my sister said, calling me by the endearing nickname I'd had since I was 10-years-old and my grandmother had thought my sister was calling me "Squirrel."

We didn't discuss it any further during that visit. I flew home in denial, simultaneously terrified of what this physical symptom could meanwhile completely unwilling to do anything about it. By the time of my next visit, this time accompanying my Dad to see the new baby, I'd learned how to master the shakes, figuring out exactly how much alcohol I needed in my system to thwart the tremors.

Of course, as an alcoholic, I wasn't just drinking enough to stop my hands from shaking. A few nights into our visit I went especially overboard, helping myself to what seemed like a bottomless handle of Tito's Vodka and blacking out onto the concrete staircase of our hotel parking lot. When I woke up the next morning my father was sitting by my bedside in our hotel room slumped over from exhaustion in one of those ridiculously impractical accent chairs.

“Dad,” I stammered, noticing that my dry tongue was smacking against an empty hole where my front tooth had been knocked out by the fall.

"Amanda," my dad whispered, voice crippled by fear, emotion, and concern. "We have to talk about how much you've been drinking."

Returning from that trip to my home in Washington, D.C. in January of 2018, I entered into my first-ever detox from alcohol. I’d sit in support groups or one on one with the clinicians and talk about my experience in Tampa as the “rock bottom” I’d needed to get my drinking under control.

Little did I know that it would be the first of nearly ten treatments I’d participate in during my near-four years seeking sobriety. It would take me every. single. One of those years to learn that you only really reach rock bottom when you stop digging and that for me, there is no such thing as control when it comes to alcohol.

But those lessons would come later. As would be the case throughout my journey to sobriety, I would have to learn them the hard way.

Advised by my inpatient treatment center to do ninety meetings in ninety days? I wouldn’t complete a real 90 in 90 until I went to rehab the final time and became willing to do “whatever it takes,” including attending 90 recovery meetings in 90 days.

Told that the Antabuse I was taking would make me horribly ill if I drank? I had to test it for myself and end up in the most pain I’ve ever been in my life (including the time I had malaria and typhoid) just to be sure I really couldn’t drink on it.

Warned that anything I’d put before my sobriety I’d lose? I’d have to lose the jobs, the salary, freedom, extravagant lifestyle, and the man I loved before I put getting sober first. As challenging as it was to learn all this the hard way, my stubborn ass wouldn’t have accepted any of it otherwise. I had to experience each and every one of these lessons for myself.

I had to, as they say in some programs, do all my own research.

Even after learning those lessons and getting some serious time under my belt, there would still be more to receive. Because if there’s a lesson that you will have to have hammered into your head when getting sober, it’s that relapse is a possible part of recovery, and while it doesn’t have to happen… there is a chance that it will. And that’s okay. Relapse is a part of recovery and there is no shame in it. I implore you to remember that no matter how bad, or long, or shameful the relapse, you can get back up from it and keep fighting.

I will say this over and over -because it is that important to say.

Relapse isn't necessary, but it can be a part of someone's recovery. There is no shame in it.

Yes, I do know friends who have by the grace of God, never relapsed. In fact, only one to be exact. Over the course of my nearly four years at this I have literally only met one man who got this on the first try and he - my friend is a god-damn miracle. I used to be so envious of that “one and doner,” but that just wasn’t my path. That being said, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be that way for you.

If I’ve learned anything about recovery it is that each and every one of our journeys is as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake and I’m not here to tell you what yours should be. What I am saying is that for me, relapse was a part of my story. Most of the darkest, scariest, most challenging parts of my story involved relapse, and there were so many times that I didn't know if I could come back.

That was probably one of the hardest lessons for me to learn, that no matter how far down the scale I had gone, I could someday know a new freedom and a new happiness. Each time I relapsed my world grew darker and narrower.

At first, it was losing my front tooth. But then Blake moved away and I got so lonely that I justified there really wasn’t a reason to do anything but drink. Then I gave him away, favoring someone with who I had nothing in common but being very sick. Controlling me without my noticing or caring because at least he let me drink the way I wanted to. I enjoyed the bonus of him living in South Carolina, where I could escape to and playhouse for the weekend and pretend I wasn’t an alcoholic or drink to the point where I forgot that I was missing the real love of my life. It all just added to my delusion.

It wasn’t surprising that after months of borrowing money from my father while maxing out credit cards on flights south nearly every single weekend that I received the most helpful ultimatum of my life. My Dad loved me enough to tell me he couldn’t provide any more financial support until I went back to Massachusetts for treatment.

I’d spend the majority of that fall of 2018 in a real treatment center outside of Lynn, Massachusetts. I say “real treatment center,” because it was, my first ever actual stay in rehab, unlike the “spin dry,” five-day stint I had done after the front tooth vs. parking lot concrete incident.

But still, I hadn’t lost enough. After the treatment, months of IOP, and crossing the 90-day sober hurdle I considered myself cured and resumed my regularly scheduled life.

It wasn’t long before a few more months passed and I was celebrating the new job that I’d gotten despite my drinking and drank a glass of champagne with a colleague who had no idea that the leave of absence I’d taken hadn’t been to straighten out my medications but to get sober. On the way home I’d buy a fifth of Bullet Bourbon and convince myself that since I’d already relapsed I might as well get the most of it one last time.

Deeper I dug.

By April of 2019, the new job and new apartment that were meant to celebrate my sobriety were being traded in for Tito’s and by Memorial Day weekend I was being fired from my dream job.

The binge I went on after I was let go would land me in the E.R. for the second time since an earlier relapse when I’d had an alcoholic seizure at the CVS attached to my office building. Thank God I’d been there and not my desolate office, because it would have taken days for them to find my dead body had I not been purchasing laundry detergent, in full view of two distant co-workers who called the ambulance and found my only remaining friend in the office to get in touch with my family.

I told you I meant it when I said I had to learn every lesson the hard way.

With no job and no money, running out of friends, and frankly, out of options, I agreed to move home to Boston until I could get a year under my belt. Surely, we thought, we could do this as a family. We would eventually discover that as much as my family could want, will, and try to help me get sober, it wouldn’t be possible for me until I wanted it.

The longest I would make it was eight and a half months until I had to test the AA adage of “don’t drink no matter what,” because there was surely an exception for global pandemics, right?

I finally accepted this fact during my last stay in treatment. Aware of my need for this final opportunity to be the last time, at last, I ultimately got honest about what had been prompting my seemingly endless cycle of relapses so that I could address it.

Broken, terrified, and sure that I had lost everything once and for all I spent that first night fighting my withdrawal with the help of a staff I still credit with saving my life. Their kindness and sincere desire for me to get through to the other side propelled me despite the negative amount of fight I had left in me. While I cried and lamented the misfortunes of my life, they believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. Perhaps and equally as importantly they kept me from leaving against medical advice, running out the door, and drinking myself to death. Instead, the amazing professionals in that treatment center kept me there, finally fighting like my life depended on it, for 38 days.

With nothing else left, I was given the gift of desperation and with it, I learned what I needed to finally live and maintain a sober life. I faced downed my trauma and in addressing it gave myself the first actual chance I’d had to be and stay sober in my entire adult life. I got a therapist I couldn’t bullshit. Yes, I still tried to break up with my sponsor, but when she told me she wasn’t giving up on me, I resisted my urge to embrace the maladaptive skills of my abandonment issues and flee, instead of letting her love me and see potential in me that my self-esteem and disease wouldn’t allow. I actually listened to my therapist and despite repeated attempts to justify breaking up with my sponsor, stuck it out and learned the lessons both women were patiently teaching me, that my disease wanted my sponsor out of the way, because, with her around, the kryptonite of my addiction lost its power.

I remember when I was stuck in a cycle of relapses last summer and my mom and I were discussing what exactly it would take for me to stop this. I honestly didn’t know, I had to tell her. It seemed impossible to get myself out of the black hole I’d dug over the years. When I was no longer even welcome at either of my parent’s houses alone and ended up in the care of my aunt in Cape Cod, I didn’t think it was possible to get any lower. Until I drank all of her collection of extracts and broke into the basement to steal her booze while she was out getting me ginger ale for my withdrawal.

But this time last year, faced with nowhere left to end up but jails, institutions, or my grave, I finally saw what was possible for me. I finally stopped doubting and started believing, and since then sobriety has been a joy and gift beyond what I can imagine.

For the first few years of my sober sojourn, I would think that “grateful alcoholics” and people who said they didn’t regret or resent their disease were either certifiably batshit crazy or lying straight to my face. Now, having healed from my deepest wounds and grown in ways I never imagined possible, I see myself as one of the lucky ones.

I don’t know when in my sobriety it shifted, but as soon as I stopped seeing it as “quitting drinking,” and started looking at it as “getting sober,” the promises outlined in the recovery program that has helped me get and stay sober began coming true. Soon I was living new freedom and new happiness and my life is in fact, beyond my wildest dreams.

Like I said, all that is not to say that this was an easy road. Remember the aforementioned trial and error that had to come first. I would say that I spent the majority of the past four years working on the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which: We admit we are powerless over alcohol/that our lives had become unmanageable, came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God as we understood him.

These steps, I would eventually, slowly come to understand, could not be faked, shorted, or skipped.

I had to take each and every single one with every bit of honesty my damaged soul could muster. Anything short of a full commitment and I’d find myself back in the black hole of another relapse, questioning if my life was worth living, hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning and praying to God that if he wasn’t going to take me in the night, could he please just help me to drink normally.

I searched for and tried every easier softer way. From only drinking on the weekends, to only drinking with other people, to never drinking on a work night, to only drinking alone, to cutting out liquor entirely, or only doing shots. I was sure there was a loophole that all those old-timers in AA had missed, but if it exists, I never found it.

Instead, I found my solution when I finally accepted that all those who came before me had been right all along. When I started to accept the experiences of others as fact and allowed myself to benefit from learning the lessons of their mistakes, my life became exceptionally easier.

It was that willingness that made me stop trying to find my own way and trust that of those who had come before me. I started taking my sponsor’s advice. Learned the twelve traditions willingly and started examining how I could live them in my life, even in my relationship. I stopped living “dirty” and trying to be clean. Even if that meant no longer hoarding the plastic cutlery and napkins from Chipotle or addressing my pathological lying as a symptom of my disease and not a sign of my true evil that was dooming me to be alone for the rest of my life (as my anxiety was telling me.)

And that’s my story. I know, it’s a long one, but I share it to show just how simple the story became once that gift of desperation made me willing. Yes, it took me all of the three years, eight months, and twenty-two days to finally get sober, but the reality was that once I took those first three steps, got honest, and got willing, everything fell into place.

Once I actually was willing to do the work, the rest came easily. It wasn’t sobriety that was a bitch this whole time, it was just that I wasn’t willing to do what it took until I was. And since then, everything I was told would come true has.

There’s still progress to be made. And I’m proud to be a work in progress, not perfection. I’ve seen over the course of my varied lengths of sobriety, but especially over this last year, that even as early into this as I still am, as much as I still have to go, just being willing has been enough to earn back things I never imagined possible.

I have my dignity today, self-respect, and peace of mind. I have a job I love (which I’m even allowed to bring a dog to every day) and am on more solid ground with Blake than we have ever been. I follow my dreams today and am writing a book that will allow me to reflect upon the meaning of this beautiful journey. I am earning back the trust of my parents, friends, and self.

Yes, there are still those who had to remove themselves from my life whom I hope to someday find a way back to. But because of my program and the wisdom of those who have come before me, I’m not afraid of what will happen. Because today I have the love of a higher power and I trust it completely. Whether it’s the plan I’m hoping for or expecting or something I never could have imagined, I know that what my God has planned for me will, whether it's revealed immediately or years down the road, always be what’s best for me.

Today I celebrate 365 days of continuous sobriety. One year some three years, eight months, and 21 days in the making. Today I am grateful for every day it took me to get here. Because every single one of them has taught me something and helped me to grow into the person I was destined to be.

My name is Amanda and I’m a grateful alcoholic. Thank you for letting me share my story.

Amanda Ayako (@amanda.ayako)

Twitter: @AmandaAyakoOta


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