My husband David has been sober for seven years.
Marking this achievement is as important as any other annual celebration. I firmly believe that it is vital to our wellbeing to have rituals marking endings and beginnings. It’s ironic that in western culture most celebrations involve alcohol. I believe that without this sober birthday, I would not have my husband. In fact I would go so far as to say he would probably not be alive.
As a therapeutic practitioner my learning about the complexities of recovery from addiction has developed significantly since being in a relationship with a recovery warrior. The term warrior sounds dramatic, I think it is an accurate representation not just of David but anyone in recovery.
Travelling in the car recently, David drew my attention to a car pulling up, alongside us. The passenger window was down and there was an unmistakeable smell of alcohol emanating from the hunched, ruddy faced passenger, who was being admonished by the driver. David commented that once upon a time this would have triggered a desire to drink or a feeling of revulsion about alcohol. He stated that it reminded him how far he had come as the only feeling instigated was one of sadness, for both individuals.
I once asked David at what point he knew his drinking had tipped from something he did frequently to a fully blown alcohol dependency. He said drinking had been a regular part of his adult life and he had begun going to great lengths to conceal his level of drinking, however it was not interfering with his daily functioning or responsibilities. He identified the pivotal point as the morning after a black tie event, he recalled going into the utility room and feeling compelled to drink whisky in the belief it would help him feel better, which unfortunately it did. This catalyst then spiralled him into behaviours that cemented his addiction.
David has always had an attachment to the Dales and Lakes because of his love of walking. I reckon that David’s drinking would have taken its toll on his health much earlier in his life if he had not had the levels of fitness as a committed walker. This, however, is a double edged sword as his active lifestyle probably also prolonged his drinking career.
When discussing his time drinking I struggle with the thought of him feeling so despairing and hopeless that this was his only option. David credits a stranger for planting the seeds of recovery within him. He recalled that the stranger’s kind words of encouragement resonated at a particular low point and triggered some modicum of self belief and motivation to make positive changes. It is futile to berate or threaten someone into getting better.
David is always very clear that stopping drinking was the easy part. He was intent on addressing the root cause of his drinking which was only possible after he had put alcohol down. Although everyone is unique there can be similar experiences, certainly in early recovery. Initially, people are confronted by feelings about their undesirable behaviour when drinking. Imagine your most shameful behaviour being public knowledge and multiply that feeling by a hundred and you are probably not close. There can also be raw, unwieldy feelings that were previously quietened by alcohol.
The biggest thing I applaud my husband for is that he has used such difficult and harrowing experiences to help so many people to overcome addiction. For me this is like escaping a burning building, going back in, at great risk to yourself, not only with water but throwing people over your shoulder and carrying them out.
I am grateful for David’s bravery and graciousness in allowing his story to be shared.