Loosening Up: Learning, Growing and Changing in Recovery

My attitude toward sobriety continues to shift in surprising ways. I am beginning to see things differently and what was once a daunting burden has become a pleasure.

It is silly to have thought that my perspective on drinking (or not drinking) would lock into position and remain unchanged forever. The stagnant areas of our lives are more often those aspects we ignore, take for granted and leave unexamined. If we are engaged in the recovery process and making an effort to better know ourselves, we can’t help but learn and grow and change.

I’ve shifted from shame to pride, from overwhelmed to confident, and from resigned to accepting. And there is something more … I feel less anxious, less scared of failure, less pissed off at alcohol. I didn’t realize those feelings were inside of me until they started to loosen. It is rather like that moment in a yoga class or guided meditation when the instructor coos, “… now let the muscles in your face relax …” and then POOF, the muscles that were unknowingly contracted somehow release and it feels good.

You may have heard that addiction is less about an exact drinking pattern and more about an individual’s relationship with alcohol. When leaving alcohol behind, that relationship is redefined. Boundaries and best practices are established, and better ways to live play out within those guidelines. Some insist on rigidity and strict adherence to rules, feeling safest with a prescriptive formula for success. That model can work well and is, in fact, best for some. Yet for others, myself included, it is possible to remain alcohol free without a lot of constraints.

Routine got me through early recovery. I took comforts in rituals like grinding coffee beans before bed and setting the brewer to coordinate with my morning alarm. Having scheduled treats throughout each day helped me get through cravings and obsessive thoughts by dotting the hours with rewards and comforts. Slowly I worked that delayed gratification muscle and slowly I unhooked from the impetuous voice in my head that demanded attention and nurturing on a constant basis.

Just as I was once convinced I would never fall asleep without a nightcap (or four), in recovery I came to rely heavily on a cup of bedtime tea with a hopeful label: calming, bedtime, soothing. Even though I was no longer drinking alcohol before bed, I continued to give it importance by believing that it had to be somehow replaced. Subconsciously, I was hanging onto the wine glass for years after quitting. Only recently did I start to consider that I could just go to bed and fall asleep as the natural order of things, and that’s when I had that same POOF of awareness: the relaxing of unrealized tension.

It’s scary at first, stepping away from the habits that saw me safely through years of sobriety, but my commitment to remaining alcohol-free is unchanged. Within the boundaries, there is space for movement.

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