***This post is dedicated to all the people struggling in those first few days/weeks/months of sobriety. It is also part five of my Snapshots from Before series. Click on the link to read the first four in the series.
We pull into the driveway, my little family and I; the kids are chattering on about all I've missed. Finn is almost two, and his burgeoning vocabulary makes me misty eyed. I've only been away thirty days, at an inpatient rehab, and yet he seems like a different kid.
I don't want to get out of the car, but as Steve unloads my bags Greta, who is five, tugs at my arm. "Come in, Momma! I have so much to show you!"
The dog goes nuts as I walk in the door, wiggling, barking, wagging her tail madly. You wouldn't be so happy to see me if you knew what an awful person I am, I think.
Finn holds shyly onto my hand as Greta prattles away. I try to listen, but it's all too much. I gaze around my living room, kitchen, and wonder: how the hell am I going to do this?
Over there is the cupboard where I stashed my wine. Over there is the recycling bin, the source of so much angst and worry that the piling-up bottles would be counted, causing almost daily trips to the dump.
I see the wine glasses, which used to hang on a wooden rack near our fridge, are gone. In their place are coffee cups. It makes my heart break into a million pieces with sadness. Then gratitude. Steve has done his best to clear out all vestiges of his alcoholic wife. But I know he can't clear out the inside of me, where she rages on, still.
It's not like I can just avoid bars, I think. My house was my bar. I drank in secret, in my kitchen, or with stolen sneaky glasses from hidden stashes.
I have to learn to live, sober, smack dab in the middle of ground zero of where I did my drinking.
Although I am 31 days sober, I was at a rehab for the first 30, so this feels like day one. Day one around all the things that triggered my drinking in the first place. Number one on the list is the crippling shame and guilt, and I feel it coming over me in waves so strong I want to curl in a ball on the floor.
Instead I plaster on a smile for Greta and Finn and let her lead me around the house, pointing out just about everything.
"And this is my favorite blanket - but you probably 'member that, right?" she asks, looking up at me hopefully.
"Of course I do," I say, bending down to kiss her forehead.
"Because before sometimes you forgot stuff," she says without a hint of anger in her voice, which somehow makes it worse. I feel the knife of guilt twist deep in my gut.
The tendrils of temptation tickle my ankle, start to slide seductively up my leg. A drink would make the guilt go away, my disease whispers. Just wait a while and say you want to go to the grocery store. Then you can buy one bottle, just in case. You don't even have to drink it.
You've been down that road, so many times, and look where it got you, Ellie, says a new voice. My Recovery Voice. I've only just found her. Every now and then, before, she'd peep up a with a weak protest: -this is no way to live - but my Disease Voice always won.
This time she sounds stronger, more determined. This surprises me, because I feel weak, ashamed and on the verge of crumbling.
There is something else new, though, something deep in my gut. A certainty. The knowledge that I am an alcoholic, and that if I have one drink I don't control what comes next. My counselors at the rehab call it surrender. I cling to this knowledge like a drowning woman.
The anxiety I feel is almost crippling. I was told it would get worse before it got better, that I just had to learn how to feel the bad stuff and get through it without a drink for a while, and then my brain and body would remember how to get through the tougher emotions without my bottle shaped anesthesia.
My husband slides his arm around my shoulders, the first contact we've had since he picked me up. Our marriage is held together by the thinnest of filaments, based on our love for our kids and what we remember of our marriage Before.
I want so badly to be the woman I was Before. The one who always liked to drink, but who could stop after a few (albeit usually a few more than everyone else). That woman was Fun. She didn't have Anxiety. She could go for days without a drink, even though she was really, really looking forward to the weekend.
Why couldn't I have stayed Her?
It's like when you see a photograph of yourself and notice the fine lines and wrinkles that weren't there before. The image on the paper doesn't match up with the image of yourself in your head. It happened so gradually, this process of becoming an alcoholic. It snuck up on me. I wish I had been paying more attention.
Maybe if you pay attention now you can drink like a normal person, my Disease Voice says.
I sigh, but then I realize there is a sly grin on my face, because I have come to expect Disease Voice's antics, now that I've surrendered.
"Yeah, RIGHT," says Recovery Voice. "Because that worked out so well for you the last four hundred times."
I'm getting better, I realize. If I can just stay away from one drink for one day. For one hour. To get better all I have to do is NOT do something.
I ask Steve to drive me to a recovery meeting that night, because I don't trust myself to drive to the meeting and not the liquor store. He smiles, knowing what a milestone that is for me.
I learned I'm going to have to feel worse before I feel better. Having to ask for a ride because I can't trust my own brain doesn't feel like progress, but I know deep in my heart how much courage that takes. It takes so much more courage than falling into a drink.
I want to be brave. Even though I don't know if I want to be sober - because I don't know who that woman in the picture is, yet - I know I want to be brave.
Greta shuffles into the room carrying a board game - Chutes and Ladders. I have never played this game with her sober, before. Board games are a trigger, I realize, as I plunk down to play, a knot in my stomach. But then I look at her smiling face as she says, "Momma, you go first", and I think: brave.
I roll the dice and land on a ladder. A good sign.