12 Things I Learned in My First Year of Recovery

By Harmony Hobbs 04/03/18

I enjoyed the sensation of washing away my self-loathing and social anxiety; I was much more likeable, more attractive, and powerful with a drink in my hand.

A woman in a thinking pose, hand on chin
Addiction is such a lying liar. It told me that escaping my problems would make them go away, if I did it enough.

Like most alcoholics, I didn’t know I was a “problem” drinker. Alcohol was the solution to my problems; it never occurred to me that it was the other way around.

“I can’t do the Whole30 diet,” I’d say every January, because that would require me to give up alcohol. I needed to lose weight, but not that badly. Not enough to stop drinking. In fact, the thought of life without alcohol was so unfathomable that after my intervention I briefly considered inhaling my bath water and ending it all, in one fell swoop.

Some days, I miss drinking so much that I wish I could go back and stay on the other side of the alcoholic line, simply so that I could continue drinking. In case you are wondering, that is the exact definition of addiction.

I’m not sure when I crossed the line between “heavy drinker” and “high-functioning alcoholic.” I do know that while my friends choked on their burning shots of liquor like a bunch of wimpering namby-pambys, I welcomed the fire. I enjoyed the sensation of washing away my self-loathing and social anxiety; I was much more likeable, more attractive, and powerful with a drink in my hand. It gave me something to hang onto.

It took years of drinking and using, lying about how much and how often, and ignoring the increasing desire for more, before I hit bottom. My bottom was a hole I couldn’t crawl out of, coated with a sadness so thick, it was almost palpable. I always felt lonely, even though I was never actually alone. Children were constantly underfoot, needing me, reminding me of just how badly I wanted it to be 5:00 p.m. so I could start drinking. I chalked my behavior up to motherhood — aren’t all mothers depressed? Don’t we all drink? — and so did my husband. He kissed me hello and goodbye every day. We made love, watched movies, raised children, and I remember very little of it. The past decade or more is awash in alcohol, like a sunken ship; yep, there it is, my life before I got sober, rotting at the bottom of the ocean.

My therapist says that most people with addictions suffer from a condition called “terminal uniqueness,” something she helpfully pointed out as I lamented about how hard it is for me to make it to meetings when I have three small kids at home and a husband who works crazy hours.

“You aren’t the first woman in your situation to get sober, and you won’t be the last,” she said, just after accusing me of being grandiose.

Fine,” I huffed, crossing my arms. “I guess this is the stuff I pay you to tell me.”

Although my therapist is a (maddening, obnoxious) Godsend who played a significant role in my first year of sobriety, I also learned a lot of things about addiction that I didn’t pay a professional to tell me. I thought I was different, that surely no one else out there experienced the same feelings of dread when thinking about having sober sex, or wondering how old is too old to get a tattoo. The truth is, I’m not all that different at all. Much of what I’ve discovered in the past 12 months is a common thread weaving hundreds of thousands of different brands of addicts together into one dysfunctional, yet loveable, quilt.

So here's what I learned in my first year of recovery:

Addiction doesn’t always look like addiction. After my intervention, my mother suggested I go to an AA meeting. I was aghast — I’m a stay-at-home mom, for crying out loud! I don’t belong in a room full of people who have problems. It was eye-opening, to say the least, to start attending 12-step meetings; lawyers, doctors, former politicians, professors, and highly successful, driven people filled the rooms. The homeless, drug-addled prostitutes were a minority. So yes, I definitely belong there. Those people saved my life.

Everyone knew I had a problem. I thought my drinking was covert. My family doesn’t drink, nor do my in-laws. I poured whiskey into my solo cup at family functions and hid wine in travel mugs, smuggled alcohol into children’s birthday parties and sipped Bailey’s in my coffee. I thought no one noticed, but I was wrong. Everyone knew I wasn’t myself and hadn’t been for a very long time, but the few times a close family member or friend approached me about it, I reacted so viciously that they never brought it up again. I was high-functioning, and my habits were easily explained or justified.

I’m terrified of intimacy. I’ve been with my husband for almost 15 years. I entered our relationship so afraid of emotional intimacy that I barricaded parts of myself from day one and I used alcohol to do it. Any time we were together, I was drinking. If I felt unlovable or unattractive, I drank those feelings away. It wasn’t until I got sober that I realized how much fear I was trying to escape. Even well into our marriage, I was still afraid of getting hurt. Seems crazy, right? It is.

I’ve got some badass friends. Getting me sober was a group effort, and opened my eyes to how amazing my friends are. They dropped everything to put my butt in the car and take me to AA. They allowed me to show my crazy and didn’t bat an eye. They loved me even after they knew the awful truth: I’m an addict. That’s badass friendship right there.

My past is what drove me to drink. I was never self-aware (or sober) enough to piece this together, but events that occurred in my past are what drove me to alcoholism. I had feelings and PTSD crammed down so deep, buried so well, that I genuinely was not aware of their existence. Any time an uncomfortable emotion popped up, I promptly numbed it. Even in recovery, I have to fight the urge to numb myself through other self-destructive behaviors. Being a healthy person is hard work!

Emotions accrue interest over time if you stuff them. I’ve been stuffing them my whole life. Oops. Once I got sober, all of those feelings came tumbling out of hiding. Holy crap, that was awful — but also really healing, once I got through the worst of it.

Escaping is only temporary — problems are still there when you return. Addiction is such a lying liar. It told me that escaping my problems would make them go away, if I did it enough. Spoiler alert! They didn’t.

I like the sober version of myself better. I am still getting to know this new me, and so far, I like her. My moods are much more balanced. I’m kinder, a better mother, a gentler spirit. I enjoy the brief moments of serenity that I experience, and I hang onto the promise that it will only get better.

Sex is different. The idea of sober sex completely freaked me out. It was a huge adjustment. No one warned me about this.

We are self-loathing. I really resent the part of my brain chemistry that makes me an alcoholic-addict-compulsive overeater and over-exerciser. Sometimes I have to fight the urge to smoke or get a tattoo ... and I don’t smoke or have tattoos. It’s not logical. I can eat an entire pan of brownies in one sitting, and then exercise so hard I throw up. Everything I do is extreme, and changing that takes a lot of work.

Kids notice everything. My oldest child is in the 4th grade. One day, not long after I entered recovery, his homeroom teacher asked each kid to stand up in front of the class and give a few facts about their mother. “My mom’s an alcoholic,” he said with pride. Thankfully, his teacher interjected: “But she doesn’t drink anymore!”

Sober me is a damn capable person. Fear is what drove me to addiction. It fueled every bad decision, every drink, every drug. I feared failure, pain, intimacy, and loss of control. I had PTSD that was never properly addressed, and my unresolved issues bled into every single facet of my life, leading me to believe that I was a crappy mother and human being.

Lies. All of it.

Addiction tells us we suck, that we can’t do life without our drug of choice. It says that we will never amount to anything if we don’t keep using. We are afraid to be sober and we are afraid that we will end up dead because we can’t seem to stop. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in recovery is that I am capable. I am decent. I am a good mom and a good wife and friend and daughter. I am enough. 

And so are you.

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Harmony Hobbs is a writer, mother, and recovering addict living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her work has appeared on Real SimpleRefinery29, and ABC News. She is fond of thrift stores and simple carbs. For more, follow her on FacebookInstagram or visit her website, Modern Mommy Madness