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Writing a Book in Sobriety
Without knowing it I started to write my book, Breaking the Ruhls on Father’s Day, 2014. By the time this always-difficult holiday rolled around that year, I’d seen a lot of changes in my life. I decided to close the business I owned for ten years. I agonized over the decision, a stark contrast from my usually razor sharp ability to make up my mind. As mid-February crept closer, I felt the old pang of anxiety in my chest, and I worried obsessively, “What’s next?”
My shop was the perfect way to avoid my thoughts. Avoiding my thoughts was how I navigated the turbulent waters of my growing awareness of a childhood riddled with sexual abuse and mental illness.
At just a year sober, this new phase of my life felt like an enormous void, and I had no idea how to fill it. I was terrified to face a future without a way to numb: minus alcohol or the constant distraction of owning a business.
Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, all held disturbing memories for me. I was raised to nurture my parents, each in their own insidious ways. Though I had been estranged from them for about five years, certain dates still stung. One of the worst was Father’s Day.
As mentions of Father’s Day barbecues and get-togethers trickled onto my social media pages, I felt queasy. I thought of the special “father/son” time between my father and me when I was a young boy. The fear, dread, and anxiety of those days remained with me as an adult man. I wondered if these feelings would ever go away.
That year, Father’s Day fell on a Sunday. I found myself at home, alone, staying off my phone and computer, to avoid the “dad” posts. Anger rose in my chest, as I knew I was held hostage by what had happened so long ago.
I learned through my therapist how powerful a tool writing could be, so I grabbed a blank notebook and pen, and nestled myself into a chair on my front porch.
For years, I wrote things my father had done to me in “check-in” emails with my therapist, on my off session days.
But I had never written out my whole story.
I wrote that afternoon for almost three hours. I vacillated between extreme anger and extreme sadness. When I finished, my hands were shaking, and I wanted only one thing. Booze.
There was no way to anticipate the aftermath of that writing session and the subsequent craving to get drunk, to numb. I wanted to forget all I had written; the raw truth I exposed, if even solely from my own eyes.
I opted for a long walk and an even longer hot shower afterward. For the first time in a long time, I felt something new. Empowered. By confiding my truth, I started to break the rules that plagued me for life.
An unrelenting fear of picking up a drink kept me from writing anything more for six long months. I worried I didn’t have it in me to say what I needed to and remain sober.
But by writing, I found a way to forge a new life that felt terrifyingly free.
I was really telling.
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