Moving in Recovery—The Next Chapter

By Deanna deBara 07/19/17

My entire recovery was based in Los Angeles. But in Portland, no one knew I was sober - in fact, no one knew me at all.

Los Angeles sunset with trees in foreground and skyline in background
Deanna leaves Los Angeles, where her sobriety was established and anchored for so long, for a new home in a new state.

I remember the day I arrived in Los Angeles. It was New Year’s Day 2010 and my parents, equal parts sick of my complete lack of respect for anything and everything (myself, my family, my liver… seriously, anything) and terrified that I was going to kill myself, had given me a one-way ticket to LA to get myself into treatment and attempt to get my life together.

And in that moment, I knew: I was in a new zip code, but I wasn’t a new person. 

I was 25 years old, but on that flight I felt both older and younger. Younger because thanks to my six straight years of drinking wine by the jug, I felt light years behind my peers; while my high school friends were graduating law school and getting married, I was graduating from short stints in the psych ward and getting sent to treatment. Older because those six years had put me through the ringer; my body was tired and bloated and I felt like I had seen more of the seedy side of life than any 25 year old (or 72 year old, for that matter) should be subjected to.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a fun trip.

When I stepped off the plane, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call enthusiastic. I had done the whole treatment thing before a few years back and failed miserably; I had no reason to think this ride around the block would be any different. Plus, I was an East Coaster. I had zero interest in living in the land of Sunset Blvd., kale smoothies, and Entourage.

But for whatever reason, this time, recovery stuck. It was a new year when I stepped off that plane and, for me, a new life. I decided to actually make a real effort at treatment and, slowly but surely, I got better. And as I got better, I surprised myself by (begrudgingly) falling in love with Los Angeles. I let go of my preconceived notions about LA living and what was originally supposed to be a 30-day stint in treatment turned into me permanently moving my life to the West Coast.

As the years passed and I continued to stay sober, my life became more and more full. I made friends that quickly turned into family. They supported me when things were good - and even more importantly, when things were dark or scary or depressing, which they sometimes were. I rediscovered my childhood passion for writing and eventually turned it into a career. I fell head over heels for the most caring, funny, and compassionate man I had ever met and we adopted a puppy who we both fawned over like he was an actual human child.

Life was good. And all that goodness in my life was set against the backsplash of the City of Angels. In my mind and in my heart, my recovery - and the amazing life I’d built as a result of it - was deeply tied to the city I called home.

But as I got a little older, Los Angeles started to lose a bit of its luster. Traffic was a nightmare. Rent was astronomical (and rising by the day). My boyfriend and I, who both work from home, longed for a yard for our dog to run around in and for a space that didn’t require us to work sitting elbow to elbow in our tiny bedroom day in and day out. As much as I loved LA, I was no longer sure the city was where I wanted to build my forever home.

After lots of talking and debating and pros and cons lists, we decided LA wasn’t the right place for us, and we bought a house in Portland, OR: a city that checked off all the boxes of what we were looking for in a permanent home. Culture, check. Easy access to all the nature things, check. The means to live in a home larger than 500 square feet, check.

We closed on the house and got ready to make the transition from Californians to Oregonians. We were beyond excited, but as moving day loomed closer, I started to feel some nervousness mixed in there as well.

My entire recovery was based in Los Angeles. There, every single person in my life knew my story and why it would be a disastrous idea for me to start drinking again. Everyone was hip to my torrid alcoholic past and supported me in my recovery.

But in Portland, no one knew I was sober - in fact, no one knew me at all. In the city commonly referred to as “Beer-vana” (thanks to the insane number of breweries per capita and the city’s general love for all things beer-related), how would I broach the topic of my recovery with potential new friends? A few years into my recovery I had decided the 12 steps weren’t the right fit for me, so I wouldn’t be making new friends at meetings. Would potential Portland friends find my inability to drink a drag?

Or even scarier… what if I didn’t tell people I was sober? I’ve heard the alcoholic part of your brain lies dormant, even after years of sobriety, just waiting for the right opportunity to come back with a vengeance. I hadn’t even thought of a drink since my first white-knuckle days of sobriety, but as I geared up for the move, I couldn’t help but wonder… was the active alcoholic in me just waiting on the sidelines? And would it use this new city - and the anonymity that came with it - to take back the driver’s seat and steer me straight into an alcohol-fueled disaster?

I grappled with these fears for weeks, but before I could come to any conclusions, moving day was upon us. As I said tearful goodbyes to my LA family and watched the hills of my now former city disappear in my rearview mirror, I had a sense of both excitement and fear.

Until that moment, all of my recovery had been confined to the boundaries of Los Angeles county. But now it was time to find out what my recovery looked like somewhere else.

After two days of driving, we finally arrived at our new place. Sitting on the back porch with my boyfriend, watching our dog run around our new backyard, I felt the anxiety that had been firmly clenching my insides start to loosen its grip. I already felt like this city could be home.

My first week in Portland, I went to a Meetup group focused on “creating authentic human connections.” There was a group of about 25 of us and we were all encouraged to share in an authentic way: about who we are, what we’re afraid of, what challenges us, what brings us joy. And every single time I shared, I found myself telling stranger after stranger I was a sober alcoholic.

And in that moment, I knew: I was in a new zip code, but I wasn’t a new person. My recovery is as much a part of me as my dimples, my hint of a New York accent, or the scar on my hand I got when I fell off my bike when I was ten. And that wasn’t going to change just because I crossed a state line.

Los Angeles will always be an important part of my recovery story. But now, it’s time to write the next chapter: in Portland. My new home.

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