The Road Narrows

By Kristen McGuiness 09/18/17

I thought that once I had the dog and the guy and the baby, I would graduate to some other “normal” world where stress wouldn’t make me crave a drink like a newcomer.

narrow road by coast
Although the road of recovery can become rocky and narrow, staying on it is vital to long term sobriety.

A few years back, I was driving with my husband down an old dirt road in central California. We were newly married, living in our first real house together, my writing career was in full-swing, and he was beginning his own burgeoning business at the time. The world was our oyster. We passed a sign along the road that read, “Road narrows,” and I laughed, commenting, “Like sobriety.”

Little did I know how right I was. Cut to three years later. We now both have double digit sobriety, we have a child, we are both working full-time jobs that we don’t always love to afford the increasingly expensive city of Los Angeles (and we don’t even in live in the city, technically). We haven’t been on a vacation, or driven down an old dirt road for that matter, in over a year. We get to one meeting a week if we’re lucky. And more often than not, we fight. A lot. Over finance. Over schedules. Over childcare and pediatricians and organic foods and who did the laundry and who did the laundry wrong and why the dog won’t stop shedding and why the toddler likes to trip and fall and whose family is less supportive and whose family is more toxic. We fight over small things and big things. And we try to make ends meet and produce a happy child and stay fucking sober. Because we know we have to stay fucking sober or all that laundry and organic parenting will be for naught.

The road, my friends, has narrowed.

Because we have discovered what’s on the other side of that road trip you get to take in sobriety. The one where you meet someone on AA campus. For me, I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen. I know plenty of people who got sober and still weren’t able to meet The One. Some of those friends went out a while back, determined that romance could only be found in a bar. Others doubled down on recovery, surrounding themselves with the sturdy and reliable fellowship, accepting that the traditional mores of marriage and family might not be their story. Some of them never wanted it in the first place.

But I did. And I thought that once I had it, once I had the dog and the guy and the baby, I would graduate to some other “normal” world, where my brain wouldn’t still consider suicide an option, where stress wouldn’t make me crave a drink like a newcomer on their third day.

I thought that a child would be my ultimate guarantee against the brain I had lived with my whole life. And at times, she is. It’s why despite my full-time job and writing gigs and social life and mom life, I do still make it to a meeting every week. Sometimes I feel like a shipwrecked sailor being washed up on the beaches of our program, exhausted and spitting out salty water, but I am there, tired and beleaguered and weary that this “normal” life might be too much.

Early in my sobriety, I heard a woman share that when she was newly single and sober, she lived in a small studio apartment where she would fantasize about having the husband and the dog and the kids, but then she got the husband and the dog and the kids, and all she would do was fantasize about being alone in that old studio apartment.

There are many days when I long for that apartment. I think all the ways in which I can change my life – fantasizing about a different husband, imagining a different job, getting a different haircut or maybe some tattoos. I imagine moving to a different state or even a different country. I fantasize about every kind of escape on the planet, not because I don’t love my life, but because no matter what life I have, I always, always think there must be a better one.

And then I think maybe that time-tested solution that has kept me sober for over a decade isn’t that great after all. What I really need is a therapist (and I do), or just need a new hobby, like hitting some balls at the batting cage or going dancing or starting smoking again. I think that there is a better, more exciting solution than the one I have. And so, I stay away from those meetings, I push one week to two, I don’t call my sponsor, I refuse to tell anyone that I think I might be falling apart.

Instead, I just go to work and take care of the kid and do the laundry and get the groceries and smile really hard as I pull into the driveway of my normal life.

But after a while, the discomfort becomes too much. I can’t even stand sitting at my desk at work, so I get up at lunch and I drive to the nearest meeting like I’m on my way to the ER. I talk to myself and I cry a little. I feel like I can’t breathe and the anxiety of being a full-time working mom with a toddler and a dog and an (ADHD) husband overwhelms me. Because the road gets narrow, the road gets narrows, the road gets narrow, and somehow my life has gotten too big.

I walk in late to the noontime women’s meeting. I find a seat in the back. My brain wants to run, wants to find another solution, one which offers a sexy affair or a cold martini or a dirty cigarette smoked behind the building where I work. But my body stays, because ever since that early sobriety, when I lived in the studio apartment fantasizing about the husband and the kids and the dog, my feet got trained for this. They drive me to the meeting, they keep my butt in the seat, they know that as the road gets narrower, the most important thing is that I just keep walking along the path.

As the speaker begins to talk, it’s like someone turned on the air. I feel my whole body begin to cool, my breath begins to slow. At first, I can’t hear what the woman is saying, but then through the blur, her words come into focus: “The one thing I have realized about sobriety,” she offers, “is that even when you take away the drink and the drugs, my life is still unmanageable, and that has nothing to do with what my life looks like. It has to do with whether my thoughts and feelings are manageable. Or whether they are totally out of control.”

Are you fucking kidding me, I think? Does she know? Do they all know? But yes, they do. I remember when I was a kid and I would share what I was thinking. People would smile oddly and say, “You’re so funny,” but really what they meant was “You’re so weird.”

The first meeting I went to I knew that I was in a room of people who got me. People for whom a normal life would never make them normal. And the more normal their lives began to look, the narrower the road would become.

We would have to navigate more responsibilities, more rules, more expectations. We would begin to look like our neighbors, and we would be expected to act like them. We would move into houses and rescue dogs and have kids, and even without all those accoutrements, we would be expected to grow up, and with that, the road would narrow. Because no matter what our lives look like on the outside, we still have the same alcoholic mind within, always searching for an escape like a mouse in a maze. What we would discover is that we simply needed new tools to manage it.

Maybe we could find those tools in therapy or in yoga or in a hot, sweaty affair, but as I looked around that meeting, at the women whose ages and lengths of sobriety far exceeded my own, I knew that if I really wanted to negotiate the narrow road, all I needed to do was stay here.

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Kristen McGuiness is the author of the bestselling memoir, 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life. In addition, she has co-written numerous books in the genres of self-help, business, psychology, and dating, and has written for Marie ClaireAOLHuffington Post, and Salon. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and dog Peter, and recently finished her second book, The Beautiful Lives of Sad Children. Kristen can be found on Linkedin. You can also follow her on Twitter.