Two years ago, on the eve of my 11th wedding anniversary, my Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor challenged me to stop drinking. It was not a convenient day to take this challenge. My husband and I would be going to dinner to celebrate our anniversary the next night, and doing this would mean that I’d have to forego a really nice chilled glass of rose.
Jonathan knew I was trying to get sober – in fact he might have thought I’d already quit, though I was sure I could tell him I’d have a drink just to celebrate our special day and it would be fine. At this point in my sobriety journey, I thought I had hidden my continued drinking on and off from him. I had convinced myself that he didn’t know that I hadn’t quit.
There was so much shame attached to wanting to quit, saying I had quit, but still drinking in secret.
On this day two days before our anniversary, though, I was ready to commit. I was tired of lying.
Holly Whitaker of the Tempest (formerly the Hip Sobriety School) says, “There is no easy button; there is no right time. There is simply the moment we start to face the things we’ve been running from, the moment we decide to learn to stop using a numbing agent and a depressant to cope with our lives. There is a moment we decide to use difficulty as an invitation.”
This was that moment for me.
Our relationship’s origins coincided with the same time I started drinking more heavily. Jonathan, my then boyfriend, dated and then married a woman who was numbing out daily. Eleven years in, I was ready to wake up clear headed and moving on a different path. Even though a glass of rose sounded like a beautiful gift for 11 years together, I knew it would never leave me truly satisfied.
This year, as I have been contemplating my sobriety birthday, I see that quitting drinking was a salve for my marriage and the beginning of completely new ways of relating both to myself and my relationships.
For the last two years, I have spent time feeling the emotions I had been numbing. Glennon Doyle Melton describes the experience of sobriety as one like recovering from frostbite. She says,
“The process of defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been so numb for so long. And as feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable and strange. But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, all of these things that you have been numbing with the booze . . . you start to FEEL them for the first time. And it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But feeling the pain, refusing to escape from it, is the only way to recovery. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it.”
As I’ve moved through my own “defrosting” process,” I have started going on retreats, taking more time for myself. I have left the business I owned for 8 years, and I have faced a very anxious reckoning with the shortness of life when I officially turned the same age my mom was when she died.
All without the help of alcohol.
For the first 11 years of our marriage, the guy I married really hung in there through the gnarliest crashing waves of my drinking. And in these first two years of sobriety, he has stuck with me while I have been going “through it” with a listening ear and no judgment. He has loved me through some tough moments.
I know it isn’t that way for everyone. Our partners can be complicit in the problem. Or we have been drinking to numb ourselves from the issues that are coming up in our partnerships, the ones that we are afraid to deal with. Many people need to eventually leave their partners as they heal, or the healing of you makes your partner realize the reality of the unhealthy dynamics, or they wanted you to be unhealthy, and so on.
Each of our sobriety stories is different and unique. Each is a memoir in and of itself (here’s a list of the ones I’ve read).
My husband and I have some habits that need reworking, for sure. Habits that were born from denial and numbing. And yes, we fight about how to raise our kids and how to organize the house and how we fight (haha). But he has been my steady supporter and my cheerleader, and I feel so much gratitude for the gift of healing that Jonathan has been alongside me for.
It is new for me to feel so much gratitude in such a way for this imperfect marriage, and it is a testament to my discovery and practice of self-compassion and self-acceptance.
While I was drinking I hated some parts of myself – the part of me who wanted to hang on to the drinking, who was willing to lie to get what she wanted, the part of me who hid in the corner in denial and/or fear.
Through a lot of work and regular practice of self-compassion, of replacing curiosity with judgment, through sitting with myself and accepting me and these different, not so pretty aspects of myself, I have started to see glimpses of accepting others, situations, difficulties, and more with curiosity and compassion — including the ones that arise in my marriage.
I am starting to really understand what it feels like to believe that I am enough. That my marriage is enough.
The choice to get sober wasn’t convenient. It was a necessity. To begin to wake up. To heal. To see the deeper possibilities of life. Like Glennon Doyle Melton describes, the defrosting process has been and continues to have its painful moments. Going “through it” pays off in dividends greater than a chilled glass of rosé.