Listening to Their Stories

My sinuses are exploding and I had such a splitting headache I could no longer lie down by the time the clock ticked over 6am. A Lemsip later the violent headache is still there but at least I can breathe through my nose again, despite a little nose bleed from blowing my hooter a zillion times. I could give Rudolph a run for his money, the skin around my nostrils red, flaky and raw. Self pity central here, as you can see. Still – even in this state with a full-on cold and fever, I feel miles better than my best day when I was drinking. This is the beauty of sobriety – it never fails to deliver.

At the rehab, it would seem my luck is in and Rio told me with a big smile I’ll be employed full time with them before long. I’ve been volunteering for three weeks now and the next time I’m there there’ll be paperwork ready for me so that until I have that magical employment contract in my hands, I’ll be paid on an ad-hoc basis for the hours I do. My gamble has paid off. Well, I don’t know how accurate it is to call it a gamble – sober decisions do tend to be measured and considered and this was no exception. I knew what I was doing and I’ve gone about it in a way that is entirely uncharacteristic for me: by patiently taking it step by step. Correction: it is entirely characteristic for Sober Me, but obviously Drunk Me was setting the standard for a long time and so it seems very different for that reason I guess.

Sober living is freaking awesome, and even now when I’m feeling as shit as I do, this is a lovely, lovely morning and the future is looking as bright and hopeful as the cautious spring sunshine outside the window. It’s still grey and cold, the wind still carrying a bitter bite, but day by day the sun’s rays will grow a little stronger, be a little warmer and linger a bit longer. Soon, this part of the world will turn into a lush symphony of bird song and greenery. Little by little. Before long, I’ll have freckles across my nose again. Sobriety has a lot in common with the sun during early spring. It may seem like you’re starting from a bleak and cold place, but little by little you move forward and eventually a dark and heavy winter will turn into bountiful spring and a glorious summer. You just have to keep at it and soon you’ll find yourself swimming in the lake you skated on what seems like just moments before. I promise.

There are, as with anything that matters, things at the rehab and my ever growing role there that make me uncomfortable. I don’t mean bad things, just stuff that takes me out of my comfort zone. Remember, my zone over my drinking years was one where I treaded water and was free from friction. Active addiction destroys your ability to focus, work hard and grow – it shrinks your world and it shrunk mine down to a little mud pit. Keeping your limbs moving requires all effort you can muster and the beyond isn’t available to you. Suddenly I’m spreading my wings and operating at full capacity and it’s a challenge. There is no hiding in an office where my most complicated task of the day is to file expenses or make appointments. I’m constantly thrown into situations that cannot be navigated on auto pilot.

I feel awkward as hell calling out names for the next client to come to the meds room for their detox medication or tracking someone down to remind them they have to get to group therapy. I cringe at bag searches during admissions and feel embarrassed scanning their toiletries for anything that might contain a smidge of alcohol. I wince having to ask someone to go pee in a cup to verify what drugs are currently in their system as well as asking questions such as “do you crave a drink when you wake up?“. I feel like an intruder popping my head into someone’s room to check on them when they are on observation. Perhaps I feel all these things because I know how it feels to be at that rock bottom and have your dirty secret exposed and for people to witness what you’ve done to yourself. It feels a little like compromising someone’s dignity but then I remember what Cherokee said about the trolls: the only way to kill them is to expose them to sunlight. The sunshine makes them burst. Or as they say in AA: we’re only as sick as our secrets.

It’s good for me. The other day I took some of the clients for a walk. Beethoven instructed me to make sure everyone stays together and this was again a situation where I wanted to just hide away given I felt a little like a prison guard. Then I reminded myself that this is just really stupid thinking and my wretched brain playing tricks on me. These are not violent inmates at a prison – they are all just like me and the only difference between us is that it’s a little longer since I had my last drink. No one has a dealer hiding in the bushes outside (although, to be fair, this has apparently happened in the past) and no one is going to escape. They are mostly there out of their own free will and only want what I at this point have: their lives back. I forced myself to relax and once we got to the pond I told my stupid brain to stop being an arsehole and made myself engage in conversation. Soon enough, I’m listening to their stories and they’re listening to mine. I’ll tell you one thing about us addicts – yes, when we’re trapped in our addictions we may display the most despicable qualities and be sneaky and dishonest, but clean and sober we’re some of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.

When that desire to get sober is there, you’ll never find anyone more determined or who’ll work harder. It’s not a light switch, where a quick motion will turn darkness to light. It’s sensing and finding that light where it flickers ever so faintly and nurturing it day by day, little by little, until eventually it’s made winter flee and turned the world into summer again. It’s both the unbridled joy and devastating sadness of sobriety – you will get there if you want it but if you don’t you have no hope. It may sound simple and in essence I suppose it is, but sometimes the road there is very long. When I was chatting to the group on that little walk I felt hope. Perhaps one person spoke of using with a worrying tendency to make it out to be something fun, but the majority seemed to be shaking their heads at the awfulness of it. What really struck me though is how there is so much hope, so much possibility and opportunity for all of us. We just need that one, elusive thing: the desire to stop. Good news is that when it does take hold, the rewards are endless and being sober becomes more important than the air we breathe. You may not believe me but it becomes as effortless too. We just have to trust that winter will once again turn into spring and as long as the sun sends its rays, it will.

Today I’m not going to drink.

14 thoughts on “Listening to Their Stories

  1. Awww hope your feeling better very soon. So freakin proud of you and excited that there is talk about it becoming a paying job. You have got exactly the qualifications to work there with empathy and understanding. You are smart enough to help them when they are ready and to do it in a way that will make perfect sense and show that you really do know what your talking about. I reckon don’t give it to much thought about invading their privacy. Since the majority of them have put themselves in there I should imagine it’s actually a relieve to have that sort of structure and procedures in place. XOX

    Liked by 2 people

      1. What a wonderful way to help people!
        It would our be hard, being a guard, or searching, but I am reminded that I need accountability as well. I also had to pee in the cup when I went to out patient treatment, and the workers who treat you with respect made it easier!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. A paycheck for doing something about which you are passionate! That is a golden prize, indeed. Wonderful. You richly deserve it, and the clients with whom you are working have no idea how lucky they are. But they will!

      Nurse that cold, and bounce back soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I would feel just the same as you in terms of the challenges Anna. Admire you doing the job and all you did to get there. For the compassionate people these jobs are the most difficult but its a huge benefit to the clients. They will see your shining light and be able to follow it should they choose to. xoxo

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Damned lurgy – get well soon. ❤
    As I was reading about how uncomfortable you felt as a “prison guard” I was feeling for you so much. So I was delighted when you said: “Soon enough, I’m listening to their stories and they’re listening to mine.” You’re clearly the RIGHT person for this job, and your bosses think so too! If I ever found myself in rehab, or if someone I love does, then I really hope that there’d be someone like you there!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are such a flippin’ star! Paid employment … blimey, you could teach me a thing or two! I’m so proud of you. Well done! Hope the cold is better … sorry for delay in responding to this post, I’m not getting your blogs, so will try again. Thought it had gone rather quiet… Xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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