Recovery is the hero’s journey.
Sometimes having a baby is enough motivation for someone to stop drinking for good. “You want to wake up in the morning and not feel sick and wincing at what happened the night before…Now I’m woken up by my kid’s foot in my face.” (Edie Falco, The Daily Beast.)
Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true. The added stress of tending to a tiny human being with seemingly infinite needs can make the urge to drink that much more overwhelming. Many strong, intelligent, loving, and kind people succomb: that’s why so many of the most tragic stories from those of us in recovery have to do with how we treated our children while drunk.
The good news, however, is that it is never too late to get sober, whether for the first time or the fiftieth. That’s one of the central messages of Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, which compiles hundreds of quotes from writers and artists ranging from Patti Smith to Mary Oliver, from Anne Lamott to Stephen King. (All of the quotes in this post are from this book.) “Every day,” the authors Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader write, “countless people who have wrecked their lives through one addiction or another perform the hard work of putting those lives back together and keeping them that way.”
The power of Out of the Wreck I Rise is that so many of the greatest thinkers and creators consider stopping using drugs and alcohol (and the daily, lifelong effort to keep stopping) to be their proudest achievement.
It makes sense. The path of recovery often requires bearing what seems unbearable. But the rewards extend beyond mere survival. “There’s something about sober living and sober thinking, about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of anesthesia, that disabuses you of the belief in externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even though it’s painful and you’re afraid.” (Caroline Knapp, Drinking.)
The work of sobriety has a lot in common with the work of parenting. They both require a set of skills to be learned and honed daily. They both have many different paths to success, and no one can tell you precisely which one will work for you. They are never, ever “done,” as in complete, though what it means to “do” them changes over time. They both require the patience to weather uncertainty, self-doubt, heartache, and boredom, and they both offer the opportunity for meaning in every moment, for clear-eyed appreciation of beauty, and for exuberant love.
And, of course, both require help. Whether it’s a 12-step group or a moms-only book club, getting support from others who understand what you’re going through is key.
“All I wanted to do was to stay home and sit on the couch necking with my fear and depression. But I made myself show up, and it got me unstuck. Like they say, take the action and the insight will follow. There’s still real life going on out there, and it was such a nice break to take my extension cord and plug into it for a while.” (Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions.)
So, Strong Mom, grab that extension cord and plug in. We’re rooting for you!