Throughout the pandemic, my recovery has remained my top priority. I know that without sobriety, I have nothing. As I explained in a recent Bucks County Courier Times article, a relapse can squeeze you slowly, until suddenly you’re in the grips of alcoholism again. I will never stop focusing on my self-care. Although the COVID-19 pandemic often meant I had to isolate in my house, I’ve never felt alone.
The ultimate isolation is active addiction, something I experienced firsthand. When I was using, I could not – even if I wanted to – reach my children or my family in any way. It was like I was living every day in a cage. It’s said there's no loneliness like an alcoholic loneliness, and it’s true, because I could be in the middle of a room full of people and feel painful loneliness.
Now I feel freedom every single day. It's my favorite part of recovery, that even during this pandemic, I never feel that loneliness because of my relationship with God, my family and my 12-step fellowship. Sure, I miss normal life, but I still feel very connected.
Addiction comes on like wildfire
It takes my own breath away, thinking how quickly and easily I developed an addiction to alcohol.
Before I was 30, I never had a problem with any pills, drug abuse, or alcohol. I might have had a glass or two of wine a year; it wasn't something that was even part of my life. I had everything in life I could ever want. I married my high school sweetheart, and we were expecting natural twins. Then my marriage imploded when I was eight months pregnant. Overnight, I found myself alone with my premature twins, and everything I had ever known, or thought was real, had turned to ashes.
One night, I don't know why it occurred to me, but I grabbed a glass of wine and instantly I felt a sense of relief and escape. My need for alcohol took off like wildfire, and it was insidious. Suddenly, I found myself reaching for a drink at noon. I was physically, emotionally, and psychologically dependent. And the drinking started earlier in the morning, just to control my vomiting and my DTs. I was stuck in the cycle of addiction. I couldn't have stopped it even if I wanted to, and I didn't realize what was happening, because I had no idea that I could become an alcoholic so quickly, so young.
A psychiatrist prescribed me an anti-anxiety medicine, a deadly combination with alcohol. I eventually woke up in the ICU and had no idea how I got there. I nearly died of an overdose, but luckily my father found me and got me help.
I went to Caron, and I learned so much about myself and my alcoholism, but I continued to struggle after I left because I hadn’t yet surrendered completely. I knew I wanted to live for my children because at that time I still didn't love myself enough to fully embrace recovery. I still held that door open a slight sliver to drinking again, and that was enough to lead me to relapse.
One night, in a fit of desperation, I went outside on my farm and screamed out loud to God that I needed help. I went upstairs and glued a carrying coin, one I was given on the last day at Caron, on to a table to remind me of my commitment. And the next day, I went to a meeting, then came home and glued a 24 -hour chip to the table, and that was the last time I had a drink in four and a half years.
The ultimate freedom of being in recovery is that, no matter where I am, no matter what's going on in the world, I don't feel alone. One of my other favorite parts of this has been, when I have these six children looking at me, or my fiancé, or the women I'm working with, they see that I do not reach for anything outside of myself to cope with the stress of our world in crisis.
Don’t check out, check in
It’s tempting in this time of pandemic and civil strife to want to reach for something to dull our anxiety, to try and fill the hole. It’s a trap, and I know that “checking out” with drinks, pills, shopping, or what have you won’t fill that hole. None of that works, and that's the sick illusion of the insidious disease of addiction, that it tricks you into thinking every single time that it is going to work, and it never does.
Instead of checking out, I check in. I fill that hole with love, with prayer, with meditation, with recovery, with God. By checking in, I don't use anything outside of myself to go into myself.
The women I work with in my 12-step fellowship often say to me, “What am I supposed to do now?” My response is: Nothing. We've done enough. We've all done a ton of stuff that didn't work. Now we're just going to get still and just get quiet. There's nothing to do. There's nowhere to go. We’re just checking in deeper with ourselves, with God. It’s amazing what you find when you stop doing and start listening.
As far as I’m concerned, I have this second chance to live this life. It's just been the best thing I've ever experienced, and I’m thankful for it every day.
Living life to its fullest
One of the most powerful things to occur this year – and perhaps you’ve felt this too – is that the pandemic led me to take stock of my life. There is death all around us, and it could be the end of the road with our physical lives for many of us. If I had died in active addiction, as I was before, I would have been so painfully aware that I had been living an unfulfilled life, an unfulfilled motherhood. It would not have been who I wanted to be. I felt trapped then, and I didn't know how to get out of it.
To go into life review during COVID-19 as a 100% woman in recovery made me even more grateful that physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, I am proud of where I am. If I passed away tomorrow, I'd be at complete ease, and I feel like if I walked into heaven, God would have a huge smile on His face for what we did here together.
I look at my family – my biological children, my foster child, my stepsons, and I think, “By the grace of God, I don't have to drink today.” If I drink, I will lose everything and anything that makes my life worth living. I've become so aware of the magic that takes place inside a sober home during a pandemic. I absolutely love being with my kids. I think there is nothing purer and more heart-centered, because they're so present, they're so incredible. We've done things from baking to art projects to playing Uno and watching family movie night with homemade pizza.
I’m very aware of what is happening all around us. My fiancé is a police officer, and the domestic violence, the DUIs – they're off the charts. To know that within this space of our home that I’ve created, there is a safe haven for my family, that's priceless to me.
By Christopher O'Reilly