In Case You’ve Fallen off the Wagon

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A week or so ago, a whole bunch of people – thousands, maybe even millions – resolved to make a change in their lives.

If you’re one of the lucky few who are still hanging in there, then you might not want to read the rest of this piece.  (Why don’t you just file it away in case one day soon the wagon you swore to ride to “thin rich happy girl-land” hits a bump in the road and you slide off into the dust with the somewhat lumpy rest of us who are still working for a living?)

We’ve got a cupcake waiting for you.

Today, I’m writing to people like me:  those of us who are “first to fall.”

In case it’s not apparent by now, I kinda sorta suck at riding in wagons. It makes me feel lonely to accept this about myself, cause EVERYBODY believes in this “resolutions” process.

But alas, wagon-riding simply doesn’t work for me.  And, one lifelong conundrum I haven’t resolved yet, is that I want to be included WITH the crowd while – at the same time – I stand APART from them.

This means I live quite a bit of my life in social purgatory.

Anyway, back to that wagon:

Some years ago, I wrote a piece called, “I Resolve Not to Resolve.” I don’t want to RE-“solve” anything ever again.

I’d like to get it right the first time.

If insanity really is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results, than “RE-“ doing anything again and again is a little bit nuts.

But now, rigorous honesty demands that I share with you something important that I haven’t told you yet. If you’re a member of our tribe, you’re gonna find out about it next week anyway.

I’ve written a new little book for you.  You’ll get your copy next week via email.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure I didn’t write much in there about resolutions.  But I did share with you a pretty important personal concern of mine.

Last October, I celebrated 24 consecutive years of sobriety – one day at a time.  I was 27-years old when I took my last drink.  Next month, I will be 52.

I didn’t RESOLVE to get sober when I was 27.  I wasn’t even supposed to be an alcoholic, for god’s sake.  I got good grades.  That should have done it.

Nevertheless, I “caught” alcoholism after a very short and not too interesting stint as a drinker.  I’ve been sober now THREE TIMES as long as I drank.

If, like me, you’re wondering how an ardent non-wagon-rider has been able to do that, here’s what I think:

I think it’s because I fell in love with sobriety.  I fell in love with the PROCESS.  I fell in love with the IDEAS. And, I am a collector of ideas.

Indeed, my greatest love in life is to DISCOVER stuff.  Essentially, I live for the “aha’s” in life.

In the beginning of my sobriety, when this way of life was so completely new to me, those “aha’s” were coming in rapid succession.

After a few years, those delicious moments of clarity began to come less frequently.  But, by then, my entire life was built around my program of recovery, and that sustained me for many, many years.

Understand, I was never on any wagon.

I was part of a movement – a fellowship.

I had found my tribe.

When you get your copy of my book next week, you will learn that most of last year I struggled with my place in this tribe.  The truth is, I’ve struggled with that “problem” for the last several years.

I’m still sober, but sobriety has lost its flavor for me.  And that is a bit of a problem.

So – what to do?  What to do?

If, like me, you completely suck at wagon-riding, then I’m guessing you know the pain of self-doubt and self-castigation that comes to all of us with dust on our lumpy britches.

I don’t ride wagons, and yet, one day at a time, I’ve been sober for all these years.

How is this possible?

Well, I think that “one day at a time” part is pretty important.  I don’t RE-solve to do anything.  One day at a time, I make a decision.  To move forward, or not.

I’m still making that decision.  But, I’m pretty sure that that decision alone will NOT keep me sober forever.

The reason I’m in trouble is because sobriety has lost its flavor for me.  It’s zest.  It’s appeal.  (Please understand that there is a difference for me between “not drinking” and “sobriety.”   “Not drinking” is a state of being.  “Sobriety” is a way of life.)

I am not drinking.  But I am no longer CURIOUS about sobriety in and of itself.  I want and need MORE now.

When I am with a group of sober people, I am often the person with the longest-term sobriety there.  That doesn’t make me better than anyone else.  I love and honor each of the members of my community.

It just means that I’ve been there so long, I rarely hear anything fresh or new. The “aha’s” have long since dried up for me.

For the longest time, this has really worried me.  For one thing, it’s completely verboten to talk about this stuff with many sober people.  You’re supposed to bring hope to the newcomers, not publicly share doubts because you are no longer finding what you came for.

Fortunately, the one thing that saves me again and again in life is that I’m a particularly ornery person.  (Maybe this doesn’t surprise you.)

But the other thing that saves me is that I have a deep and abiding lifetime commitment to LEARNING.

I LOVE everything about it!

If you are a wagon-faller-offer but you want to make important changes in your life, get CURIOUS.

Instead of freaking out and feeling “less than,” fill your mind with WONDER.

Decide to think of things differently.  Decide to think of your dilemma as a great adventure of discovery.

Sobriety is a challenge for me these days, because I forgot how important the spirit of discovery is to me.

I need to go on a journey. 

A journey to Sobriety 2.0.

So, this year, one day at a time, I am setting off on a pilgrimage to find the true elders of my sober tribe – the ones who feel “happily and usefully whole.”  The ones who are bright and alive and VIBRANT with long-term continuous sobriety but are actually interested in other shit, too.

I am very excited that, after struggling with this for so long, I finally see what I need to do.

Perhaps you too know the concern of feeling that life has lost its flavor.  If so, let’s do this together.

Whatever your own particular struggle, I invite you to make a similar quest for yourself.  I invite you to think of Life After Tampons as our evening campfire where each of us curious midlife explorers gathers to share what we have learned that day on our own individual journeys, whatever they may be.

I invite you to LOVE your life again, because loving your life is a DECISION.

I invite you to SHARE what you have found with us.

I will be here for you.

And, I’ll bring the marshmallows, of course.

Love,

Your sober friend, Jen

P.S.  If you want to go along on this journey with us, please sign up here. You’ll also get a copy of my new book next week.  

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Comments from the LAT Wisdom Circle

26 Responses to In Case You’ve Fallen off the Wagon

  1. Angel says:

    OMG … I totally get what you are saying. Last year was my 11th year of sobriety (I hope to celebrate 12 at the end of this month) and it was the hardest year I’ve had. One thing that has helped me is going to a women’s newcomer’s meeting. It’s made me remember why I want to be sober and to appreciate the joy of new sobriety (just being grateful for waking up without a hangover, for example). Anyway, thank you for your post … sometimes I feel so alone in my thinking but you eloquently described my feelings exactly.

  2. Nicole says:

    “And, one lifelong conundrum I haven’t resolved yet, is that I want to be included WITH the crowd while – at the same time – I stand APART from them.”
    Wow – just WOW. That is EXACTLY how I have felt my entire life and could never quite articulate. You ‘get’ me!!! And I ‘get’ you.
    Nicole

  3. Jeanette says:

    Alienation from the crowd I am suppose to belong to…that is where I find myself because I am tired of the lack of curiosity I encounter. I am tired of how uninteresting I feel in the midst and of how uninterested I am in the patter. They are wonderful people, so I worry that it must be me. As a result, I find that I have retreated into my own interests, quietly pursuing a new language, plans to travel, quiet service. Outside of my daily clients, I can go days without talking to anyone and be perfectly happy. I have been wondering, of late: does that make me anti-social or merely content? I am leaning towards the latter. Jen, as always your curiosity is obvious and wonderfully contagious. The idea of resolving as re-solving and how that applies to getting on and off ‘the wagon’ is brilliant and resonants on many levels. As always, thank you for so succinctly giving me something to sink my teeth into! Happy New Year, LAT!

    • Jennifer says:

      You are so very welcome, love. I wish I had been able to make it clearer that this piece is NOT about sobriety, per se, but commitment. I’ll keep working.

      • Jeanette says:

        That came through clearly! Commitment to forward movement and growth on the journey we are each on. I am not in recovery but I continually work to move forward and past the obstacles that are mine. They may not come in a bottle but I still have to choose, daily, not to let them trip me. I don’t always choose wisely, but such is life. This piece is relevant for us all.

  4. Pam says:

    Yep. 2013 was easily tied for hardest year of my life. After riding that wild rollercoaster, I decided to let it go. December 31, I wrote down all my thoughts and frustrations. Burned them. Then put them in a coffee can. Took them out and spread the ashes. (My husband died in June. One of my big frustrations was having to bury him next to his late wife. After a major meltdown in the cemetery on Thanksgiving Saturday–as in the caretaker wanted to call an ambulance because I was crying so hard I couldn’t breath, I knew I could never go back and see that marker.) I wrote it all down, everything. And burned it was just a little nothing in the bottom of that can. NOTHING. Barely made debris on the bottom and sides. I took it out to the lake and spread those ashes near one of his favorite fishing spots. Going there will be much more peaceful on those occasions I feel a need.

    Anyway. At midnight on December 31, 2013, I wrote myself a letter to be opened on December 31, 2014. Then I wrote myself a letter to be read whenever I need the whiny 13 year old sniveling inside me to go away. When I need the strong, confident woman I really am to come out and take charge.

    Well and good. That lasted about 8 days. Yes. I had a total meltdown yesterday. 8 frigging days and bumping along the road next to or under the wagon!

    So thanks. Back to my packing and cleaning. Realtors coming tomorrow. Bring it, Baby. I’ve got this.

    Right??

    • Jennifer says:

      Wow, Pam, I am so very sorry that things have been so painful for you recently. I have to say I really admire the actions you are taking — the strength that all of that requires.

      Since I’m often the one in your position, I recognize that this recognition is sometimes a “thin gruel,” given what you’ve gone through. But, it might also be helpful to know that we see you — we see you struggling and determined to find a way to heal.

      I send you every blessing for THIS DAY’s journey. One day at a time, love, we’ll get there.

      Love, Jen

  5. Laurie says:

    I have been thinking that there is something wrong with me. Having always been an out going person, these last 5 years or so I have been finding that besides going to work I would rather not and most often do not leave the house for days, puttering, thinking, planning. Often thinking and planning to go out and connect with others, planning to create adventure, to do those things that would fulfil me, to be that person that I would love to be again. Where has the love for living my life gone? These days it’s more like getting life over with.

    Loving life is a DECISION you say. Well thank you for that, I will have to try that on.

    • Jennifer says:

      Dearest Laurie, I am NOT a health professional, but I would like to suggest that you make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Sometimes the hormonal shifts at midlife are enough to trigger things like depression and anxiety.

      On the other hand, it’s perfectly okay to just feel “content” with where you are. Try to strike a balance, if you can.

      Love, Jen

  6. Leah says:

    I don’t do re-solutins but I do, like all humans, have a few ongoing struggles.

    And so, another calendar year begins with the desire to change, some trepidation (will I find the right path this time?), and appreciation for Jen being willing and ready to lead us.

    So glad I found “my” tribe in 2013 – looking forward to discovering and learning on the journey with all of you.

    Pam – I cried when I read your story, even though I have no direct connection to your losses. You obviously belong here – safe journeys, keep showing up for us, please.

    • Jennifer says:

      Whenever I get afraid of being on the right path (um, like this EFFING MORNING!!!), I remind myself that my commitment is to show up and trust that I will be shown what to do next.

      So — 1. SHOW UP (I used to forget that part, waiting to begin for some mythical long-term clarity that never came.)

      And, 2 — TRUST. Ooooh, did she just say that?

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thanks Jen, I always appreciate your wisdom. My specific struggle has been whether or not to continue in my 20+ year marriage. I’ve known for years now that it has no benefit for me – just drains me and leaves me feeling empty. I had to go through the painful process of telling my children, knowing that they would never be able to return to their ‘home’ again (this was the hardest thing for me and still brings me to tears when I think about it). I have my children’s blessing and have now set an actual date for my process of departure. Even with the uncertainty of not knowing where I will go or what I will do, I am beginning to feel a bit lighter and even a bit excited about the possibilities going forward. Thank you, Jen for suggesting that I think of my dilemma as a great adventure of discovery. I too am ready for a new journey and the seeker in me has been patiently waiting for this for years. And thank you LATS for allowing me a place to release.

    • Jennifer says:

      Wow. I am so sorry for your loss, even if it is a change that you want. I will keep your whole family in my prayers. And, YES, please do come back.

      Love, Jen

  8. Carol Hess says:

    Oh, Jen, I completely identify with everything you’ve written here. Resolutions don’t work for me, and I’m tired of doing them and then feeling like a failure when I don’t keep them. So I gave them up a few years ago. And I am not a wagon rider either, but I want to be part of the group having fun in the wagon. And I’m 15 years sober thanks to a 12-step program and haven’t been to a meeting in a few years because I got tired of hearing the same thing and needing to maintain the “image” for newcomers. A few months ago, I found myself saying, “Is this what I got sober for? I’m not sure it’s worth it.” Uh oh. Trouble with a capital T.

    As for the whole resolutions thing, this year I’m participating in a few different things to breathe new life into my new year ritual. So far, so good. I’m liking the new perspectives and new processes. As for the whole sobriety/program thing, I’ve just committed to volunteering at a local recovery center that is not 12-step oriented but needs people to facilitate recovery groups and act as recovery coaches. I suspect that will breathe some much needed new life into my sobriety. And as for that conflict between wanting to be a part of and wanting to stand apart from, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that. :)

    So glad you wrote this honest, courageous post because this is a safe place to do it. Other places, like the rooms, maybe not so much. But some of us here in LAT Land get exactly where you’re coming from. You are NOT alone. Thanks for saying what lots of us have been thinking and dared not even admit to ourselves. You just might have kept a few people sober today.

  9. Carla says:

    I too am struggling with sobriety. Not mine though, my husband’s. Today marks nearly five months of his nightly meetings and sobriety but I am finding myself bitter and angry as well as proud of him. It seems to me the “program” does not leave any room for the family so rather then having my husband back, I’ve simply lost him to meetings instead of alcohol. I know it’s very early in his progress, but feeling left out is not what I was hoping for. Plus, at least we had a social life before! Please help and advise with your wisdom.

    • Jennifer says:

      Dearest Carla, What you need is outside of my realm of professional experience but I do know that there are support programs for family of alcoholics available. I am guessing that they will have people who understand your situation and can help. Also, if you can, try and think more about what you can do to make your own life wonderful without leaning too heavily on anyone.

      A lot of us are doing cool stuff here. Come back. Love, Jen

  10. Cheryl R says:

    I have been privately journaling about something like this for a year now. My wagon has been the small Lutheran church I have worshiped in for 17 years. There are great people there, and I have many friends. I have done the whole thing from women’s groups to Sunday school and vbs, Bible studies and even started a praise band that still serves every Sunday. I have studied every book of the Bible (really.) and led prayer groups. But lately,…… I feel so intellectually stymied.
    I find that I am increasingly finding my spiritual spark outside of my church. I am curious about many spiritual disciplines from places other than christianity and that is a no-no in small-town mid-america churches such as mine. I am a feminist and supporter of gay rights, but I keep my mouth shut about that. I love Jesus, but I am bored and angered by the nostalgic and closed-minded boys club that is the leadership at my church. I just can’t get excited about it.
    I know I stand apart from the more committed members, and I don’t feel too bad about it. Sometimes I wish I could be free, but my family attends with me and for now we will not be moving away from this small town. I don’t know how I could just hop to another church in town. Would it be any different? I know people do it, but I’m not there yet.
    I’m waiting for Lutheranism 2.0 to happen! No ideas yet.
    Thought-provoking post!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you, Cheryl, for your beautiful and brave share. One idea that I had is that you might want to look online for other spiritual communities that could support your spiritual evolution via the internet. You could also look for virtual classes on comparative religious studies for a way to broaden your own spiritual growth. Please remember to be be patient with yourself. You can still love and honor parts of your current spiritual community but search for outside support with the part that you don’t find there. At any rate, that is the approach I am taking for myself this year. Please come back. Love, Jen

  11. Loran Hills says:

    I totally get what you are saying, Jen. Almost 19 years of sobriety has given me a life I never imagined. Sometimes the zest disappears for me too, but then I remember that it’s not all about me. Maybe I can help someone else. The other factor is my continued spiritual growth has blossomed in another place and on another path. The two do intertwine but are not the same. I think that’s how I’m maintaining sanity which is very different from sobriety!

  12. Marie says:

    WOW Jen – your posting today brought up many things for me and the comments were even more enlightening. A couple of items came to mind as I read:

    1. Resolutions – even the word feels like so much pressure to me.

    2. when you talked about doubt – I kept thinking doubt is a part of reality and the word fear and the feeling fear pops up.

    3. when the “AHA” dried up I immediately wrote down…perhaps you are the AHA for someone else!

    4. I absolutely love the “learning and curiosity” portion. As someone who is always curious and always asking the questions that drive others crazy I can relate. Down deep I feel that if I lose that curious part of my being it will be time to call it a day.

    My thoughts are prayers and with others that were able to open up and share their pain and sorrow. Please take care of yourself – you deserve it.

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