The Dirty Thirty
By: Jason B.
I think one of the toughest parts of getting sober is the first 30 days. Doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, old or young, or how “low” or “high” your bottom was. The first 30 days just suck. Period. It’s no shock that it’s in this first month that a lot of people decide that the program is “just not for them” and move on, either to return in the future in much worse condition or maybe they aren’t that lucky and they don’t return at all. But it’s in these first 30 days that many lasting elements of success in sobriety (and in other areas of life) are born, so no matter how sucky your first 30 are, there’s great value in getting through them. So if you’re not quite done raising your hand in meetings yet, or if you’re raising it again after a while of not having to, here’s 5 things that I did that really helped me get through the “Dirty 30”.
At the third meeting I ever attended, someone said that no matter where you are in recovery, you are always allowed to do any step that begins with a 1. Meditation saved my ass. At the time, I tended to view prayer in the same way that some people view pineapples on pizza – it just wasn’t an option. (More on that in another post.) But meditation was removed of any of the “higher power” obstacles that I had trouble with, and early on in sobriety, I was filled with noise. Dark voices of shame, guilt, and blame that were just relentless. Meditation gave me a reason to silence them, if just for a few minutes at a time. And within that peace, I was able to find the resolve to keep going. Stopping the voices momentarily was a good start, but in order to move past them I needed something more.
Rationally, we all know that the inner voices of regret and judgement are not wholly true. It’s difficult get past them, though, when they are all speaking at once, constantly. The notion that I was worthless and that everyone was right about what a shitty human I am created a suffocating fear that shrinkwrapped around me until we I could barely move. Getting outside of my head and connecting with others was my torch in that dark space. I resolved to speak to every person I could, have some kind of positive interaction, even if it were simply a smile. I had a lot of conversations with Lyft and bus drivers on my way to my meetings, and I tried to listen and brighten people’s day in whatever way I could. And little by little, I realized that if I could do that, then the voices couldn’t possibly be right. There must be something in me worth salvaging, and it was worth some more time and energy to find out what that was.
Eat, Sleep, Pee.
I treated my body and brain like a combination punching bag-garbage can-cell phone on 1% with no charger for decades. One of the first people I met in AA, Mark, told me to be good to myself, that my body needed healing. And he was right. I was exhausted – literally bone tired – from all the work that maintaining my addiction took. Putting good food in my body, drinking lots of water, and recognizing when I needed to rest (and doing it!) were crucial keys in staying positive and being present.
The first week or so of the program, I wasn't able to even open my mouth without breaking down. That left me with not much to do in meetings but listen to others, and as I did, I found strength in the fact that they had experienced the same craziness that I had. In understanding that this was a disease, two truths became apparent: one, that this wasn't about me being "bad" – it was about being sick, and two, that if this solution was working for them, it might just work for me. I realized that even though I wasn’t doing the steps yet, there was an action that I could take, which brings me to my last point.
Commit to today.
I wasn't worried that I couldn't go for one month without drinking. I had done longer stretches of sobriety before. But I was very aware that when I had broken those stretches, I had found myself drinking with absolutely zero intention of doing so. So this time, I made myself a promise: that I was only going to be sober today, and that I would do this thirty times in a row. I had issues with everything the program was asking of me: the homework, confessing my sins in a "moral inventory", the higher power bullshit, giving my time to a stranger to supervise me. I decided to put all of that stuff on the shelf for the time being and just do this one thing. I gave myself permission to pursue another solution as long as I could say that I honestly wasn't more hopeful, or could truly claim that I saw no change after those thirty days. Thankfully, I couldn't, and I'm still here.
These are the things that helped me when I was getting sober. I didn't come up with them during my first thirty days – they are a product of reflecting on my journey thus far. Obviously, "more was revealed" and that continues to be the case, but it's important to realize that when you are just beginning, it's not necessarily about a "life beyond anything you ever dreamed" – it's about knowing that tomorrow will be better than today, even if it's just a little bit. And if that's possible... anything is possible.