Pain, Pain, and More Pain … But I’m Sober

foggy view from mountainsI have succeeded simply because I refused to give in to my immediate want. I choose the word want because it masquerades as a need, but it’s really just a want.

At this juncture in my life I see, clearly … I have what I need. If I don’t have it I don’t need it. If I choose to have it in my life I will find a way to make it happen. If it is meant to be in my life the Universe will conspire with my greatest good and it will manifest.

If I want more strength, I will get opportunities to push myself.

If I want more integrity, I will get opportunities to not gossip.

If I want more money, I will get opportunities to step out of my comfort zone.

If I want more love, I will be given opportunities to give more of my heart.

I see this similar pattern unfolding for those in early sobriety (it applied to me too). I’d experience a little bit of pain, difficulty, or challenge and I’d choose to run back to the bottle. I knew there would be hell to pay—I’d do it anyway.

Sobriety (even good sobriety) doesn’t relieve me of this thought process. If anything it exacerbates it. At least when I drank I could blame the booze. There is no one to blame when sober. We have no excuses. And this is one reason we drink again. We can’t stand being responsible. We don’t want to have to own who we are, who we have become. We know how to hide behind the fallibility of too many cocktails and play victim to our disease.

It’s pathetic, in the true sense of the word—that pitiful sense. I say this as an addict. I was pathetic. I was so absorbed in self and my wants that I could barely see another’s challenges. And to boot, I thought I was full of compassion. I mean to say … I felt I was a really wonderful woman.

For alcoholics, a life well lived is about no longer hiding behind the rewards of alcohol. We all know that not all the moments are bad. If they were all bad we’d have stopped. There is still a reward; a small moment of satisfaction in that drink. And for that moment we are willing to pay any price.

I have learned infinity more about me as I have remained sober. You couldn’t have successfully told me ten years ago about the joy I feel today.  I can honestly say, I would have denied the possibility. I was pitiful, limited, in my capacity to see life so fully.

I did my long weekend cycle yesterday. I chose one of the hardest hills. From bottom to top it takes to the count of 250 to reach the peak. I am ready to quit the ride at the count of 25, but I can’t. I won’t. I won’t because my feet are strapped into my shoes and my shoes are clipped to my pedals. It requires more mental effort to fall than it does to persevere through the pain. So I persevere. I reach the count of 100. I can barely imagine I will make it, but I arrive at 101 and then 102. I breathe in strength and love.  I breathe out pain. I focus on the pavement moving directly underneath me and not on the remaining hill that I’ve yet to climb.

There seems no way I can make it. Yet, there seems no way I can stop—successfully. Again I breathe. Again, I accept the strength that I cannot say with certainty where it comes from. I accept it with an open mind like the ocean accepts the moon’s pull to generate Earth’s tides. I reach the 125 mark on my count. I am half way there. For whatever pain I have endured, I have less than that until I reach the summit.

I push through to 200 on my count. I have not yet arrived, but victory is apparent. While it is still grueling, the apex is beginning to flatten into view. I have pure joy knowing that the end is near. I reach 250. The bike responds to gravity. I move effortlessly down the hill.

The signal turns red. My unclipped feet touch the ground. I sip some icy cool water. The surging pain is passing.

In these four minutes I have learned:

  • That pain won’t kill me, even when it hurts—really bad.
  • There will be another weekend, another hill—it will hurt. I’ll be fine.
  • I get stronger with each climb.
  • Just because I want to quit doesn’t mean I need to quit.
  • Quitting isn’t an option.
  • Water tastes better on the summit than it does on my couch.

  Beginner’s tip: Don’t give up on you, just because there is pain.

25 Responses to “Pain, Pain, and More Pain … But I’m Sober

  • Amazing that. Having pain there and not quitting because of it takes a lot of strength and courage. As I write this comment, I’m going through the physical pain of having an urge to drink. Admittedly, I’m finding it hard to do, but I have no option but to go on. But, by reading this post of yours, I can take things away from it.

    • It’s okay that you’re having “the urge.” You don’t want to give in because you’re online trying to gain some knowledge and do it a different way than you have in the past. The early days suck. There’s no two ways about it. Find a support group. Find some sober friends. Use me as a friend until you get your sober footing. There are so many great people to help you along. Reach out and ask for help. Everyone wants you to succeed. This online community is amazingly supportive. Get what you need to succeed. You can do it!

  • Thank you. I’m sure I will

    • Matt and Lisa, hope you don’t mind the intrusion, but… stick with us! Lisa is right, the recovery blogging community is an amazing one, I can’t tell you the number of ways they have supported me.

      I remember well that physical pain, and I promise you… you can do it, and it does get easier each time you resist. I wish you well, and hope to “see” more of you!

  • That success is just one of the many grains of sand in your life which fill the void so much better than alcohol. Each success builds on the one before it. Keep pedaling! <3

  • Just what I needed to read, thank you. This post feels like a reward for pushing through a lot of stuff today… chores I did not want to do (but did), conversations I did not want to have (but did, with a smile), I could add a few more to the list, but you get the idea.

    I will also be re-reading this post as I attempt my next physical challenge… time to start running again. I’ve conquered my first goal (which you will read about shortly), and, as we well know in recovery,there is no time to rest on my laurels. So I made the phone call, and scheduled a running date with an extremely fit relative. Just thinking about running with her makes me feel short of breath, sitting here in front of the computer! But when I start I am going to slowly count to 250, and see how far I get.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Lisa!

    • I read this and was thinking about my running, how the ground seems to move so slowly under my feet. My son informed me, just yesterday, that I am, in fact, not a runner but a jogger. (Ouch, for a second or two.) I let Voice B jump in quickly this time. My reply, “better to be a jogger than a non-jogger. It all counts son …. it all matters. Even my little jogs.” Someday we’ll do a race together. Maybe when we’re 60 !

  • Very well written! Was with you throughout…the wants, the happiness,the pain & the reflections, have gone through all the stages and can totally relate! It’s good to have a reminder so as never to forget from where we come and where we are going…
    Thanks 🙂

    • It never amazes me how alone I often feel in my thoughts, but once I post them here I am surrounded by friends of similar paths. Always a joy to share reflections on life. xox Lisa

  • Love the analogy to the ride up the hill. Not sure we ever reach the summit – but I’m enjoying the climb on day 99. Hugs!

    • Yes, I think I see what you’re saying. For me, part of being successful WAS seeing that I had reached “the summit”… with anything in life. What kept me down (drinking) was that feeling that I had never truly arrived anywhere important. I secretly had this feeling that if I had achieved it, it must not have been that difficult I never gave myself kudos for goals accomplished. I love the idea of the summit, because I feel I do arrive, but there is always another to climb. This only becomes apparent however, after I reach the peak of the one I am climbing. I like that now too (I used to dread it). I wanted to “arrive” and stay arrived. I didn’t want a new project (hill) … a new goal. I was tired. teehee.

      Even at the writing of this I am presented with some new parental hills to climb. Wishing I was back on my bike, but alas, I cannot always choose the terrain, just my attitude toward the terrain and, as always, check my direction. Some days my internal compass seems broken.

      I see you are in the three digits today. How does it feel? A summit reached, but now you may see more challenges if you have chosen to move forward with another day of sobriety. yes/no?? I see many of you do the hundred day challenge. A good start, but definitely not a sustaining goal. We set new goals before we complete current ones and this keeps our momentum solid. I learned that from Stephen Covey,The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A great book by the way.

      From my heart, I appreciate a new voice over here on SI blog. Thank you for commenting. with love, Lisa

  • Lisa,
    Thank you so much for this post. This excerpt in particular spoke to me:

    “At least when I drank I could blame the booze. There is no one to blame when sober. We have no excuses. And this is one reason we drink again. We can’t stand being responsible. We don’t want to have to own who we are, who we have become. We know how to hide behind the fallibility of too many cocktails and play victim to our disease.”

    I identify with this so fully. In looking at my history I see that I have avoided responsibility at the cost of so much. At least when I was drinking I could blame my bad behavior on the drink instead of having to own up to the fact that the drink was merely an excuse for my bad behavior. I wanted to do those things. In sobriety, I have to accept my flaws as they are and work on them. And this is why, even in my early sobriety, I have occasionally run back to the bottle. It’s surprisingly easy, once you get the nerve, to admit that you’re an alcoholic, but as my sponsor told me today, there is a difference between admitting it and accepting it. Admitting it is important, but accepting it takes so much more and means so much more. What I didn’t expect, when I admitted my problem, was that the urge would still be so strong. My boyfriend, in conversations, has indicated that he doesn’t really believe in alcoholism and in the AA program… this affected me much more than I would have wanted it to, and somehow I used it as an excuse to relapse again… but what do you do if the people around you, for all their good intentions, don’t know how to support you in the way you need to be supported? Do you excise them from your life? Do you try to educate them? I know that someone who isn’t an alcoholic and hasn’t had first-hand experience with alcoholism isn’t going to be able to fully understand, but I just feel like maybe my boyfriend places too much emphasis on personal agency… so much so that he can’t begin to understand how a program like AA might be helpful… Sorry to vent here in your comments, but it just struck a chord with me.

    • Your venting is not only welcomed, but appreciated. These are all valid questions and definitely ones you will want to address.

      If I might be so bold as to comment as a coach rather than a recovered addict (and also a product of the 12-step program) … here goes:
      (BTW: you might not like this answer, but see how it fits before you eliminate it as a possibility)
      You use your boyfriend’s view of AA as part of your excuse. The reason it resonates with you is because there is a place in you that is still not 100% sure of the 12-step and its efficacy. I did the same with my husband. He wasn’t convinced I was alcoholic, and he definitely did not prefer me going to meetings and sharing my personal life to “heal.” I bought into this thought because I wanted it to be true. But somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the truth about how I drank, how I behaved. He didn’t know ALL my secrets. In many ways he was my Higher Power. What he said must be true. He was my husband. Wrong! I found my way and it looks like you are finding yours too!

      Once I let go of the idea (accepted) that I was an alcoholic and that a drink was poison, I didn’t care what he did/didn’t believe/like about my life (my recovery). I just trudged forward and figured it out. I wanted SOBER more than I wanted his approval. It was his job to love me where I was at. Not my job to make him love me or get him to love me. Final chapter: He did come around. I am so glad I held true to me. (Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.”)

      Written with love and only love, believe me when I say, “I see us as kindred spirits trying to continue to communicate with those we love when we are changing.”
      xox lisa

  • This is so, so awesome. Love the visualization of 250 pedals and how you broke it down. How easily I can apply that to any difficult task or phase in my life. Also love the truth that being sober doesn’t excuse us from flailing around and how that fact can be its own source of stress. (exactly what I’m feeling lately.) My favorite part of this post, however, is the realization that water tastes better on a summit than on the couch. Brilliant post, Lisa.

    • Isn’t it always interesting what people take from your posts? That, too, was my favorite part of the post. I’m so happy you liked it. I notice lately that everything I work on to be a better human is the same stuff I need to work on to continue to live sober. Interesting. The vehicle of “alcoholism” has been one of my best gifts. Geez, who would have thought?!?!?!?

  • xnavygal9916
    11 years ago

    This blog Lisa takes me back once again to something I’ve told myself and others a gazillion times. “If you want what you’ve never had, you mustdo what you’ve never done.” This applies in every area of my life. From getting and STAYING clean from all mind changing mood altering substances to completing a two mile run with a broken foot in boot camp at 30 years of age. Instead of my thinking I had some keen sense of focus and a challenge with a dare to succeed… I have found thru recovery it was only possible with the help of my Higher Power. Doing for me what I could not do on my own sheer will. If I do all I can do on my part I can now relax knowing that my HP will take care of the rest. Keep doing the next right thing..that’s pretty simple. And remember that stressed spelled backward equates to DESSERTS!! You can learn to live without drugs-please give yourself a break!! Xojen _/l_

    • xnavygal9916
      11 years ago

      P.S….My will = problem. His will = solution. _/l_ jen

    • I love what you’ve shared here. We are capable of so much more than we imagined. At least that has been my experience. The pain is still there, but my attitude is so much different. I absolutely love, your love of God. Your dependence upon the Creator is affirming at many levels. Always happy to read and think about your comments. xox me

  • Wanting and needing. Needing and wanting. These two things were ever so intertwined in my active days, and even today, I sometimes find myself unsuccessfully extricating one from the other, like trying to remove a sticker off a rug – there is residue of one on the other. But I am improving. Sometimes it takes a little meditation or quiet time – conscious contact – to find the guidance I need in knowing what it is that I am wanting, and what it is that I am needing. And like you put it so well, I am often given what I need – even if I don’t know it at the time. The old joke goes that don’t ask the Creator for patience – he’ll put you in a traffic jam or the slow lane at the grocery store. But sometimes I get that because I need it. I certainly don’t want it.

    Knowing the difference between the two still doesn’t make it easy when it comes time in making choices. I know I may need something, but I go with the want instead. It’s sometimes easier, softer, more fun. It distracts me from the pain that you also describe so well in the biking analogy. The pain that will grow me, stretch me, afford me a new perspective and way of life. Inch by inch. No dramatic take downs or sudden epiphanies per se (but possible), but break me out of me and into a new direction. Pain, whether I want it or not, will bring out something that I didn’t see or want to see before. But all these little things add up, like the pumps on the bike, until I am at a place where I am looking at the scenery around me and wondering, “how did I get here?”

    Wonderful post, as usual.


    • Paul,
      Thank you. I notice that I’ve shied away from this topic (want vs. need). Even though I wrote about it here, it continues to represent lessons in my daily life. I am continuously aware of my “default” mode and work at being vigilant in my spiritual growth. I think we’re all trying to get to the same place. Our arrival time is our choice. You will know when it is time to push. Abundant love, Lisa

  • “Water tastes better on the summit than it does on my couch.”

    I like that. 😀

  • Wow, Lis. That is what I feel everytime I get on a treadmill or go on the road running, I push through that voice that is saying “quit”. And? You taught me how to keep going past that voice. Love you, always.

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