I have been maintaining this blog for some time now, over 6 months. I started it scared and confused and unsure of what to call myself or what was even really going on; I wasn’t really embracing of the term “recovery,” nonetheless “recovering out loud.” A few weekends ago, after returning from the She Recovers Mexico retreat, I felt so inspired and brave and energy and life was emanating from my every cell: I wrote the following piece according to how I felt and let it sit on my laptop for a few days. I started small: I shared just with my mom. I shared on my facebook but privately, my eyes only – just to test the waters. It felt fucking terrifying. I was shaking and it wasn’t even “out there” yet. No judgement but my own. My mom suggested I share it to just the She Recovers retreat page, amongst sisters. I did – and the response was overwhelmingly supportive and awe-inspiring. I finally shared to my own page, first to friends only then – total “fuck it” mode, publicly.
At that time, I still wasn’t ready to go public with this blog as a whole and so decided to sit on another few weeks (by the way all of this is fucking mindblowing to me because I am the most impulsive person on the planet, especially when it comes to word-vomit.. I am basically just a bundle of neurons firing at all times in every direction), but circumstances have aligned in my life that tell me, gently “Danielle, it’s time.” So here’s that post and here’s this blog and here I am and here it goes.
How long have you known me? My whole life? Maybe just since I moved to San Diego 4 years ago, or possibly just since I started dating your good friend Steve… or there is a really good chance we graduated from Wolcott High School or Saint Joe’s together. We could be family, close or not..or maybe we are just acquaintances and you can barely recall when or how we met, but I still appear on your timeline. Depending on your proximity to me (both geographical and emotional), you may have – in way or another – gathered that I no longer drink. Maybe it was when you offered me a drink at a party and I straight up said I don’t drink anymore (least likely), maybe you were perusing my photos and noticed that there was no longer any wine glasses in front of me or cocktails in my hand.. Or maybe you’ve just met me recently and assumed I was “not really a big drinker,” because that’s exactly what I told you. Or maybe you’re a co-worker and I just nervous laugh in passive agreement when you mention needing a happy hour. Worst case scenario (and these odds are very, very low), you are my boyfriend or my mother and you know absolutely everything about me.
I have spent nearly the last year trying to work up the nerve to tell people I don’t drink – or, truthfully, that I don’t want to drink anymore. I have spent innumerable hours and brain power trying to skillfully maneuver my social life without looking “weird;” I’ve tried everything from faking it with sparkly drinks in big red cups, to telling people “maybe later,” to, in my earliest days, (this is what I am most embarrassed of) obsessing over and researching the lowest alcohol cocktail feasible (aperol and sparkling water), ordering it and sipping it as slow as possible just to “fit in” or “not be weird.” That is how afraid I was to tell the world I don’t want its poison – I drank it even though the voice in my head stood on a chair and screamed “DONT DO IT I DON’T WANT IT.”
I was at an odds with myself. I had discovered this new way of living (emphasis on “living,” louder for the people in the back: LIVING) and wanted to tell everyone about it, to tell everyone to come join me and feel what I feel everyday. But I was also terrified, ashamed, my voice muffled and my edge dulled by the stigma of “recovery.” I did not (do not) identify as an alcoholic, and I didn’t want people to think of me in “that way.” So I kept it to myself and a few close people – mainly my boyfriend, immediate family and a couple of girlfriends – knew I had actively and consciously quit drinking. But the rumbling and need to yell from all the proverbial rooftops wouldn’t quit, so I compromised by starting a new, secret blog to get all my feelings and anxiety and exploding joy and questions out. I shared this with maybe 3 people in the world.
This month, I attended the She Recovers retreat in Riviera Maya, Mexico. I initially signed up for the retreat thinking “cool, a spring break trip without the pressure of alcohol.” I wasn’t stoked on the “Recovers” part, because I “clearly” wasn’t a woman in recovery, but I had been working hard, went through alot of life transitions in the last year and needed a vacation. What I got was a life changing, awe inspiring, fire fucking fueling rollercoaster of an adventure.
I spent a week on a beautiful beachfront resort with 20 other women (including my mother, who I initially invited so I wouldn’t have to share a room with a stranger), all in recovery of some sort. Once I met the group, I fell in love. I am prone to puppy love at the beginning of any new relationship, but when I tell you I fell in love with these women as a group, I mean it. I was googly eyed and positively transfixed whenever one of them spoke and told their story. Their voices were strong and beautiful even when they shook. For the first time maybe ever the incessant voice in my head listened when I said “shut the fuck up and listen, someone else is talking.”As it goes, first came love, then came the hesitancy/confusion; I felt a part of me and my story in each of these women, yet I had never been to rehab, I don’t go to AA, I never had a DUI, I never had a “rock bottom.” I started to worry – was my story big enough, important enough? Did I even have anything to learn from these women? Didn’t I have it alllll figured out all on my own – after all, I had quit drinking a while ago and never needed support before. I didn’t even identify as a woman in recovery, nonetheless know how much “time I had” (how long its been since I drank). “My” story didn’t seem to align with “theirs.” Was I a recovery imposter?
Many of the women had been on a SR retreat previously and talked about spending the entire time sobbing, alone with their thoughts with nothing to do but face their shit. So I decided to sit and wait for my catharsis to happen. Every morning I awoke, greedily rubbing my mental hands in anticipation for the moment I would fall to the ground and admit I was an alcoholic, begging to be baptised in the waters of the alcoholics and face my Higher Power. I had my therapist at the ready for my return, because I KNEW I was just one or two real good hip opener yoga positions from realizing everything that was totally fucked up about me. Oh, the anguish that was about to ensue! I sat, and I laid, and I swam and I napped and I ate, and I waited. I dipped my chips in guacamole and patiently looked around, chewing, waiting for my moment to come.
That moment never came. Instead of some kind of internal rapture; I walked away from this week calmly, composed, with volumes more knowledge about myself and about recovery – MY recovery. I learned that, despite my best efforts and my self-proclaimed insight and self-awareness, I still held my own stigmas about recovery, I still “othered” women in recovery. “They” were all the rock-bottomers, the DUI-ers, the relapsers. But this group was not that. Of course, there were these women with these experiences, but that was not all they were. Some had stories alot like mine, and some had stories none at all like mine and yet, the emotions and the understanding and connection were there, in varying degrees, with each of them. I found a small piece of my experience in every single one of their stories – whether it was the broken marriage, the constant, maddening cycle of self-disappointment, the gambles we took with our lives and careers, the nagging question of “why” we were the way we were (I have never felt more free than I did the day I was able to look another woman in the eye over a moment of connection and hear her say “why do we that? Why are we like this?” It was the voice I had heard 7,000 times in my own head, but instead of being screamed at me it was conveyed in a gentle, sincerely inquisitive and curious, almost playful tone. I swear, I physically felt some emotional scars on my heart smooth over in that second).
It wasn’t about recovering from alcohol, or opioids, or whatever someone’s “drug of choice” was – it was about recovering from the ridiculous standards and pressure placed on us everyday, including by ourselves, and the subsequent isolation, mental health issues, substance use, workaholism or other destructive “coping skills” we develop to get by. As Dawn Nickel, co-founder of She Recovers puts it, “it’s a recovery of our potential.” My heart’s eyes fluttered open when I heard this. It is so much more than alcohol – that was just the first layer I had to peel back, the band-aid that I thought was holding it all together. Or rather, that was skewing it all – it was the small brush fire I lit right in front of myself so I wouldn’t even notice the forest fire raging behind it. Once I put that out, I was able to walk into those trees, to dig deeper into every other aspect of my life, my mental health, my goals and vision for my path.
So I realized there is no “textbook” woman in recovery but also, likewise and most importantly, that there is no one way to recover. Every woman there had her own path.. And this included me. I learned that my story IS big enough, important enough, and that in order to share my new and awe-inspiring way of life with the people around me, I would have to step up and start saying so. I had an amazing time in Mexico, but it shouldn’t take a 7-day all inclusive retreat to another country for a woman to find her connection, her TRIBE. I found mine, and I took a tiny (huge) piece of it back with me to San Diego. It’s been simmering in my chest and lungs and legs and arms since I returned. I left for this retreat not at all identifying with anyone in “recovery” – never even considering it really – and returned as a loud, proud, recovering woman.
I returned deciding to become congruent, showing the world exactly what is in my heart and in my brain rather than muttering my excuses. Because I am stronger than fake (or real) drinks in red cups, stronger than nervous laughs, stronger than “I don’t drink,” “maybe later,” and “no thanks, I’m driving tonight.” I am strong enough to say I am a recovering woman, BECAUSE I am a recovering woman. I have been through the mud, nearly drowned by societal pressures and my own self-destruction – the world may have dumped the dirt on me but I certainly added the water – and I survived. My story is big enough and important enough and I am here to tell all of you about it.
I am still scared as shit, but I gather strength from knowing that I am living congruently, I am doing what I feel I have been called to do at this point in my life. This is me recovering my potential. I steady my nerves by reminding myself that my story might help just one other woman out there find her place, a part of her story in mine. Whether you are in recovery, simply a non-drinker, a “gray area” drinker, considering quitting or drinking as you read this – I want you to know that I am here for you. If that tiny voice in your head has ever whispered “maybe this drinking thing isn’t working for us,” I want you to know that you have a story that’s important enough, thats big enough, and I (and a million other women) can feel it before you even open your mouth to tell it. Tell your story, sister!
And thank you, thank you for opening you heart and listening to mine.