Passing Time

When I started practicing law, I started measuring time in billable hours, broken down into six- and fifteen-minute intervals, depending on how the client wanted time reported. Marking time in this scale made my heart race, made me cut off my husband mid-sentence, made me power-walk to Sunday brunch.

When I became a mom, I started measuring time in weeks, switching over to months when the numbers got too big and non-parents had to start doing math just to figure out how old my daughter was. Compared to the down-to-the-minute accountability of legal practice, motherhood felt like strolling through an actual sunlit meadow. Time slowed and stretched and I lost hours looking at my baby, bouncing her on my knees, pushing the stroller for two unplanned hours in the afternoon and coming home with nothing to show for my time except for a bubble tea and a sleeping baby.

When I got sober, I started counting days. I hated days. Days made my skin crawl. They were too long to properly account for the suffering that occurred on a minute-by-minute basis in a single twenty-four hour period: the dozens of times I white-knuckled my way through a craving, the hundreds of minutes spent turning the critical question (Do I really need to do this?) over in my head, the hours of shame-wallowing as I forced myself to re-live the worst of the experiences alcohol gave me, examining each bottom in exacting detail in a Sysphean struggle to determine whether I had, in fact, sunk low enough. At the same time, days were too short for one passing to feel like progress, not when I kept starting over at Day One, not when I found myself questioning my decision at Day 90, and especially not when I had only double digits to show after trying to starve the beast for a decade. Counting days is torture. I’ve been doing it steadily for 180 of them.

180 days, or six months, doesn’t feel like much. It’s not even the longest stretch of sober time I’ve put together. A few years ago, I went nine months without touching a drop of alcohol, nine months that conveniently coincided with pregnancy. I felt so proud of myself, but also a little bit like I was cheating, so I planned on using the forced dry spell to jump start a new and better life. Then, a few days after my daughter was born, I read some enabling pseudoscience on the internet about using beer to stimulate milk production and decided that the new life could wait awhile longer.

I tried again after my daughter’s first birthday and I guess it sort of worked because I went nine more months without drinking. I don’t count that time, though, and don’t like to think about it either, because I spent most of it unraveling. I was dry as a bone and crazy as a loon and, worst of all, lonely. I still hadn’t told anyone how badly I wanted to quit, or how inexplicably hard I was finding it to be. By the end, I was losing hours in creepy online forums trying to figure out a way to relapse into a decade-old drug problem without blowing up my beautiful relationships with my husband and daughter or accidentally killing myself. (Apparently law school turned me into the kind of risk averse person who does “research” before getting high instead of just swallowing whatever I can get my hands on.)

So what’s different this time? It’s harder, for one thing. The days are heavy with forever. That goes against the old school “one day at a time” alcoholic logic, but one day at a time doesn’t work for me. It offers too many opportunities to question the decision, and I am a master of delayed gratification. Tell me I can get loaded tomorrow and eventually I will. So, forever it is.

If you know me in real life, it probably comes as a surprise to learn that not drinking is a choice I have to make every day. I don’t look like a person who used to have a drinking problem. To quote John Mulaney, “I don’t look like a person who used to do anything.” I have a good job and a loving family and a cute little townhouse. Oh, and I’m a Mormon, at least if you define the term loosely.

Growing up in a religion that preaches complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol simultaneously amplifies and obscures the warning signs that mark the path to addiction. I grew up oblivious to the distinction between normal and abnormal drinking. Spiritually speaking, sharing a bottle of wine with friends was on par with getting shit-faced by myself, and because I didn’t see a marked difference between the two, it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t normal to prefer the latter. Drinking in any quantity was so transgressive that I also got in the habit of hiding my habit. First from my parents, which is not so unusual for a teenager, but later from my roommates, friends, and boyfriends. Because I was so used to lying to people, it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t normal to carry a water bottle full of vodka in my purse on a first date.

Mormonism continued to complicate matters after I realized I needed to quit. Growing up Mormon, I learned that perfectionism is not just an attainable goal but the purpose of life. I thought that I could do anything if I prayed hard enough. Every time I found myself with a drink in my hand days, sometimes even hours, after waking up with yet another debilitating hangover and swearing the stuff off for good, I chalked it up to moral weakness and vowed to pray harder, be better. My faith blinded me to the reality of physical and psychological addiction. I believed so absolutely in an omnipotent God–or maybe in my  own omnipotent self–that it never occurred to me that another person might have something useful to offer.

Over the years, I dedicated a not insignificant amount of time trying to sniff out other people like me. I cozied up to new converts to the church and asked questions about their lives before Mormonism, desperate for a hint that they missed drinking, that they’d had a hard time kicking it, or, better, that they hadn’t given it up at all. I contorted the phrasing of the religious text underlying the ban on alcohol to suit my evolving preference for craft beers over hard liquor and to rationalize the blatant hypocrisy of showing up at church after spending the night at the bar. I searched endless iterations of the phrase “Mormon alcoholic” and “Mormon addict” and, later, “sober Mormon” and “Mormon in recovery,” in janky 1990s forums for Mormon apologists,  in subreddits for bitter ex-Mormons, in secret Facebook groups for the faithful Left. It is worth noting here the one thing I did not do is attend a meeting of the church’s addiction recovery program–i.e., the one thing guaranteed to put me in the same room as other Mormons who knew precisely what I was going through–because that was the one thing that would have required me to want to change.

When the time finally came that I did want to change, I knew religion wouldn’t work. I’d been approaching the problem from that angle for years and all I had to show for it was knees worn out from praying so hard and a big bag of shame I’d been dragging around for so long I couldn’t fathom the relief that would come from setting it down. 

Here are a few things that did work:

I asked for help of the non-divine variety. By which I mean I got my ass to a twelve step meeting. When I felt my heart break open, I kept going. When I felt annoyed by the dumb and crazy things people said, I kept going. I kept going until I felt grounded and even though I don’t go regularly anymore, I make an effort every time I feel the floor of my commitment shift beneath my feet. 

I started seeing a therapist.

I went back to things that I used to like more than drinking. I started running again. I started a new blog. I put new strings in my guitar and started re-learning the songs I used to play with my dad, CCR, BoDyl, a little Grateful Dead. I ran slow and wrote clunky blog posts and fumbled over strum patterns that I used to pound out in my sleep, but I kept going, even when the existential boredom of doing all those things sober made my skin hurt.  

I found new things that I liked more than drinking. I  signed up and trained for a Tough Mudder. I joined a post-Mormon storytelling group. I started researching emerging legal issues and publishing articles. I bought an adult coloring book.

I made a genuine effort to get eight hours of sleep a night as often as I realistically could.

I started drinking coffee after seven years off the sauce on account of the Mormon prohibition. A girl can only take so much denial.

I purged every aspect of Mormonism that felt like dead weight, tasted like poison, looked like hate, or somehow just didn’t smell right from my personal theology. Goodbye perfectionism. Good riddance, patriarchy. Farefuckingwell to the marriage doctrine that’s got all those nice Mormons wound up jealously guarding the institution, the culture, the right to live and love according to the dictates of one’s heart and conscience from the gays. 

Essentially, after years of conflating the two, of thinking the only force powerful enough to make me want to get and stay sober was the pull of the church I grew up in, I finally began the messy process of disentangling my sobriety from my religion. I needed my sobriety to stand on its own, rather than ebbing and flowing with the tides of my fickle faith. If I was going to have a spiritual life, it needed to be for reasons other than it was the thing keeping me sober.

Many of the last 180 days I have not been especially spiritual. Many of the last 180 days I have not been especially good. All of the last 180 days I have been sober, which means that all of the last 180 days I have been fully present and engaged in my life. Many of the last 180 days I have even been happy, so I’ll keep counting. 

186 thoughts on “Passing Time

  1. Great piece. “I ran slow and wrote clunky blog posts and fumbled over strum patterns that I used to pound out in my sleep, but I kept going, even when the existential boredom of doing all those things sober made my skin hurt.” Loved this!

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I am a friend of Bill too. No shame need be taken for realizing mistakes. It’s what you do NEXT that is key. I have struggled with the “sauce” all my adult life. I’ve been sober for a few periods, but this time is different. I’m 46 and I realize that I spent 1/2 my life “caught” in denial. if I spend the next 23 years living like I did the 1st 1/2 I might as well give up now. I’m 4 yrs and 1 qtr sober, but who’s counting? lol…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hello! So glad to meet someone else on this path! I totally relate to not wanting to spend the rest of your life stuck in the same pattern. Congrats on 4+ years! Amazing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for a wonderfully written accounting. I recall that sense of shame that leads us to such unproductive action. In my youth, I found shame in calling the utility company just to ask for a couple of days on the payment. It seems so odd to me now, though there are still elements of shame that continue to fall away. I always thought the point of awareness was the hardest place of all – the place where no time has yet to pass. You’re a long ways from that place. Thanks for sharing the energy of your strength and perseverance. in lak’ech, Debra

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and thank you for sharing your experience. It is always so surprising what others find shameful and that surprise is enlightening. We are all just trying to be human. I hope I can teach my daughter not to let shame take over.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post – but don’t give up on religion altogether. God does help us all and is there when we ask him. He forgives us all, the hard part if forgiving ourselves (giving up the shame, etc). Be strong and hang in there – you are doing great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I haven’t given up on God, and not on religion either, in theory. I am still looking for a place where my family fits.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good to hear. I once attended about 20 churches after a move that left me alone in a new county, and lonely, so I relate. I prayed at that time for God to show me where I “belonged” (because I knew that it was “He” who moved me) …come to find out, I had missed it the first time He showed me, but He brought it around again until I caught with Him. I love prayer…but my knees don’t let me kneel anymore, as much as I’d like to reverence Him…but I don’t think He cares. I think He prefers those days I have a 90 minute drive and I’m alone in my car, and we just chat like friends. Those prayers always seem the most fruitful to me. But thoughts of drugs and using have faded into the past somewhere, replaced by other many wonderful aspects of “life” (well, …some good, some not) like they do over time if you are able to abstain. So I know He’s been there.

        Bless you in your desire to stay clean & sober, and whatever other aspirations life sets before you, may you achieve them all. And you should definitely take up writing…you are good at it. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow. You write with a great sense of passion and honesty- to yourself. Maybe thats the therapy part for you, whatever the reason you write, keep doing it because its beautiful and if its helped 1 person be honest with themselves aswell then it was totally worth doing. Great piece, stay strong. You got this!! X

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you. My real wake up call came when I realized I’d spent a decade trying to stop doing something and failing. What a waste of time and mental energy. It showed me how insidious addiction is even without a dramatic bottoming out.

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  5. Great post. Religion cannot help us with our struggles. It is a relationship with God that delivers us from struggles. You are doing great. I love the fact you decided take up other things to occupy your time. Hang in there. You will make it. God bless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, love how you differentiate between a relationship with God and religion. I saw religion as the path to God for a long time. Kind of at a loss without it, but still working on the relationship. Thank you for your words.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, especially for the comment about persevering. I have a bad habit of focusing on my failures, however small. Haven’t given up on God, don’t worry.

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  6. Loved your post. I especially liked the part “I am a master of delayed gratification. Tell me I can get loaded tomorrow and eventually I will.” …right there with you sister.

    But definitely don’t give up on God. Maybe the God you have been taught about in your religion is just not the “real” God. (possibly huh? worth considering anyway, right? ) …I do know if you make a sincere and honest effort to find out Who God “really” is…that He will reveal Himself to you, and when He does, I think you may be surprised at Whom you find. Rev 3:20 He is there for you, and you don’t have to “do” a darn thing. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, nice to meet someone who gets that craziness. And also someone who will talk about God! I am pretty open minded these days about what He/She/They is.

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  7. Thank you. Found myself relating and reliving my own struggles with addiction. It’s been nearly 13 years now, and while I’m well past white knuckling it on a daily basis, will still have cravings creep in at times when I’m completely unprepared.

    I think for me it’s 2 parts, first realizing that I’m still sick just currently in remission, and secondly setting my own arrogance aside and realizing that if I actually have any measure of control it’s the decision on whether or not to have the first drink.

    You’ve gotten good council in some of these posts in differentiating the difference between ‘religion’ and relationship with God. There is a true sense of freedom and contentment when we get to the point of full surrender and total reliance on God.

    PW

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this and congratulations on your 180 days. The old and over-used adage “one day at a time” really does apply when it comes to sobriety – no matter how corny it feels to say. I really appreciated reading about this from the angle of religion, and specifically Mormonism, so thank you for providing some really honest and interesting perspective. Keep fighting.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m happy that you managed so far. Well done. It’s sad to see that religion can mess more than it can help. Religion it’s supposed to be a compass, a support for moral laws and ethics. Miss-use it and it gets messy; that’s what happens with anything that’s taken to extreme.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Agree that it is terrible when religion doesn’t work. FWIW (a lot, actually), Mormonism did many amazing things for me and my family. It screwed me up re: alcohol but it also showed me that sobriety is something worth pursuing, which mainstream, secular, Western culture does not tend to do.

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  10. Fighting a battle withing yourself is never easy, but stay strong. We may have some good days and some bad days, but we always get back to fight again. Our best wishes to aid you on your journey to recovery!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Your honesty is impressive. Perhaps the ‘true’ God will draw you closer and be there to aid in your endeavor to remain sober. Whether you know it or not, your Creator is aware of your efforts. You are doing the work. I applaud you from afar.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Can your family fit a religion? Can you fit God into your lives? Jesus is God not the brother of Satan. What mormons believe is not in the Book of Mormon. We are not gods but must be His servants. This is a place of testing and of making perfect for Christians. It is hard and I’m so glad for your recovery. Sounds like many years of hard times. Jesus Loves You. He and His Word are the way. God bless you with years of fruit and Love in your struggles and may you have joy in Him and for what He does in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha for all my issues with Mormonism, its theology re: Jesus and God is not among them. I believe we are all brothers and sisters, Jesus and Satan, too, if the latter exists. I’m not sure what you mean with your first two questions. I don’t think they should automatically be coupled as fitting God into our lives is not the same as fitting a family into a religion. I’ll also admit that your questions make me feel a bit defensive. This post is not an invitation for judgment or advice re: my family’s approach to religion. I got enough of that in Mormonism.

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    2. with all due respect (as I also am a Christian) …but preaching servanthood to a Mormon who is searching, will not work. She has spent her entire life “earning” a relationship with God, which is a free gift. I have no doubt with the years of sincerely searching, that she hasn’t heard of Jesus by now. Now, it is between her and God “how” she arrives at wherever her final destination will be.

      Grace, and the concept that the required “righteousness” to enter both heaven and in to a relationship with the living God, (which is a free gift, gained by death and the spilling of blood, which has already been done for her,) is a concept hard to grasp by many Mormons, Catholics, and others who have spent their life trying to be “good enough” to have a relationship with God. And people in recovery have an especially difficult time also, as every tom, dick, and harry at a meeting wants to sell her (everyone) on “their” religion. When it’s time, she will ask the right question, to the right person, at the right time, and the Holy Spirit will be right there to provide the answer.

      because she is sincerely seeking, her heart is ALREADY open, and able to hear whatever God wants to tell her. It’s important to remember, in the end, it’s all His job, we are just there to give an answer when asked. Irreversible spiritual damage is not our goal. Not that there was anything particularly ‘wrong’ with anything you said…but it must be proper time for that message also. (with respect) …and even if she wasn’t, it would be the same. It’s God’s job. Can’t get ahead of Him. Some things just take time.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Just to clarify, (and I hope this sounds more like teaching than preaching) The reference to being able to “hear” God is a response to the passage (known to Christians, not always to others) in Isaiah 59:2 which says “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” which essentially explains why many people’s prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling…in theory, according to this passage, people believe until a person is “saved” the only prayer God will hear and honor, is a prayer of salvation & repentance…but I was saying I don’t believe this applies to you, as I believe anyone who is honestly seeking God, can hear Him (if they are listening, and want to) and I believe that is you. The Isaiah passage refers to people who have already hardened their hearts toward God, and then try to pray to Him. Utterly useless. 😉

    and yes, He actually does speak…though not audibly. We are all “spiritual” beings, and the Spirit of God is perfectly capable of speaking to us in a way we can clearly hear and comprehend Him (though it takes practice & effort) We are actually very able to hear Him in our hearts, clearly. But it’s something most people are in practice of doing, talking to Him and especially, listening to/for Him, that is. Revelation 3:20 says that He’s standing there, wanting a relationship with 2-way communication, and the very second you want to hear, and ask, you will. (dining was a term that referred to “fellowship” in those days)

    I have heard many of Bill’s friends say that “when I started to honestly work the steps, I found myself at the doorsteps of a local church” …well that was me. What can I say?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your honesty is palpable and I walk with you. Although are stories are different, our religious backgrounds are different and even the symptoms of our addiction, even more different. But the journey, the steps, the rooms, the white-knuckles, yup, the same! The counting, yup, the same! So keep doing what YOU need to live your best life and thank you for sharing! Stay…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this! Recovery has taught me that my kindred spirits are not always the people I think they are or even want them to be. Thank you.

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  15. I’ve never struggled with an addiction except maybe to sugar 🙂 Your article has given me insight into that struggle. I listened to this sermon on Knowing God some years back and it changed my life
    [audio src="http://www.awmi.net/audio/audio-teachings/#/awm_1058a_importance.mp3" /]

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    1. Thank you, I will check this out, though I balk a bit at the title (is God even knowable?)😉 I’ve been hitting the sugar HARD since I quit drinking. I understand this is common for people in recovery. I’m pretty fine with it.

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  16. I really enjoyed reading this. In 1980 I attempted to engage in commune with God. What happened to me as a result changed my universe. I left my religious studies as well as my desire to become a missionary to instead enter a 16 year career with NASA and the USAF. Glad you are writing. It is wonderful for us all to share one another’s perspectives.

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  17. My guts tell me most of the 180 days were fuller of love for yourself than before. Am I right? That’s the key problem of religion when it forgets its spiritual roots: we learn to love everyone but ourselves. At least Osho says it and it resonates with me.

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    1. Yes. You are right 100%. Fascinating point about love. Mormonism taught me extreme empathy and love for others. By the time I left I hated myself. Can’t even believe the difference in how I feel about myself now versus six months ago. I am pretty great. That’s actually a big part of what keeps me from taking a drink now. I’m really uninterested in going through the self-loathing again.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. “I finally began the messy process of disentangling my sobriety from my religion. I needed my sobriety to stand on its own, rather than ebbing and flowing with the tides of my fickle faith.”

    Epic and essential! I’ve never read anything more accurate in my entire life including my own words when trying to explain my battle of addiction and religion. It’s as if and quiet possibly they do feed off of each other. Especially when they are selfishly unsupervised, which I was good at allowing for years.
    Amazing piece and journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It is always a surprise and a treat to meet somebody else who gets this. I am still sorting out the whole thing out as it is very hard to make sense of. Agree that the religious shame feeds the addiction and vice versa. What’s your religious background?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your more than welcome. I was raised in a Pentecostal church that my great grandparents built and faithfully attended. If it was a sin, we didn’t talk about it. There was right and wrong, it was expected you do right and usually you did. The issue was Other than to telling what is considered a sin and your going to hell if you sin, nothing was ever talked about. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. It was a sin and you do it you go to hell. When I got to the age of those becoming interesting and a temptation I didn’t tell a soul. Talk about shame and the fear of God, right?
        Not to mention I could not understand the obvious difference in the beliefs of the church. Wear skirts. Don’t cut your hair. Don’t wear makeup. Etc etc etc. while my best friend went to such and such church and could do all of this things.
        Rebellion was my best friend. Religion hated me.

        Last year I became a member of an independent Southern Baptist church.

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  19. Very powerful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I have several friends that are in different stages of cleaning their lives up and your descriptions help me to understand them better so I can be there for them when they reach out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I am so glad to hear that! It never occurred to me that speaking openly about addiction can also be a resource for friends and family of other addicts, but that makes sense. Glad it helped!

      Liked by 1 person

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