A few months ago I celebrated 20 years since I last consumed any alcohol. While this may seem like nothing to many of you, I invite you to go spend some time at your local detox centers. You will quickly discover that this is something many people cannot do at all. And for those of you who are great at math, you will quickly discover that I stopped drinking closely after turning 21. In a few years, I will have been sober longer than I had the potential to drink.
There have been tons of soul lessons and learning experiences along the twenty years. In the beginning I was full of doubt that I would ever be able to achieve a year, and now I have twenty of them. This didn't happen by luck, chance, or happenstance. This occurred because I became dedicated to bettering my life.
While I've learned so many valuable lessons and had wonderful experiences over the past twenty years I wanted to share the top lessons I learned with you. They are not in any special order, but here they are:
1. Old habits die hard: I'm not going to get into the debate of exactly how long it takes to create a new habit, but I will tell you that new habits don't occur in a vacuum. To develop a new habit it takes consistency, dedication and commitment. While I was still drinking, I was not capable of creating any new habits or behavior.
2. There is no one true right way: I was taught a very powerful phrase which applies to this, take what you need and leave the rest. I remember as my 21st birthday was getting closer and closer the absolute terror that I felt as it approached. My therapist at the time recommended that I just not drink for thirty days and then try to go back to moderate drinking, I opted out of that possibility because my heart knew it would not work for me.
3. Spirituality is an important part of life: I am very resistant to any labels about belief systems to be placed on me. Having said that I suspect that life lived without any amount of spirituality are sure to be lacking. Having said that, I will also go out on a limb and say that I think many people have been damaged and hurt by the religions of today. What if we all made unconditional love of others our religion? How much different would our world be?
4. Taking positive actions creates a desired change: In the beginning of my sobriety I fell in love with taking action. I learned very early on that action creates an amazing change. I would encourage you to try it. The next time you are depressed or upset, do something kind anonymously for someone else. It's certain to change not only your current mood but the state of affairs you are experiencing. If you are struggling with making a change, take the action and let the feelings catch up later. This is a game changer.
5. Feelings are NOT overrated: If I'm going to be completely transparent here, in the beginning of my sobriety I was terrified of feelings. Therefore I took most of the action to avoid feeling. That did not help me heal or promote my wellbeing. No feeling is bad or wrong. Feelings are simply a response to a stimuli. Therefore I honor and experience every feeling that comes into my existence today. Don't misunderstand me, I don't allow the feelings to take up permanent residence. But my experience is that if I don't honor them when they occur, then it only grows.
6. There's a difference between feeling sorry for yourself and experiencing your feelings: In all sincerity, my biggest fear with feelings was that someone would think I was feeling sorry for myself. Or worse yet, that I would actually wake up one day and realize I was feeling sorry for myself. It was almost as if feeling sorry for myself was one of the worst things I could experience. Today, I'm actively working on eliminating from my world, what other people think.
7. Twenty years is huge: I never really put this into perspective until it occurred to me that this November my bonus daughter will be 20. As I look back on her life as I've known her the twenty years suddenly appears massive. In reality, I did it the same way countless people before and after me achieved it: one day at a time and putting one foot in front of the other.
8. Forgiveness is crucial: (of myself and other people): It is no exaggeration to say I was a very angry, bitter and miserable person in my life when I first quit drinking. I held on to resentments like they were badges of honor. Actively practicing forgiveness (of myself and others) was one of the healthiest things I ever learned how to do. I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to cleanse and heal myself by no longer holding emotional hostages.
9. Becoming the number one priority in my own life was a game changer: This was seriously a huge paradigm shift for me. I didn't learn this until about 10 years ago, but it shifted everything in my life. If I handed you a cup that had nothing in it could you drink it? The nothingness? Certainly not, and if pushed to explain why you would likely say it's because the cup was empty. When we are not the number one priority in our own lives we become like that empty cup. And yet, we are still trying to fill up everyone else and take care of them. Instead of ourselves. Once I became the number one priority in my own life, I noticed I suddenly had a lot more to give.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous helps a lot of people: I'm not even going to get into the whole debate of whether Alcoholics Anonymous helps people to get sober. Instead, I'm going to tell you that without it I would not have had the solid foundation of sobriety that I developed. The biggest gift given to me by the people in Alcoholics Anonymous was that they loved me until I could begin to love myself. That's a far different approach than any other sobriety modality can claim.
11. Alcohol is literally everywhere: In the beginning of my sobriety, I remember I could not get through the grocery store or a television show without being bombarded with alcohol. I'm not going to get into the debate of the validity of it being a legal addiction substance. However, I will inform you that I don't take communion in the Catholic Church because of it. Once I developed a firm foundation I'm no longer prohibited from going anywhere that I desire, or doing anything that I want.
Jenn Bovee is a psychotherapist, Mindset Coach and Spiritual Mentor. She offers in person sessions and distance sessions. Learn more about her here: www.JennBoveeLCSW.com