My Birthday "5th Step"
By: Tami Harper Winn
As I turn the gold coin over in my palm, back and forth, from hand to hand, I can’t help but remember the journey it took to get here. The Roman Numeral on the coin is a simple V. Here shortly I will retire this coin and in it’s place will be a new reminder that bookmarks another chapter in my life.
As I turn the coin over with my thoughts a text comes through from my sponsor. “Will you be taking your chip at the 10 pm Friday night?”
“God–willing” I say to myself. And reply, “Of course” with a smiley face emoticon.
I don’t even think as I send the text. That silly little toothy grinning face is a liar. It is an electronic emotion that I can hide behind and no one ever truly questions. Why did I respond with that darn smiley face? If truth be told, that isn’t how I really feel at all. Let’s get honest, because isn’t honesty the name of this game after all? I mean it’s a core value essential for my continued sobriety so right here, right now, I’m going to get real and raw.
Sobriety is rough. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To not run away from how I feel or from situations that I don’t want to deal with is unnatural for a true alcoholic and I’m certainly one of those. It has been painful to go through some of the toughest things a person can go through, stone cold sober. I mean, even the majority of normie’s couldn’t stay straight through half the crap I’ve been through in these last six years.
I’ve had to relearn how to live a human life. I have had to grow up and get responsible. I have had to be accountable and reliable. I have had to keep a disease at bay every day of the last 6 years of my life. I will forever be working a program of recovery and when I hurt people today I have a conscience. I even have to correct my wrongs. I don’t get to plead ignorance anymore.
Yea, it’s been dang tough and these last few weeks I’ve found myself falling deeper and deeper into this pit that I couldn’t explain - until now.
It finally dawned on me tonight while I was reflecting. I kept trying to understand why wasn’t I more grateful? Hell, my first year I was on fire and I knew it was a damn miracle that I had made it a year without a drink. To draw a sober breath now 6 years later, well that certainly was a miracle for this alcoholic and is a true miracle for any alcoholic to draw a sober breath any hour of any day.
So I took the paper out and my rusty trusty friend, the pen. I got down to the business of getting honest with myself and now I’m here to get honest with someone else. So informally, I will share my fifth step with you.
Here is what I discovered:
1. I am spoiled
2. I have a great forgetter
3. I have slacked off on my 12th step work
4. I have been riding on God’s grace and balking
5. I am Edging God Out. Yea, I got EGO problems big time
6. I’m taking things for granted
7. I have been making excuses for my inability to engage in my life actively
So, there it is. My truth in black and white. But, how did I come to this conclusion? Well, in the course of doing a fourth step on my disease I got to let my higher power reveal for me what only he can so perfectly. Something magical happens between the pen and the paper. It happens between the head and the heart first. I don’t just say this because I’m a writer, that’s just a perk. I say it because any one who has ever done a thorough 4th step will agree with me and it can’t be explained until you see the miracle in black and white yourself.
In my step work I also uncovered the single most mind altering realization to date for me in sobriety. It changed how I view the weeks leading up to today. Perhaps you can relate.
I never was one to subscribe to the heebie-jeebie hoopla of “birthday” jitters. I never bought into the idea that people get freaked out prior to their sober birthdays. It didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t have that experience. Why would you get freaked out before a birthday? Why were people making such a big deal about it? I mean I’ve had people, out of the blue, check on me to make sure I was doing ok, because my birthday was coming up. Why? One thing I could say I did know, was that I had, in my short time sober, seen a fair amount of people relapse around this important date. I couldn’t argue that. Somehow, it would possibly tie into this train of thought.
I will remind you that I was the one that didn’t even know I was an alcoholic until the first time I sat in a room of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I never saw it coming until my very first day, so it is only fitting that I couldn’t see this either.
Here is what I have came up with. After much prayer and meditation, long late night walks with my best friends, and writing it all out, I believe that on a cellular level our bodies remember everything we have ever experienced; I’ve even read somewhere that the medical community has some stock on that belief.
If our cells can remember, then what do they do with those memories? Well, here is my hypothesis. I believe they start playing tricks with our physical responses and mental responses when something triggers the memory.
In the weeks that lead up to a huge milestone, such as a sobriety birthday, our cells remember and are triggered. Subconsciously, we start to react to those memories without ever realizing that is what is taking place. Why is that important to know? Well, let’s stop and think about it for a moment.
In the weeks that led up to our last drink where were we? In those final moments before we drank the last of our misery away what was occurring? For each and every one of us, those that are true alcoholics and addicts, we were hitting our rock bottom. Our life had completely come unhitched and there was no way out. We had destroyed everything we loved and burnt every bridge that ever was. We were “fucked” for lack of any better word. Our options were limited to jails, institutions, and death. We could not see our lives with or without alcohol or drugs. It was the worst week of our lives.
In really being honest with myself I have to admit that the last week of my drinking career was down right traumatizing. If it hadn’t been, I’d have never gotten sober. So, it makes sense that our bodies would remember such an impactful trauma as our “bottom.”
If memory serves me correctly, which being sober now I have the luxury of being able to remember things, my first day sober was a living nightmare as well. In fact, it was torturous. It was the hardest day of my life to date. It was terrifying. I was completely broken and defeated. My first day sober was utter hell.
So it goes without saying that my body would remember at a cellular level the weeks and hours leading up to and including that first day of sobriety. My body will forever be scarred by the downfall of my drinking career. So freaking out, getting all messed up mentally and emotionally, is a normal response for my body every year around this time. Knowing this is half the battle. Winning the war is accepting it and taking extra care of myself during that time.
This profound revelation impacted me just as much as the first day I said, “My name is Tami and I’m an alcoholic.” Just as I will never be cured of this disease, I will never be able to erase the scar it left behind. Accepting that I have this disease and fighting to keep it in remission arrests the disease, accepting that I have survived a severe trauma and getting outside help for it may be the best amend I could give to myself and those that I love.
I believe we experience PTSD of some nature from hitting our bottom. It requires extra work outside of step work. I can admit that. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I’m willing to find out. I have a solution today and once again my higher power has revealed that he is larger than life itself.
So now, as I wrap up my birthday “fifth step” I must confess...I MADE IT! I got to see my sixth year in surrounded by family and friends. I was reminded of all the reasons I stay sober today and why I am so truly blessed to be alive. I got cake, and hugs, and kind words shared about me. I got to share how I did it and take a new coin. I am always amazed with each new one I have gotten. I didn’t get to finish this story before my birthday was here, but it’s ok, because my story is still being written. Stay tuned.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.