I received a text from my friend Julie this morning. It was a screen shot of the sobriety tracker she keeps on her smartphone. It showed that, as of 9:22 this morning, she had been sober for exactly four years, 6 hours , 22 minutes.
“It’s a miracle to see this,” she texted.
Julie’s struggle with alcohol addiction was something I didn’t even know about until fairly recently. I’ve known her for years – have been in her home many times, rubbed shoulders with her at church, chatted with her at the gym – and still had no idea.
The Julie I knew was a beautiful, kind and thoughtful person, a happy wife and mother who loved the outdoors and adored her family. She was and still is all those things, but underneath it all, she was struggling. Her demons were hidden, but they were vicious.
Julie’s addiction started when she was 19 years old and tried alcohol at a friend’s wedding.
“As soon as I tried it, it was like this magic pill,” she told me recently. At first, she was just a social drinker, but after a couple years, she was drinking every day – and drinking a lot.
“I drank to get drunk, and once I was drunk, I would continue drinking until I blacked out or fell asleep,” she said.
I cannot reconcile the Julie I know with this person who would drink all night and then get arrested for drunken driving; who spent time in jail on more than one occasion; who was unable to drive her kids to school some mornings because she had a court-ordered ignition interlock device on her car and she’d been out drinking the night before.
She desperately wanted to change but couldn’t make any of her attempts at sobriety stick. Finally, one night after she’d been out drinking, she texted a friend who had offered to be her lifeline if she was ever in a dark place and needed help getting out.
By the time her friend saw the text, hours had passed, but she still went out in the middle of the night to find Julie and bring her home.
“That was the last time I ever drank,” Julie said. Her path of recovery since then has been long and hard, but she’s worlds away from where she was – and immensely grateful to be out of what she calls the “dirty hole” of addiction.
But she still worries about others who are currently struggling to overcome their own addictions and who are now, because of COVID-19 restrictions, cut off from resources they depended on to help them stay clean.
“You cling to things like recovery meetings and your religious outlets … and distractions like running or yoga,” she said. “People don’t have those right now. … When you’re stripped of those things, it’s so easy to fall off and hide and lie about it.”
“It’s really hard to create new habits when you’re living like Groundhog Day,” she added.
But with things being what they are, there is still a lot people can do to maintain their sobriety. Exercise, a good diet, sleep, keeping up a routine, service, religious observance and reaching out to supportive people as much as possible are all things Julie said were helpful in her journey.
Julie thinks that addiction in its many forms is more prevalent than many of us realize – that all of us most likely know someone who is secretly or not-so-secretly dealing with it.
“Once I started delving into my sobriety, I was like, no, this is school teachers, doctors, lawyers, your neighbor, the soccer coach. This is all around us,” Julie said.
I wish I had been the kind of friend all those years ago who would have seen Julie’s struggle and reached down to help pull her out. With the benefit of hindsight, I can only hope that as I – and all of us – give thanks for our many blessings this Thursday, we’ll not forget the people who are living through their own personal hell right now in the cold grip of addiction.
I hope we’ll all pause to reach out, lift up and be the one to crawl into the dark, dirty hole to help someone else find the way out.
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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