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. 

181 thoughts on “Passing Time

  1. Recovery for myself existed in 27yrs of therapy after the therapy more even today. I also was morman “indoctrinated” from birth but saw the lines that said “do as I say not as I do” I pray to a God that understands my misunderstandings of him and church. God Bless one second at a time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleased to meet you! Love your thoughts re Mormonism. I know that there is much I do not understand. I also know that God is okay with me taking a different path, at least while the church remains mired in so much human muck.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that is amazing!!! My ability to parent my daughter the way I want to is proving to be the greatest gift of sobriety. She is the reason I am on this path. Keep going!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brilliant, Actually remarkably similar to me, I drank twice while my girlfriend was pregnant the last of which was December 12th 2015, My daughter Evie was born on Feburary 29th this year, And from the moment I knew that there was a purpose for me, Life is no longer dull and self centered, It’s exciting, Everyday you don’t know whats next, It’s a hell of a lot better than trying to scrape together money for beer etc etc, Well done to you also though, You have to have a good heart initially and want to change, Be willing to make the sacrifices(the pros far outway the cons IMO), Well done, And I hope you do keep sober because your and my own daughter deserve sober parents in fact everybody’s does!

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      1. I didn’t say it was easy. Just three little words I try to live by…Just Don’t Drink. If you can follow those instructions, one day at a time, everything else will come. Just Don’t Drink…please ♥️

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    1. Thank you very much. Fortunately, Mormonism instilled in me a sense of purpose that transcends religion. I would like the benefits of a religious community but am well past the point where it could be a crutch (I think).

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  2. The subject of alcohol vs religion is usually quite sensitive given that most religions uphold high moral values. The christian bible warns those who tarry long in drinking places that they will lose their minds and speak foolishly. Some christians drink alcohol moderately and responsible others have chosen to abstain completely. My take is do what will not prick your conscience and will make you a better person tomorrow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing the background re Christianity. Your last line is such great advice. In some ways figuring out what your conscience will allow is harder than following the moral code of a religion. My substance use was in part a reaction to what I view as Christianity’s and Mormonism’s unfounded rejection of all things countercultural, much of which has nothing to do with morality. Indeed, I think there are many people who can drink without issue (like my husband). It is not good for me though, so out it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the way you show your struggle with Mormonism. It is so hard to let go of some of the hardwired principles that guide us. After 44 years in and 9 out I still struggle with the idea it is okay to not be completely self sacrificing, it is OK to have a voice–it doesn’t mean Satan has a grip on me. Love the view of Mormonism and addiction also. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I am beginning to see that “recovering” from Mormonism (though I am reluctant to use the word because I love many aspects of it) will be as much of a challenge as recovering from drugs. The pull to martyrdom, as you note, is strong!

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  4. Beautifully written. Thanks for your honesty! I, too, am a Friend of Bill W,as well as an attorney, musician, writer and mother. I love your line about disentangling your sobriety from yor religion -I feel you girl. I had to then disentangle my religion from my spirituality! Just passed five years. If I can , you can. Just don’t do it alone. It’s a WE thing. Just my two cents!
    Blessings!
    Mo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Whoa, Mo! We have too much on common! Thank you for commenting! Your five years inspire me. You are right about doing it alone. I’ve felt on shaky ground even since publishing this piece. Going to get to a meeting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is incredible! I loved it. I would, also be on cloud 9 if you visited my new blog. I started it 20 minutes ago, and I’d like people to be around when I start posting stories and pictures. Please consider, as this is NOT spam. TYSM

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This blog made me cry. I was a Seminary council, returned missionary, templed married, word of wisdom “perfectionist” with two perfect daughters. We left the naive, mountainous bubble we were born, raised and molded in and went away to some graduate schooling. I was 33 when my ex and I had our first drink. For me the spiral down was set in motion. The marriage ended. thank god my ex remained a strong parental foundation because alcohol would lead me to try a different chemical. I have held its precious crystal hand into a fire that has nearly taken everything good, right and true in my life. I dont blame the religious upbringing but I feel that there is this false sense of security “blanket” that keeps people in check and once its removed even a little bit the resulting flood is catostrophic and more difficult to stop and recover from. My words are not so eloquent as Im afraid I have burned a lot of my brain now but, your words are what I needed at this moment. thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry for your suffering. I relate to what you said about the tidal wave of addiction being harder to stop when a once-sheltered person steps away from the fold and which you actually did say very eloquently. It sounds like you have quite the story. I am glad you are alive to tell it and that our paths have crossed. Please stay with us.

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  7. Being fully present and engaged in life is, for me, the very definition of spiritual. Being religious is a very different issue. Continue to be mindful in every aspect of life. Gratitude in the moment. Best of luck with your sobriety. Being open and honest about your failings and feelings in this essay is a perfect starting point.

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      1. Have you ever heard of Krista Tippet? She has a podcast called On Being. You may want to check it out. Sometimes spirituality is fostered just by hearing other people’s stories about this journey we call life.

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      2. I love On Being, though I don’t listen regularly. If has definitely opened up my mind re spirituality. Do you recommend any episodes in particular?

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      3. I don’t have a favorite one but you sparked my interest to go back to see. I have realized that growing up in a religious family can leave me feeling lost when religion is taken out of the picture. I have asked myself where do people get their moral compass if not for religion. So I began to explore other sources of inspiration. I read a book called Women who run with the Wolves. It explores the concept of fairy tales. As children we learn lessons from fairy tales but where are the fairy tales for adults? My all time favorite book is Explorers of the Infinite. It talks of extreme athletes who face death in their adventures but learn to value life by being on the brink. When I feel lost I love reading books with this message. That’s why your essay is so good. You have lived with darkness and with light.

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  8. What a beautiful post, thank you for sharing so honestly. I share a similar struggle with alcohol and like you, find the ‘one day at time’ idea opens up too much ambiguity – particularly when friends (or even strangers at parties etc) ask ‘Are you drinking again yet?’ No, never, is the only answer I can give. I can’t even contemplate going back to the bottle.

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    1. Thank you, fellow sojourner. The only times I fall back on one day at a time are when it is like 7:00 in the evening and a craving hits. In those moments I find it helpful to focus on getting through the evening and going to bed sober, knowing that I will feel differently in the morning. (I have so much willpower when the sun is shining!)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. One thing that I am doing differently this time around is opening up to the people closest to me about my struggle. It cuts down on the “are you drinking yet? how about now?” line of questioning and holds me accountable to others.

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      1. Speaking out to others has been a great help to me, especially as I haven’t been down the 12 steps/AA route. The support of my partner and friends has made my sobriety not only possible but also less lonesome. I’ve written about not drinking a few times on my blog and it always gets a strong reaction. It seems a lot of people have ‘issues’ with alcohol. I’m really thinking of writing more about it but have to have more courage first!

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  9. As for religion, I am a former Catholic. Although many parts of the church I disagree with, I do not want to dismiss what has been a positive part of my life. I remember many rituals Sunday Mass, the seasons of the church, praying the rosary with my mother that bring comfort and peace to me. I may discontinue my relationship with the church but I hold fast to the positive experiences it gave me. It ties me to my parents. Now that mother has passed I cherish those memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Very intruiging post. As older millenial and Evangalist in making it is very important for me to assure people the secuirty of Faith in Jesus. However, it Must beggin with ackowledgement of human condition (Every Day life). As for this post, Im very excited and relieved that you have made distinction between a physical and spiritual problem. I pray for the cotinued success of your sobriety with your dearest family ad freinds.

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  11. Thank you for your candidness. I am a pastor with 30 years of experience and concede that religion is no end all answer for overcoming the intense battles of life. However, I speak with certainty in knowing that God helps us in various ways to overcome. He gives inner strength and surrounds with human and other resources to help us. Addiction of any kind is difficult to fight but it can be beat.

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  12. Hi SM,
    Fellow lawyer, also former drinker and former member of works based church here. Thanks for the post – I can so relate to it.

    Even though I stopped drinking 7 years ago, I so remember the struggles and the desire to be a good shiny holy Catholic, in my case, I just kept failing again and again.

    The problem was the man centered “do this do that” church and its multitude of rules and expectations has no power to help. It’s just a structure and some rules.

    God does though and when I admitted I was powerless, sinful and lost and begged Hom to save me the funniest thing happened – after 35 years of killing myself slowly He answered and saved me. The pope and some prophet can never do that.

    Take heart and keep going – it will get better as you keep on the recovery road. Life without booze is hard to understand while you are drinking, but it is not just struggle – it is awesome particularly if you find God in the process.

    And just a thought that brought me to my knees – whatever you are doing you are trying your kids to do. I was 4th generation alcoholic and trading my son to be 5th when Jesus saved me and changed everything.

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    1. Thomas, I love this comment so much. Your thoughts on what we teach our kids are powerful, and resonate deeply as my daughter is pretty much the reason I quit drinking. Mostly because I needed to to parent her the way I want, but I know that I am also giving her the gift of being an example of sobriety should she end up struggling with the same issues I did. Thank you also for sharing your story of admitting powerlessness. I had a similar experience, which is why I think there might be something to all this 12 step stuff.

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  13. I found youre comment
    “All of the last 180 days I have been fully present and engaged in my life.”
    Fascinating.
    I didnt become addicted to alcohol, my addiction was fantasy.
    I became addicted to hiding from life in Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Roleplayng Conventions, Computer games,Comic Books, Stories, Movies,Costumes.
    Anything to hide from the real world.
    And ironically that pulled me out.
    I said i would create a fairy village where everybody would be nice to one another, peopole would dress in costumes and we would put on shows.
    It started a journey with me leaving the house at 29, travelling to a distant city to learn about buisness and how to set one up.
    Alone the way i learned to interview, get jobs, pay rent, manage money, and start to deal with life. Which i hated.
    But at least i stopped burying my head in a world of fantasy to avoid seeing reality.
    I changed cities, and ive changed more jobs than ive care to count, I wish that wasnt so.
    But I think i see the world now for what it is.
    Its not evil, and peopole arent out to get you.
    Theyre out for themselves.

    So i got fired yesterday from a job i loved, by a bus who is a diagnosable sociopath.
    And Im ok.
    Because I am fully present and engaged in my life.
    I know what the dangers are, having money for rent, and getting the homework done for the animation degree, and i know how to deal with that.
    Because im dealing with life, not hiding from it.
    Turning my love of Fantasy from something destructive, into something productive-Animation.
    And i hope to make a living from that so that no manger can ever again fire me, because i will be the boss.
    But this is only possible because I am fully present and engaged in my life.
    Amazing how you can switch the source of addiction, but the behaviour and motives stay the same.
    I wish you so much luck in youre journey.
    You have already helped me.
    thanks🙂

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  14. Please keep counting. I don’t have words for how much I needed to read this, in order to keep loving and appreciating the addict in my life for what he HAS done. This helped me to remember that getting through the day sober, for him, is a big deal sometimes. Maybe most times. Thank you.

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  15. Bravo! this was deep. I felt this. As someone whos struggled with an semi-addiction to dirty sites, I understand what your saying on a small scale. It does seem like days arent enough time to resist the temtptation. I’ve had to occupy blocks of time, and indulge my subconcious with knowledge and challenges. Or id give in. thanks for this post. good luck.

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    1. Thank you! I think there are more similarities between people who engage in different types of addictions or compulsive behaviors than differences. Good luck to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Great post. Bravo. “Each day was heavy with forever.” TREMENDOUS
    I was an atheist alcoholic and AA, against their own dogma, brought me to the Christian church and belief in a personal and present God. They told me I needed to believe from day one…

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