20 Years and counting: Inspiration for long-term recovery

An inspirational story of one addiction counsellor and art therapist’s journey through addiction and recovery. She is happy to report that she is 20 years sober… and counting.

20 Years and counting Inspiration for long-term recovery

Early in your recovery it may be difficult to imagine what the future will hold. After celebrating 20 years sober, American addiction counsellor and art therapist Kathy shares with us some insights about her pursuit of sober living – and how long-term recovery is not only possible – but incredibly rewarding.

Kathy discusses with us some of the ups and downs and her experience of being 20 years sober:

The Cabin: Many newly recovering addicts may have a hard time picturing themselves 10 to 20 years down the road. Do you think it is important to have long-term visions of yourself in recovery or better to take it one day at a time?

Kathy: When I first started going to AA meetings, I heard people talk about having substantial recovery time and I couldn’t fathom not getting high for that long. It was something I had done for so long, it was like breathing, and I did it to survive. I remember listening to someone speak at their birthday meeting who had 5 years without a drink or a drug and I thought to myself, “This is crap, how do we know this guy is not using, who is checking on him?” For me, 5 years seemed like a lifetime.

I had to do the “one day at a time” deal. I just had to get through that day. Then I would get up and get through the next day, and so on… before I knew it, I had my 30 coin! It was the best feeling to have that small metal disc in my hand, and have people support me and tell me they cared about me and they believed in me; I had not had that unconditional love before — it was better than any drug!

The Cabin: Alcohol is such an ingrained substance in society – which makes it difficult to avoid in the long term. Do you have any experiences or advice to share related to recovering in a seemingly alcohol filled world?

Kathy: Alcohol is everywhere, and now so is marijuana.

Marijuana was my drug of choice and to this day, when I smell it, I get a little jealous I can’t smoke it anymore. But I know, like smoking cigarettes, I can’t have just one – if I am truly working and living a program of recovery, I must remember I would not be able to stop if I started. I still don’t hang out with people who smoke pot. Addiction wears many different hats to disguise itself; it is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it’s like Vegas, you can’t beat it, it always wins!

If someone is new in recovery, I would suggest not flirting with disaster and staying away from people and places where there is drinking and using until they get stronger in their recovery —being around alcohol doesn’t bother me now, but I find drunk people are annoying, and I have better ways to spend time.

The Cabin: 20 years in recovery must involve both ups and downs. What has been most difficult and rewarding for you over the years?

Kathy: Some of the hurdles in recovery involved me having to grow up. Just because I stopped getting high and drinking didn’t mean my life became rainbows and unicorns; in fact it was quite the opposite at first.

When I was drinking and getting high, no one took me seriously and didn’t count on me for much; I was irresponsible and unreliable. When I got clean and sober, there was a great deal of pressure to perform – I was sober and was expected to be responsible and make good choices and become this stellar member of the community. This did not happen. When given more responsibility, in the beginning, I failed; I didn’t know how to do anything different than what I had been doing.

But, some of the most rewarding aspects of recovery have come with the fact that I did eventually become responsible, honest and accountable for my actions, past and present. If it weren’t for me being in recovery I would never have become responsible enough to finish school, or buy a house; and my greatest feat in recovery was having my daughter. There is no greater gift and lesson in humility than having and raising a child. If I didn’t get sober, I would not have been able to be a good mom, and now that I have a child, there is no way I could go back to my old life.

Over time getting sober has given me everything I have in my life, including my career. I started out as a recovery speaker, then I became a drug and alcohol counsellor, then I continued on to grad school to become an art therapist – all of which started by me getting sober.

The Cabin: What in your experience is most effective for long-term recovery?

Kathy: For me, and for many, the fellowship of AA or NA or whatever group one chooses really provides a safety net for those in recovery. There is a difference between someone who doesn’t drink or use and someone “in recovery.” Recovery is about being honest, giving, and being open minded and willing to help others.

What you give comes back to you, in greater abundance – helping others and being of service makes me feel good about myself – if I feel good about me, I am less likely to want to escape into the bottle. The fellowship of AA has taught me a great deal – they taught me not just how not to drink – they taught me how to live.

After 20 years, is it easier to stay sober – yeah, I guess, I don’t think about it anymore. I think more about living than drinking – I think about helping others and working with kids so they can maybe make different choices rather than doing drugs. I try to model kindness, and spread joy and laughter to others – I try to be the best person I can be, so my daughter will grow up and not have to use drugs and alcohol as a coping skill – I try to pay it forward, so that maybe someone else has an easier time.

While the road to recovery looks different for everyone, it takes hard work – hard work that will pay off in the long run. Kathy used AA and other therapies to begin and continue her recovery.

Here at The Cabin we also utilise a modified version of the 12 Steps combined with other therapeutic models as a part of our progressive treatment programme and offer dedicated aftercare support to all our clients for as long as they need it. We are committed to your short and long term goals of sobriety and applaud those like Kathy who are also committed to living and sharing the joys of a sober life.