A couple months ago at a MOPS leadership meeting one of my team-members asked “Mollie, how is sobriety going? We don’t talk about it often.” It caught me off-guard in the sweetest way because no, we don’t talk about it often but that’s because I’ve settled into a place in my life where my battle with alcohol and pills is no longer my number one prayer request or the first thing that crosses my mind in the morning. (Thank you Jesus.) Being asked this question forced me to recall that for a very long time this WAS the first thing I thought about in the morning and my top prayer request, not to mention the length of time I carried the constant fear of relapse on my shoulders. So it doesn’t seem right that I don’t “check-in” more often even if it’s with nothing more than gratitude for some more sober days under my belt.
Truth is, we all seem to have lost our altar-building skills.
I’ve been clean and sober for three years and three months. I think of my sobriety often but the tone of thought has taken new shape. My previous desperation and devastation have been replaced with gratitude and wonder. In the beginning I thought about my sobriety as a result of physical urges; the phantom burn I felt in my upper abdomen when passing a liquor store. Every time that rush would hit, I’d have to quickly bring my mind to how many days sober I had, then fast forward my mind a bit to play out “what will happen if I give into this?” If I gave in, I knew I’d end up in the same desolate place as before, or worse so I’d hold onto the sadness of this realization while I reminding myself that I had not given in and that I had the resolve to keep fighting. I haven’t experienced an urge for alcohol like that for a long time. Instead when I consider my sobriety now, it’s with overwhelming and humbling. . . gratitude.
I spoke at a MOPS group in February on sex and marriage. Because it was an evening group, my shortest route across town during rush hour was C-470 which happens to be one of my favorite drives. Between varying clouds and sun-light, the view of the mountains is different every time.
I left early so I could grab a bite, pray, and prepare beforehand but instead I wound up in the parking lot of a liquor store… bawling.
I’d put more thought than usual into my outfit, my make-up, and my hair. I had not put thought into the fact that I’d purchased a Groupon for a spray tan that expired the night of my talk so I was wearing a 5 hour old stench of burnt hair and hamburger. (So smart) Needless to say, I also hadn’t planned on removing half of my make-up with tears before I’d even arrived at the church. But our God throws beautiful wrenches.
You see, about four years ago I drove that same stretch of highway in order to get to work in the morning and home in the evening. During that time, through a desperate game of guess and check, I’d determined which liquor store opened earliest on my route. At the time my withdrawal symptoms had become unbearable so stopping on my way TO work in the morning to buy vodka became a regular occurrence. You have to understand that this early morning “dosing” was not to get buzzed, that “luxury” was no longer available at this stage in my addiction. I drank this early in the day only to stop the shaking.
So I’d stop on my way into work and walk into this particular liquor store. I’d usually grab something obscure that I didn’t intend on consuming in hopes of getting the benefit of the doubt from the cashier. Buying a liter of vodka is somehow less suspect when you buy dark rum or a bottle of wine to accompany it. It gave you the ability to say to the cashier “How late are you guys open in case we run out during the “happy hour” we’re hosting?” Or “Is this the right rum to make Hurricanes?” It’s profoundly sad to me that this woman who couldn’t brush her teeth without vomiting in the morning wanted to spare herself the judgment of the cashier and preserve some semblance of worth even though she’d already become another in a long line of alcoholics they’d see coming in early for their fix.
This liquor store opened at 8am. I was usually there about 830 walking with the other zombies who were quickly grabbing what they needed without making eye contact. I typically took a big pull from the bottle while sitting in my car and then I’d stay in the parking lot for about 5 minutes while my body waged war over whether the addiction would win in holding the alcohol down or whether my body would reject it and I’d vomit it back up. I probably vomited half the time. It hurt, bile and vodka coming up from an empty stomach. It was as if my body was trying to give me one more glimpse into how bad it’d gotten, how bad I’d gotten. Unfortunately, I learned quickly that the “chug” after vomiting always seemed to stay down. As an aside- I couldn’t plan ahead the night before to have enough vodka for my morning fix because if I bought more, it was just more to hide from Kyle and I consistently finished whatever I had available so I could sleep at night. So instead, this morning walk-of-shame through Tipsy’s Liquor world became routine.
So there I sit crying in this parking lot, re-living the gory, heart-breaking details of everything I just described… while still wearing that well-planned outfit, getting tears in my just-curled hair, and smelling like a spray-tanned taco.
I cried at the recognition of what has transpired these past three years. And I took this picture.
I clutched the notes I was speaking from that evening tightly to my chest and I exhaled. . . hard. As if that one deep breath could put just an inch more distance between the woman who used to vomit in this parking lot and the woman whose tears now coated the same cement with gratitude.
I built an altar there, in a liquor store parking lot.
I’m not a masochist. I no longer trudge down these memories to inflict pain or shame on myself. Nor do I retrace these steps to go back to where I’ve been as a reminder of where I don’t want to return- I no longer have to incentivize myself to stay away from alcohol, my every-day joys are reminder enough.
I re-feel these lows because it’s where I’m reminded that not a single stone of my path to redemption was laid by me.
Each stone and step was paved and laid by the careful hands of my Father. So when I dig through the roots of this broken woman, or face the brokenness of the woman I am STILL to this day- just in different ways; I see God. I bask in His love for me with gratitude and I remind myself to rely on Him when the steps in front of me seem to be hidden from view. It just so happened that the night this altar was constructed, the next steps He’d paved led me to a Mom’s group in Littleton where I used the mess He’s redeemed to encourage and empower others.
This is the tone my thoughts now take when reflecting on my sobriety.
I get these profound glimpses into the heart of God- His heart for ME, a still-broken vessel whose previous cracks have been cemented with gold to highlight the absolute beauty of being shattered.
Music plays differently, emotions hit caverns of my heart I’d sealed off three years ago, and all the while through the trials I now face in motherhood, step-motherhood, friendship, family, and marriage- I’m able to remember that even when all else seems lost, nothing can get in the way of how I was found, seen, and loved. . . even while puking in a parking lot.
And the sweetest thing, is that the best is still yet to come…