I Try To Remember It Wasn’t All Bad

My first few days, weeks, and months newly sober, my emotions were raw. They often swept me away. Moments of peace rare. Fear was ever-present. My life seemingly teetered on the brink of spinning out of control to that place of ‘no return’ several times a day. My only refuge was during the hour of the two meetings that I went to most of my first year. From 7:30 – 8:30 AM and from 5:30 – 6:30 PM, though sometimes vibrating out of my chair, I did find moments of peace and hope. Moments of ease when I could breathe, smile, and even laugh. Outside of that my anxiety was through the roof, and symptoms of depression were darker than dark. My willingness and ability to not relapse was precarious and often tested.

Cravings to escape into a bottle of vodka were frequent (almost daily). Home was not a refuge. Work was not a refuge. Most of those close to me were suspicious, afraid, angry, and hurt. They were terrified that I would relapse; they expected that I would relapse and so did I. The thought of a craving terrified me because it often became an obsession to ‘white-knuckle and muscle’ my way through. Yet, day by day by day, curiosity became a tool and awareness a gift. I reluctantly invited myself to be curious about cravings. To notice them. To observe them. To not push them away. To sit with awareness long enough to see things as they are.

My first awareness was that it wasn’t alcohol that I craved: rather it was escape from fear, shame, unmet/unmeetable responsibilities. I learned to take refuge rather than escape. Meetings were and remain a refuge for me. Reading, writing, outdoor walks, playing music, cooking, meditating, sending an e-mail/text/phoning a friend became a refuge. Here I could be okay and come back to the responsibilities of my life with willingness, hope, intention, and action.

My second great awareness was that I saw myself as a victim of my childhood and failed relationships. The frequent narrative became that I am this way because of him, her, they, and them. In each story, there was truth. That was the insidious part. Things had contributed to my dependence upon alcohol to cope with life that felt impossibly hopeless at times. But it was that gift of curiosity that I noticed that I had lost, that became an important tool to move past old stories that no longer serve me and that keep me imprisoned as a victim.

Over time, I learned to be with awareness of the present and the past – to see the whole rather than the parts or the isolated events. This past week, I’ve visited or I’ve been visited by memories of a childhood that wasn’t always bad. Some memories are painful and some memories are ever so sweet. I don’t think that I could have reclaimed the joy in my life without being curious about both, the pain and the pleasure, the sad and the sweet in my life.


I sometimes recall the smell of tobacco
Drying hanging from poles high up in our barn
Musty and sweet at the same time
Burning my eyes and throat
As it became brittle dusty and brown
A month before these were waxy green leaves
Radiating around a stalk
Thicker than my forearm at the base
Crowded by other stalks
In our three quarter acre plot
That reached towards the sun
Often a bit taller than I’d ever be
I rarely think about the sweat and toil
To coax it from seed to seedling and beyond
During years wet and years dry
The peril of hail and summer storms
That sometimes shredded a crop
Or flattened it in the field
But I remember the smell so distinct
Not unpleasant but pleasant not


Hot summer days I remember
So hot even the cicadas
Could no longer sing
I’d feel the air change
As the pressure dropped
And clouds turned
White to grey to black
Rain came like a curtain
Drawn across our little valley
Heavy drops pelted and pinged
On what was then a tin roof
Before we shingled it with asphalt
In a once upon a time
How the cacophonous roar
Of rain a beating on the roof
Slowly quieted with the passing storm
And wisps of steam rose briefly
Before dissolving in a sky blue sky
Petrichor perfumed and wafted in the air
As only it can on hot summer days


These memories of freshly brewed sweet tea
In sweating glasses with crackling ice
Remind me of summer days with newly mown hay
In the lower field drying in sinuous windrows
Dreams of long ago hot summer days
It wasn’t all bad I try to remember
But yet so easily I do oft forget
Tossing out the good with the bad and
The baby with the bath hiding the pain
Concealing the joy forgetting that it wasn’t all bad

About the Author

Robert B. is a sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.

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