The Willingness to Stay Sober

Willingness. It’s defined by the Oxford Dictionary as,”the quality or state of being prepared or ready to do something.” There are plenty of things that I can honestly say I will be pretty much always be willing to do. Am I willing to go to the beach? Yup. Willing to take a nap? Always. Willing to take a spa day? Most definitely. So, willingness isn’t always something that needs work. It’s not always something that we might struggle with. But how do we become willing to do the things that we don’t want to, or simply feel that we’re not ready to do? What if we’re afraid? How do we become willing to get sober? How do we become willing to want to try and stay sober?

My first attempt at sobriety was in 2008. I had the best intentions, and anyone who took a look at what my life had become would agree that it was totally necessary for me to do whatever it took to stay sober. I did a lot of what was suggested to me. I went to treatment for 90 days, got a sponsor, and went to a lot of twelve step groups. I can remember, however, always hearing this phrase while sitting in those twelve step meetings: “if you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it.” Every time I heard that phrase, I felt my stomach sink. I can’t honestly say that I intellectually knew of my lack of willingness at the time, but looking back, that’s what the sinking stomach was telling me. For me, I was not willing to be uncomfortable. And if there’s one thing that can sum up early sobriety (for me anyway) it’s pretty much being uncomfortable most of the time.

I didn’t want to talk in a room filled with people I didn’t know. I didn’t want to be honest about the shame I carried or talk about my past with some woman I didn’t know. I didn’t want to completely change the life I had been living, because as depressing as it had become, I was comfortable in the chaos.

So, after about four months sober, I found myself in an extremely uncomfortable position, and my anxiety smacked me full force. Rather than do any of the things I had been taught to do in those situations, I did the one thing that I knew I shouldn’t. At that moment, a bottle of hydrocodone syrup sat in front of me – and I drank it. That was it, and I picked up at the same hell that I had finally started walking away from just four months prior. I would get back on the path of self-destruction for almost two more years before I would finally become willing to do something different.

So what was different in December of 2010? Why did this thing “stick” that time, but not any of the others?  Why did I become willing?

A wise woman used to say to me, “Blythe, it is not until the pain outweighs the pleasure that you will become willing to do something different.” And she was right. Maybe that sounds too simple and maybe it is. But, on the day that I finally did become willing, I was absolutely desperate. It was a different type of desperation too. It wasn’t the kind that you feel when you only want to get out of that moment. It was the kind where I wanted to get out the life I had been living. I was tired, and I either wanted a change or to just be dead. Yes, we can certainly pray for willingness, but then how do you get the willingness to even pray? For me, it was hopelessness and despair. I guess that’s why they call it “the gift of desperation.”

Do I think that we have to get desperate before wanting any sort of change? Not necessarily, although it seems like during my sobriety, it has often been the key motivator. For me, the pain has had to outweigh the pleasure with toxic relationships, lifestyle changes, healthy living, jobs, dealing with my depression, and even with my infertility. Because even at almost 8 years sober, I still hate to be uncomfortable. I think that the difference now is that with all of those other difficulties that I have faced, I have became willing faster. Why? Because while the pain was heavy, I had the faith to believe that there was something beautiful on the other side of it.

On the other side of that toxic relationship, I found freedom in learning to be by myself and eventually went on to marry someone who is my best friend. When I become willing to eat well, exercise, and take care of my health, I feel better (duh!). When I finally became willing to face my crippling depression and accept that I needed medication, my life completely changed for the better in so many ways! And while there still is an ellipsis at the end of my infertility, I have come out of so many other painful things for the better, and I know this will be no different.

On the other side of the internal anguish that I had in December of 2010, I have found peace. It’s taken a lot of work, and I know that I will never fully “get” this thing or have it all figured out. And that’s okay. I want to always remain teachable and always remain willing to learn more.

So when my journey began in 2010, I got a new sponsor. Before she would dive into sponsoring me, she asked me one question.

“Are you willing to go to any lengths to stay sober today?”

Yes. Yes, I was. And I still am.

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