I have been on a dry bender roller coaster for over a year and a half.

If this is the case, what right do I have to write about sobriety? Or even hope? Doesn’t this make me a hypocrite?

As I’ve said before, I am sharing my story because I want to help – and if I share about my mistakes and struggles, perhaps others might learn from my experience and avoid similar pitfalls. Recovery has truly given me the most incredible gifts but it has not been and still is not easy. It requires feeling pain and facing fears and constant vigilance.

About two weeks ago, I broke down at my recovery program of choice and admitted that I had been thinking about drinking. The thoughts were so powerful I could taste the alcohol and hear the ice in the glass. I admitted I was scared and cried for the better part of an hour. During a break, a woman came up to me and told me that it was completely normal to feel this way between the fourth and fifth year of sobriety. She offered a helpful suggestion to combat my destructive thinking. I immediately felt calmer.

I would like to do for others what she did for me – namely, she normalized my experience and reassured me that I am not unique.

So how did I get to this point? Why do I frequently find myself grinding my teeth or sneaking off to suck on an e-cigarette like my life depends on it? Why do I feel like a dry and brittle twig that might snap under the pressure of the most insignificant breeze?

There are (at least) three things that have damaged the quality of my sobriety: self pity, comparison to others, and lack of self-care.

It really all started with lack of self-care. When I was the most serene and centered, I was meditating daily, writing in a journal, seeing a therapist, making time for friends, and striking a balance between work, recovery, and leisure. I remember waking up in my sweet little apartment, making a pot of coffee, and absolutely delighting in everything around me: the quiet, the peeling paint and wallpaper, the way the light filtered perfectly into the living room… I couldn’t wait to see what the day would bring.

But then everything changed. Like a train going off the tracks, my mentor said. I would show up on her couch derailed. Self destruct, self destruct, self destruct. That is my natural inclination.

I went from attending school and providing part time childcare to also working the night shift. Then I started commuting out of state at least twice a month for my relationship. Then I also had to pick up an internship during the day. As these events transpired, my biological father commit suicide, my grandfather passed away, and I moved. Twice. I cut back on meetings, cut out my therapist all together, and rarely slept for more than four hours at a time. The general progression was that everything else came first and Autumn came last.

I struggled to manage the unmanageability. I gave up most of my childcare business and two shifts at work. My boss and co-workers rallied around me. The staff at my college helped me graduate early. My girlfriend’s sister and brother-in-law sheltered me and made sure I ate. No one judged me for crying out of the blue or acting a little crazy.

Despite the support, I faltered. I had broken my healthy habits and returned to old behavior.

And then my old nemeses comparison and self-pity came into the mix. Comparison said: “You’re not an alcoholic. Everyone drank more than you. Go out and prove it.”

The problem is that I am too smart for my own good (or, perhaps, just smart enough to do me some good). Before I was even old enough to legally drink, I realized that I was like my forefathers and it was going to kill me. So I chose to get help before I got too far in my drinking career.

So here enters the voice of self-pity: “Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I just be normal? Why do I have to work so hard to be sane when it seems to be so easy for everyone else? I am defective. ”

It’s true that I have a chronic disease that, untreated, will kill me. However, I bet someone with stage four cancer would love to trade places.

Lack of self-care, comparison, and self-pity. It’s a potent combination.

So why am I still sober? On my worst days, it may very well be guilt and fear that motivates me to toe the line. What would everyone think if I relapsed? On my best days, however, it is gratitude and a willingness to ask for help that keeps me sober. I continue to show up and say “yes” to recovery even if the madness in my head has me convinced that I don’t really want it. Some beautiful and determined part of me knows better – a persistent, gentle murmur in the clamor and noise that is somehow louder than the rest – and it says “Choose life”.

Making this choice has enabled me to recognize and know awe. It has filled me and brought me to my knees before the great majesty and fragility of all things. It is both the question and the answer. It drives me back onto the tracks.

Be Yours: Love and Recovery

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to write a piece on relationships.

Maybe you read that and groaned. How stereotypical of me, right? And really? Valentine’s Day? It’s commercial nonsense. It makes single people feel resentful and lonely. Shouldn’t we show our love to one another every day of the year?

Bearing all that in mind, those of you who know me in “real life” may also be thinking: “Uhm…Autumn? You’re kind of terrible at relationships”.

And you are absolutely right. If it is Dumb, Dangerous, Dysfunctional, Destructive, or Dependent…I’ve done it. Probably more than once. Possibly one hundred times. That’s a lot of “D’s” on my romance report card. Believe it or not, this track record is exactly what qualifies me to write about relationships.

If you are new to sobriety and/or recovery, I do not suggest getting into a relationship. I can only speak for myself, but it took three years of continuous sobriety just for my head to pop out of my ass. And remember those Titanic seats? It’s so easy to make another person your drug. I still have to work very hard not to do just that. Very, very hard.

I did not love myself when I started my journey in recovery. How can you love someone else if you do not love yourself?

You can’t.

For the first time in my whole life, I am in a healthy relationship. I do not hear that I am “stupid”, “not good enough”, a “bitch”, or a “whore”. I am not being assaulted or abused. I am not being stalked or taking part in stalking. I am not being used or taking part in using. There are no lies or mixed messages. Healthy doesn’t equal perfect – it equals safe.

In order to have a healthy relationship, I had to care about myself. I had to stop allowing toxic and unsafe people to be a part of my life. I also had to decide that I was going to be the kind of person who is safe to be around. I had to be accountable.

It is so easy to blame other people.

Water rises to its own level. The darkness in me naturally gravitates to the same darkness in others. I had to change myself in order to change what I attract. I had to learn to be self aware.

I am still learning what it means to love someone. Ideally, I am looking for the “guardian of my solitude”. Sometimes I am not good at being that guardian in return. It can be more comfortable to return to old habits of control, manipulation, and suffocation. “More,” my disease whispers. “All”. I now know that isn’t love. It is fear.

Maybe some of you out there don’t feel like you’ve ever truly experienced safety or love. If you can love yourself first, I promise it will be more beautiful than you can possibly imagine.

My girlfriend loves me in a way that frequently makes me cry tears of joy, healing, and relief. I can feel it filling the broken places I created or allowed others to create. It overwhelms me and spills out my eyes. Before she loved me, however, I had to fill these same broken places with my own love. And there are some voids that even her strongest love cannot fill and can only be satiated by recovery. It’s important for me to never forget.

Perhaps writing this helps me more than anyone else. The things I love about my girlfriend – the way she holds my hand, the comforting sound of her breath, the profile of her face while she sleeps, the pure joy in her laugh – can easily slip away if I am not diligent about nurturing my own separate being.

In earlier years of recovery, I transformed Valentine’s Day into “Self Kindness Day”. I cooked myself fancy pasta. I bought nice lingerie or made plans to take myself to the symphony. It felt fantastic. This year, a “Self Kindness Day” is my wish for all of you. Be yours. You deserve it.

The Dog and Pony Show

I really wanted to spend the evening watching stupid TV. Like a show about cheeseburgers. Or a show about some infuriatingly lucky couple trying to choose a beach house. Or my recent favorite: “Marriage Boot Camp”. It’s like a horrible train wreck and yet I cannot seem to look away.

I almost made it. I shut my laptop, poured crushed cookie crumbs into a cup of chocolate pudding, and sat looking at the black screen. “Nope,” I thought. “Not gonna happen.”

You see, I have something kicking around my head. And once it starts, there is no rest for the weary.

The thing kicking around my head is the Super Bowl (pun only partially intended). Not the game, specifically, but the commercials. I could honestly not give a single hoot about football. It’s the booze ads that bother me.

Who has seen the Budweiser commercials this year? One features a horse and a puppy. Another showcases the homecoming of a Veteran.

Does this make anyone else feel ill?

The “wise ones” who have gone before me in sobriety and recovery suggest that I focus on what I can change in myself and my own attitudes and not on what needs to be changed in the world. Others remind me not to take things too seriously. Sage advice, I think, for maintaining sanity. But…and there’s always a but…I’m angry. So rather than let it eat me up, I choose to channel it productively.

On game day, millions of people will undoubtedly sit in front of their televisions, beer in one hand and chip in the other, and there will be a simultaneous “d’awwwww” as the Budweiser commercial airs. It will be puppies and ponies and love and Veterans.

No one will stop to think about the men and women on the brink of death from liver failure. In jails, hospitals, institutions, and morgues. No one will think about the irony of mixing Veterans and alcohol and how there are thousands of Veterans on the streets self medicating their PTSD.

My friend and I once gave cigarettes to a homeless man hiding away in the hills of our hometown. He fit the age bracket for a Veteran. I will never forget his hands: cold, cracked, and bleeding. His “thank you’s” echoed repeatedly off our backs as we descended the hill. Many other men looked on jealously.

It is easy to assume that I’m one of those dreaded prohibitionists. I am not. I am simply challenging people to think about the messages we send about alcohol. I am challenging people to glamourize reality rather than escapism.

A lot of people seem to get very uncomfortable when I address this issue. Defensive even.

I was recently questioned about drinking by a seven year old. He wanted to know about my age and if I ever drank alcohol and if I liked beer. “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to drink beer,” he informed me.

Why is a seven year old concerned about drinking beer? What kind of messages do we send our children? “Mommy just needs a glass of wine to relax”. “Daddy will feel better after a couple of beers”.

Alcohol is a rite of passage, a medicine, a magic elixir. It has saturated our society. It has become an answer rather than an object.

How many people have to die?

I’m sure there are people who disagree, others who may be able to fully relate to my perspective, and still others who may not totally understand but partially agree. The question is: Will anything change?

Just food for thought. Maybe I can actually watch some stupid TV now.