You will forgive me if stray from my normal travel narrative, but I recently passed an important milestone in my life and I feel compelled to write about it. On January 24th, I celebrated my 20th anniversary of being clean and sober. It is difficult to remember how horrible my life was back then because today I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.
My descent into alcoholism and drug addiction was gradual and horrific. What started out in my early 20’s as fun – having a few drinks with friends after work each day – grew into an obsession that would not allow me to pass a bar on my way home from work. At the height of my alcoholism I was drunk all day, every day, which led me into drug addiction. Alcohol being a depressant, at some point I needed something to get me “back up” so I could drink some more. Cocaine was the solution in the beginning, but it soon was not enough, so I moved on to freebasing crack cocaine.
Frankly, I don’t know how I survived. I should be dead three times over from the things I did to my body and soul. Fortunately, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Puerto Rico one night to “support” my boyfriend, who was also a raging alcoholic. Most of that meeting is a blur, as it was conducted in Spanish. Although I speak fairly good Spanish, the talk was filled with idioms that cannot be directly translated into English. When I heard, “No te buscas las cinco patas al gato,” (don’t look for the fifth claw on the cat), I was thoroughly confused. I later learned that the Spanish saying was the equivalent of the English saying, “keep it simple.”
The following evening I attend my second meeting, this time in English. I remember every moment of it. I still shake my head when I recall an old-timer telling a newcomer to “take the cotton out of his ears and put it in his mouth.” It was good advice, if a bit brutal in its delivery. The person to whom the comment had been directed was so intent on talking about why he couldn’t get sober that he wasn’t listening to those who were trying to tell him how to do it.
I had little self-esteem in those days, which drove my drinking to a great degree. When I drank I could forget my insecurities. I did not have to deal with feelings of being “less than” if I was drunk. And I had always felt so alone, believing that no one else in the world could possibly feel what I felt. At that second meeting, I put the cotton in my mouth and listened – hard. Within minutes of people sharing their stories, I realized that everyone in the room felt the same way I did. It seemed as if I had suddenly discovered a long lost family, filled with members who understood me.
I made two statements that night: “I have no self esteem and I have no idea how to get it,” and “I don’t know if I’m really an alcoholic.” To the first, one attendee replied that he, too, had suffered from a lack of self-esteem, and while he had no magic formula, he suggested that performing esteemable acts was the best way to gain self-esteem. In answer to my second query, I had expected those present to try to convince me that I was alcoholic, but I was very wrong. The man who replied said simply, “Whether or not you’re an alcoholic, only you can say, but I can tell you one thing, you are welcome here.” Even today, 20 years later, tears well up in my eyes when I think about it.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I made it. Alcoholism is a difficult disease to treat. I have watched many friends come in and out of the rooms, struggling to stay sober. Many fail, and I have seen more than my fair share of people die of this disease. I am one of the lucky ones. From the night I first set foot in the rooms of AA, I have never had another drink or drug. Today I am a grateful recovering alcoholic. I am happy, but more importantly, I love myself. It did not happen overnight. I had to work hard to get rid of my low self-esteem and negative ways of thinking. Without the guidance of AA and many wonderful people in the fellowship who helped me along the way, I would never have made it.
The AA program of recovery promised that wonderful changes would occur in my life if I diligently followed their recommended program. Even though these “promises” seemed unattainable, I read them at the beginning of every meeting:
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Those promises, which seemed outlandish and impossible to achieve 20 years ago, have manifested in my life ten times over. Absolutely every one of them have come true for me. Never could I have imagined that I would achieve my dream of becoming a travel photographer and writer. That I would visit 65 countries and be well on my way to seeing half the countries of the world. Or that I would be interviewed for Good Morning America. Or write for Huffington Post. Or be chosen as one of the top 100 travel photographers in the world – twice! But all that and more has happened, because I finally admitted my life was out of control and became entirely willing to do whatever was necessary to recover.
Those of you who read my blog regularly know that my history of alcoholism and drug addiction is not a secret, but it is a subject on which I rarely dwell. Recently, however, I have had dealings with a number of people who are still suffering from this insidious disease. In each instance, I was struck by the depth of their negativity and inability to name even one positive thing in their lives. It was like looking at myself through a time machine, and my visceral reaction was one of gratitude that I no longer have to live that way.
The ability to be grateful in every moment has been the most important lesson of my recovery, but gratitude is often misunderstood. Living in gratefulness does not mean ignoring hardship and pretending everything is wonderful all the time. The opportunity to see gratitude in all things is perhaps explained best by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk from Austria, who says,
“Not for everything that’s given to you, can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war, or violence, or domestic violence, or sickness…but in every moment you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience, or to grow by it, or even to protest, to stand up and take a stand. That is a wonderful gift.”
Even after 20 years, I sometimes need to be reminded of the gifts I have been given, but today I need no reminder. Today, I am a grateful to the point of overflowing.
100 thoughts on “Words of Gratitude from a Grateful Recovering Alcoholic”
Hi Barbara, I hope this email finds you well!
I had the pleasure of visiting your site and reading some of your blogs, wow, you are SO inspiring! Congratulations on making the list for one of this years Best Female Travel Bloggers, what an accomplishment!
Because of your inspiring writing and vast travel experience, I want to invite you to be a Co-Author! This project is the third Volume in a travel book series called Passport to Self Discovery; A collection of inspiring travel stories by extraordinary women. We are currently working with travel bloggers, travel writers, explorers and women who love travel and who wish to share their life-changing travel story with the world. By sharing your story, it gives you an opportunity to become an Author of our published book.
I was a Co-Author in volume one and it changed my life. It not only challenged me to become a better writer, I also learned how to create a brand, website, and sell my own products, the book! I had no idea where this project would take me, with the guidance of the publishing company and project manager, I learned so much.
In addition, you will be invited to join the co-author mastermind and conference event in Los Angeles in 2019!
I hope you join the team of co-authors, having my story published truly has been an amazing adventure!
Again, this is a personal invitation, therefore I am offering the free version as a Contributor listed below. If you decide to upgrade later, you will have the opportunity to do so at any time depending on your overall goal after the book is published. My personal invite is for the Contributor option. To find out more about the book, read about other co-authors and view testimonials, please take a peek at the website. Listed below are the current offereings for our authors:
Passport To Self-Discovery – Volume 3
“Contributor” FREE OPTION
Your very own chapter featured in Passport To Self-Discovery Vol. 2.
Editing and Formatting Cover by our team .
Chapter writing and Coaching every week until the book is published if needed.
Co-Author listed on Amazon and Book website linked to your blog or platform.
Website and brand exposure inside the book .
Option to upgrade later
“Entrepreneur” PAID OPTION (2) Payments of $250.00
Personalized E-book to sale on your website or blog. – Co-Author keep all sales
Personalized Printed Copies to sale on your website or blog- Co-Author Keep all sales
Option to Personalize your book cover to match your brand and build a portfolio
Editing and Formatting is covered by our team
Graphic design work done by our team
Chapter writing and Coaching every week until the book is published
Listed on 6 platforms as a Co-Author including Amazon
Website and brand exposure inside the book
Co-Author listed on Book website linked to their blog or platform
Co-Author Mastermind Events
We would love to work with you on this project. You can also take a look at our other project Resilience Through Yoga and Meditation at http://www.AuthorsofResilience.com
Sending love and light and I look forward to hearing from you!
Thank you for sharing this and congratulations on recovering your life oh so many years ago. My mother was an alcoholic for over 30 years and she got sober in a lasting way in her early sixties and stayed so until her death in her late 70s;. I share this as recovery can happen at any age.
Thanks so much for your comment, Jane. I often wish I had gotten clean and sober when I was younger, but I am also grateful that I did it at all! How wonderful for you that you got to spend time with your mother in her sober years.
Thanks for sharing Barbara and I’m sure many will take inspiration from this. Bloggers don’t always share their darker moments so openly but I always think it’s so important that we do. Wishing you 20 more years of health and adventure.
Hi Bren: Thanks so much for your comment. I hope your wishes come true – that I have 20 more years of traveling 🙂 We shall see. At nearly 64, my hip and knee are giving me fits, but I keep hanging in there.
Congratulations. You’re such an inspiration Barbara. You flipped it around. You did the work and now have managed to do so much and live so present and out loud. Good for you!
Thanks so much Lisa – means a lot coming from you. We have to get together again some time for lunch. xo
Happy birthday on your 20th year! Was lovely to read your story… I love to read story’s about people who beat this addiction.. I once thought I would never beat it… I was very young when I had a drinking problem.. In my teens in fact.. It can happen to anyone at any age.. Which some people find it hard to believe.. But I am now 27 and nearly 5 years sober. It was the best thing I ever done! I now have my life back which I once thought was gone.
Kay. From England
Hi Kay! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply (and sorry for my late reply – I’ve been in Myanmar with very little Internet). Congratulations on your 5 years. From experience, I now that recovering from this disease is hardest for the younger alcoholics. It’s harder to admit we have a problem when we’re just in our teens or 20’s. But how I wish I had gotten sober much younger rather than waiting until I was in my forties. All the best to you, and all my admiration.
Barbara, you’ve always been an inspiration as a person and traveller but now, having revealed that difficult time in your life, that admiration has got even bigger and just goes to prove you can achieve anything if you have the will – well done.
Thank you so much Keith. I am very grateful for all the arm comments I’m receiving, and hope my story can somehow help others.
You were one of the first travel bloggers/writers/photographers in my demographic who I discovered several years ago. Your success is even more inspiring now that I know your journey has been so much more than one through time and space.
Thank you so much, Suzanne. I debated abut publishing this article, but having seen the response, I am so glad I did. I truly appreciate that you continue to follow me.
Thank you for sharing. My father died of liver failure after years of alcoholism. I hope people will take your story to heart.
I am so sorry to hear that Ava. It’s a sad fact that many, many alcoholics just never accept the fact that they have a problem. Sometimes I wish I could give this program as a gift, but people have to want to recover. I hope you have found a way to deal with your pain. Many blessings.
Kalimera brave Barbara!
Cutting down on alcohol myself. When are you coming back to Arillas?
Thank you Alex! I wish I could tell you when I’m coming back, but my travel schedule since I got back on the road has just been crazy! 19 countries and 50 cities in 8 months, and it doesn’t look like this year will be much slower. But I will definitely be back…sometime. Big hugs to you and your family.
Dear Barbara, you have brought so much love into my life and for that I honour you, brave woman. Be blessed, much love toni (South Africa)
You’re very welcome Toni. I’m honored if I have helped in any way.
THANK YOU BARBARA!!! And, of course, CONGRATULATIONS on your rebirth day celebrating 20 years of clarity!!
You have been an inspiration to me as the adventurous gal who took the bull by the horns by following your passion and travelled the world!!
Now, by sharing your story of your recovery I am in greater serif your spirit of tenacity and faith!
Way to go BARBARA!!! May we each be so blessed to find our bliss!
Thank you, Tre, for those beautiful words. I hope that sharing my story will help others find their bliss, as you say. Many blessings to you.
Thank you for the important reminder that there is always another chapter to write in our lives and the powerful impact that just a few words can have. Congratulations on this incredible anniversary and I’m sure many, many people will be inspired by this post.
Hi Vanessa: I so appreciate your comment, and hope you are right about inspiring others. The idea that my story might help others is what prompted me to write it.
It is because of women like you who so bravely shared their experience, strength and hope that I just celebrated 8 years of sobriety myself. Without women like you, I would not have known I could ever be sober, or that I was even worth living a sober life.
Thank you Tiffanie! And congratulations on your 8 years. What a remarkable accomplishment. Hugs!
But to never have a drink again, that must be weird, tough maybe? I so look forward to red wine when I get back from my travels. It’s a large pleasure to remove from life. But I thought that when I quit dairy, now I don’t miss it.
Do you find it easy now?
Hi Alyson: Yes, it’s easy for me now. But it was tough in the beginning. NOT drinking is as much a part of my life as drinking used to be. These days, I just wouldn’t consider a drink, because it would destroy my spiritual condition. I really don’t miss it at all, and on the rare occasions that I think about a drink, it’s never a craving anymore, but just a thought about how it would nice if I could have a glass of wine with dinner. But then I do what I’ve been taught and think the drink through to where it would land me, and I certainly don;t want to ever go back to those horrible days of alcoholism.
When we met in Ohio, I gravitated toward your wonderful energy. You are a talented, remarkable woman, and I am so proud of you. xoxo
Thank you Darrelyn! Those words, coming from you, mean a great deal to me. Sending you much love and a big virtual hug. xoxo
A beautiful, brave post. Thank you!
You’re welcome Suzy. Glad you enjoyed reading it.
Congratulations – 20 years in your new life.
Thanks so much Rita. It gets better every day.
Congrats, Barbara! I believe you have most likely helped/urged/encouraged others today by your post.
I hope so Kit. Sometimes it just takes reading a story like mine for someone else to see themselves clearly and start down the road to recovery.
Congrats! My DH is in recovery for over 20 + years and I am always amazed at how the disease of drug addiction and acoholism affects all ages and all walks of life.
It really does, Kathy. And there is no shame in it, as some think. It’s a disease, like any other, which can be treated. Thanks so much for your congratulations, I know they are heartfelt.
I didn’t know about your painful past and your struggles. But I knew you are a special person, and now I understand why.
I feel a lot of admiration for how brave you are in sharing such personal and painful experiences, and I’m sure they resonated into many readers. You are an example, and you give hope to a lot of people who are prisoners of drug and/or alcohol addiction.
I wish I had your courage.
Hi Simon: I know it might not make much sense to you, but getting sober didn’t take courage. It took letting go, completely. I’d tried to control things or so many years, and my way just hadn’t worked. But when I let go and did what I was told, things began to change. Now, if I can influence even one person to get clean/sober, then it’s truly been worth the struggle. You’re a special person too, and I’m so glad I got to meet you a couple of years ago. Here’s hoping we meet up again, sometime, somewhere.
Barbara you know I have enjoyed following your photography and writing for several years now. I admire you for expressing yourself on your struggles and congratulate you for 20 yrs
of being free.
Thanks so much Sue and Kevin. I’ll be in the States in late March and early April, if you want to connect.
Congratulations, you are an inspiration and role model. We have been following your journey for several years, visited places you recommended and met many of the people you have written about.
Thank you for sharing.
Wow Vaughn – the highest compliment that any travel writer can be paid is that a reader visited a destination because of something they wrote. I am so honored! Thanks so much for your congratulations, and for being a loyal follower of my blog.
Dearest Barbara, Thank you for sharing…..I love your blogs, your fantastic pictures, and the way you express yourself, and give of yourself. After all you’ve been through, you are now a gift to us. Love ya, Paula