I Am Not Anonymous

Who I Am

A few weeks ago I received an email from a writer for Dr. Oz’s website The Good Life. She had discovered my blog and wanted to interview me for a story she was doing for Alcohol Awareness Month in April. She felt my recovery journey would resonate with many of their readers, the majority being women. My initial response was surprise, gratitude – and fear.

Those who know me are aware of my story and while I have written about my experience here on my blog, I have always had a sense of security knowing that my audience is fairly small; that I had some (realistic or not) control over who knew about my journey and recovery from alcoholism.

For some, I suppose it would be an easy decision. I mean, come on – it’s Dr. freakin’ Oz! For better or worse, he’s probably the most well known Dr. in the world thanks to Oprah and daytime television. But, for me, I was hesitant to have my story profiled on such a large medium. You see, I’m really happy living my little life on our little farm here in Oregon. Yes, I’m open with my story, but I never set out to be the poster girl for “stay at home moms who are recovering alcoholics.”

I questioned how much attention I really wanted. Because, really, there are times I’d like to crawl under a rock and leave it all behind me. To not be known for what I used to be, but known for who I am now. But, that’s just it. I am who I am today because of my past. And, after talking it over with my husband and going through all the maybes and maybe nots, I realized that this was way bigger than me. In fact, it wasn’t about me at all. This was about glorifying God. My story is His story. I’m but a messenger. And, when I began looking at it that way, it made my decision easy. Of course, I would share HIS story of faith, love, forgiveness and redemption.

Some may say, “But wait, aren’t you supposed to be anonymous? Aren’t you supposed to be hiding behind the tradition of anonymity?” And, my response to that would be, “Who am I helping by being anonymous?” We are taught “You are only as sick as your secrets” yet so many of us choose to keep our sobriety secret out of respect to an outdated tradition. For fear of what others will think, say or do.

Sharing your truth is a personal decision. For me, God made that decision for me when I got sober. It wasn’t anything I did to bring me out of the despair of alcoholism – believe me, I had tried before. It was by the grace of God that I went to that first meeting, took my first coin and continue to wake up each morning sober, and grateful.

I will continue to speak my truth – His truth. And, by the grace of God others will experience the gift of sobriety.

Please click here if you would like to read the article featured on Dr. Oz’s website.

 

Disclaimer: I was not paid or endorsed for my story. My ultimate wish is that other women like myself will find courage to seek help.

A Lesson on Dirt and Fear

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It’s springtime on our little farm here in Oregon, which means everything is green and bursting with new life. I love this time of year, but it’s also bittersweet. On May 3rd, it will mark 10 years since my mom died. I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of her at this time and I continue to be amazed how I can feel such joy and happiness, while also feeling such sorrow.

Today was the day I decided to start the garden. My husband had tilled and it was ready. But, ready for what? All I saw when I looked at it was a big plot of land, looming back at me. Empty.

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I’ve been eyeing that dirt for the last few days. Intimidated by its vast size and blankness. Instead of seeing it’s potential, I saw and felt fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of all the “what ifs.” It was the same fear I felt after my mom died and when I made the decision to stop drinking. I was filled with fear of the unknown.

As I was making the bed this morning, I began crying as the fear poured out of me. Doubt started taking over. I couldn’t do this. What if I had gotten in over my head with this farm stuff? What if I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” gardener? What if everything I planted in that plot of dirt died? I needed my mom. She was the real gardener. She would know exactly how to turn that brown piece of dirt into a lush garden.

As tears rolled down my face, I walked into the bathroom where my husband was getting ready. One look and he pulled me into his arms. He reminded me that my mom’s here – she’s always here. She’s by my side, quietly watching and teaching me as I walk through this life. And, he reminded me that I can do hard things. I can walk through the fear because I’ve done it before. I did it when I gave birth to our daughter four months after my mom died, not knowing anything about being a mom myself. I did it when I walked into that first recovery meeting, not knowing a single person or what to expect. I continue to do it when I share my story with others, unaware of how they will perceive me or what they will say.

Fear is real and it paralyzes us if we allow it to. But, making a choice to walk through the fear, to push it aside and instead see the possibilities of the new and unknown – that is freedom.

I spent all day in the garden today. Plotting, staking, digging rows and planting seeds one by one, envisioning the new seedlings poking up through the barren land. Tired and sore, I was faithful that the vast emptiness would one day reap a great harvest.

By continuing to walk through these moments of fear, I experience peace, joy, faith in the unknown and the freedom to be my true self, which is a beautiful thing.

Walking Through Fear

 

New Year, New Look

My new look happened before the new year when I told my husband it was either “bangs or Botox” and reassured him that bangs were much cheaper. So, one night after a “DIY bangs” search on Pinterest, I took the “hair” scissors and with a little twist here and a snip there – ta da! The verdict was out for a few days, but after a couple of months everyone seems to be getting used to them and I don’t see those forehead wrinkles mocking me every time I look in the mirror. Oh sure, I could just embrace them, but for now I’m perfectly content hiding them!

You’ll also notice that my little blog here has a new look, which I’m pretty happy about. Like my hair, it was time for a change. I went back and forth whether to start a new blog altogether, but decided in the end that just as I continue to change and morph into the person I am today, this blog can as well.

Mostly, this blog has been focused on my recovery, with a few recipes and DIY projects mixed in along the way. And, while it served it’s purpose during my early stages of recovery, the reality is that I’m at a very different place now than I was then. There are different things I’d like to write about now, like our new adventures living on our little “farm” here in the Willamette Valley. But, when I debated whether or not to abandon this blog and start anew, I realized that my life now still continues to be based on the original reason I created this blog – to document my “life corked.”

I can’t deny or ignore that my entire life as it is now is a direct result of my stopping drinking. I’m totally confidant that without my sobriety, none of this (picture me spreading my arms open wide) would be possible. So, as I continue to write here, I will continue to write about my “life corked.”

I’m grateful for those of you who have stuck with me along the way, despite not being the most consistent writer! While not all of my posts will be recovery related, I hope I can continue to give people encouragement and inspire them to embrace a life of sobriety.

Let the journey continue!

The Courage to Speak

Courage means a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. To me, courage means doing what you know is right despite the fear or repercussions. Most of the time that applies to me sharing my truth about recovery – what my life used to look like and what it looks like today – despite worrying about what people are going to think or do with that information.

For the most part, I’m pretty open about my recovery, but there are times when I’d rather side-step the truth and just omit that part of my life. You know, take an eraser and make it nice and clean.

Recently, my husband and I were asked to speak to our church on tithing – time, talent and treasure. Basically, they wanted us to each share how the church has impacted us individually, as a family and in what ways we give back. When Tyler first mentioned it to me, I think I said something like “Ugh, why us?” I mean, we’re involved, but we’re not THAT involved. Surely, there is someone more qualified than me. Heck, I just became Catholic less than two years ago and there’s people who have been in the church their entire lives!

So, we ho hummed about it and finally decided that it was something we needed (not necessarily wanted) to do. I guess you could say, us not wanting to do it was a sign that we probably should do it. Definitely a “God-thing.”

Tyler wrote his part and I wrote mine. As I read over mine, looking for corrections, I kept feeling this nagging inside of me. I had been pretty honest, but not really. I had referred to a “difficult” time in my life three and a half years ago that had greatly impacted my relationship with the Church and God, but that’s as far as I went. Something kept telling me if I was going to stand up there in front of hundreds of my fellow parishioners and give my testimony, that I might as well let it all hang out – the good, the bad and the ugly. But, holy cow! What would they think? What would they say? Very few people at church knew my story. To most of them, I was just that mom who sat on the right-hand side of the church a few rows back from the front.

One evening, I told Tyler “I need to share my whole truth. I need to share about the alcoholism.” At first, he had the same fears I initially had. Did I really need to share ALL of it? Yes, I did. I knew without a doubt that I had to share MY truth. And, with that I re-wrote my portion of our talk, which goes as follows:

As Tyler mentioned, I come from a very different background. I wasn’t raised in any particular church, in fact, I was never baptized. It wasn’t until I met Tyler that I attended my first Catholic Mass. In all honestly, I was expecting an old, stodgy Priest with a totally irrelevant message. You can imagine my surprise when Fr. George, who many of you will remember from Queen of Peace, stood up and started talking. He was young (well, younger), dynamic and engaging. Not only was I surprised by his relevancy; I was surprised by how comfortable I felt in those pews. But, most of all, I was surprised by the peace I felt. It was the first time I had felt completely at home in a church setting.

Years went by and I continued to attend weekly Mass with Tyler, eventually baptizing both of our children in the Church. However, it wasn’t until three and a half years ago when I experienced the lowest point in my life, the reality that I was an alcoholic and my marriage was in shambles, that I was faced with a choice: open my heart to God and answer His knock, or continue down the same path that had led me to that point in my life.

Fortunately, I chose God’s path, and at my lowest moments, when I could barely drag myself out of bed or get through a single day, it was the strength of God and the peace of this Church that held me up – the same peace I experienced during that first Mass I attended years ago.

How can I repay a God and a Church that has provided me with so much? The reality is, I can’t, but I can live my life trying to the best of my ability. Two years ago I had the privilege of going through Brad’s first RCIA class, where I was baptized and confirmed into the Church. Over the years, I have given my time and talents in many ways, including participating in Catholic Bible studies and book groups, pro-life organizations and just this past year taught Vacation Bible School here at St. Ed’s.

As Tyler mentioned, there is no wrong on right way when it comes to tithing. While money and time are always appreciated, often the most important thing we can do as members of the Church is to be active participants in daily or weekly Mass; praying, singing, praising God and staying after Communion to hear uplifting talks like this!

Thank you for your time and God bless.

I didn’t share my truth about being an alcoholic for shock value or for attention. Like I mentioned before, I never wanted to be up there in the first place – with sweaty hands and a quivering voice – all while hundreds of eyes stared up at me. Yikes! No thanks.

No, I stood up there, feeling totally vulnerable, because I made a promise to God a long time ago when I first got sober. I promised that if I ever had the opportunity to share my story and maybe, just maybe, help someone else in the process, I would do it. I knew the nagging feeling I had felt was God saying, “Do it. Share it all.”

And, that my friends, took every ounce of courage I had.

I know God doesn’t want me to feel ashamed of my past and who I am, because the truth is, my story is His story. It is He who made me; and He who saved me. And, it is Him who continues to guide and direct me – but, only if I will listen.

The Gift of Plan B

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So…it’s been a long time. And, I’ve completely neglected this blog, but I’d like to think it was for good reason. In the beginning of sobriety, we often wonder how life will go on. How will we function without the daily drinks or glass (or um, bottle) of wine? How will we handle social situations? How will we ever make up for all the harm and destruction we have caused? We slowly see the need for a new normal, but the reality of it being long-term is terrifying. And, then we start to question if it’s all really worth it. Wouldn’t it be easier to go back to our old normal, the normal we were so used to and comfortable with? But, we know we can’t if we want to keep our families, our marriage, our children – our life.

If we’re one of the lucky ones, we begin to reluctantly accept the new normal. Like a child taking their first steps, we slowly, carefully venture into the unknown. We fall, we skin our knees, but we continue until we gain our balance and walk slowly, but steady. And, then the day comes along when we realize we’re running.

It’s not the path we intended to take, but it somehow got us where we needed to be – where we were meant to be all along.

On August 28th, I celebrated three years of sobriety. The day came and went without a lot of excitement or acknowledgment. Most of all, I felt peace and contentment.

Over the last month, we have moved to what we consider our “dream house.” It’s an older home on two acres in the Oregon valley with room for the kids to run and for us to have a big garden and raise a few animals. During the first week we were here, my husband and I were standing in the kitchen and he turned to me, and hugging me said, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been since we’ve been married.”

I will never forget his words or how they made me feel – totally and completely loved. All of the pain, anger and hurt I once caused and felt has been replaced with a love I never knew possible.

Every day I thank God for my plan B and this new normal I was blessed to have.

When We Feel Too Much

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel so much. I was reminded by my sponsor (again) today that I’m sensitive, emotional and all-too feeling at times. I’m sure there’s a million jokes that could be made about women and emotions, but in all seriousness, it can be devastating for someone like me; an alcoholic who used to drink to escape feeling.

I envy people like my husband who can be sad and empathize with what others are going through without taking on their feelings. Instead, I dive head first and take on their sadness, grief and heartache as if it were my own until it’s no longer about them, but about me (did I mention I can be really self-centered too?). Then, I slowly get sucked into this all-consuming depressive state of mind where everything is wrong and nothing is right in the world. My relationships and my spiritual life suffer. I find myself feeling angry, alone and isolated – the perfect storm for a relapse.

Even though I’ve been sober for a while now, it’s times like these when I know I can’t do this alone. I have to grab onto that life-preserver we call recovery if I’m going to pull myself out of it. Whether it’s going to meetings or meeting individually with my sponsor, I must be reminded on a regular basis that I AM AN ALCOHOLIC and what might seem laughable to some, is no joke for me. Because, that feeling, sensitive and emotional side of me that gets out of control at times could lead me to my death. Is that extreme? Maybe. Real? Absolutely.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as my sponsor looking at me and saying, “Chenoa, you need to put up some boundaries between other people’s feelings and your own.” Just because someone else is experiencing grief, sadness or pain doesn’t mean I have to take on their feelings as my own. I can feel bad for them and reach out to them, but I can’t, under any circumstances, let their experiences define my mood or behavior.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m feeling renewed; stronger than I was yesterday or even this morning. As I go forward in this Lenten season, I want to focus less on myself and more on my spiritual condition and my relationship with God. I want to step out of myself and what I want for my life, and focus more on what God wants for me. How can I be the best version of myself? And, how can I better serve those around me?

I am reminded, yet again, that this is all part of the journey, and I find peace in trusting that God knows what He is doing and where He is leading me.

 

 

Maintenance Required

Today can be a hard day for those of us in recovery. In the past, Christmas Eve was a day (and I do mean most of the day) of drinking and partying. Today, it’s not about that, but I’m always aware of the extra diligence I have to take around this time of year.

I recently started working the 12 steps again with a new sponsor. Not because I was worried about my sobriety (although I’m always a little worried), but because I had become complacent in my sobriety. Things have been good, but I wasn’t “working” my program. I was busy living my life, starting a new business, taking care of my kids – being present. All of that is good – it’s really good. It means I’m reaping the benefits of my sobriety, but at some point I stopped and realized that I wasn’t maintaining my sobriety. Because, at the end of the day it’s my sobriety that made my life as I know it possible, and what happens if I don’t take care of the one thing that got me to this point?

So, I started from the beginning. I’m at step one, which is where I admit I’m powerless over alcohol. Yep, I am – totally and completely powerless over alcohol. No matter how successful I am, how much education I have under my belt, how good I look on the outside, how much I workout to stay healthy – when it comes to that bottle of wine or open bar, I am unable to stop at one. I will do everything (and have done everything) to try and convince myself that I can stop. But, when it’s all said and done, I simply can’t.

As I began reading in my recovery book again, I was just as shocked as I was the first time, three years ago, when I first read through the pages. Once again, I saw myself in those pages. It was me they were writing about it. How could that be? How could they know so much about the insanity that I went through each and every day. Again, I felt the comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t alone. There were and had been other people who had felt just like me – who had gone before me and lived to tell about it.

And, I was reminded yet again that no matter how much time goes by; how good we feel; how successful we are in our life and sobriety; we will never be safe from the grips of our alcoholism.

Most of us have believed that if we remained sober for a long stretch, we could thereafter drink normally…We have seen the truth demonstrated again and again: ‘Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’ Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever.

I know this is true because I have seen it more times than I’d like to admit. Yet, I can have all the knowledge in the world, but if I’m not maintaining my sobriety I can give into that first drink as quickly as the other person. No matter how much sobriety I may have, I am no stronger than the other alcoholic who has one day sober.

When I first got sober, I found strength and solace in reading the sobriety website Crying Out Now and the blog One Crafty Mother both started by Ellie, who also founded the podcast The Bubble Hour. I related to Ellie’s story and connected to her as a person and fellow sober woman. After many years of sobriety and much success, she relapsed nine months ago. It was bad and she suffered immensely, yet she is one of the lucky ones. She lived through it and is now talking about it openly and honestly. If you do one thing today, please read Ellie’s post here from yesterday. It might just save your life. Thanks, Ellie, for being so brave.

 

Happy, Joyous and Free

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Happy, joyous and free. To be honest, I never thought I would use those words to describe myself, but that’s how I described myself in a meeting today. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to believe because it’s such a far cry from where I was three years ago at this time. It was my last holiday season drinking and I was miserable. I was so angry – lashing out at everyone around me; picking fights with those who loved me. The more I tried to control things, the worse they got. Despite the love that surrounded me, I had never felt so lonely before.

I don’t like remembering those times, in fact, it’s painful to think back to what I was like then. That’s not the person I want to remember, but I know she’s part of my story. Because, without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. How did I get here? How could “that” person turn into the person I am today? The only answer I have is by God’s grace. When I was at my lowest point, God’s love and mercy was the only thing that could break through the hard shell I had created around me. Slowly, He put people, programs and a church in my life that would eventually build me up and bring me back from the depths of loneliness and fear I had been living in for so long.

Today, I’m at peace. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the next day, but it doesn’t matter because I have faith in a God who turned that lonely, frightened girl into the happy, joyous and free woman I am today. I’m done fighting and lashing out at those around me. I’m done trying to control my life. It’s not mine to control anyway. I wake up each morning and ask for God’s guidance and direction. I give it all over to Him. And, by doing so I’m completely and totally free.

Merry Christmas, friends! Peace be with you!

 

When Someone You Love is an Alcoholic

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I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately – how things used to be and how things are today. It’s like black and white TV versus color. My life before I got sober is almost unrecognizable to me. On August 28th, I celebrated two years of sobriety and my husband would agree that the last two years have been the best of our almost 10 year marriage. I often wonder why me? Why was I one of the lucky ones who got to this point? The only thing I can come up with is by the grace of God. And, a husband who said, enough is enough.

In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve been approached by a number of people who are worried about a family members drinking. “What do I do?” they ask. “How can I get them to stop?” It’s really the million dollar question. And, I don’t pretend to have the answer. I can only share with them what I know from my experience and what worked for me. And, a few things I’ve learned along the way from Al-Anon.

First and foremost, you cannot make someone stop drinking.

But, you can take control of your environment and how you react to someone’s drinking. Believe me, you can yell at a person, bribe them and threaten them until you’re blue in the face and it’s not going to make them quit. The problem I see most often, is that the family has allowed the person who is drinking to have total control over their environment. I know because I did the same thing when I was drinking. Everyone tip-toes around the issue because God forbid you create a stir. No one wants to make an “issue” out of it despite the fact that the “issue” is ruining everyone’s life! People become so wrapped up in the drinker’s life, that they forget they have their own life to live. And, so the cycle begins: denial – enabling – denial – enabling. And, so on.

It’s a vicious cycle and the ones who get hurt the most are the family members. Heck, the drinker doesn’t care because they’re going along their happy way doing what they’ve always done. They have you right where they want you. Fearful and feeling helpless.

So, what do you do? You say enough is enough. You create boundaries. You tell the drinker you love them, but you do not love their drinking. You take control of your life and do what you need to do to reclaim a healthy environment for you and your family. Despite the fear of the unknown or the fear of others finding out your family’s “secret,” you reach out for help. If you’re living with the drinker, you pack up your things and leave. “But, I don’t have anywhere to go.” Yes, you do. There is ALWAYS a place to go or someone to call.

Alcoholism is a family disease. Living with the effects of someone else’s drinking is too devastating for most people to bear without help. – Al-Anon

When my husband sat me down and asked me if I was ready to stop drinking for good, I finally knew I had come to a fork in the road. I could either continue drinking and lose my marriage, my kids and everything I loved, or I could get help and stop drinking. For me, that’s what it took. For others, they might have to lose everything before they get to the point where they want to stop drinking. It’s not our decision to make as family members. First and foremost, we take care of ourselves and strive to live happy and joyous lives.

In Al-Anon we learn:

  • Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
  • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
  • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
  • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink or behave as we see fit
  • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
  • Not to create a crisis
  • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of event

“By learning to focus on ourselves, our attitudes and well-being improve. We allow the alcoholics in our lives to experience the consequences of their own actions.”

And, to those of you who drink or use, let me say this: you are not a bad person. More than likely, you have the disease of alcoholism or addiction. But, you want to know the really good news? Unlike cancer or other diseases, it’s curable. Yes, a curable disease! How did we get so lucky?! All you have to do is reach out and ask, and you will find the keys to the cure.

Before I end, let me ask those of you who drink or use two important questions that my husband once asked me. 1) What are you willing to lose in order to continue drinking or using and 2) Is the drink or drug more important to you than those you love? You would think those would be simple questions, but I had to think long and hard before answering them. Remember this, even those who love us can only take so much before they break.

 

 

I Take My Sobriety Seriously

Is anyone else a little pissed off? Less than a week after “we” all blogged about Robin William’s death and reemphasized how deadly addiction and depression can be, one of our fellow sober bloggers comes out and says that after almost three years of identifying as an alcoholic she’s decided she’s in fact not an alcoholic and therefore can drink again. WTF?!

I’ve been mulling over this ever since I read her post last night. First, I thought that maybe I should just send her a private message and express my feelings, but then I thought, “No. Nope. I need everyone to hear what I have to say.” I need to say this for all the other sober folks out there who are and will forever be alcoholics – like me.

I take my sobriety very seriously. It saved my family life, my marriage, my relationships – and ultimately I believe it saved my life. It gave me a second chance to live the life I always wanted and it is the sole reason I came to have a personal relationship with God.

We all have our own stories. And, no story is alike. I respect that. However, when someone who has identified as an alcoholic; shared their story and given advice to others in recovery suddenly changes their tune and publicly states that they’re in fact not an alcoholic, it is an insult to me and everyone else who has worked their asses off to achieve our sobriety.

I have all the respect in the world for those of us who relapse and come back to share our stories (I’ve been there). But, for someone to blatantly state that they are no longer an alcoholic and can now control or moderate their drinking, is a very dangerous message to those in recovery, especially early recovery.

I blog for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is to give hope to those who are in early recovery. Often times, this is the first place people will look when they’re trying to get sober. Whether it’s to remain anonymous or not, people come here to find support and encouragement. When I was first getting sober, I can’t tell you how many times I questioned whether or not I was REALLY an alcoholic. Everything pointed in the direction of me being an alcoholic, but I was looking for any excuse to not be one. I mean come on; who wants that label for the rest of their life? If I would’ve come across a post like the one I previously mentioned in early recovery, it would have given me one more reason to question my alcoholism.

Not only are messages like these dangerous for those in early recovery, but also for those of us with some long-term recovery. That cunning and baffling part of my disease still likes to rear its ugly head and challenge my sobriety. It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder that says, “Come on! Look at you! You’re so put together and everything is going great. Surly, you could have just one drink. Surly, you wouldn’t go back to where you were before.” And, that’s when I have to mentally squash that little devil because I know without a doubt that if I ever took even one drink again it would lead me exactly back to where I used to be. And, I truly believe it would kill me. Maybe not immediately; maybe not in a violent way, but, in the end, I believe I would die from alcohol-related reasons. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell out of me and that’s something I’m not willing to risk – even for one drink.

I have had friends who have identified as alcoholics and addicts who ultimately decided that they could drink again. I don’t dislike them for making that decision, but I know for the safety of my own sobriety I can’t hang out with them anymore. Similarly, I don’t dislike my fellow blogger for the decision she ultimately made, however, I think sharing that decision with an audience of mostly sober people is irresponsible and dangerous.

It’s not my intent to create a big controversy, however, I think it’s important for those of us in recovery to defend our sobriety and remind others why we’re here.