Recovery Story: Honoring Sobriety Central, Maine

Following is a story of recovery written by Ruth Riddick. We are sharing stories of recovery throughout September to celebrate Recovery Month. If you have a story to share, please email blog@staging.crossroadsme.org.

What’s a nice girl like you doing in a rehab like this?

That’s what I might have asked myself sitting in detox at Mercy Hospital’s Recovery Center if I hadn’t been around this block several times already. Two hospitalizations and one 30-day residential in my native Dublin followed by a research visit to Dr. Evans’ Charm School shortly after arrival in Portland. But who’s counting? Addiction is a disease characterized by, among other insanity symptoms, relapse.

But is it relapse if you never really quit?

I had to ask this of myself because I never met a counselor who put the question quite so bluntly. Perhaps they trusted that a sobriety sponsor would ask it for them? Shirley did, before we had our first coffee together: “Do you have a problem with alcohol?” That was sort-of easy – YES! “Are you willing to go to any lengths to stay sober?” “Um . . . what does that mean?” (By now, of course, I knew better – I just said “Yes.”)

And, so, I got sober in Maine. One day at a time. Wherever my travels take me today, I always honor Maine as a great place to get sober, a place where there’s a deep grassroots commitment to recovery. Truly, it’s a privilege to return to Portland every year to share my sober anniversary and, more recently, I’m delighted to embrace a service opportunity at Crossroads.

That’s good news, but what does it take? Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who famously gave us the stages of grief response, writes that “unconditional love is the only force which heals.” Well-motivated individuals aside, I did not find this love until I came to Maine. Of course, alkies clinging to our bottles are hard to love; in my alcoholic willfulness, I was a tough nut. But not too tough for you.

The recovery community here – professionals included – embraced me as just another drunk needing to be loved until I could love myself. This wasn’t a “tough” love (which so often masquerades as torture; I’ve experienced that too). Nor was it a “permissive” love, which is equivalent to neglect. Rather, this love is empowering and based on the healing principle that we are interdependent. It takes a community . . .

And, living in community, where no grief is too big to be shared, I can be happy and heartbroken and responsible and fun and smart without alcohol.

As a member of that community, there are also dilemmas: Do I disclose that I’m an alcoholic? (A friend, himself in AA, advised me to leave that key fact off my medical profile.) What do I risk by speaking out? (Employment, insurance, social esteem, sobriety?) By writing about my experience, am I being prideful, or do our stories serve a greater good? If I don’t put my face on sobriety, how can I challenge the stereotype of the “hopeless drunk” (a label with which I was tagged by someone who might have loved me)?

Together, we’ll figure it out. In Maine.

About the writer: Crossroads Board member, writer, educator and activist, Ruth Riddick is a former reporter for Mainebiz. Her work appears in the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing and her third poetry collection, The Bodies Within, will be published next year.