When I was a little girl, I thought my peak of success would be when I had a wedding ring on my finger. My (more-than)-five-year plan of getting to that goal was mapped out in detail. I knew exactly what I wanted from life: what college, what major, what age I would marry, in what church I would marry, how many children I would have, how far apart I would space each child.
Then life happened.
Not one thing has been as I expected. The age by which I thought I’d be married has come and gone. I wasn’t prepared to face that reality. I’m also a twentysomething recovering alcoholic. I definitely didn’t see that coming.
The truth is, all of my unfulfilled plans, most particularly my plan for marriage, left me feeling vulnerable and discontent. I have struggled to come to terms with my singleness for a long time. With one failed relationship after another, I was worn out. I figured I would just give up. So I allowed myself to drink. I drank to escape, to loosen up, to have fun, to stop dwelling on my life so much. I swapped one unyielding master for another. I stopped trying to control my life and let alcohol control it instead.
It wasn’t until I discovered the path to sobriety that my eyes were opened; I had been letting a little girl’s view of the world dictate my personal fulfillment as an adult. Every day I make a conscious effort to overcome my immature expectations about life, and I have to work to combat the belief deeply imbedded in me that being single is not OK.
In sobriety, I have had to rely, as we say in my twelve-step program, on “a power greater than myself.” There are so many facets of my recovery, but one that I have to work on daily is this idea of accepting life on life’s terms. This is the life I have, and it will completely pass me by if I spend all my time wishing it were different.
I know there’s nothing wrong with desiring marriage, and I definitely still want to find Mr. Right. But what I’ve discovered—and what I continue to work at—is that I must allow for things to play out naturally and in due time. I have to release myself from the pressure of my own expectations.
Most of us contend with relationship disappointments at some point. And for those of us who want to marry and start a family, finding the man who is to be our husband is one of the greatest challenges we face. But challenges are good. They make us grow, and they show us our strength. My discovery is multifaceted, but I’ve found that the same principles that help me stay sober also help me thrive as a single woman, desiring but not desperate for a relationship. Here are seven principles I practice in sobriety that you can put into practice in your own life.
Most mornings I wake up early to connect with my higher power, God as I understand him. I must admit that I am powerless over alcohol and also over my plans for the day and for my life. Let’s face it, you may plan to get to work on time or leave work on time. But it doesn’t always turn out that way, despite your best efforts. Lately I have been journaling as a way to process. I write down my hopes and my concerns, and I surrender my will. I turn it over and release myself of the need to control that which I cannot.
Realizing that the only power I have is to make good out of the circumstances I am faced with today actually frees me and makes me much more at ease. If single life is hard, fixating on not being single becomes a burden. Instead, I mentally push my frustrations aside and focus on things I can do while single, such as nurturing my social circle and growing myself.
In sobriety, I am held accountable for my actions. I reflect on my previous day. I look at how I responded to certain circumstances, how I treated other people, if I acted in accord with what I know is right and true. If I have hurt someone, I must apologize. I cannot act without abandon and expect to stay sober.
This daily self-reflection is also how I catch myself getting caught in an unhealthy way of thinking. It may be that I have fallen into an unhealthy relationship with a man, or maybe I have begun to internalize the idea that being in a relationship will solve my problems. With introspection I can correct my behavior before I get myself into too much trouble. And on the flip side, I can see when I am headed toward a healthy, loving relationship. I can recognize when I have begun to grow and thrive as a person. This helps me to live every day with intention and awareness.
Drinking was a way of staying hidden for me. But having someone I am accountable to really helps me to stay in reality. I like to make a point to check in with a friend who will encourage me and won’t feed my self-pity. A little straight talk is not a bad thing either. After one failed relationship, I took to Tinder for a rebound. A friend told me honestly, “This sure seems like a 5-year-old throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get what she wanted.” And she was right.
Whether I’m dreaming about the really cute children I could have with that man at the grocery store or letting thoughts of “my life is terrible because I’m single” sink in, having someone I can be honest with and who will lovingly call me out on my crap helps me to stay present.
In practicing sobriety I have learned to combat things such as self-pity, depression, anxiety, and fear with a gratitude list. When I start to feel depressed or sorry for myself, I get out a piece of paper and list all the things I am grateful for. I list very specific details rather than generalizing. I name my friends individually; I describe moments that were delightful; I describe a delicious meal; and so on.
By the end of the exercise, I cannot deny the beautiful life that I have and the richness that fills it. In turn, I no longer dwell on this idea in my head that life is not good because I’m single. When you focus on what you have, that which you don’t fades away.
I spend a good amount of time on self-care. In the past, my self-obsession revolved around my body and how much I hated it. I would chase workouts with a beer and get three hours of sleep after staying out until 4 a.m. at the bar. I was pretty worn down and sought men to validate the body that I despised.
Now I take care of myself and do my best to respect my body. I exercise regularly, attempt to eat well, and keep a sleep schedule. This helps me feel emotionally stable and positive about myself. I no longer need a boyfriend to feel confident or constant validation from others. I’m also a healthier person and, therefore, will be a better partner when a great guy comes along.
It is imperative for me to find opportunities to help another human being. When I am helping someone else, I am not focused on myself or my own problems. I find it easy when I’m in a relationship with a man to be of service to him. I want to make him dinner or run an errand for him after work. It takes more consciousness to see what others around me need. Maybe a friend is having a crazy day and needs someone to pick up her child from school, or maybe my brother would be appreciative if I tidied his room and did all the dishes. Once a month I schedule to serve at a soup kitchen with my friend. It is important for me to get outside of myself to feel happily, usefully whole.
One of the most wearisome aspects of singlehood can be all that focus on ourselves. Despite people telling us to revel in all our precious “me time,” many of us would prefer to give of ourselves and our time in meaningful ways. Being single doesn’t exclude us from opportunities to be generous; in fact, it gives us even more opportunities to be available to our family, friends, and community.
I heard someone say that alcoholics are the only people who think to treat loneliness with isolation. That may or may not be true, but I do try not to isolate anymore. Just because I am single does not mean that I have to spend a Wednesday night alone if I don’t want to. If I’m interested in learning a new thing, I find evening classes to attend. I have a crew of women that I go to dinner with on Friday nights, and I regularly go to brunch with my brother on Saturday mornings. If there is an exhibit that I want to see or a good movie that came out, I call up a friend to go with me or happily go solo.
Because my life is so full, I now cherish the moments that I do have alone to curl up with a book or do an art project for the house. I banished the recurring thought that “this would have been better if I had a man to share it with” and choose to see all the other amazing relationships in my life as enough.
When I do all of these things, I stay focused on the joy that is independent of my relationship status. It takes a daily practice to be grateful for the life I have and to relinquish control of what I want to happen. But I know if I open my hands to receive, I cannot grip to what is not. And this is where I find contentment in myself.
Photo Credit: Corynne Olivia Photography