The Stages of Me

This article is by Loretta Billingsley and published by Smart Recovery


My sober friends who have come to know me also know that I like to chunk things down. Give me a list and I’m good to go!

When I look at my life in retrospect without the fog of alcohol, and also look at my life with curiosity going forward, I can segment it into four categories: Outside Me, Reclamation Me, Inside Me and Journeywoman Me.

Outside Me

In my Outside Me phase, I became a pro at personal and physical reinvention. Become Superwoman was my mantra; career-driven with blinders on, make life complete with marriage, lose weight because it was pounded into me that, “You’ll never exceed career expectations or keep your husband if you are fat.” Have children to seal the deal. Everything in this phase came crashing down except career. My career, still going full-tilt successful, became the forefront of my existence. If anyone or anything got in my way, debris followed, and I carried that debris with me as I went forward. It was my Fallout Halo. I wore it proudly.

Throughout this phase, (35 years), alcohol intensified my blindness to the layers upon layers of hidden guilt and shame; like a cloaking device in some ethanol-fueled sci-fi film.

Reclamation Me

During the Outside Me phase, I never hit the classic, 12-step “rock bottom” thud. But there was something that I felt quite often that intermingled with the layers of guilt and shame…a low grade “somethin’ ain’t right.” I had several therapists during the Outside Me phase, and I benefitted in many ways from that. Only twice did I mention my alcohol use and on both occasions, AA was the response. I tried it. It wasn’t for me. After years and years of facing power struggles in my career and trying to break that glass ceiling, I could not fathom any suggestion that I was powerless in any way, shape, or form. I didn’t realize then what I realize now. Alcohol robbed me of my true power in being human. I contemplate that now with sincere understanding. But still, no mention from any therapist about SMART Recovery.

In May of 2019 I found SMART, like many others. I did a Google search for alternatives in recovery programs. SMART sounded doable to me.

1. Self-Management…check
2. Online Meetings…check
3. Non-Profit…check
4. Volunteer Opportunities…check
5. Based in Science…double check

I liked that “Based in Science” aspect. Not too much grey area, and the grey area that was there was my brain! There is a lot of humor in recovery, by the way, and joy is not denied in the Reclamation Phase!

From May 2019 through early November 2019, I did what I like to refer to as my “traversing the Stages of Change.”

Could I moderate my drinking? Could I only drink on the weekends? Do I really have a drinking problem? I still have lots of friends. They don’t mind my drinking. Stages 1 and 2 of the Stages of Change are 1) Pre-Contemplation and 2) Contemplation. I am fairly certain that I got kicked out of some SMART online meetings because I showed up inebriated. To the facilitators who are reading this, thank you. You did me a service.

On November 20th, 2019, I committed to Stage 3 … Action. I quit alcohol right before the holidays, and it stuck. From the cups of eggnog till the clinking of champagne glasses, “No, thank you” was my mantra.

It was probably around mid-January of 2020 that reality showed up at my door. It came a’knockin’. “Hello, Loretta, this is Reality. You don’t know me but I’m about to rip out a spoke from your happy wheel.” There’s a saying that is attributed to a famous actor, “Sober means ‘Son of a bitch, everything’s real’.”

Remember those layers I mentioned in the Outside Me phase? They stared slowly peeling away. Shame, guilt, “WTF was I thinking, I’m a bad person, why did I do that, those people will always hate me.” Steadily yet deliberately, I faced all those irrational beliefs, etched and engrained in my psyche from years and years of blanketing them with alcohol. This was the early beginnings of the Deep Dive and it was scary. Sometimes I’d freeze. I’d be functional on the outside but in a robotic way. I started to recognize past trauma I had endured, and it all showed up like Reality did, except instead of knocking on my door, it kicked it in and yelled, “Why didn’t you protect me? Why did you abandon me? Why did you feel that this abuse was an acceptable part of life?”

This was a very dark time for me. I made the decision to find a sober coach and a therapist. MS, my sober coach, got me on the road to practicing the SMART tools more frequently. My therapist encouraged me to identify and listen to my inner ally more than my inner critic. Slowly, the fog began to lift and I started reading more about neuroplasticity, PTSD, and women-centric recovery issues. Women in Sobriety, Holly Whitaker of Tempest fame, Brene Brown on guilt and shame, and Kristin Neff on self-compassion became my new besties. I started meditating with Insight Timer. I started taking online classes on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other modalities that could buoy me in my Reclamation Me phase.

During this phase, I did experience what many experts refer to as a “peak experience.” This is not something I have told many people and it’s not a SMART concept. But it did happen, and it shifted my entire life. It was then I came to phase 3 … Inside Me.

Inside Me

During this phase which started approximately late July 2020, I had heard about a SMART pilot meeting, which I was invited to join. It was because of the connections I had at this meeting, with these incredibly, beautiful co-recoverers, that I started my initial Deep Dive into the Inside Me phase. I also continued with my regular SMART online meetings because I still wanted that solid tool foundation so often talked about there. There were so many times during this phase that AHA moments came in abundance. One big one was “seeking validation outside of myself is often a fruitless venture.” I started to use my self-compassion skills more often and I gained traction in being confident with my voice, living in my lane, defining my recovery as doing the work that works for me. I had less friction with irrational thoughts because DIBS had really become a subconscious exercise that came into play almost immediately. My boundaries had become clear and resilient to outside irritants.

The Journeywoman Me

This is my ongoing stage. When I wrote that phase title, I saw this image in my mind of me in a long, dusty coat, wearing boots with spurs, looking around at this incredible landscape of desert, mountains, trees, rivers, paths with potholes, Grand Canyon obstacles. It’s so breathtakingly exciting.

In closing, I want to share with you all what I could not share in a recent online SMART meeting. The question was “what is your goal?”. I’ll share that now:

My goal is across-the-board healing and self-awareness, with the desire to help others experience the same.

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