Getting Sober And Divorced

Getting divorced is one of the top ten most stressful life events and my current guest Debbi was dealing with the end of her marriage at the same time as she was getting sober. That’s not a combination that professionals recommend but as Debbie explains, in her case it was necessary. Here’s Debbie:

It’s not easy to do at all. It’s very difficult. One of the things that is told when you get sober is you shouldn’t do a lot of changes in your first year because alcohol is your coping mechanism and if you’ve got a lot of stress going on in your life in the first year, your mental capacity wants to drive you to the coping mechanism you’re familiar with, which is alcohol. Or drugs, or whatever.

I ended up getting a new job and also getting divorced within like a month, which is not the recommended path, but I can tell you that it’s what I had to do for my sobriety. My marriage was taking such an emotional toll. There was a lot of pressure and I was uncertain I was going to be able to stay sober, but I was so determined for it that I just kept pushing forward.

There are a lot of people, either men or women, who are married, they get sober, and there’s a rebirth of their marriage because the spouse who hung in there through all the bad times, now they think he’s that loving person who they married however many years ago.

For me, everything about my marriage was…I don’t want to call it a farce, because that’s not true, but our marriage did not come together on a solid foundation. We were on shaky ground to start with, and since we’d never had the time to really get to know each other because we were always traveling, we never really had a solid foundation for our marriage, even though we were married for thirteen years.

All I knew was that I needed to get to a solid foundation and I could not do that in my marriage.

Also, I’ll be honest, it was the motivation of not having my daughter raised in an unhealthy environment. That was a huge motivation for me as well, which kept me focused and determined that I was going to stay sober, and fortunately everything processed through quickly. To go from saying you’re going to get a divorce and having a divorce in eight weeks is pretty amazing, especially with a child, especially with a house.

I turned to AA for help and I also did some outpatient treatment as well in the beginning to help get me started. There was a certain meeting in my area that was recommended and to this day, I go to still.

When I was new in the AA program, I was talking to someone and I said, “I would be so embarrassed if I ran into somebody I knew.” They said, “Be thrilled if you run into somebody you know because they’re getting help” and that’s part of the thinking that I didn’t understand, that it’s a good thing to be part of AA. It truly is because it gets you a new life, but I didn’t get that because I was still in a period of shame.

I would say to others just be kind to yourself. It’s a difficult journey to go through and usually by the time people get through the doors, they’ve beaten themselves up pretty well and they just need to be kind to themselves and just take it a day at a time.

This past October I celebrated my tenth year of sobriety, which is amazing. It is a long time, and I have such a rich, blessed life now. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, that’s for sure.

Can I hear a round of applause for Debbie, please? Ten years! That takes commitment and dedication.

As I mentioned, divorce is one of life’s most stressful events and often involves a move, refinancing or getting a new mortgage, a job change as well as changes in your financial state, all of which are stressful events in their own right. A critical factor in your ability to cope with the stress is the degree of control you feel you have.

In Debbie’s case, she initiated the divorce  recognizing that it was a critical success factor in getting sober. Her path to sobriety could have been very different if her husband had initiated it and she’d been opposed to it.

Relative to your own divorce, think about the major decisions you’re facing and the degree of control you have. Are there decisions you can postpone simply so you don’t have deal with so much at the same time? Are there some decisions you can make temporarily until you have more certainty over your future? Are there any changes you could make now that would ultimately reduce your stress?

Sometimes, delaying decisions by even a couple of weeks can help you think more clearly. So for example if your STBX is pushing you to make a decision on dividing a certain asset and it’s stressing you out, tell him that you need a couple more weeks to think about it and ask what would be the deadline for telling him. Conversely, if you feel your STBX is stalling on a decision, it could be that he is feeling overwhelmed. Consider what your real deadline is and whether you could give him more time. Ask him if he had more time, if that would help him make his decision.

If you are dealing with alcohol-related problems and need to talk to someone, you can contact Debbi directly through her website.


Debbi Dickinson is a personal coach who writes at Stepping Into Joy inspiring professional women the importance of self-care and balance. Debbi also creates audio and video programs and hosts telesummits focused on topics professional women deal with today. 

Photo Credit: 2012© Jupiter Images Corporation

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  • Jeff

    Wonderful article. Thanks to Debbie for sharing her story.