Marilyn Boehm is a retired probation officer who has now been fortunate enough to focus on her other life’s passions. Most recently her most significant accomplishment has been to write and publish her memoir, “Starting at Goodbye.” It is her story of alcoholism, recovery, and the crazy love affair she had with her now deceased husband. She worked on it for ten years, and it helped her deal with the grief of losing her life partner.
1) Describe your “rock bottom.”
There were a series of events that conspired to beat me into submission as I struck “rock bottom.” One of the most damaging memories I recall happened when I was in a drunken stupor, angry at my family for not helping to clean the house. I threw my four-year-old daughter’s toys and possessions off the second story level of our townhouse. Watching her scream in terror as her things went crashing onto the floor of our living room should have assured me a rapid end to my drinking. It helped, but it didn’t end there.
When my husband, a nonfunctional drunk, went into treatment, I was forced to look at the extent of my own drinking. Because I appeared more functional, maintaining a career while drinking myself to death on a daily basis, it took moving the focus off him and onto me. I noticed that those wine bottles in the trash can were mine, and I couldn’t blame it on him anymore.
Lastly, I participated in a personal growth seminar in which I realized how numb I’d gotten from my drinking. The feedback I got from the other participants was that they saw “a dead woman.” I made an appointment for outpatient treatment the following week. I realized I needed help.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I absolutely hated being sober! I had to learn to live my life without any drugs or alcohol, and it was extremely uncomfortable. I liked the fellowship—the laughter and the crazy stories—but I thought those who were enjoying sober lives were lying! Ironically, I’ve stayed sober since my first meeting 28 years ago, and now it’s me who shares about enjoying life.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
My husband relapsed during my first two weeks of recovery, asking me why he should stay sober when it was obvious I wouldn’t last one more day. Because I knew I couldn’t stay sober around my drinking “buddy,” I divorced him. Alcohol had destroyed us both. I still loved him, but I knew I couldn’t live in that madness anymore.
When he came into the program six months later and joined me at some of my meetings, we remarried! Our family life grew healthy for the first time, and we became responsible and stable parents for the first time. My husband eventually took his contractors exam and became a licensed contractor. We experienced financial security for the first time in our marriage.
Those were the most joyous days of my life. I still needed a little “edge” of excitement in sobriety, so we started adventure travel. We enjoyed seeing four kinds of monkeys and sloths in the rainforests of Costa Rica. We saw a tiger in the jungles of Nepal while riding on the back of an elephant. We saw a pack of lions hunt and kill a buffalo in Botswana.
When my husband got diagnosed with brain cancer, I was able to be his caregiver for five years, while working full time. While that experience was far from being the “best thing,” I learned the true meaning of love. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action.
I also got to see my daughter graduate from college after which she found and married a great guy. My son, who got the worst of my drinking, found a solid career in the railroad industry in Spokane, Washington. He and his ex-wife also gifted me with my grandson, who is now 11 years old. Seeing both of my kids grow up to become productive, responsible, and loving adults is HUGE.
4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself that I didn’t need to anesthetize myself and numb out my feelings in order to live a good life and to be okay with myself. I would tell myself that I could have MORE fun in sobriety than I ever could find in the lowlife bars and with the lower companionship I considered as friends.
I would tell myself I am a funny person! In sobriety, I learned that I made people laugh when I shared. So I took a Stand-Up Comedy class and, for my final exam, I performed in a comedy club. I continued to perform a couple more times, but I realized it was too much pressure and that I shouldn’t give up my day job!
5) What have been the most useful things you have learned about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I have learned that it’s an inside job. When I was drinking and using, I focused on looking and sounding good. I believed I was ugly and needed attention and validation from men to have any worth. I wore a mask, hiding my true self from the world.
I have learned that one of the most important things is to walk in integrity, to clean up my act if I make a mistake and hurt someone, to live an authentic life that I choose. I have found that the innermost me is a good person who is living her dreams and is grateful for what I have. I no longer want someone else’s life.
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that would never have happened if you had been drinking.
In June of last year, I challenged myself to do something for a cause dear to my heart: helping to save the life of elephants. I flew to Sacramento to learn to lobby for a bill that would prohibit the sales of ivory in our state. The bill passed in the legislature! In my drinking days, I would have complained that there was nothing I could do to help fix anything I found wrong in the world. In sobriety, I know that my voice matters and that I am not powerless.
Also, I had always wanted to be a writer but never believed I was good enough. When I was in college, I had signed up to be a journalism major. Because of one conversation with someone who walked me between classes and whom I didn’t even know, I changed my major and the direction of my life.
It was only in sobriety that I finally had the courage to tell my truth and to face my demons by publishing my memoir in November, 2015. The reactions from people who have read my memoir have given me the confidence to call myself an author and to believe I really am a good writer!
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“Live and let live.”
“To thine own self be true.”
“A day at a time.”
8) And lastly, why does “recovery rock?”
By the time I got to the rooms of AA, I wanted to die. I have realized that, in sobriety, I am learning to live life on life’s terms. Now, I want more than ever to live a sober life as long as I can last. I want to feel all of my feelings, good and bad. My life rocks…and it’s all because I’m in recovery!