Sunday, 2 January 2011


partly sunny, extremely mild, temps 6

This is a very special day for me. The biggest day on my calendar. This is the day I got sober. Seventeen years ago today I stopped drinking and joined a 12 step programme.

I don't talk about it often. I never mention it on the blog, except this one day. And I'll only answer questions about it if there's a direct question. But if there is that direct question, then I'm content to speak about my alcoholism and my sobriety. It came as a shock to see that someone had put it on the Wikipedia page about me. I was stunned and my immediate reaction was to try to have it taken off.

But then I realized it was quite true. Very humbling that.

And whoever had put it there had found it in an interview I'd given, so it's not like this was a violation. The information was out there.

And, beyond all that, I thought that maybe there's a reason it's there. So I left it.

I have to say, I'm a very private, but very grateful alcoholic. Without having gone through that, without standing by that precipice trying to decide if I should live or die. Afraid to die and afraid to live. Without knowing that hell I would not know the heaven I was then given.

I look back on my life 17 years ago, and the despair. The loneliness. The certainty the best had been and nothing will ever be good again. I think of the self loathing. And the ache that no amount of alcohol could numb. Thinking it couldn't get worse. And then it did.

The pain stopped. And I was left with nothing. No feelings at all. Just a wasteland of a life. A great expanse of nothing. Empty.

I was 35. And life was over.

But I decided, since I was ready to die, maybe I could try one last thing. AA.

I walked into my first meeting 17 years ago and haven't had a drink since. I didn't go to AA because I was brave. It took no courage. It took raw desperation. And a moment of grace.

Every Saturday night now I go to an AA meeting in a local village. We take turns making coffee, and cleaning up, and chairing, and greeting the newcomer. And the only thing we ask of each other is complete honesty. How you're really doing. How you're really feeling.

In AA I've learned how to live. And I've learned that the void inside will not be filled with drink or drugs, with shopping. Not even, though I've tried, with gummi bears. It would never be filled with compliments, with successes, with money or awards.

Not with anything anyone could give me, or I could take. The only thing that has filled that void is faith in a higher power. And in giving. Not, finally, in taking at all. Like a drowning man, I grasped everything to me, believing it would hold me up, prevent me sinking. I had no idea the only way to save myself was to give it away.

I look at my life now. Everyday I stand by the pond, say my prayers, and wonder at how lucky I am. And I thank God for this life that came when I thought it was over. That rose up from the void. Filled with love and friends and creativity. I live with a man I love, in a place I adore, and I do something that gives me endless pleasure.

I'm sober today, but far from perfect (as Michael and my friends will agree!) And in moments when I disappoint myself, it's helpful to remember (as a woman named Jane reminded me yesterday) how far I've come. And not worry about the distance yet to go.

My name's Louise, and I'm a grateful alcoholic.


lil Gluckstern said...

Congratulations, Louise, this is truly a significant day. Sometimes, we reach a crisis of meaning, where we wonder if we really matter. I've certainly been there, and somehow the guide appears. The truly beautiful person is the one who has faced her/his demons, and recognized they need not be as powerful as we previously thought. Much joy and contentment to you.

Lori said...

Louise, I only learned of you and your books a couple of weeks ago through an article in the Globe and Mail.I am now reading a second of your delightful stories, and enjoying them immensely! There are pearls of insight and wisdom shinning through the characters that tell me you have and are living the "examined life"... and have found it bountiful! I was planning a brief note to you today without knowing this special day for you. Congratulations and all the best in 2011! Lori

Nikki B said...

I a so glad you were strong enough to take that step. You are a truly wonderful person and I am proud and honored to call you my friend.
Happy New Year!

Joanne Derby said...

What a truly wonderful soul you are.... Congrats on this very special day !

Kaye Barley said...

Louise, I have often said you were one of the most gracious people I know. I now add that you are also one of the bravest. I am proud of you and very proud to know you.

And here's a hug!


caryn said...

What a brave blog to write. What a powerful blog to write.
Caryn in St.Louis

Anonymous said...

Louise, this brought tears to my eyes. Despair comes in many forms and it is a blessing to us that yours led you to that first meeting. My sister struggles with alcoholism, but she is 18 months sober. She is finally clearheaded enough to see her life and experience it. I am so very proud of her and I'm proud of you as well.

Mary Vehr Mumaw said...

Louise - your sharing of this, makes a puzzle piece fit into place as to why from the moment I first read one of your books, I felt a connection deeper than an appreciation for great storytelling and writing: I was fascinated by your ability to weave the threads of spirituality, philosophy, art and poetry through the story all of which strengthen your wonderful understanding of being human. thank you - I too celebrate a day of sobriety each year - each day actually. Blessings, Mary

Ruthie from NH said...

It's humbling to know that although I might consider another's life more glamorous or in some way better or their grass greener, I need also to realize that I know nothing of walking in someone else's shoes. My own shoes are an okay fit for my feet. Thank you for reminding me to be thankful for my blessings. My heartfelt congratulations and happy anniversary!

Erica Spinks said...

Oh Louise, so few of us are as honest with ourselves as you have been today. Thanks you for having the strength to share a personal matter with strangers.

diane said...

I now know a little better why you are one of my favorite authors. Thanks for being brave and sharing part of your true self with us. You are an inspiration (which isn't a perfect person, rather a person who is not afraid to share imperfections in order to help others).

Melody said...

Louise, Congratulations to you on this milestone day.

Keep up the good fight.

Darlene said...

Sometimes a person has to reach the edge of the abyss before asking for help. And if one asks, from a place of truth, He will take the burden. And His faith in that person gives the person faith in themselves. And it's so worth it.

Very best wishes for continued success, Louise.

May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and give you peace.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Louise - this was a good post. I've been on your site before but not your blog. I took my dad to his first AA meeting in 1992. He's been sober since. As a psychotherapist I know the power of that group. Posts like this can really help people. Thanks for your honesty.

Linda said...

This post touched a lot of people it seems. You continue to give of yourself to us; in your books (can't wait for September!) and your blog - your wisdom, your insight, your humor are things I look forward to everyday. I hope you can feel the love coming back to you. You will never be alone.

Cool City Stitcher said...

You are an amazing woman, and I'm so glad I found you and your books. You've touched many lives by sharing your thoughts, thereby revealing much of your true self and beautiful spirit.

Diane said...

How wonderful it is for so many, many people that 10 years ago, you consented to join in the dance of life and give yourself to others via your writing. I know you don't consider yourself to be a 'courageous' woman but I believe you to be so - delightfully so - this post as well declares you to be so.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Diane, Cool, Linda, Jan, Darlene, Melody, Diane, Erica, Ruthie, Mary, Kay, K=Caryn, Kaye, Nikki, Joanne, Lori and Lil,

It seems there sometimes are no words. But I'll try. Thank you for what you've said. Your support (and I do feel your embrace and your presence) and in some cases your own person stories. An act of trust that I honour and hold dear.

Thank you for being in in life.

Nancy said...

Fighting and winning the battle with your demon must strongly influence how your characters are formed and how they make choices and live their lives. They are people I want to know - their lives and choices intrigue me, and I anticipate each book to get to know them better. Sharing your demon with us was so brave, and it brings an added dimension in reading the books we love so much. I think what I mean to say is a very inadequate "thank you" for experiencing and conquering the devastation so that we have books and characters we love.

A Novel Woman said...

Thank you for this. Your honesty and bravery in posting such a personal story has helped more people than you could ever know. Someone once said that there are no small acts of kindness, that every one of them creates a ripple with no logical end. Thank you for this ripple.

Anonymous said...

Louise, thank you for posting about AA. It is a wonderful organization and helped me tremendously 11 years ago when my despair was insurmountable. I asked to be taken away and received a message that "I didn't have to live like this anymore" Grace entered with my first meeting. I knew I connected with you on a different level upon our meeting. Annonymous Cheryl

Arline said...

Louise, this is yet another wonderful piece of who you are ... and it explains, in part, why you are able to craft such beautiful, flawed, remarkably multi-faceted HUMAN characters. I am grateful that alcoholism is not a journey I have been on personally (dumb luck and the right influences in my life) ... but I am so proud of friends and family who are now decades into sobriety. Congratulations, and thank you for talking about this openly. Just today starting Bury Your Dead ... so excited!!!!!

Lynda said...

So many comments have already echoed my thoughts, lovingly and articulately so.

I will add that I just finished Bury Your Dead, and found it to be a masterpiece. Without giving anything away, your telling of the three stories was brilliantly done. And the stories themselves were breathtaking, heartbreaking, compelling, healing and more. Oh my.

Also, my name is Lynda, and I'm an alcoholic. So very pleased to meet you, and I'd love to buy you a cup of coffee, or a cafe au lait some time.