Ask a Sober Oldster #2: Dionne Ford
"I am trying to recommit to a regular dance practice since dance has always been very healing for me."
This new monthly interview series is a collaboration between Oldster Magazine and The Small Bow, A.J. Daulerio’s newsletter about recovery and mental health, and will appear in both newsletters. Learn more about this collaboration in this Oldster podcast/videocast episode.
Dionne Ford: “My memoir Go Back and Get It was published in April from Bold Type Books. I’m also the co-editor of the anthology Slavery’s Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation (Rutgers University, May 2019). My work has won awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York and in 2018, I received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing. I also teach Creative Writing as an adjunct.”
How old are you, and how long have you been in recovery?
I’m 54 and I’ve been sober since 1991.
How did you get there?
I started drinking when I left home my junior year of high school for an exchange program and by the time I was in my final year of college, I’d been arrested twice and tried to kill myself—drinking was the common denominator. A priest, a counselor, and a boyfriend recommended I try AA and I’m glad that I did.
What are the best things about being in recovery?
The best things about being in recovery are the relationships I’ve made over the past three decades. I feel like I grew up with and became a woman with sober sisters. Never having to be alone in anything that I’m experiencing in the sense that there is always someone I can reach out to is a gift that I wasn’t expecting. My sober sisters especially helped me raise my kids, go back to school, be the best spouse I was capable of being, and they are now walking me through divorce. I am never alone. But the very best thing about recovery is that it was my entry into finding a spiritual life as opposed to a religious one. I found a personal higher power that is very different than the one I grew up with. That’s been everything.
What’s hard about being in recovery?
Seeing so many people die from alcoholism, drug overdoses and suicide.
What’s the best recovery memoir you’ve ever read? Tell us what you liked about it.
Lit by Mary Karr and Heavy by Kiese Laymon are the first books that come to mind. The writing in both is next level. Karr and Laymon each have such distinct and gripping voices. They both mesmerized me with vivid descriptions of their worlds, how they processed that world, and how this propelled the compulsion. Each was so rich and relatable even though much of our circumstances were different.
My sober sisters especially helped me raise my kids, go back to school, be the best spouse I was capable of being, and they are now walking me through divorce. I am never alone.
What are some memorable sober moments?
Sober dances in the early 1990s got me through the weekends and helped me make some long lasting friendships.
When I was about 15 years sober, I was at an artist’s residency, I think for the first time, and I was feeling like a fraud and in need of a meeting. There was a meeting schedule in the laundry room tacked to the wall, so I waited until I was sure everyone else was in their studios working to check it out. I was in the middle of checking the schedule when this elegant visual writer came into the room. I had noticed him because of his grace and generosity. (He’d shared a box of chocolates with us one day after lunch.) As soon as he saw what I was holding, he threw his arms open and exclaimed, “Oh, another friend of Bill’s,” (as in Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA). We went to a meeting together that night and many other nights during that residency and he later became my sponsor.
Are you in therapy? On meds? Tell us about that.
I’ve never been on meds (although my kids wish I had been when they were teens), but I am in therapy and have been on and off since I turned 19.
From the talk therapy that I began with to the somatic experiencing that I currently practice, it’s been an important part of my recovery and wellness routine. I only wish it was more affordable.
What sort of activities or groups do you participate in to help your recovery? (i.e. swimming, 12-step, meditation, et cetera)
I pray and meditate every day, attend 12 step meetings regularly, and stay in touch with my sober sisters and brothers for fellowship and support. Nature also keeps me grounded, so I spend as much time soaking it up as possible. And I am trying to recommit to a regular dance practice since dance has always been very healing for me.
The very best thing about recovery is that it was my entry into finding a spiritual life as opposed to a religious one. I found a personal higher power that is very different than the one I grew up with. That’s been everything.
Are there any questions we haven’t asked you that you think we should add to this? And would you like to answer it?
IS A.A. THE ONLY WAY TO GET SOBER?
No. I’ve seen people find sobriety through other means like mindfulness practices, their own spiritual practices and other modalities. So, while AA has been right for me, it’s not the only way.
If you do decide to seek out a Twelve Step group, keep in mind that the people you meet there are not saints. It’s full of imperfect people. Take what you like and leave the rest.
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