“Reach out for help. Ask. Put down your drink or drug. Start to show up. Sit in meetings. Share. Pray. Cry. Feel. Grow.”
I'll Have Mine Straight Up, Heidi Heath Garwood
In early recovery, most individuals trying to absorb advice and information have a short “receiving window,” as Aptos, Calif.-based graphic designer and author Heidi Heath Garwood puts it. “When you're first sober, you don't have a lot of patience, or time,” Garwood says.
Sober herself for 13 years now, Garwood once might have qualified as an exception to her own rule, as her habit of writing down all the wisdom she heard in early recovery produced a trove of 200 short messages. These ended up forming the basis for books that feature Garwood's words and photography and that serve as inspiration for others, with 12-Step fellowship and spirituality emerging among the most prominent themes.
“The Higher Power thing is really hard for a lot of people,” says Garwood, 63. “But we do this together—God speaks through others. I am a big believer that it is hard to stay sober if you don't get the God concept.”
Mindset of an overachiever
Garwood says she was wired for success from an early age, never stepping out of “goody two shoes” character until her late 20s. Even in sobriety, it took her a while to realize that in the recovery world, unlike the high-achieving environment from which she came, “You don't get a chance to graduate with honors. You get to stay in the program.”
Having been the owner of a graphic design business, she describes the life of a functioning alcoholic whose water bottles at the office and in the golf bag contained gin. “I wasn't necessarily hurting others, I didn't think,” she says.
Garwood never attended a rehab program, but found hope and redemption in the Steps. “I really took to the 12 Steps,” she says. “It repurposed everything for me.”
In her books Free Beer Tomorrow, Hair of the Dog and I'll Have Mine Straight Up, Garwood offers encouragement in the form of written reflections of no more than half a dozen paragraphs each, accompanied by appealing color images. Much of the messaging extols the benefits of the 12-Step fellowship, as when Garwood writes in Free Beer Tomorrow, “There is no other venue in life that puts us immediately on the same page as our fellow brothers sitting next to us in a meeting.”
She says a favorite phrase of hers appears on the back cover of Free Beer Tomorrow (the book title came from a sign read at a mountain burger joint she and her husband had visited). It reads, “The secret to my sobriety is that my sobriety is not a secret.”
Garwood says she was giving away books at first, but WestBow Press would then publish the series. She would like to get more books in the hands of treating professionals who could share them with patients as a recovery tool, and she adds that family members could draw strength from them as well.
On each day of her sobriety, Garwood receives from her husband a tiny slip of paper with a new number on it. It reminds her to treat every day as if it is day one, even though the actual number now exceeds 4,700. This ritual carries the message central to Garwood's thinking and what she shares with others: one day at a time.