The summer of 2012 seems ages ago and minutes ago at the same time. Though I didn’t know it in the moment, August 3 of that year marked the end of one lifetime and the genesis of a completely different one for me. That was the day that I left the hospital for the second time in two months, and for the first time in fifteen years, did not pick up a drink. Instead, I FINALLY surrendered to the fact that I am an alcoholic, that I needed help, and that I could not bear to live in the tortured way I had been living for one second longer. And then I blinked, and six years have passed. Six years full of FEELINGS: of triumphs, of mishaps, of heart swellings, of heart breakings, of mental health visits, of laughter, of rage, of tears, of deep conversation, of world travels, of real life NOT muted by booze or pills or powders. I have been reflecting a lot over the past week, and here is a boiled-down version of where I am in my recovery at six thank-fucking-god years of sobriety.
1. I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This is HUGE. I didn’t realize how much I was obsessing about the proverbial lead-heavy shoe hanging right over my head until the shoe disappeared. Near the end of my drinking, every night while lying in bed, I would pray that my misery would just be ended, that I wouldn’t wake up to have to live my small and depressing life all over again. And every morning, I would wake up (always soaked in alcohol sweat) and immediately be punched in the gut with a sense of impending doom, almost a panic, about nothing in particular, but really about everything. I just KNEW something terrible was going to happen. These words don’t do it justice. It was misery on earth, and it was my everyday existence, and I couldn’t see a way out of it. I had resigned myself to living out the rest of my 30s like this and hoping that my liver would give out on me by 40, and then I could finally just be at peace. And once I could finally peel myself out of bed, I would have my morning drinks to normalize. What the CDC calls “binge drinking,” I called breakfast. And then off to live my double life and tell all the lies necessary to hide my drinking from everyone around me. And to try not to smell like booze at work. And to try not to pass out at my desk. And to try not to get too drunk at work outings. And to try to sneak enough booze between work meetings so that my hands wouldn’t tremor, but not so much that I would slur or pass out. And every moment of every day, I would be full of anxiety waiting for the other shoe to drop, for someone or something to happen that would blow my cover, for me to get fired or called out for being drunk all the time.
My life doesn’t look like that today, not even close. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but after getting some sober time under my belt, my anxiety slowly faded away like the morning fog. By learning to do the right thing (most of the time) and to live a life that aligns with my morals, there is no web of lies or double life that I’m going to get caught up in. These days, I wake up super early, shower, take care of my cats, make my breakfast and lunch, join my recovery fellowship, then go to work and try to be as productive as possible. It may sound boring, but I’m more than okay with that. It beats what I described in the prior paragraph every day of the week. Today, the only shoes I’m waiting for to drop are the latest Converse!
2. It’s the little things that throw me off my game.
This one always blows my mind. Since I have been sober, when a true crisis happens, I find myself shockingly calm. I lean in to my recovery program and use all the tools that I have been taught in order to stay emotionally sane and sober and to be of service to other people. Last summer, my brother-in-law had a stroke. My sister and his two children were there with him when it happened, and they weren’t sure if his sight would be permanently affected or if he would be able to work again. My sister was justifiably terrified for a whole bunch of reasons. As if I was on autopilot, I jumped into caretaker mode and offered to help in any way I could, whether it be with the kids, with emotional support, calling doctors, or just watching her animals while she ran around to doctor appointments. The experience rattled me, but it did not debilitate me.
On the other hand, some of the most minor offenses can knock me off my game in a split second, whether it be a side comment made by a colleague, a guy I’ve never met in real life not responding to me on a dating app, my cat puking on my brand-new couch, or missing my train home when the next one is coming in 10 minutes. In the grand scheme of life, these things really don’t matter, at least not to me. But I have the tendency to go ON TILT and start hating the entire human race when I feel like I’m on the losing side of situations. Thank god I have a fellowship of likeminded individuals to tell me to cut the shit when it really needs to be cut.
3. Turns out, I’m still heartbroken about certain things.
When I first got sober, all I was trying to do was quit drinking so that I wouldn’t die or lose my job. I put a ton of work into my recovery, and six years later, I still maintain my emotional sobriety on a daily basis. So, I guess I figured after six years, some of the things that tortured me when I was drinking would have been resolved (internally) by now. Specifically, I’m referencing the death of my parents and my divorce/being a horrid wife. I couldn’t even type that sentence without tears filling up my lower lids. Ugh. I’m not ready to share any more about this publicly, but will say these two things. One: sometimes getting help in places other than in my recovery program is a good idea – can’t hurt, might help. Two: I’m not NEARLY as tortured as I was when I was actively trying to shut off the pain by drinking myself into a near-coma every night.
4. I am defined by my comeback, not by my setback.
I lived with so much shame and guilt over my actions for so many years in active alcoholism that these feelings became engrained in my core belief system and how I viewed myself. I was the quintessential egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I walked with swagger, talked with even more swagger, and always bit back smarter than those who bit me. But inside, I was seething with self-loathing. It took a long time once I put down the bottle to rebuild my self-worth. And don’t get me wrong – I did a lot of crappy things when I was drinking. Sometimes, I still do crappy things. But just because I am in recovery and was an active alcoholic for many years does NOT mean that I need to still bear that cross of shame and guilt from my past. There is SO MUCH DIGNITY in digging oneself out from the abyss. And all of this is a driving force behind why I share my story. So many of us are unfairly stigmatized and judged because of our disease. And today, I refuse to settle for that.
5. Reality > fantasy, and the sky is my new floor.
Before I got sober, I was miserable in my own life. I wanted so many other people’s lives and thought that everyone else had it way better off than me. I wanted this one’s clothes, that one’s boyfriend, that one’s parents, that one’s looks. If only I had THAT, I would be happy in my life – is the lie I repeated over and over again to myself. I spent so much time obsessing about this fantasy life that it was impossible for me to be present and show up for my own life. One of my favorite things to do to feel bad about myself and wallow in my own misery was to get wasted, then go on social media and look at everyone’s travel photos – because I was obsessed with traveling the world, but just could not physically do it because of my alcoholism. I would spend hours getting more and more drunk and more and more depressed about my own lack of travel that by the end of the night, I would be sobbing by myself on my couch wishing that someone would just put me out of my misery. It was pathetic, but I didn’t know any other way to be.
Fast forward six years. One of my friends in recovery always says that if he started to tell you about his life today, you would think he was bragging. And today, that is how I feel about my own life. On the outside, much of my life looks the exact same as it did in August of 2012. I still work in the same field, I still rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city because I can’t afford a down payment in Boston, my parents are still passed away, and I’m still single living with the two best cat-mates a girl could ever hope for. And I will always have to deal with what life decides to kick my way. But on the inside, EVERYTHING is different. And by different, I mean exponentially better. As much as I may be envious of certain things at times, I can honestly tell you that today, I don’t want anyone else’s life but my own. And that is so fucking empowering to say that and actually mean it. Oh, and I do get to travel the world now because I can, because I’m sober, and because being sober allows me to take the action I need to take in order to be able to do what I want to do. And traveling makes me the happiest I’ve ever been.
6. It truly is a benevolent universe.
My truth today is that I am not a victim. People are not out to get me. The deck is not stacked against me. Colleagues aren’t trying to make me look bad. Things aren’t happening TO me. I find that when I am in a healthy frame of mine, people are generally kind and generous. The world is full of opportunity and beauty. I can be of service at work and either do my job, help someone else, or keep my mouth shut. Things are happening FOR me. Sobriety is the gift that I never wanted, but that I desperately needed, and now that I have it, I cannot imagine my life without it.
*This post is dedicated to my parents, Karen and James Sinclair – wishing they were here today, but honoring their memory daily by staying sober one day at a time *