Last week (Thursday) I celebrated eighteen months of continuous sobriety. I suppose that’s my greatest achievement. I am somewhat reluctant to admit that, because I suppose I wish that I had something more socially acceptable to count (and use in future job interviews), but when I break it down, what sobriety has given me is absolutely every single other thing that I am proud of in my life. So, yeah, not nothing.
I was reminded by J that it was my eighteen months on the morning of; I had actually forgotten. I remembered when every month was a milestone, dreading the time when the milestones started dragging out. I was enjoying the recognition and thought that it was, in fact, the thing that was keeping me sober. I remember when someone pointed out to me that the point of sharing your progress was for the newcomer to have something to look forward to and someone to look up to.
Of course! I had been thinking about it in terms of what my milestones meant to me, rather than to the community of which I am a part. But the people around me (who have been working solid programs for longer than I have) have graciously pointed out these fallacies to me when they observe them, and over time my perspective has shifted slightly so that I am not at the center of the universe 100% of the time.
Now I go to meetings contemplating what I can bring to them, rather than take from them. I try to socialize in the same way. I am less lecherous, hopefully in all facets of my life, and that makes me feel more worthwhile – the idea that consumption makes us happy is a complete lie. It only makes our soul crave more and more of that which will never satisfy it. I’ll write more on this another time.
Eighteen months ago, I went to my first meeting; it was a Sunday evening in May, and I was due to start a new job the following morning. I am still at the same job, which I’m so utterly grateful my gut lead me to take – I owe a portion of my sobriety to it.
After I got through the first, detoxifying week (which was nothing short of physically, mentally and emotionally horrific) and could think straight(er), I resolved to keep my sobriety discreet from my co-workers – for a number of reasons, but primarily because I didn’t want to be regarded as having a disability. I wanted to be seen as an equal.
However, many of my co-workers quickly became my friends, and from them I saw no need to keep it a secret – it would have been unnatural, not to mention impossible, to do so. Even though I wasn’t ashamed of being an alcoholic (quite the opposite, in fact), I didn’t want to be misunderstood – the thought of someone taking pity on me filled me with nausea. I would tell you that I didn’t care what people thought of me, but that was more of a lie than I cared to realize.
Since those early days, the fact that I am in AA is known by enough people for me to feel comfortable socially in work, and by the kinds of people who wouldn’t think to spread it further than necessary – my guardian angels. On Thursday, though, I messaged my manager to ask him if I could leave work a little early. I didn’t have to play the ‘meeting’ card, but I was excited, so I did. I let him know I needed to go pick up a chip, which was true. He knew that I didn’t drink, I guess perhaps didn’t know that I was in AA, or had been sober such a short period of time. He congratulated me emphatically, and I replied to him that I was “secretly happy to be alive”. He responded thus:
“Hahaha, you are not secretly happy to be alive, I think everyone is aware that you are happy to be alive; maybe not with that context though.”
It’s funny, because for all of the obsessing we do, more often than not, we probably have no idea what people actually think of us. I was shocked by what he said not because it was untrue – no, it couldn’t have been truer, and I glad that it was apparent. But I was still telling myself the same old stories about what others thought about me, and even what I thought of myself. To have someone shatter that out-dated illusion was profound, and revealed, in a rare moment of clarity, the actual extent of my progress.
A year-and-a-half is a long-ass time. Sometimes it feels like it flew by in an instant, and other times it feels like a lifetime – in a sense, it has been. But for someone who’s become used to (and, oh yes, addicted to) instant gratification, eighteen months can be an incomprehensible amount of time within which to track progress. That’s why moments like these are so valuable.
Life has become manageable – and good – slowly but surely. As all of these things inside me started to change, life has blossomed, subtly, quietly. I have to deliberately note the changes by drawing comparisons in order to notice the water that I am swimming in. To celebrate eighteen months of sobriety, I’ll share a few from the night after the meeting up until now.
So after I picked up my chip, I went to the album launch of a friend and co-worker – a super hip gathering of super-cool folk, many of whom were my co-workers. I was chatting and dancing, dancing and chatting – I felt completely comfortable. I noticed that I wasn’t even holding a soda, or a glass of water, as I floated from person to person (I’d been in this exact venue before many times in the last year, and remembered lining up at the bar for fifteen minutes just to get a glass of water, knowing that I would feel less awkward once I was holding something). Anyway, I ended up chatting with a co-worker friend about her plans to take a course, and shared with her my genuine intuition that she was taking a vital and auspicious step. She grabbed my arm and shouted into my ear, over the loud music “You always make me feel so relaxed, so much better“.
There was a time when all I could contribute to my relationships was anxiety and insecurity. I was a liability. Friends wouldn’t come to me with their real problems – sure, I was sometimes a good talker (I was a mouthpiece when drunk), but I didn’t have the capacity to get outside myself and listen to them. Nor was I dependable – my receptiveness depended upon what side of a glass of wine you caught me on. And you’d better hope the conversation was going to swing back to me, eventually.
An hour or so later, another co-worker arrived. She came up to me and shouted in my ear that I had gotten her through the day after the election results with a post I had written on Facebook, the gist of which was that we need to remain positive, not slip into hateful thinking that will further entrench the divides wrought by the election, and focus on the things that we can do as individuals. I was sort of stunned that it had had such an impact, but was deeply grateful.
The whole business of writing has been a lifelong love affair, but myself and the page had been estranged for the best part of eight years. Any attempts I made at writing in that period, as sad as this is, were limited to social media (and were 99% of the time written in or close to a blackout). The sole purpose of sharing anything was to get as many ‘Likes’ as possible, temporary flickers in my otherwise-dark existence, so I wasn’t writing from the heart, nor did I care who my words affected. But knowing that I helped one person with my words the other day, I felt a genuine sense of achievement. Success looks different to me these days – it’s proportionate to my usefulness and service to the greater good.
I ran into another co-worker who was having a hard time seeing straight, but didn’t seem to mind. We chatted for a minute, and out of the blue, he said “I always hope that you’re going to be out when I’m out. I secretly hope that you’ll inspire me to drink less and have a better time”.
This one kinda goes without explanation. I don’t need to tell you that I was the polar opposite of this historically. People who wanted to drink less would deliberately avoid me. I laughed out loud and told him that.
The full moon happened yesterday morning, so last night it was still pretty full. It was a super-moon, actually – the closest that the moon has been to the earth in sixty-eight years. I’ve perhaps mentioned this before, but full moons ALWAYS affect me. In the past, my wildest benders would always be around a full moon (most of the time I would only discover this retrospectively). I feel energized to the point of erraticism, mostly. Yesterday, leaving work, I felt untethered, like I needed something to latch onto, something ‘bad’ to indulge in; a familiar feeling, but not recently so. For the first time since I quit, I fancied a cigarette, badly. I ignored the feeling, but biked home too fast, getting a bit of an adrenaline rush, sucking cold air deep into my lungs. Speeding up to the storage room of my building, I dismantled and put my bike inside, cursing myself that the uncomfortable elation hadn’t disappeared. As I stepped back out into the alley through the heavy door, the moon caught my eye – slap bang in my line of vision, the bare branches of some trees doing little to obscure its immensity from view. I froze, spellbound, in its luminosity for a moment, before realizing that I was in the exact spot that I had smoked my last cigarette in. I then realized that that had been 8 months prior, to the day, almost to the minute. There had been snow on the ground, my fingers had been red, the cold air was biting. I hadn’t enjoyed it, not even a bit. Now, I stood in that same spot, as one would stand in front of a loving mother who knows your full potential. I stood and was humbled. I stood and was grateful for the energy that was running through me like electricity, because today I have a choice as to what I want to do with it.
I have many choices, and I am taken care of because I take care of my spirit. It’s quite simple. Thus, I have changed from the inside out.