In six weeks, I will have been sober for 365 days. These ten-and-a-half months easily count among the most difficult times of my life.
Being in recovery is a reckoning. Note the use of the present-continuous form of that verb. I haven’t quit drinking. I am always quitting. I am not all better. I am getting better. I’m not reborn. I’m learning how to live again. A sequencing that undoubtedly will go on ad infinitum.
Anniversaries give us reason to pause. A chance to measure progression and regression. An opportunity for reckoning with what has come and gone, and where you stand because of it. In this particular spot, on this particular day, I’m on the north face of a summit-less mountain — sure-footed and fixed roped — enjoying the remarkable and unobstructed view.
Here’s what I’ve come to see of me:
My happiest hours are between 5 and 7 a.m when I’m writing and drinking coffee by the fireplace in my living room. This joy outranks “happy hour” by tenfold. That former toxic timeframe was more misery than tipsy. I worried about running out of wine while I was drinking it. Would there be enough to get me through the night? I don’t have to ask the question anymore. Or answer it.
I don’t wake up bargaining with my addiction. No more rigmarole of saying “This is the day I stop” only to find myself at the liquor store by day’s end. And whenever I entertain the notion of “the good old days,” I recall the abject hell they brought along for the ride. Being a trainwreck isn’t funny. The impact hurts a lot of people, as well as your own organs.
I no longer suffer from a dull ache in my right side. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease and metabolic disorder. Drinking was the opposite of an antidote, yet I didn’t care. At least I could forget the pain by diving into its source. After I gave up drinking, and my cacophony of symptoms quieted down, I learned that Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was also plaguing me. My trifecta of health-compromising illnesses is now limited to a manageable one.
I feel better from top to bottom. My fingernails and hair follicles are less brittle, as are my emotions. I still get frustrated and outraged and depressed and scared. But I observe these feelings as the proof — not the burden — of a robust existence. I also feel liberated to speak my mind instead of the need to escape it. I unload shit rather than carry it around day in and day out. Oh, yes, my bowels are working better too.
That which was amorphous is now solidified. And I’m not referring to fecal matters, although also apropos. As a drinker, lines blurred even if I wasn’t imbibing. I lost the ability to distinguish between the things I liked to do and the things I didn’t. Now I know. I really don’t like long languid dinner parties. I truly don’t care for small talk. And I’ve come to despise drunkeness in others, which actually may be a latent form of self-loathing so don’t take it personally.
What do I like? Walking for miles with a good friend. Listening to the lyrics of songs I’ve always loved but never fully considered. Watching movies I’ve seen before, but can’t recall because I was drinking throughout the character’s arc. Visiting with someone who means a lot to me, and telling them so. Being a mother to an 11-year-old boy who needs me to be present and accounted for.
That boy and I recently talked about how I used to make daily pit stops at the liquor store in Abu Dhabi on our way home from his school and my work. The process of buying booze in a Muslim country requiring almost Herculean efforts.
First, I had to explain to our cab driver where exactly to go, which was no small feat considering the language barrier and cultural navigation. Then, I had to actually go into a building with blackened windows, and emerge with a tell-tale black bag. Worst of all, I am ashamed to say, was my willingness to leave the light of my life behind (in a running cab with a stranger in the Middle East) while I wandered through the dark world of addiction.
These days, all 325 of them, I’ve come to prize sunrise over sunset. When the morning barn door swings open, I am a yearling at full gallop through the open and clear fields in my head. Leaping and jumping at everything this unfolding life has to offer. At nightfall, I take sanctuary with my family. Finding comfort among those with whom I am privileged to keep on living.