Thoughts on Six Years of Sobriety.
Sunday was my sixth sober anniversary. A lot of people use the term “birthday”, and I do too sometimes when not thinking about it. I’m not opposed to it in any way, I just don’t really like it. I have one birthday. I was born of woman in the summer of 1974, and that will never change. On February 16th, 2008, I didn’t drink. Then, for the next six straight years of days, I also didn’t drink. That would be pretty unremarkable, I suppose, except for the fact that I drank close to a bottle of 80 proof liquor a day for many, many years preceding.
But today, as I sit here thinking about the lessons I’ve learned in six years of sobriety, I find myself with little to write about. My life in inestimably better. In fact, I believe my life is inestimably longer. I might very well be dead right now if I had continued to drink. Especially considering how much I drank and drove. And of course, that means that other people’s lives are better and probably longer too.
I get a lot of congratulations when I mention how long I’ve been sober. People tell me it’s an accomplishment. They tell me they’re proud of me. That’s nice to hear, but it also make me sad, sometimes. Because it seems to me that it feeds into the moralism of addiction. I’m no better than an addict who didn’t recover. I may be different in some way, innately, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows why recovery finds some and misses others. But I’m not stronger, or smarter, or anything.
People tell me, “Keep up the fight!” But I’m only alive because I stopped fighting. I can’t defeat alcoholism. Recognizing and embracing that is the first step. Literally. I am powerless over alcohol. My life is unmanageable. I don’t battle my addiction. I submit to it. And in fact, I have come to be grateful for it. I’m glad I’m an alcoholic. Because it allowed me to find a way to live, sober, that I never had before. Even before I drank, I was lost. Now I have a map.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the kind things people say. I know how they mean it, and I know that without suffering their own addictions, there is little in the way of a frame that people can put around the picture of recovery. But the language is wrong. And I wonder how other addicts, still active in their addictions, hear it. And then I wonder, what would I have people say instead? Obviously, I want them to say something, or I wouldn’t mention my anniversary at all.
The truth is, I do want credit. I want people to think I’m strong and inspiring and courageous blah blah blah. I want to be admired for facing down and beating a terminal illness. The problem is, it isn’t true. And it just feeds an ego that needs no further stroking. Because the more I feel important and admired, the more I feel ashamed and vile. I still have the alcoholic’s duality. Grandiosity and humiliation, coexisting like a yolk and a white in the same shell.
I am the same degenerate, reprobate, liar, selfish, rancid, angry, lazy, depressed, stupid, nosy, son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever been. I still treat people badly and act selfishly and try to manage things that aren’t my business and inject myself into places that don’t need me. I’m desperate for attention and success and admiration. I’m cocksure and arrogant. I am afraid, all the time.
I act on those things less than I used to. Still not little enough. I have no hope of ever being perfect. I have little hope of ever even being good. I still do and say ugly things. I’m almost forty years old. I’ve had a lot less adult-hood than most of my friends. I’m still figuring out how to be a grown-up. I don’t always recognize when I’m being immature.
Today, I try to balance those things with helping others. With acknowledging when I’ve been wrong. With making amends when I can and they are wanted. I try to balance the dim and hateful view I have of myself with acceptance of the things that I have inside that are worthwhile as well: I’m smart and generous and adventurous. I’m willing to help people who need help with addictions. I’ve done some of that, and I have friends who were drunks who are sober now, and that makes me happy.
I’ve been sober for six years and a day. It’s not nothing. I’d love to take credit for it. But all that can do is walk me closer to a bar. I’m just a drunk. And if I had my way, if this were about my strength, my desires, I’d be an active drunk. At 10 am, I’d already be thinking about how to plan my day around the afternoon’s drunk, the nap, and then the evening’s drunk.
I’m an alcoholic. But I haven’t drunk today. It’s been a few days in a row now. I never want to forget what I am. I never want to forget where I was. How I got there, and then what got me from there to here.