How Long it Takes.
When I was starting out on my journey to sobriety, I was all about milestones. A day. A week. 30 Days. Holy shit was 30 days amazing to me. I was feeling great – what newly sober alcoholics call the “pink cloud” – and I was still in rehab. I felt like I was emerging from some kind of sludge I’d been trapped in for a decade.
I left rehab at about 42 days, and on I went. My first meeting alone. 60 days. Get a sponsor. 90 days. Fire my sponsor. Get another one. 6 months. Do the steps. One through twelve. A year. On I went. Learning the tools I needed to live a new sober life. In there, I got my job and started work. I began to grow in my sober life, and clean up the messes of my drunken one.
I needed to hit other milestones. Like a divorce. Like changing careers and cities. Learning to live alone. Learning to be responsible for myself. Learning to have relationships in sobriety that weren’t poisoned by my toxic past. Making terrible mistakes at that, getting hurt and hurting others. Trying to make amends. Being unable to. Finally finding a romantic relationship that makes sense for me. Being engaged and present in it. Learning to relate honestly and completely.
I’ve been told by many people in AA that it took them five years or so before they truly “got it”, whatever that means. I’m starting to understand what that means. I’m approaching seven years of sobriety now, at the steady pace of one day per day. I remember when I got sober thinking that I’d have 7 years the year I turned 40. And it looks like I will.
And I’m starting to get it. I can look around and see the world in a new way now. I’m not just struggling to survive from one day to the next. I’m actively participating in the life that I’ve been working on building. I’ve learned how to practice acceptance. I’ve learned how to manage a lot of things about my life, and how to let go of things that I cannot. It’s daily effort. But it’s possible.
Sometimes I’m sad that I didn’t learn these lessons many years ago. Sometimes I’m glad it took me as long as it did. Sometimes I wish I weren’t an alcoholic. Most of the time I’m grateful that I am. Sobriety, and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, have done precisely for me what they are designed to do: they have made my life about more than alcohol.
As an alcoholic, my live revolves around the pursuit, acquisition, and consumption of alcohol. That is the only thing that matters to me, whatever I might say. The lies help me get what I need. But as a sober alcoholic, my life is about my life. My health. My relationship. My work. My contribution to society. My experience. My participation in the world. All the things I can’t do when I drink.
Most of the time that’s amazing and rewarding. Sometimes it’s maddening and frustrating. But it’s always living. And without sobriety, I was headed for a prison-yard grave. I’m not entirely certain where I’m headed today. But I’m not afraid of it. 2,502 days. I think I’m starting to get it.