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Reflections on Seven Years.

24 February 2015

Last week I was in Spain for a vacation with BB. We went to Madrid and to Andalusia, touring through the south and seeing amazing marvels in Seville, Ronda, and Granada. We ate at great restaurants and awful little holes-in-walls. We stayed in a couple of decent hotels and a couple of rat traps. We made time to run and hike. It was, entirely, an incredible experience.

And in the middle of it, I had my seventh sober anniversary. I celebrate February 16th, the anniversary of the first day I didn’t drink, with the intention of no longer drinking. That was 2008. I remember at the time thinking: “If I’m still sober at 40, I’ll make seven years.” Well, here I am at 40 years old. Sober seven years.

I’ve been writing Infactorium since I was about 10 months sober. I’m not going to recapitulate the seven years of sobriety, the thousands of pages I’ve written, here now. It’s been a long, wonderful, difficult, trying, magical seven years. And I’m proud of the accomplishments I’ve achieved. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done. I’ve worked incredibly hard, and sometimes when I look back on all of it, I feel inestimably weary.

I know we’re supposed to deflect praise. I know we’re supposed to say that sobriety is a pure gift and that we had nothing to do with it. And that’s not just false humility. It defends against pride, and egotism, and the belief that we’re bigger than the disease. The belief that we’re cured. The belief that we did it once, we could do it again, so it’s ok if we drink just this once. That never works out well. I’ve watched people die that way.

The truth is probably in between. I don’t know why I’m sober, and why so many others who wanted it as much, worked as hard, and had so much more to give than I have are dead now. I don’t know why I’ve put together seven years of sobriety and yet I know people smarter, stronger, and wiser who struggle and suffer and finally fade away.

But I do know this: I could not be sober today without the work I’ve done. The tools I’ve assembled and the skills I’ve cultivated. The efforts I’ve mustered. Sobriety is work. Daily and endless. I work today to be sober today. I work today to be sober tomorrow. And if I keep going like that, the future will take care of itself. As it has for more than seven years now.

So for this post, I’m going to allow myself to be openly proud of the work I’ve done. Maybe that’s unbecoming. But I am.

The evening of February 15th, as we sat at a sidewalk table of a restaurant in Seville, after dinner, the waiter brought us a pair of shotglasses filled with dark liquor. Compliments of the house, an after-dinner aperitif. There am I, in Spain, traveling, sophisticated, with my partner and the Andalusian night teeming around us. Six years and 364 days. It would have been so simple. My mind flashed on the lies I’d tell to try to justify it. We alcoholics are great poets with lies. Lies to her. Lies to me. Lies to you.

And I put my tools to work. I look at my life before. My life now. My life after. I watch everything melt into the dredge. I let my fear of shame buoy my resolve. I have used up all my redemption, in this life. I won’t deserve any more chances. I don’t deserve the ones I’ve gotten.

I sniffed the liquor. I watched BB take a sip of hers and make a face. Anise-flavored, I think. We went home. We went to bed. The next morning I sat down in the shower and cried. Six years and 365 days.

I am less and I am more than I used to be. The ways I am less are generally well-left behind. The ways that I am more are generally well-earned. And I have been given a gift I don’t understand. And I don’t need to. I don’t know why plants grow, but I know how to tend a garden. Well enough, I know.

Much of Spain is covered in olive and almond trees. BB and I ran on a trail through olive groves that seemed to cling vertiginously to the side of sheer cliffs. The almond blossoms were blooming all across the valleys around Ronda. These strange gnarled trees that offer up peculiar fruits. Inedible, until properly bred and harvested and prepared. It takes a decade for a tree to fruit, sometimes. It is the work of a lifetime.

This is the work of a lifetime. And I am just begun. That is the beauty of alcoholism. That is the beauty of recovery. Each day I can weep. Each day I can rise. Each day I offer my gratitude. Every day I am just begun.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Potnia Theron permalink
    24 February 2015 16:31

    Thank you. We all fight our own battles, but whether intentional or not, you lend your strength to the rest of us.

  2. 25 February 2015 03:38

    Hey – be proud friend. A day sober is an achievement, stinging a few together is phenomenal. Always remain grounded but I know you do that but being proud of being in recovery is never shameful.

  3. Syd permalink
    25 February 2015 10:06

    Superb. I am glad for you. The pain and suffering of alcoholism can be alleviated. Like you, I don’t understand what happened, but I am grateful to be where i am today. Thank you for being here.

  4. scott drozda permalink
    24 December 2016 11:32

    Great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m reading everything. I have 7.5 months in recovery. I’ve climbed the tallest mountain in the Rockies and finished a half marathon in that time. I’m coming to grips with a lot. This is the longest length of sobriety I’ve had since I was 12. I am currently 38. A lot of emotional growth ahead. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

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