308 Days Sober
Three months have passed since my dad died. It's cold now, even for early May and it hasn't stopped raining for three solid days, which makes it feel more like November. My phone at my side keeps buzzing with messages from my sister- photos of tiny urns- a way for us to keep a piece of dad forever. In a few weeks when the weather breaks, my siblings and I will scatter the rest of his ashes in the creek at our childhood home. It is what he said he wanted, to be a sprinkled in the creek that winds its way through our old front yard, off of the bridge that marked the halfway point down our wide gravel driveway. It leads down to the old brick house that my grandfather built in 1953 and sits vacant now, surrounded by trees and sky and nothing more on a few acres of land in the middle of woods and field. He wants to go to the creek that holds all of our memories securely in its banks. It's the place where we were together, when things weren't always so bad. Where we waded and fished and swung beneath the trees. I get why he'd want to become one with that place. I often want to go there, too.
It might sound crazy, or maybe you are like me and you will get it, but I had a distinct knowing that I had to get sober, because it was stopping me from doing something that I needed to do. Even though I couldn't see how I would get sober or when it would happen, I had a very deep knowing that I would do it and that I had to because the drinking was stopping me from doing something bigger. The nights that I would shoot awake after two bottles of wine, feeling like a train hit me at 3 am in a sweaty panic that every piece of my life was barely held together and that I was literally going to die. Even in those moments I could still hear the faintest little voice say, "it's ok girl, it won't always be this way" and even in those terrifying times that I couldn't see the way, I believed it. I believed it when I saw my dad never try to be sober, that he accepted his fate and chose to check out. I believed it when I watched my mom try and fail over and over to give up drinking for good. I knew deep in my bones that this life of mine isn't meant to be spent at the bottom of a wine bottle with a perpetual hangover to the point of not even knowing what normal feels like. Even if it's deep in my blood, it wasn't going to take me.
I was hanging out with some friends who are sober a couple of months ago, sober from addictions that are arguably far worse than mine, with stories that could be made into a movie they are so full of dark and light, when I sheepishly made a comment about cashing in a not-yet-mature savings bond in order to buy acid once and it was met with eyerolls. I believe what was said was something along the lines of "oh boy, you bought drugs with money?! LOL!!! Sweetie, I sold my SOUL for drugs" and in that moment she confirmed one of the fears I had about opening up about my problem with alcohol. That my story isn't valid. Or important. Because I wasn't fucked up enough. Without knowing it, she confirmed what I thought, that my silence should remain, because what I have to say wasn't worth hearing. Who had ever thought in all of my years pain and shame and suffering, that my pain and shame wasn't shameful enough to matter.
These are the kinds of things that keep us stuck. They keep us drinking or they keep us silent and they keep us sick. We aren't fucked up enough. We are too fucked up. We are less than more than never enough. We are other. I have felt that I should be writing throughout this process of getting sober much more than I have. I started a blog before I even had maintained sobriety and I deleted the whole thing. I wrote a few posts and then felt so vulnerable I had to make them not exist anymore. Delete delete delete. I have kept a written journal, but I think about burning it all of the time because I am so afraid someone might find it and read it. I have shut down my truth in the most literal sense so often that it is shredding my insides. I think, why bother, I am not brave enough to do this stuff, I am not a writer. My story isn't big enough. I don't matter. Except even through all the doubt my ego wants to throw at me, I can't seem to stop bothering.
A lot of the time I feel like I am abandoning something I don't know even exists. Like I am walking a path with my eyes squeezed shut so tight that I can barely see. That's why I am going to choose to sit here and write, even though I am scared. I am going to sit here and write even though I feel like I am not "on the other side of it" enough. I am a few months shy of one full year of sobriety and I managed to stay sober through some of the hardest shit I have faced and there is value in that. There are lessons to share. The quieter people in recovery from addiction are, the more people who are addicted stay stuck. When the people who are overcoming this don't open up, it hurts everyone. It's watching the fire from a distance with a hose in your hand and water flooding at your feet while everyone who needs your water burns.
So, here's what I have learned in the past 308 days. I didn't quit drinking to live an average life. If I wanted to be miserable and unfulfilled I would just have kept on drinking wine and watching the Real Housewives until I passed out everyday. (please note that I still watch the Real Housewives sometimes...) But really, what are we so scared of? Who is this judge of out story? NO ONE. No one is the judge of your story because it is YOUR god damn story. People will have opinions on everything. People are going to think you are a total fuck up and there are people that won't think you have fucked up enough. You know what I say to that? OK. Fine. Thank you for listening. Carry on. We need our stories in all of their facets and forms because there are so many people suffering in so many ways. Sometimes all we need to hear is that one story that matches our own, just a little. Just enough so that we can heave a sigh of relief, because someone else has been there too, and they made it out alive.
Recovering is some of the hardest and most stigmatized work on this earth and we should be wearing it like a proud badge of honor, but we don't. We recovery silently and alone, or in church basements because we have been taught that addiction is something to be ashamed of. Well, I didn't ask to become addicted to alcohol. I wasn't making a rebellious choice to drink. Drinking is as normalized as consuming water, and I am not weak minded because a poisonous and addicting substance grabbed what it could hold onto and didn't want to let go. I chose to quit drinking. I stopped. I stopped when my own brain turned on me and thought I needed wine more than I needed my life. That doesn't make me weak or ashamed. It makes me a god damn warrior.
The strongest people I have ever met in my life are the people who are recovering from their addictions, so I am going share my own shit, because today that is what I can do. It is what I feel pulled to do. Even though my life isn't rainbows and sunshine all of the time, I can still write and say my life is manageable. My days aren't a slog of hell because I am stuck in a vicious cycle of empty wine bottles and hangovers anymore. Every day I don't drink is a better day than when I was chained to a bottle of cab, even if it is a shitty day because shit days are going to happen. People you love are going to die. You will get let down and knocked on your ass, even after you are sober, but the most important thing, is that you CAN be awake for every last second of it and you don't have to do it numb. The beauty on this side of it, even with all of its pain, is some of the most gorgeous life you will ever see. It will take your breath away.
Don't be scared to feel everything, please. Feeling everything is what it means to be alive. None of it will hurt you in a way that won't grow you. What will hurt, is if you don't do the thing you know you must do. For me right now my must do's are staying sober, writing some shit down, and in a few weeks it is going to be saying a final goodbye to a man I couldn't save from alcohol addiction- my dad. If you are confused as to what the thing that you must do is, let me help you:
You already know.
It is the thing you are thinking about right this very moment. That's the thing. Do it and do it scared if you are, because that is the only way we stop being afraid. We walk directly into the sun. We leap off the cliff. We scatter the ashes and watch the dust run downstream. We burn it all down, and begin again.