I damn near forgot it was today when I got the text message from Mike asking if we could celebrate over dinner.
Oh yeah. Six years sober today.
Each year, I try to reflect on my life before and my life after giving up alcohol. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t give up alcohol so much as it gave up me. It more closely resembled a painful, abusive breakup, complete with throwing lamps at windows and then me calling at midnight, begging it to take me back. A relationship like that either kills you, or you somehow manage to walk away and piece back together the shards of your life with no fucking clue how you did it.
This year of sobriety has been different. Living is not so much struggling to survive anymore. Being is not such a timid activity anymore. Sure, I may walk into a room with my knees knocking, but I stand up straight and know I belong there now. It may be shaky, but I speak when my voice needs to be heard. No more hiding within someone else’s shadow, covered by their priorities.
Sobriety hasn’t been the end, as I thought it was that final day of September six years ago. It was that infamous rebirth people speak so much of yet so little comprehend unless they’ve experienced it.
Though thoughts of my addiction no longer consume me, I do confront it on a rather regular basis, much like one encounters the mail carrier (if the mail carrier was unpleasant and maybe packing heat and a shiv). I run into it unexpectedly, when people get together for drinks and I know that means I should bring my own sparkling water, or when I’m at a restaurant and I get a whiff of someone’s drink at the next table. It’s not a welcome surprise, but I swat it away with more ease.
I recently watched the documentary The Anonymous People, all about the tradition of anonymity in AA and how the culture of recovery needs to shift away from silence and shame in order for more people to get help. As I watched, it occurred to me that I never felt the need for anonymity because I never felt ashamed of my addiction. Sure, I hated it often, and wished that particular lodestar had shone its light on some other lucky lady, but shame? Never.
From the very beginning, it was clear that this was a medical problem that I had–not a character failing. Problems that ensue from having an addiction produce undesirable, even despicable behavior, but there is no other way to describe it than being hypnotized. Maybe being controlled by forces outside yourself works as a loose description, too. It’s not that you don’t have a choice, it’s that all other choices disappear in the sublime light of the substance. Perhaps there are other choices, but you no longer have the capability to see them, much less make them.
Yes, even when well-meaning loved ones point them out, directly in front of you.
We don’t shame people with illnesses, unless they have an addiction. This is wrong. It is a terrible illness to have, and it makes you into a monster, robbing you even of common humanity, along with your physical health. There are parts of myself that I lost to addiction that I will never recover. I will never forget the creature I became. Recovering has taken years. I’m still not done–recovery lore stipulates that I will never be done recovering.
Really though, all of my language falls short when I talk about my addiction to alcohol. That’s why I still go to AA meetings: to talk to people who immediately understand the spell addiction casts. When I’m weary of being alone in a world of people who will never understand, being around other addicts is a relief. For better or worse, they are my people.
So tonight, Mike and I went to dinner. We talked about our life together and how happy we are with the direction it’s taking. I imprudently drank some coffee a little too late in the evening.