On December 17, 2018 I celebrated one full year alcohol-free. From barely being able to make it to 5pm without a drink somedays.. to an entire 365 days?! Who am I?! And that’s not even taking into account everything “else” that I was able to accomplish this last year…you know, little things, like buying a house and starting grad school. Fucking what?
Akin to my “bellybutton birthday” celebrations, I carried on for an entire week. And what a terrifying, barrier-smashing, ego-murdering week it was for me..
Friday, 12/14/18: In summing up our semester-long clinical experience at an adult substance use rehab center, I surprise myself and share with the group of nursing students that I myself am in recovery and that being in this setting shook my whole self-perception. How, before this rotation, I was in the habit of “othering.” “Oh, that’s not my kind of recovery,” like I was in some sort of bougie recovery, immune to the despair we saw all around us, every Friday for the last 14 weeks. Turns out the inner turmoil, the feeling of 2 different minds within your own is a common experience regardless of where you fall on the addiction spectrum and whatever your drug of choice is.. And I felt that. Hard. I was shaking, but my inner guide was whispering for me to do it. So I did it.
Saturday, 12/15/18: In the morning, I do not want to go to my “home” AA meeting. I feel like a fraud, I am accepting my 1 year token at the following Wednesday’s meeting and still don’t have a sponsor. I wonder if I “belong” in AA, if I am “allowed” to celebrate. But I go, and the topic is (miraculously) “open-mindedness” and not judging others’ paths in recovery. I volunteer to speak and share that I am terrified to accept my token officially and am at a loss for what to say. After the meeting I join a few of the ladies for brunch (as I always said I would do!) and receive a few of the women’s phone numbers. One woman, a stranger, offers to give me a second token for my year birthday at next week’s meeting. So double the public-speaking anxiety, cool.
That night, Steve and I order Chinese take out and I ponder over my shrimp chow mein, just reveling in the simplicity and beauty of my life compared to what it was 1, 2, 5 years ago, and how my biggest anxiety is having to speak and tell my story in a room full of like-minded, supportive women. Tough gig.
Sunday 12/16/18: Today is one year since the day I drank my last drink. On 12/16/17, my brain had been on fire.. I felt an urgency, a “need.” I tried a drink, it didn’t work, I didn’t enjoy it, and I never drank again. I thought to myself “well that didn’t work, so now what?” Today is an example of that now what: On 12/16/18, Steve and I get into an argument. I had plenty of resentment in my brain and body, but instead of clamming up and pulling some jedi mind trick shit on him in order to trap him/drag out the fighting forever (signature move), I allow him to disarm me, to hug me and squeeze the angst out of me.. This is a huge thing for me, to not just soak in a bubble bath of my own self destruction and self pity. I make a lasagna and do some laundry, and I never even think of drinking. That’s now what.
Later that day, I posted my AA token on both instagram and then, on Monday, to facebook, terrified of stigma but exhilarated all the same. I love to post and talk about being alcohol-free, but there is something about “recovery,” and AA specifically, that brings on a whole new wave of stigma. I cringe, but only a little.
Monday 12/17/18: I re-begin May Cause Miracles by Gabby Bernstein. It feels like a good time to do this, and I realize the first miracle is that the course lines up perfectly with my winter break. I go to dinner with Steve and my good friend Karolina and her husband. I pass around my token for “good juju.” The day is actually otherwise rather uneventful.. no fireworks, no explosions, no relapses. Just another December 17. I don’t own the audio accompaniment to May Cause Miracles, so Steve reads the guided evening meditation aloud in his best yogi-voice while I sit upright in our bed. It’s uncomfortable yet surprisingly sweet and effective. We drift off to sleep in a sandwich of dogs. and I am pretty OK with life.
Wednesday 12/19/18: At my original AA women’s group, my friend Alexa presents me with my 1 year token and says nice things about me and my recovery. I speak, my heart pounding so hard I have to sit down. I talk about how calling it a “birthday” makes sense now, how I have accomplished more in the last year of my life than I had in the 31 years prior. How this entire week has been a revelation to me, how I still don’t have a sponsor but I know that the universe is working in my favor. How I realize now it’s my ego and deep-seated fears that keep me back from taking the steps I need to take. I remind the newcomers or anyone who might feel unwelcome or uneasy that the only requirement for membership in AA is the desire to quit drinking … and that sometimes “working it” is simply showing up when you really don’t fucking want to. I survive the talking and enjoy a cupcake on my own behalf.
Saturday, 12/22/18: With Alexa in tow, I celebrate my “first birthday” again at my home AA group. The stranger woman has brought in a cheesecake decorated with candles, a card for everyone to sign and a keychain token for me. I am incredibly touched. I speak again, and this time (although still shaking) I am physically able to stand. I tell some of my story, about my first AA meeting that went awry, about how my divorce turned my life upside down and how my mental & physical health plummeted while my drinking skyrocketed, about how I found She Recovers and, in turn, discovered that AA women’s meetings were a thing. I remind them I don’t have a sponsor. I am too nervous to remember to say “but I am working on it.” This is probably what leads to what happens next: a woman (a veteran AA) opens her “share” with a comment directed toward me. Cautioning me that “AA has a grace period and I don’t know how long yours is, but from what I’ve seen you either do the work or you don’t get to stay.” She then goes on into some self-aggrandizing spiel about how she’s sorry to always be the “bearer of bad news” and to always be the one who “shows up and says these things.” She doesn’t seem sorry at all and the tiny child in me hates her. This shocks me as it is the exact opposite of everything I got from the meeting last week, and my initial reaction is of anger, fear, shame. But I blink real hard, keep on smiling, keep on nodding and struggle to see the light and the love in her comment. Damn you, Gabrielle Bernstein.
So there you have it. An inside look into the unremarkable daily life of a 1-year sober person. I am not celebrating one year of willpower, of white-knuckling, or of proving anything to myself or the world. I am celebrating an enormous accomplishment – 365 full days of zero alcohol, something that was my social, emotional, mental crutch for years. Actually, yes, think of it like a literal crutch – one might celebrate a year of full-on recovery from a particularly awful injury, but that’s not because they’ve forced themselves to live without the use of a cane, walker, or wheelchair, hobbling along, telling everyone through clenched teeth that they’re “FINE.” Nobody celebrates a year of pain and wanting: what I am celebrating is year of true and patient healing, of gaining back my strength (stronger than I was before even!) and the freedom to run, and laugh, and feel and live like never before. Happy birthday to me!