On July 19, 2015, I attempted my first-ever, honest-to-goodness quit. I lasted through the beginning of September. Had I stuck with it, I’d have over a year by now. But I still had some lessons to learn in the time between then and now.
The following is a blog post I wrote not exactly one year ago today, but close enough. It appeared on a different sober blog that I abandoned after about a month or so. At the time of writing, I was 17 days sober.
Also, today, I celebrate 30 days of sobriety.
Coffee in hand, I take a seat in a weathered armchair nestled in the corner of the patio, next to an open window that lets the warm August breeze breathe into the space around me. On the couch to my right, Phoenix* sits and rolls a cigarette – thick at one end and tapered to a point at the other – lights it, inhales, sits back and lets the smoke drift slowly from his mouth and nose.
I’m wearing a knit dress decorated with triangular patterns, and I play with my feet on the old coffee table, examining the chipped nail polish on each toe. Phoenix wears only his 5 O’Clock shadow and a pair of basketball shorts. His lips are round and full as he licks the smoke in and out, his fingers a stained yellow-brown from a decade of burning cigarettes to the tip. We sit in relative silence as the clock on the wall bumps up against noon. My head is clear, no confusion or mistakes hanging over me, no headaches, no fear.
I look over to Phoenix and smile. He returns the favor.
I met Phoenix shortly after returning to the Midwest from a trip to Arizona. I’d spent several days traveling semi-alone for a dear friend’s wedding (in which I played the part the of divorced yet somehow chipper bridesmaid) where I drank much too much, and decided somewhere in the air over the Rocky Mountains that it was time for me to get sober when I returned home.
The following weekend, I met Phoenix at a restaurant and bar in downtown for lunch. Though we’d been texting for weeks prior (thanks, Tinder?) I hadn’t had much of a chance to really talk to him. I ordered a beer and salad. He ordered the chicken and waffles – with water. I didn’t think much of it at first.
As our conversation progressed, however, Phoenix revealed to me that he had just celebrated two years of sobriety in late June. I sipped at my beer slowly and felt intrigued. Here, in front of me, was a man two years sober, who came into my life shortly after I made the decision to quit drinking. My glass felt heavier and heavier the more I drank, and he looked at me smiling, his resolution a soft glow emanating from every corner of his face.
I’ve only experienced what I’d call “love” while sober once in my life, which was at a time when I wasn’t legally old enough to drink, and wouldn’t have anyway. That time was during my senior year of high school when I started dating my future ex-husband Jared** for the first time, over 7 years ago. Since then, no love has started or ended while sober. As such, I don’t know that I can say with certainty whether I’ve ever truly, honestly been in love, in a way that I was fully conscientious and aware of what it meant to love deeply and allow myself to be loved.
Even a short window of sobriety has helped me understand how deeply flawed I’ve been in my relationships with men, and perhaps how I’ve sought out men who I saw as flawed as well, to make myself feel less alone, or perhaps so I had someone other than myself who I could help fix.
While I can’t blame everything on alcohol, I can blame it for just enough, especially when it comes to my relationship with Jared – the early years, the later years, our marriage and our divorce. It was an all-consuming aspect of our shared identity that created a silent cancer that eventually drove us apart.
Alcohol was the hammer I used to shatter mirrors whose reflections I didn’t want to see.
What other analogies can I use?
It was the mask that (I thought) hid my imperfections, though terribly.
It was the hole in the bottom of my boat – but instead of finding a way to fix the hole, I focused more on trying to get the water out with toy buckets.
It was a wall I felt to be strong and impenetrable. That proved to be false.
It was my drug of choice that let me feel like I could simply ignore the problems that were bubbling right below the surface.
In truth, alcohol was simultaneously my protection from being hurt and my prevention from being able to love. I don’t think that was working out for me very well.
Phoenix likes to remind me that, “Being sober doesn’t make someone a good person.”
Even though I’m only very early in my sobriety, I know this is true – and it’s something I have to tell myself every single day.
I’m not a better person now because I’m sober. I’m not above anyone else. I’m also not below anyone else. I simply am – and I have to maintain my purpose of making myself the best version of me that I possibly can, using sobriety as a way to clear the path a little bit every day.
Alcohol abuse and it’s many complications are typically a symptom of the underlying problem, rather than the actual problem itself, and it’s not until you address the problems (and the problem behaviors, thought processes, actions, etc) without alcohol that the real recovery begins. It requires persistence, intention, patience, motivation and gratitude. It requires you to pick up whatever shards of the mirror you broke and take a look at yourself. There is little room for apathy or stubbornness. For someone in recovery, it’s the only way to grow.
The easy part is putting the drink down – the hard part (the part that’s worth it, that reaps the most reward for you and everyone involved) is the work you do once the last drop goes down the drain for good.
Love, relationships, intimacy, arguments, conflict – all seemed a bit scary to me before going sober, and in a way, they still do, but not in a way that I feel paralyzed or helpless. Really, what is one of the biggest reasons people feel the need to drink, other than their reactions to the people in their lives who have the greatest potential to hurt them? Then again, those people have the greatest capacity to fill us up with love and energy, if only we’d let them.
This is where alcohol becomes such a paradox in many people’s lives:
- Alcohol is the problem and the solution
- Alcohol giveth, and alcohol taketh away
- Alcohol is everything and nothing
- Alcohol has the power to create and destroy in the same breath
- Alcohol fills you up as it drains you
- Alcohol is love, alcohol is hate
On, and on, and on…
I can’t say whether my time with Phoenix will lend itself to a deeper romantic relationship – really, it’s too early to tell. But what I know is that I’ve expressed myself to him physically and emotionally without inhibition or inebriation, and he has received me just as well as any other lover might. No, I’d say he’s received me even more fully, with more intention and a greater capacity to listen to my story, and I with a greater capacity to listen to his, because there are fewer walls between us that we need to scale.
For that, I can at least be thankful for him and his open, honest introduction to living and loving sober.
*Not his real name – but I quite like it, don’t you?
**Also not his real name. I don’t like it quite as much.