Self-exploration through sobriety: going deeper in 2017

I’ve seen a lot of people in the blogosphere writing about their “word” for 2017. Like setting an intention and letting it become a mantra, they’ve chosen a specific word to help direct their lives over the course of the next 12 months.

Initially, I thought the idea was nice but a bit too cliche for my style. But then I started to think about the last few years – particularly 2014, 2015, and 2016 – and I though about how drastically different my life has become in that time. As I thought, one word for 2017 popped into my mind: deeper.

On January 1, 2015, I started the New Year drunkenly stumbling home from a dance party downtown, which I had attended by myself. I was determined to start the year as free and wild as I could, having left my toxic marriage only a few months earlier. That night, as I danced and got more and more blasted, I made out with two different people, got groped, convinced a dude to buy me a drink even though I was stumbling all over myself, and drunkenly wandered my way back to the train that would take me home. Surprisingly, I wasn’t mugged or assaulted or hit by a car as I walked completely wasted from the train to my front door. I was, and have always been, very lucky when it comes to my drunken antics.

The next morning, I woke up hungover but surprisingly calm, with the intention of getting and staying sober in 2015 – my first true attempt – which failed after about a month and a half when I started dating my first serious boyfriend since my marriage ended. In February of 2015, on my ex-husband’s birthday, my divorce was finalized. I began the process of peeling away the veil of what I thought my life was “supposed to” be – married to my high school sweet heart, working a high-stress marketing job, and living in one of the “coolest” cities in the country – and began to understand and accept where I actually was. I was living in a cheap little apartment with a sober friend, living my life as the independent woman I so strongly yearned to be, while drinking every single night, at least three or four drinks each night. I felt justified, because I was free.

Many cracks in my sense of self began widening. The finalization of my divorce was both a celebration, and the icing on the cake of my mourning. I found out about a month later that my ex-husband was expecting a child with his affair partner, a woman 11 years my senior. The mourning cycle began again, starting with anger (rather, starting with absolute rage). There were deeper wounds that I was forced look at and then cover up. Through trials in love, heartbreak, dating disasters, depression and independence, I made my way through the year internalizing and solidifying the idea that no one person could ever fill my heart completely, except for me. I came to the understanding of how my ex-husband’s infidelity was the result of a complex, tangled web of events that I had been ignoring up until that point. I began to see how deeply I had invested in the idea of permanence in my marriage, and how drastically I had allowed my sense of self to become intertwined with my relationship to my ex-husband. I began to understand how, for the sake of my own heart, I could never let myself do that again.

I tried and failed to quit drinking in the summer of 2015. What started as a steely resolve soon dissolved into excuses, exceptions and the idea that moderation was possible for me, again because of a new relationship. 
In October, I drunkenly broke up with a man who was desperately in love with me, who would become my future nightmare.

By early November, I applied for graduate school. Despite every alarm bell in my head ringing, telling me that I wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t good enough, wasn’t experienced enough, I did it. This surprised me and my parents equally. By this time, I was drinking a whole box of wine by myself in two or three days, on top of regular happy hours and whatever craft beers I decided to keep in my fridge.

2016 began not with a bang, but with a small kiss on the lips from my boyfriend, who I had started officially dating less than a month earlier. We went to a coworker’s NYE party earlier in the evening, and then settled into bed before midnight, as we were catching an early flight out of town the next morning. When the fireworks started going off around my apartment, he turned over, said happy new years, and we kissed. Back to sleep.

The year brought even wider cracks to jump and deeper wounds to heal. I spent a good majority of the my time and energy worrying about my ex-boyfriend, who started displaying some stalker-ish behaviors. Dealing with the aftermath of that breakup almost consumed me emotionally. My current boyfriend, who is naturally very quiet, seemed nearly impossible to get to know on a deeper level, yet he was kind, and fun, and his friends really seemed to like me, so I stayed and tried to understand whether my expectations were too high, or if it was something else.

I felt lonely. So fucking lonely. I wanted to yell at my boyfriend for not noticing, for always acting like everything was just fine, even though my heart was roiling. But unlike other times in my life, I sat with it as much as I could, to try and understand its roots.

By the spring, I was addicted to alcohol badly enough that I would often sneak out of my boyfriend’s room at 3 in the morning to take a huge swig from a bottle of something hard, just so I could fall asleep for a few hours before work. There was zero enjoyment in that, zero pleasure. Every time I laid wide awake in bed, I battled with myself and kept telling myself that, “I don’t want to be that person.” But I was. I was that person. I was dependent. I was depressed. I felt hopeless for a while, until I decided that I didn’t want to be that way anymore.

In May, I took a solo road trip through New Mexico and Colorado. I felt the most stirring sense of freedom and empowerment I’d ever had. During my trip, I got a phone call telling me I had a new job. I celebrated with a 10% beer.

In early June, I started my new job.

In early July, I quit drinking. Again.

I haven’t been drunk since, in the six months since that day. No hangovers. No self-shaming. No fear of empty calories. For the first time since I started drinking regularly in 2010, I’ve made the commitment to sobriety, and I’ve stuck to it.

And that’s when the true deepening began.

Every crack I was trying to patch over ripped wide open. The wounds I had previously covered with gauze were becoming inflamed. My brain went through every emotion with ten times the intensity. The only other time I remember feeling things so vividly was two years before, during the earliest days of my separation and divorce, when I felt like I had no other choice than the anesthetize myself for fear of implosion.

The second half of 2016 was when I finally looked over the edge of everything I feared, and instead of contemplating how far the fall was to the bottom, I simply buckled into my parachute and jumped.

I whizzed through every feeling of anxiety, depression, guilt, rage, joy, loneliness, love and fear I ever thought possible. I kept plummeting deeper, and deeper, and deeper into myself. For a while I wondered if true love or true satisfaction with my life would ever be possible. I was impatient when my mind and body tried to tell me to slow down. I nearly burned out. At times, I felt as though I’d prefer to simply not be around anymore.

But somehow, through the madness of school, relationships, the 2016 election, meet up groups, work, and everything else in-between, I landed at the end of 2016 in the most peaceful of ways: sober, among a small group of beloved friends who I barely knew when the year began, sharing deep conversation over fancy cheese and board games. When I kissed my boyfriend at midnight, I didn’t even care that he tasted of champagne while I tasted of pomegranate soda. I shared a hug with my boyfriend’s roommate Ry, who, as he hugged me, said “I am so glad that you’re my best friend’s partner, because I think you’re amazing, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to get to know you.” And all I could do was squeal a bit and tell him I was so glad to know him, too.

I remember looking at my boyfriend that night as he was engaged in conversation with the others, and thinking to myself, “I am so glad to be here, with him, and these friends.” I realized that despite myself, the last year was simply the beginning of our opening doors. I realized that sometimes, the best types of relationships really are the ones that begin small and blossom over time. I realized that perhaps, I was too hard on myself and others this year, and that I couldn’t expect things to grow just because I told them to. I realized that 2017 is going to be a year of digging even deeper into myself, my future vocation, and all of my interpersonal relationships. I realized that even more of my ego was about to be stripped away, in favor of deeper love, compassion, understanding, helping, and purpose. It felt raw in a very good way.

There it is, my word for 2017: Deeper. If I could go back and assign words to years gone by, 2014 would be Explosion, 2015 would be Beginning, 2016 would be Exploration, and now, 2017 is Deeper.

So now I enter this second half of my first year sober with that intention fully in place. I’ll just have to wait and see what deep, lovely waters the tide brings next.

Em. Day 180

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9 thoughts on “Self-exploration through sobriety: going deeper in 2017

  1. This entire post emulates “deeper”.
    Thanks for sharing it, because I can see so many similarities here it is incredible. I am working the path of sobriety, as well, and I appreciate others that are doing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. I really relate to the painful divorce/cheating husband deal, and later realizing that healing could be found in awareness and being true to self. That meant leaving booze behind for me, too. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

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