Still here, friends. Still with you. 192 days alcohol free.
It’s amazing, really, how the days keep creeping upward, just as a green vine crawls forever toward the sun, twining around a steadfast wooden support that grows taller and mends its own splinters with every day that passes.
Today I’m feeling a mixture of pensiveness, calmness, and sadness. Perhaps it’s the weather, or maybe it’s just the regular Monday blues. Whatever it is, it’s got me in a thinking mood.
On Thursday last week during my annual performance review, my supervisor made a passing remark about his desire to convince me to “put off” graduate school for a little while, so that I might stay with the company a few years longer. He commented that counseling seems more like a fall-back job – one that you could simply open a newspaper on any given day and find 100 job listings for – and that healthcare software development is the hot place to be right now. I smiled, flattered that my boss is so adamant about keeping me around, but also slightly offended. It felt as though he simultaneously praised me and disregarded my long-term vocational plans, all of which he has been made very much aware since the day I started. I walked out of my review feeling a mixture of pride and satisfaction for my “job well done,” and sadness and anxiety about whether I’m still on the right path.
I chewed on what he said for a while. Fall-back job? Is something that I have to spend 3 years earning a Master’s Degree and working 900+ unpaid internship hours for considered a fall-back job? Is this career path I’m paving for myself something that can be so easily brushed aside? Am I still doing the right thing?
I wanted to believe that my supervisor didn’t mean it the way I had taken it. But “fall-back” is a pretty specific phrase, with his intentions clearly implicit in that one interaction. It feels a little sad to me now to hear that the one person at work who I really need to have in my court sees my educational and vocational pursuits as a “fall-back” plan.
I won’t lie, I’ve questioned myself hundreds of times. I’ve lamented the fact that I willingly gave up my fun life in the city in exchange for a bedroom in my dad’s house, just so I could pursue this dream. I re-homed my cats and have been putting half of my monthly income toward paying off debts and saving for books. All the while, I feel this deep-seated jealousy and selfishness within myself when I realize that I could be living out in the city, enjoying my 20s like the rest of my peers, or even saving for a house, or taking trips around the world, if only I gave up this “fall-back” pursuit and got realistic about things for a minute. I have a boss who wants to keep me at a job that will certainly pay more than any entry-level counseling job I find. The benefits here are great. The work will be steady. And I wouldn’t have to spend all this time and money going to school for something that I haven’t even done professionally yet.
Still, I keep on with it. Sometimes it’s hard to know why.
Other times, though, it’s perfectly clear to me, and I hold onto those straws of truth like precious deep breaths in the middle of an ocean.
On Saturday, I hosted a creative writing group at the downtown library. Even though less than half of the attendee list showed up, it was one of the best groups I’ve hosted to date. Our writing prompt was “memory.” I wrote about the memory I have of the day I met my ex-husband, which was coincidentally 10 years ago to-the-date, and I shared part of it with the group. A fantastic thing happened – they thanked me. For sharing. For being vulnerable. For being willing to open up. Two other women in the group, as they were talking about their writing process, nearly broke out into tears. A regular member of the group handed me a poem he had printed off and brought specifically for me, the poem “What Happens to A Dream Deferred?” by Langston Hughes. All I could do was smile and thank him.
I walked away from that group with a painfully full heart. Full from the words and openness of strangers. And it’s these little things that keep me pushing forward into this stupid, scary, who-knows-what-will-happen world of unknowns. Because I can sit at a desk making decent money for the rest of my life, drawing logic charts and worrying about “sellable product,” or I can sit in relative silence and learn and help and deepen my heart with the only lifeline I have in this world: other people.
In a way, this all reminds me of the idea of being sober in a drinking-obsessed society. Sobriety, to me, is a practice in self-love and self-actualization. I share my journey here in anonymity as a way to expel my frustrations and celebrate my successes, and the successes of others. I do it to be vulnerable in a comfortable place.
Sobriety and the personal vulnerability it gives makes me feel more whole as a person. I feel calmer, less jumpy, and generally more at ease. Things are not perfect and god knows I have my days. But sobriety added one of the biggest missing puzzle pieces to what I’ve been seeking for so many years: a general sense of peace, and stability, and self-love. Sobriety gave me what alcohol promised to, but never could.
Even as I’ve tried to keep my sober soapboxing to an absolute minimum in my “real life,” I’m still called out every now and then for going against the grain. I try to take it in stride. I smile and laugh it off. But part of it still cuts a little. After almost 200 days of sobriety, I’ve started wondering and worrying whether the non-sober people I hang out with think I’m boring, or lame. Am I weird to them? Why, after more than 6 months, do they still point me out as the non-drinker of the group? Is it a self-consciousness thing on their part? Do I make them uncomfortable? Why do I still feel awkward ordering a diet coke or soda water from the bar? Do they think I’m strange when I pull a can of LaCroix out of my purse while we’re at a brewery?
I realize that this is probably because in several areas of my life, I’ve made the conscious decision to not do what I think I “should do,” opting instead for what I feel I “must do,” for what feels right. Sobriety. Graduate school. Avoiding social media. Not eating bread or sugar. Whatever it may be. And people notice these things sometimes. Quite often, they’re supportive of me. It’s wonderful. But sometimes, they have questions, or remarks that come from the corners of their mouths, slyly, like a fox who wraps its tail around a rabbit to keep it warm.
Now, I hope I’m not so self-absorbed that I come off as believing that everyone is watching and judging me, or that they really care that much about what I do, but it does seem as though the closer people get, the more scrutinizing their views become. That’s why, after 6 months of sobriety, I’m still singled out as the non-drinker, even though it’s already apparent by the lack of a drink in my hands. That’s why, after 6 months of working, my boss calls my intensive vocational pursuit a fall-back plan. That’s why I self-scrutinize when I remember that I’m living in my dad’s basement, single instead of married (how I always thought I would and should be by now, how I was but no longer am), while most of my peers are out there getting married, having babies, buying houses, getting settled into their careers, and generally putting on the appearance of having their collective shit together.
That’s why it all feels a little tough, even when I still know objectively that I’m moving in the direction that is best for me. Because it takes those beautiful raw moments in the quietness of my heart, walking through my city by myself, or sitting in the presence of strangers, to remember that all the big shiny objects aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
A well-paying job is a wonderful thing to have, but what if I feel like I’m dying inside just a little more every day I have to sit at a desk, typing my life away into Word documents?
A strong IPA is a delicious treat for the first few sips, until it isn’t anymore, and I’m sitting at home alone plowing my way through a six pack, even though I promised myself I’d only have one.
A chic apartment downtown and a busy social life look great on social media, but what about the dream deferred by “living it up” in my 20s?
It hurts a little every now and then because I’m used to having what I want, when I want it, but I’m starting to appreciate the process of patience and unfolding. I’m starting to have a true appreciation for learning and following the vocational path that may not make the most sense to most people, but that makes complete and total sense to me.
And really, that’s all I could ever hope for.