2017 was not a great year for the world at large by any stretch of the imagination (I won’t get into that), and it wasn’t even super stellar for me personally, but a lot of great, beautiful things happened in my life and in the lives of the people I love this year, and for that I’m inspired and grateful.
2017 was a necessary challenge, sobriety-wise. I did not drink a single drop of alcohol, though there were plenty of times throughout the year that the thought crossed my mind. It wasn’t that I felt some deep longing or painful ache in my soul for booze, but I felt the pang of wanting something familiar, something that could relieve me of having to feel responsible for, or drained by, everything that was happening around me in the world, politically or personally. Cravings usually passed as quickly as they came, though they never became less surprising—I’d think to myself, haven’t I got this whole sobriety thing yet? Where do these impulses come from? What does it mean? Probably nothing, to be honest. I am a creature conditioned by years of destructive habits, thoughts, behaviors, and patterns, and a year and a half isn’t long enough to undo everything last thing I passively learned over the course of my life.
Sobriety felt lonely to me for much of the first half of 2017. Part of this was my reluctance to celebrate openly, and part of this was my self-inflicted shame for being one of “those” people—those sober people. It didn’t much help that my then-boyfriend and all of his friends (all of them, every single one) drank. Some drank more aggressively and dangerously than others, and my boyfriend never really was one for a true rager, but it was frustrating to have a huge part of my social life encircled by other folks’ efforts at getting drunk.
It wasn’t until that relationship ended in October that I felt emboldened to pursue a sober community that felt more genuine and intentional. It started with more regular, honest conversations with one of my best friends, who has been sober since 2012, and a tepid foray into different AA meetings and the big, wide world of online dating. I quickly retracted from online dating, though, because it felt too overwhelming to manage expectations and explain myself when it came to my sobriety. I still wasn’t comfortable talking about it, for some reason, though I tried to pretend like I was. I wasn’t about to give up on my sobriety for any romantic prospect, no matter how tempting, but was I going to give up on any romantic prospects for sobriety?
All year long, I was in love with the idea of love—loving someone deeply, loving myself, being able to give myself more freely in love. Sobriety seemed like a good gateway into a more genuine form of love—a love less tenuous or tainted by alcohol—but for some reason, I wasn’t able to find it in the relationship I’d been working so hard to maintain.
I started 2017 loving someone despite our obvious (well, obvious to me) incompatibilities. I rang in the new year with a kiss on his champagne-laden lips in a cabin somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin, and I remember telling myself that this was OK—it had to be OK. I could truly, deeply love this man, despite what I felt was missing. I clutched the idea of stability and predictability and companionship close to my chest, and was afraid to look at what might happen if I let go.
But, eventually, I did.
In 2017, I loved myself enough to let go of a relationship that was unfulfilling, even though it looked wonderful from the outside; we were independent but caring people who shared similar ideologies and interests, who rarely fought, and who seemed to have a solid friendship at the core of everything. But, it wasn’t right. I let go, even though it meant losing the two years of stability, friendship, and dreams I’d been building up inside. I let go to find a more honest version of love for myself.
Even as I re-entered the single world with a chip on my shoulder, folding into myself and trying to keep others at arm’s length, something (rather, someone) special fell straight into my lap when I least expected it. Really, he’d been there all along: someone sober, creative, mature, respectful, self-aware, and capable of freely giving and receiving tenderness and passion. I danced around the idea of him for a few weeks before feeling myself being pulled deeper and deeper in. It was a lovely, unintentional trap we set for each other, and we both fell in.
I ended 2017 near the frozen shores of Lake Superior celebrating the marriage of one of my best friends, while quietly holding onto that blossom of love in my heart for someone new, who was 600 miles and another timezone away. I danced all night—with myself, with others—and sang Auld Lang Syne with a group of friends and friendly strangers. It was the first New Year’s Eve in over a decade that I didn’t have someone to kiss, and strangely, this was OK with me. The moment felt just as right as it ever could be, and I was happy.
Professionally, I finally started working as a mental health therapist with real clients. Finally. After a year and a half of studying, paper-writing and hair-pulling, I began the real work I set out to do in Spring of 2016. It had been so hard for me, for so long, to imagine what it would be like once I finally got my foot in the door as a therapist. The process both ripped me to shreds and made me feel whole in a way I hadn’t professionally experienced before.
The best thing I’ve found about this profession so far—and the thing that I hope never leaves my sight, no matter how difficult the work may be—is that my clients have a million lessons to teach me about myself, my world, and the world outside of me. Just as in my life outside of work, as a professional therapist, I will always have blind spots and areas into which I can grow and explore. I will learn how to be endlessly humbled and ever-curious, because in therapy, there are never any easy answers. I’ll learn to cry and respect my emotions, as I learn to hold a scared space for others as they cry and respect their own emotions, as well. It’s not easy work. Not at all. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited and amazed by any other choice of vocation I’ve personally come across.
2017 was challenging, too, in a lot of ways. The Spring semester presented itself with a move from my dad’s home into my own apartment, multiple out-of-state trips, seemingly-endless homework assignments, and a required week-long residency at my University out in New Hampshire. I went through some pretty serious moments of self-doubt, elevated stress, and depressive symptoms. I cried a lot. I felt like I couldn’t take even a moment to catch my breath. This was compounded by the moments of extreme loneliness I felt in my relationship, which my ex later told me he was never even slightly aware of. He told me how horrible he felt after learning I’d spend days at a time paralyzed by anxiety and depression, crying to myself about this, that, or the other thing. It all peaked when, one cold spring day in the middle of a solitary walk, I passively thought about what it would be like to jump or fall off of the bridge I was standing on. I realized then that I had to learn to be more honest about what was happening inside my head with the people close to me. I didn’t know how much my sobriety had to do with the way I was feeling, but it sure as shit made me miss the days of grey-out. I started personal therapy for the zillionth time a few months later.
In June, I broke up with my boyfriend for the first time. I had a mild anxiety attack immediately after, and spent the next two weeks trying to convince him to come back. I told him that I would try to adjust my own expectations of the relationship, in order to help relieve some of the issues we were having. I spent hours writing and re-writing letters of apology and explanation to him, which I never sent. I took long walks and cried and felt so damn confused because really, wasn’t the breakup what I really wanted? What I needed? Why was it so hard to walk away?
We reconciled at the end of June, but as the story goes, it didn’t last long. I broke things off for good in early October and despite the resounding sadness of yet another relationship ended, I felt at peace with the decision. I still miss the comfort and predictability that relationship afforded me, but I feel OK knowing that those things were sacrificed at the expense of my emotional and mental well-being.
This year also brought layoffs at work (thankfully not for me), financial stress, and difficult schedules. On Halloween, I had an unsavory encounter with a colleague that has landed me in a permanent state of mild discomfort at work. I’ve had multiple run-ins with my stalker ex-boyfriend, as well as an encounter with my ex-husband, who I hadn’t seen since July of 2014. Late November came with a one-two punch: the sudden death of a close friend’s mother, and my new lover’s mother having a heart attack a few days before Thanksgiving (she’s alive and getting better). These were profoundly intense things to witness and provide support for; I did my best, but I still don’t know if I did it right.
With my first full calendar year of sobriety under my belt, I am thankful for what I have, what I’ve learned, and what I have yet to discover in 2018. This Tuesday, January 9th marks 1.5 years of sobriety for me, which feels completely normal and amazing at the same time. I doubt there’ll be much commotion about it, but I’m excited to be crossing yet another milestone in this lifelong journey I’m taking. I’m excited to continue being a role model for others who are quietly looking toward a life of sobriety. I am excited to keep building on this momentum of honesty, humility and self-reflection. I’m excited to have more and more people to share this with.
This year, I am moving forward with the word “intention” in mind. I’ve been kicking it around my head for the past several years as a sort of modus operandi, but I think I’m finally in the right frame of mind to make it a prominent and permanent goal of mine to bring more intention into what I do, say, and think in 2018. This applies to my work, my schooling, my relationships, my sobriety, my writing, my physical health, my self-care, and my self-improvement.
I am so looking forward to seeing what this year brings. Cheers, friends, to the new year.