Note: I’m back from a week sabbatical to celebrate my best friend’s wedding, a year sober, and my 30th birthday. I wrote this from DC last weekend. I haven’t done a lot of sober travel and it still feels like magic that I can get on a plane without being tipsy, and that I can wake up every morning sans hangover. Thank you for being here. x.
I am in DC this weekend, where I did a lot of my really out of control drinking and out of control pretending. I haven't been back in nearly a decade and it seems weird to be here, a year sober. I'm staying in a hotel and I have been thinking about all of those vacation Sundays where I woke up in a hotel bed and stared deeply into the sheet fibers, trying to focus on something, anything to keep myself from throwing up. Kicking off the blankets when I couldn’t kick off the nausea. How I thought I could avoid the hangover if I could just keep every, single muscle still, and how stuck that made me, both on those moments and in my life. How every vacation came with the promise of at least one morning like this. I am thinking about dreading plane rides where I would go from hungover to drunk too quickly, that fine line between sophisticated traveler and mess that I could never seem to mind. I am not that person anymore, but I still love that girl. I want to gather her up and hold her and promise her that it won’t be easy, but that it does get better. So much better.
Now I wake up and I go for coffee. I read and my eyes are clear in the morning sun. I am ready for the day and ready for life, and I do not feel the need to pretend anymore. On Friday, I watched my best friend marry the love of her life and knew that I would remember every moment. I will never stop appreciating this gift. Sobriety has changed every damn thing. It’s brought me back to a self I didn’t know existed anymore, the one I abandoned so long ago when she couldn’t fit in like I wanted her to. This, my friends, is becoming. This is a life, bigger than I every imagined that's expanding all of the time. I no longer want to numb it when it gets scary. And this week, scary has been an understatement. If you, like me, are a survivor I am sending you endless love. We can do this, together, one step at a time.
I have been sober for 370 days. That number seems incredible, though I know it is so small in the grand scheme of things. It feels like a beginning, like I can do anything at all. And I want to do SO many things. I want to write about sobriety and about shame and being a woman in this world where so many things hurt us, and so many things are just waiting to be conquered, to be altered. When I think about my life’s work, I know that this is it. I was born for this, to push through when it gets hard. To listen to and seek out teachers, then form my own way. I don’t want to be the person who stumbles, then doesn’t remove the stone for those behind her anymore. Now, I want to help clear a path, for the next set of Path Clearers.
At three weeks and one day sober, after my first sober birthday, first sober trip, and first sober wedding, I wrote " I hope this is the last time. I hope I never drink again. I hope I can be awake forever, to bear witness to my own life. I hope that scar is a distant memory and a harsh reminder. I hope that it isn’t a pattern. I hope I finally get to be me. "
I still hope all of these things. And for over 365 days now I have made a conscious choice to eliminate the one thing from my life that kept me from them. I have consciously not chosen escape, and in that, I have built a life that I no longer want to escape from. I want to be here, through every moment, even the hard ones.
There is a scar on my right foot. It is a clean scar, a few inches across and more than five years old. It reminds me of a night that I was too drunk to feel inch thick glass lodge in my foot. Too drunk to remember my now-husband duct taping paper towels to my foot to stop my alcohol-thinned blood from coming. It reminds me of how I called out of work the next day, how I really needed stitches but didn't want to explain why to a doctor or anyone. Not even myself. How every time I looked at that foot over the months that it took to heal, I hated myself. All I remember of the night before is sitting in a dark bar at a cocktail table, sipping gin out of one of those heavy beer glasses they only have at bars. Then the night goes dark. I don’t remember going home. I don’t even remember if I was having fun.
The next day, I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. My friends found it funny. We’d often compete for who’s antics were worst, letting each other off the hook with each escalating story. We kidded ourselves that as long as we weren’t the worst, we were fine. I went back out the next day, bandage on foot, and I kept drinking. I kept dying. I kept forgetting those last moments before I made it back to my front door. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was. I covered the shame with manufactured bravado.
Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.” As children, we are taught to avoid pain, our loved ones shield us from it. We keep pain as far away as we can, and when we feel it, we think it’s something shameful and to be hidden. But Gibran is right, we must know pain. Pain is inevitable and it is a powerful teacher. This wasn't the only time I physically hurt myself while drinking, and the mental wounds are too varied and scarred to count. Drinking laid its fault lines on me.
But perhaps the biggest surprise to me, in my short time in sobriety thus far, is how the pain of life is so different it is from the pain of drinking. There is still pain, yes. But it feels chosen, manageable even. Drinking didn’t feel like a choice anymore. It had become a compulsion, something I felt I had to do and something I thought people expected of me. I felt that I couldn’t un-choose the thing I had chosen so long ago when fitting in was all that mattered. I remember everything about the last year. Every single thing, every story and every moment. I cannot blame my choices on anyone but myself here. And that feels terrifying. But it also feels like hope. Because I know now that this is the last time. I will never drink again. I will be awake forever to bear witness to my own life. The scar is a distant memory and a harsh reminder. It's not a pattern. I finally, finally get to be me.