In the future, when I think of 2020, I will think of the weeks I spent alone in a ski resort town. I don’t think I can accurately write about that time because not enough time has passed, but it was August, and I’d been sober for maybe two weeks. There in the mountains I cooked myself boxed macaroni and cheese and stirred in things like kale and broccoli, and I researched vitamins and thought about trying kundalini yoga. I ran along the bike trail, along the river, and watched as fly fishermen cast for trout. I was a terrible runner, but it seemed like something I wouldn’t normally do, and since I was trying to be anyone but myself, I put on my old tennis shoes and hit the pavement. I had told myself a story and in that story, I was the failed writer who had drank away her talent; I was obsessive, unloveable, deeply insecure, and not smart enough. I was a chain-smoking voyeur, the ugly sister, without direction and one major depressive episode away from hospital intake. As Sylvia Plath said, I could not run without having to run forever. I was, and am, exceptionally good at running away. I wanted to sit still and rewrite the story.
That summer is romantic to me in the way that any managable pain is romantic in hindsight. It is a mile marker. Good cinema. I had spent those weeks away from home trying and failing to write. I listened to “Young Liars” by TV On The Radio and “Lilacs” by Waxahatchee over and over again, walking circles in the yard and running my hands over purple thistle bulbs and knotty aspen tress. It felt like being on acid, although I’ve never actually tried acid. Everything felt electric in early sobriety. I had all the thoughts and no thoughts at all. Sober the world felt new. Where once I thought I was rotting from the inside out, I was now sure that my whole body was falling apart. I ran and my sweat smelled like weed. I hadn’t smoked weed in years, but somehow I told myself that my body was purging. Weed sweat and ethanol tears.
My first Day 1 sober was July 14. My last (hopefully!) was September 1. Here is what I would tell myself if I could reach back to this summer:
10 Things I’ve Learned in 100 Days Sober
1. Staying sober is the hardest thing you will have ever done. Physically, it could be worse, but emotionally it will break you. Good. Break harder. There is no going back.
2. You will try to backtrack and return to an easier time in your life before alcohol became a problem. You will move back to the East Coast and start over. You will be lonelier than you’ve ever been in your life, and while you cannot recreate your college years, you will ultimately get what you came for.
3. As the sober days add up your hair will stop falling out. You will lose 25 lbs and your hair will shine with something other than grease. Everyone will say you look so much better but won’t link the cause and effect.
4. You will find support in expected places. Your friends from college will bring your alcohol-free drinks and they will apologize when you’re having a hard day. They won’t really get it though, and they won’t try to understand, but you will give them unsolicited updates on sobriety anyway. While it doesn’t change your relationship with them, you will realize that this is your burden alone.
5. You will find support in unexpected places. You will make sober friends around the world in an online community and they will sigh with recognition when you describe your struggles. You will laugh about things related and unrelated to sobriety and eat bags of Haribo while holding each other over the phone.
6. The story you told yourself will not go away just because you stopped drinking. All those underlying issues that caused you to drink in the first place? It takes a while to heal. You will still be healing.
7. You may not believe in God but you develop faith.
8. There is a world of tools out there. Quit lit and sobriety podcasts and herbal teas and AF drinks and sour gummies and ice cream. They all help. One day, though, you will stop reading about fellow drunks, and you will go back to reading about your other obsessions. The world will slowly start to open back up to you.
9. Sober you will learn to sit through hard emotions. You will spend some Friday and Saturday nights crying in a bathtub. Sometimes your life will feel like it is not your own. Sometimes it will feel like a cruel joke. You will laugh at just how many things are out of your control. Acceptance is a hard pill to swallow and you will choke it down with seltzer and cranberry juice.
10. You are capable of great change. You are still in a process of becoming whomever it is you want to be. Cut yourself some slack. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. This will be one of the most important chapters of your life.
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