As I was thinking about how to write this article – how to best express my feelings about one whole year of sobriety – I remembered something I saw on an episode of The Biggest Loser several years ago. One of the contestants on that particular season, Abby, had been through a horrific tragedy when her husband and two young children were killed in a car accident. Following her loss, she sunk into a deep depression, which led her to use food to self-medicate, which led her to The Biggest Loser. When Abby was finally eliminated, what she said resonated so deeply that it apparently stuck with me, hiding in the back of my mind all these years. I looked up the video on YouTube so I could transcribe it here, but I’m pretty surprised at how well I remembered it. The video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tia_05r7pM0 and Abby’s comments begin at about 3:30.
“I’m having new dreams again. I’ve proven to myself that I am the things that I want to be. And I kept trying different things to try and re-join life…and none of them were working. And then I came here. And it’s working. It’s working.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
When I was a drinker, nothing ever seemed to go quite the way I wanted it to. I was alive, but for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on (at least not at first) I didn’t seem to be part of the life going on around me. I was all alone in a bubble that I could see through and hear through and speak through, but it was always there. I could feel things, but the thin film of that barrier prevented me from knowing their true texture. I felt separate from everything. Separate from everyone, really, and no matter what I tried I just could not find the right needle to pop the bubble and make my escape.
I floated through many years that way: moving along next to everyone, marking the passage of time, wishing that somehow, some way, I could find something to make me feel better. After a while I came to understand that alcohol was the problem, but of course knowledge and acceptance are very different things. I couldn’t accept that the bubble was, in fact, made of the very same stuff I was pouring down my gullet night after night in a desperate attempt to escape my misery. No. What I needed was not to quit drinking, what I needed was to find a way to “get back out there,” to be more active, to “find my center,” to change things up. So I tried to do just that.
I started practicing mindfulness, but of course, it was difficult to be mindful and present when I was drunk. I bought a yoga mat and followed along with videos on YouTube, but after my 20 minutes were up I went straight to the fridge for a “well-deserved” beer (or twelve). I strapped my son into his stroller/put his little tennis shoes on him/got his scooter out of the closet/nagged him until he agreed to go with me and took walks – but there was no rule that said I couldn’t put beer in my water bottle. I tried online dating but either bailed on plans so I could stay home and drink or got hammered and slept with the guy on the first date and never called him again. I moved house more than once, always convinced that getting into a new environment would be good for me, but by the end of my first week in each new place I knew the location of every liquor store within a 10-minute radius. I applied for a promotion at a job I hated, sure that the change in salary would boost my happiness, but ended up drinking more due to the stressful nature of the position. I tried several different careers but found the same politics and difficulties everywhere. I went to therapy off and on, sometimes for a period of years, sometimes just for a few sessions, but rarely talked about drinking and often went on horrendous post-session binges to deal with the emotions that came up. In short, not one single thing I tried to pop that bubble ever even made a dent in its surface. In truth it just kept getting thicker. That is, until August 29, 2020.
That morning, I did something I had done many times before: I poured what was left of my booze down the drain. The difference was that I did so without a sense of desperation. I didn’t feel panicky, or nervous, or even particularly sad about it. I was calm. I watched the whiskey slide down the side of the sink with a sense of relief. I was comforted by the finality of placing the bottle in the trash can and walking away from it. I wasn’t full of resolve or determination or willpower. I wasn’t ready for a change or looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I was, quite simply, tired. I had run my very last experiment in The Moderation Project with the same results I’d gotten hundreds if not thousands of times before, and for whatever reason, this time I accepted the results. I wasn’t begrudging about it or full of regret or anger. I was just done. It was over. For the first time in a very long time, I felt the certainty of having made the correct decision. The bubble burst. I was free.
Every day since that day I have re-joined life a little bit more. I have become a present, active participant in the things that go on around me. I have mended the relationships that needed mending and have found peace in the knowledge that some of them were meant to be let go. I have become a reliable, trustworthy employee in a job that is exactly what I need right now, even though I know it’s not something I want to do for the long haul. I mostly take care of things around the house, even if I am a little lazy about it from time to time. I am learning to move along with the current of my life rather than trying to force my way forward. This is a difficult lesson for me, but an important one. I tackle things when the time feels right rather than agonizing over every single problem and beating myself up for not having “fixed” everything overnight. I have rediscovered my love of reading and writing, going to the movies, working puzzles, spending aimless afternoons wandering through the mall window shopping and people watching, and have learned that I don’t have to do all these things all the time in a rigid schedule, but rather when the notion strikes me. I still practice mindfulness, follow along with yoga videos, take walks with my son, and go to therapy. The difference is that without alcohol in my life, those things actually have their intended effect.
It is a good life, this life without alcohol. It is nothing like I imagined it would be. It’s better. It’s fuller. It’s brighter. It certainly isn’t perfect, but I love it anyway. I saw a quote on /r/stopdrinking the other night that hit the nail smack on the head:
“Recovery didn’t open the gates of heaven and let me in. Recovery opened the gates of hell and let me out.”
It’s nice out here. Won’t you join me?
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