There is a big sand dune at a beach I like to visit. I was a teen with my family the first time I saw it, took my husband there when we were dating, and have loved sharing it with our kids and our friends over the years. On every single visit, as soon as the corner and see it, I feel the strong pull of excitement to climb it. It looms 240 feet over me like a magnificent giant beckoning me to crawl on its back. Every single time it beckons, I answer with enthusiasm.
But here is this thing, it is really hard to climb that dune.
The climbing starts off okay and pretty soon you glance over your shoulder and notice the beach is getting smaller. You feel elevated and a bit elated. Then you look back in front of you, and the slope starts to get real. With every step you take, you slide back enough that you begin to question if you are really making any progress.
Your legs burn, your heart is pumping hard, you are breathing heavily, and you wonder if you will make it. By now, you turn around and plop your bum in the sand to look at the view you are working so hard for. It is beautiful. You notice how far you can see down the beach and how small the people on it are now. At this point, you think maybe this is as far as I need to go, but something inside you says keep going. Don’t you want to see what it looks like on the other side of the dune?
So, once you have caught your breath, you flip over and begin again. Step, slide, step, slide, over and over again. The closer you get to the top, the steeper it gets, and you really wonder if you are sliding more than stepping. At this point, you get on all fours and begin crawling, using your arms as extra leverage to push you over the finish line. You hug the sand and just know that you have come this far and it is going to be so worth it!
At last, you finally reach the top.
You are panting, rosy-cheeked, sweaty, and have sand in your clothes, but wow, you did it! You finally see your first view of the beach on the other side and feel the sea breeze ruffle your hair. It is so stunningly beautiful that you have to take a moment to soak it all in. The top flattens out and you are relieved to feel solid footing again. Well, as solid as you can in the sand anyway, but you are grateful to no longer be sliding back.
As you explore the top of the dune you are amazed at how far you can clearly see. You look below and can see waves crashing onto the beach on both sides of the giant dune you now stand upon. The waves that looked big at the bottom have now just blurred into a mix of white and blue. The surfers and beachcombers look like little insects, and you realize that your perspective from the top has been powerfully altered.
You look down and call out encouragement to the people climbing behind you. You shout things like “Keep going, you got this, the view from the top will be worth it”. Sometimes you holler tips for that final army crawl and hold your hand out for them to grab when they get close enough.
After my group has all made it to the top and explored, we find a place we want to sit and get into the backpack where I have packed something delicious to celebrate with, a thermos of hot cocoa if it’s cold, a jug of lemonade if it’s hot. I break out the snacks and could swear that the M&M’s taste even better at the top. We laugh, we cheer, we reflect on how hard it was, but how our grit and determination kept us going. And we sit there for as long as the day allows with big smiles on our sweat-streaked dirty faces trying to absorb and capture the beauty around us to carry home in our hearts. It truly is a spectacular and remarkable experience.
I realized this morning that my sober journey feels very much like climbing up my sand dune. It is hard and I get frustrated when I work so hard to take a step, only to slide part of the way back. Just like my focus on the climb consumes me and wears me out, so does my work to stay sober. I often feel like I am so tired of always thinking about alcohol and how to navigate my path forward without it. If I am drinking, I am thinking about alcohol; if I am not, I am thinking about how to avoid alcohol. All the thinking about it makes me tired.
There are moments on my climb where all I can see is sand and moments in my sobriety where all I can see is the next sober moment. I have to muster the same grit and determination to keep going and know with every cell in my body that getting to the top is going to be worth it all.
Today, I visualized my sober equivalent of being somewhere, climbing up the side of the dune, and turning around to plop my bum in the sand to appreciate the view and how far I have come. I have not had a perfect year, and I have climbed and slid, but I am proud of my work. I thought about the fact that I celebrated my first New Year’s, 4th of July, and Halloween sober this year. I enjoyed game nights sober, celebrations, and birthday parties sober, even buried a friend sober. I have remained sober when others around me were drinking and have felt my feelings sober, even when I wanted to drink them away.
I am proud of how far I have climbed and the view from here is nice. I have discovered the beauty of sober sleep and how badly alcohol affects it. Without any doubt I have also correlated that alcohol does awful things to my stomach, my heart rate and my general overall activity performance. I have worked hard at building up my endurance on the trail. I like looking in the mirror and seeing my blue eyes white and twinkling and my skin soft and smooth. When I drink I look and feel old. I love the creativity that sobriety unlocks and just how alive I feel when I don’t drink. My climb so far has been hard but I am proud of how far I have come.
I still have a long way to go but it was nice to take a minute to sit here and reflect on the view. I have definitely come a long way. For all of those in front of me, please know your success inspires me to keep going. I wholeheartedly appreciate the encouragement and tips as I look up in admiration of your climbs. For those of you behind me, keep going, you got this, every step is worth it. And for those of you at the top, save some M&M’s for me, they truly do taste better up there. 😊
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