This is Day Forty-Seven of not drinking alcohol. Why I’ve chosen now to begin blogging about it is arbitrary. A better question might be why I didn’t start at the beginning of this journey. August 25 of this year was my first day of intentional abstinence. Perhaps I was afraid of failing, and doing so publicly is a far greater blow. Today my fear is on vacation. I’m ready to jump and see where I land.
I’m as hesitant to call myself sober as I am to label myself an alcoholic. For one, I don’t know if this is permanent or an experiment. I’m in recovery, for sure, but in the absence of a proverbial bottom, I don’t fit the mold of a typical 12-stepper. Alcohol is definitely a problem, but not necessarily THE problem. I don’t expect to stop my substance abuse and miraculously manifest the life of my dreams. However, I know this is not my best self – not even close – and I recognize that on top of my issues lies a self-sabotaging layer of substance-fueled mental escape.
I’ve previously gone long periods without drinking – unintentionally and without duress – one of which was the final two years of my undergraduate education. I was taking Calculus, Physics, and Organic Chemistry, and preparing for the MCAT, and being a new mother. I maintained a 4.0 GPA and somehow kept it all together. I do not remember my 21st birthday, not because it was so much fun, but rather I didn’t feel compelled to celebrate simply because I was legally allowed to partake. My son and my education were my life. Partying was, I believed, a thing of the past; something to recall from my years of teenage turmoil.
However, I’ve revisited a life of substance abuse several times – during my divorce, unemployment following graduate school, and eventually for no reason other than just plain self-pity that my life hasn’t worked out the way I wanted. It’s what I call “F*** It!” mode, when I’ve done everything I think I’m supposed to do – adhered to society’s rules, the expectations of my loved ones, and my own standards of perfection – only to feel imprisoned in a fruitless, unrewarding existence. (I have a flair for drama, so it’s all relative.)
Eventually I find my way back to center and clear the decks of self-destructive habits and unhealthy relationships. The problem is staying centered. Life is messy, the world is unbalanced, and I can’t live on a mountain in meditation. In real life, the sky falls. Only one thing is for sure. I am sickened, literally and figuratively, by the current culture of debauchery. My friends and family do not drink to relax and unwind from a stressful day. They drink to get drunk. To misbehave and act out their alter egos. To disappear and forget. Me, I get so exhausted being responsible that it takes only a slight change of the wind to tip me over to the dark side.
But I cannot stay there either. It’s not the real me. I can’t let go of my dreams. I’ve gone to some very dark places, even contemplated suicide, but there’s part of me – a mere seed of irrepressible spirit – that cannot be crushed. Is it God? Is it love? It certainly doesn’t feel like hope, but whatever, it won’t let me check out. It’s as though I stopped treading water and slowly settled to the concrete floor of the deep end of the pool. But I can’t sink further and I can’t just sit there, so I kick off and up toward the light where I can breathe again.
Relieved as I am to always find my way back, it’s nevertheless a painful pattern, and I desperately need to believe that change is possible. That is why I’m doing this. One year without drinking. Wish me luck.