Today, I’m celebrating my first anniversary. One year clean and sober. Go me.
I thought I’d be a lot happier today, but really, all I’ve been able to think lately is, “Why the [insert expletive of choice] did it take me this long?”
I spent the vast majority of my 20’s in a state somewhere between a haze and a stupor, and I have a lot to regret. In many ways, I don’t much feel like celebrating the one year of semi-normal behavior stacked up against the many lost years of stupidity and damage. But I’m making a point to note the day and reflect on all that’s happened in the past year.
In AA and NA, they tell you not to make any major changes or commitments in the first year. My biggest changes (new job, new city, moving in with my partner) began just as my days of debauchery were ending, so my sobriety seemed like just one more blank page in an unwritten book. I was excited to prove to the world that it would like the new and improved me. The responsible me. The competent, professional, kind me.
As I started dealing with my problems rather than trying to drown them and process my feelings rather than indulge in them, the year progressed really well. All kinds of good things were happening. I was making progress by leaps and bounds, and I was seeing positive, incremental changes all the time. And as the last weeks of my first year sober rolled around, I felt I had finally achieved the impossible: adulthood.
The biggest thing I’ve gained in my first year of sobriety is self-respect. That deep chasm in my heart of hearts that nothing could fill but which I tried to fill by using and drinking — that’s gone. Filled and closed once and for all, and by me alone. I no longer need the affirmation of others — don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but it’s icing on the cake, not the basis for my self-esteem.
The other big gain has been the ability to solve my own problems. The littlest things used to derail me. A bad day at the laundromat might lead to my downing a fifth or more of gin. (Eww, gross.) Any sort of interpersonal anxiety would lead to a days-long bender of epic proportions and nightmarish consequences. These days, I have a lot more calm and stability than that. I deal with problems large and small head-on. I don’t panic; I solve.
Still, life lessons like those seem so friggin’ basic. “Look, Ma! I have self-respect and problem-solving skills!” Aren’t those the kinds of things I should have learned in 6th grade or so?
Nevertheless, without those skills, I’d be adrift right now. The biggest life change of the year — a breakup I neither expected nor wanted — happened about a month ago. If it had happened six months ago, I’m pretty sure I’d be face-down in a ditch by now. But having my Medal of Self-Respect and my Commemorative Problem-Solving Pin, I went out, got myself an apartment, and did my best to carry on and not dwell on the negative.
I honestly am doing the very best I can, but I really don’t feel I’ve accomplished anything to be proud of. I’ve reformed. I stopped a bad behavior. I didn’t save anyone else’s life or make a significant contribution to society. I haven’t discovered anything previously unknown. I just did the right thing, the thing I should have been doing all along.
Alright, I’ll admit I’d probably be a lot more into celebrating if my ex (gosh, that’s a weird word to type) was celebrating with me. He was my biggest motivator and the most powerful catalyst in making the decision to once and for all get my act together. I did it, at the time, to save a faltering relationship. He loved me as a drunk (why, I’ll never know); I thought he would love me even more as a clear-eyed, confident woman.
This did not turn out to be the case.
In the words of a favorite book from my childhood, “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
I’ve gained the whole world. I’ve got my life back. I’m in control. But I’ve lost so much along the way. In a sense, this relationship was just the latest casualty, its termination a delayed aftereffect.
I’m continuing with my life as strong and clear-headed as anyone could be. I can’t dwell on the past, and I wish I didn’t even have to grieve. (Surprise, surprise: The recovering addict is rather wont to avoid emotional pain.)
But no matter what — no matter what — I will not drink and I will not use. That part of my life is forever over. Knowing deep down to my foundation that regardless of any circumstance, I will be sober — that unshakable realization is my anniversary present to myself.
And for this anniversary, that is sufficient.