As I wound my car along the familiar route to work this morning, I felt the completely unprovoked tears welling up. I felt them start streaming down my face. I felt myself accept that fact and let it happen. After all, I knew it was coming.
This day – May 7 – is always an emotional one for me. It will never, ever again just be another day on the calendar. When I think, read or hear May 7, I see hookah and green apple Burnette’s and a strapless pink and purple dress. I see my parents huddled in a dark corner, scared and unsure. I see myself – or rather a shell of myself – lying in a hospital bed, drunk and belligerent, insisting I don’t have a problem with alcohol after being admitted with a .34 blood alcohol content.
Don’t get me wrong – this day is a happy one, too. I’m grateful to be here, sober, and grateful that so many people express support on this day.
But this day is also really damn hard because it’s the one day I allow myself to really think about the could-have-beens. I think about that first day and the hopelessness that enveloped me. I think about the following months and how removed and disconnected from reality I was. I think about how unfairly I treated the people around me for the circumstances that were of my own creation.
Every other day of the year, it’s easy to brush those hard, messy parts of sobriety aside. Until May 7 hits, I think I forget how fucking hard it was in the beginning because I don’t revisit it often. I forget how much pain and suffering I felt but also caused. I sometimes even forget how to relate to people who message me asking for help, asking me how I’ve navigated this thing called recovery.
Here’s the thing – I don’t have a magic answer. But in five years of navigating this lifestyle, I know these things for sure:
- Honesty can save you. If I could name only one thing that has kept me sober for five years, it’s being honest and open and vulnerable and sharing this journey.
- The unconditional love of family (and friends) will pull you through – even when you resist it. I resisted it hard, but they persisted. Harder. They won.
- You can always do more than you think you can do. If you’d have asked me five years ago – while I was busy puking up orange Gatorade and nursing a hell of a last hangover – if I thought I’d be here now, the answer would have been hell no…and yet.
- Some people won’t understand – those aren’t your people. Seriously, forget them. Forget the cutting remarks and commentary on your lifestyle. Move on to your people.
- You will want to drink. That is normal. That does not mean you have failed. Do not let the thought mean that, or you likely will fail.
- You never, ever have to justify your decision to better your life. You just don’t. And if you do? See the fourth bullet point.
- Risks will reward you. Getting sober was a risk. But sometimes you just need to fucking jump and figure it out as you’re flailing on the way down. Those people in bullet number two will catch you.
- Your body will thank you for cutting out alcohol. Seriously, the stuff does a number on you, more than you likely think. Upon taking it out of the equation, you’ll realize this.
- Recovery is literally one. moment. at. a. time. Take on more than that, and you’re setting yourself up for a dangerous situation. This, right here, right now, is all you have control over. And unfortunately, you’ll find that sometimes you don’t even have control over that. But you do have control over your actions.
- Life will still happen. Living in recovery doesn’t mean bad things stop happening. Certain things will be out of your hands. However, you’ll likely find your response to such circumstances will change because you will know that thing is not The Worst Thing.
- Every day will not be rainbows and unicorns and glitter. In fact, most days won’t be that. That is just life. You will ebb and flow and be OK and be not OK. But you’ll get through it.
I could go on. Five years is a long time to learn and grow and reflect.
But if you take anything away from this post, take this: if you think you have a problem with alcohol, you probably do. If someone else has expressed concern, you probably do. If you can’t control your drinking, you probably do. If you have hurt yourself or another person, you probably do.
What you do next is up to you. I can’t promise you an easy road or understanding friends or steady emotions.
What I can promise you is that it’s not the end.
It’s simply the beginning.