Today I celebrate 25 years sober. In a week, I’ll celebrate 52 years of age. It’s a good marking point for reflecting on a life affair with sobriety. I managed to survive the first 17 years without alcohol by honing my sarcastic and comedic skills. I coped with the shit show of my life by being funny. I took my first drink at 17 with friends in a car on a back road, and my life changed in an instant. That giant, empty hole inside was filled instantly. I was immediately beautiful, successful, and intelligent. I was worthy. I was loved. I was important. Mind you, nothing about my environment had changed, but finally, something outside of me made me feel whole.
I started college at 17 due to the way my birthday falls, and not because I was academically ahead of my peers. It was the first time I had been entirely responsible for myself in choosing things about my life, such as curfews and friends. I made the most of it immediately. I chose friends who were much more street smart than me, and I made it my business to catch up in the shortest amount of time necessary. I quickly learned that I could continue to function in my life while binge drinking on weekends. I continued to live this way through college and my first and second adult jobs. I managed to buy a home on my own, and made it through several promotions at my third job before I realized that my drinking was a problem.
My friend called me the day after a night out together and told me to go check my car. I asked why. She stated that I hit a car and drove off laughing. I was shocked. At this point, I knew that I always blacked out when I drank, but I never thought I would do something morally wrong while blacked out. It shook everything I knew about myself as I could have easily hit a living creature and drove off and I would never had known. I went outside to check my car and it was damaged. I was devastated. Who in the hell would I be without alcohol? All of the confidence, esteem, and success that I had earned thus far was to alcohol’s credit. I was 26 years old and having an identity crisis about breaking up with alcohol.
Through my job, I voluntarily admitted myself into an outpatient rehab program. I remember two things: 1) my counselor told us to look to the left and look to the right of us. One in three of us will stay sober, and 2) I had to go to 90 Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings in 90 days, and I had to have a form signed for my counselor at each one for the first 30 of them. An introduction to AA was the best gift I got from a treatment program.
Fast forward six months. I met my future husband across the room at an AA meeting. I thought I had finally arrived. I was living like an adult, and doing adult things such as home ownership, getting married, starting a family. I was doing it all without alcohol. I was scared to death of life, but I put on my big girl pants. I showed up and stared life down whenever it roared. I did it. I had a great job, a new family with a husband and two stepchildren, a nice car, and a new home. I spent so long faking it until I thought I had finally made it. I attended AA meetings with my husband, and I didn’t drink that day.
Fast forward four years. I always wanted to be a mother. It was time. I was 30 and the clock was ticking. It took a year to get pregnant, and my daughter was born when I was 32. I have never known anything like the feeling I had when I looked into her eyes for the first time. I saw the past, present, and future in one glance at her face. I fell into a love that rocked my whole world. I attended AA meetings with her in a baby sling, and I didn’t drink that day.
Fast forward 9 years. Life happened. I was bored. My marriage was boring. My job was boring. Everything was ending in a wall, including my marriage and job. I had started two businesses, bought a big house, enrolled my baby in an exclusive private school, and watched my husband move to the opposite end of the state to start a business there. But I was empty again inside. My life imploded. My businesses were failing. My husband was staying away from home more often. The payments on the big house were getting behind. My health was not good. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I attended AA meetings while crying daily, and I didn’t drink that day.
Fast forward 3 years. I put myself through school for a second degree after my businesses failed. I moved myself and my daughter to a smaller home after the divorce was final. I began working again in a different field and began another small business. When my ex-husband told me angrily that I could date whomever I wanted, male or female, I discovered a new truth about myself. I embarked upon dating again, this time I was dating women. I attended AA meetings, and I didn’t drink that day.
Fast forward 9 years. I met the love of my life, and I married her. My beautiful daughter, whose eyes hold the universe, started college. Many family of origin members have distanced themselves from me, and many new family of choice members have become prominent in my life. I still have the small business that grew from my failures. My ex-husband and I have a friendship today of which most would be envious. My daughter’s siblings, my oldest two children from the marriage to her father, are a wonderful presence in my life. I work in a job that I love, and am beginning a brand new career doing something I have always loved. The hole inside me is fuller than it’s ever been, and I am the most complete me that I’ve ever been. My life is good, and I remember all the joy and pain of almost half of it. I attend AA meetings, though not as often as I should. Today I didn’t drink. Happy 25 years to me.
What fills the hole inside you? Living life on life’s terms doesn’t get easier with age, or sobriety. Aren’t some days unimaginably perfect? And aren’t some days absolutely unlivable? Know that this, too, will pass. Good or bad, it will pass. Focus on today. Lean into the wonder or the suck. You can do anything for one day. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Don’t give up. Ask for help. The miracle is waiting for you. Your tapestry is waiting to unfold, and I can guarantee it’s beautiful.