It’s been a cold and rainy Thanksgiving weekend. I slept a lot. I ate a lot. I worked HARD. All in all, it was a great balance of downtime and productive time. To wrap up the weekend, we’re snuggling in front of a cracking fire and getting ready to binge on some Netflix.
Within maybe two feet of my nose, my husband’s beer glass is wafting its yeasty malty funk into the living room air. It’s exactly the kind of beer I used to trip all over myself for. And I don’t just mean that figuratively.
It’s a dark winter stout, thick and almost chocolaty, not too cold, not very fizzy. I’m looking at that graceful glass and breathing in those scents, and I have one thought.
At this moment, I’ve been sober for 7 months, 28 days, 22 hours, and 35 minutes. My sobriety app tells me that at the rate I was glugging away, I’ve saved $2,477 and passed up 1,486 units of booze.
I’ll tell you something. If you’ve been here, there’s no surprise in this for you. But here it is:
Seven months and 28 days ago I didn’t think I could do this. I remember telling my husband, who had seen me make a good 60-day run at sobriety the year before only to pick up the bottle even more enthusiastically than before, “I think this will be really hard work and I just don’t know if I’m up to it.”
And that’s the irony of this addiction thing. When you reach your truth time – or what some people call “hitting bottom,” even though I’ll thank dog I didn’t have to do that – when you get there, you’re tired. You’ve been tired for so long you don’t even know you’re tired. You’ve been working so hard to keep things together you don’t even remember what a non-hungover, non-cloudy-brained, non-get-through-this-by-the-seat-of-your-pants day even feels like. That scary feeling of barely getting by, of putting on a front so others can’t see how much you’re not up to it? It’s not a bad day. You just call it Tuesday. It’s normal.
I’d heard that from long-time sobriety champions. Not so much in these words, but I’d heard people with dressers full of AA chips and directories of sponsees tell me that people who are practicing their addiction are living in a haze of delusion. The haze is so normal they don’t even notice it anymore.
I remember back in the day when my brothers were in constant legal trouble because of their addictions. DUIIs, probation, probation violations, jail, probation, more violations, more jail. I called an uncle who is one of those with a collection of AA chips and sponsees. He talked me out of trying an intervention with my brothers. Interventions usually don’t work, he said. And he said it would have to be up to my brothers. But when they did finally decide – IF they ever decided – they’d learn that this whole sobriety thing isn’t as complicated as the intoxicated mind makes it out to be.
“So, say you have a routine every night: you come home from work at 5:30 and have dinner at 6:00 and from 7:00 – 9:00 you watch your two favorite shows on TV,” I remember him saying, while I wondered why the hell he was talking about mundane weeknight routines when I was afraid my brothers were going to die. “It’s such a habit that you can’t remember what you did before that habit. And if someone suddenly took away your ability to continue this habit, you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. But that would just last for a while. Pretty soon you’d find new habits – hopefully better and healthier than the old ones – and you wouldn’t miss the old habits anymore.”
Now, remember, my brothers were in trouble. Impounded cars and divorces and bad parenting and hiding-from-the-cops kind of trouble. And my uncle was suggesting that their solution could be as easy as deciding not to watch sitcoms for two hours every night.
I didn’t buy it.
And back then, I had never thought I’d face that habit shift myself. I’m what we call a functional alcoholic. I never got arrested or missed work. I was one of the countless among us who can do the college degrees and the business ownership and the volunteer jobs and the community involvement and manage a mortgage and a household and do it all through the haze of booze. Of course, I hauled home bottles of expensive Irish whiskey and cases of snooty wine, so I wasn’t just chugging down cheap beer and getting wasted like my brothers and so many other people we knew. To my mind, I was an entirely different story. I had outrun my DNA.
Honestly, holding my brothers up as a mirror let me stay in denial about two decades longer than I had a right to. I inherited that delusional mirror in the same way I got blue eyes and arthritic shoulders and a sneaky sense of humor. It came in the gene bundle. Generations of my clan have had barely functional and incarcerated kin who let the more functional drunks feel like they had it all together.
So when I reached my truth point almost eight months ago, I tried to steel my blurry and tired and traumatized brain for a hard fight. I started treatment for addiction and for PTSD. I tethered myself to my phone, streaming mindfulness and yoga apps into my ear buds day and night. I stocked up on fizzy flavored water and fancy loose-leaf teas and pretty teapots. I made new habits.
And today, sitting next to that stinky, sparkly glass of something that would have been an irresistible siren call a few months ago, I’m just a little queasy from the smell. I’m getting more space between the fumes and me, reaching for my diet ginger ale, and when I finish that I’ll brew some loose-leaf herbal tea and head to bed with my meditation app and my ear buds.
My uncle wasn’t the crazy one. I was. I have new habits now and I don’t miss the old ones.
It really is that easy.
And it’s more complicated than I can say here and now.
It’s one of the easiest hard things a person can do.