Every morning of my late twenties dawned with sickening dread. Every morning. I’d wake up and immediately begin the slow slide into the murky depths of shame. And fear. And regret. Anxiety gripped me like a vise, making it hard to breathe. I hated myself, pitied myself, held dear a storied mythology of myself. What that equated to each morning was lying perfectly still under the covers for as long as possible, hoping the day would miraculously decide to just pass me by. I was terrified to get up, to be seen, to have to move through the world.
I had no idea what it would be like to wake up excited about a new day, eager to things rolling, to have coffee, to look outside, to actually step into my life.
And then there were the hangovers.
They were constant and relentless. Headaches. Nausea. Light-headedness. Alcohol-poisoning induced welts covering my legs and torso. My body was staging a full-scale revolt, which I steadfastly ignored. 98% of my days were spent navigating the various stages of a hangover, biding time until Happy Hour. Which was really a misnomer because it never lasted just and hour, and I was just as apt to end up crying as laughing. Either way, I was going all in, drinking until I didn’t care that every month I spent most of my pretty-decent salary on drinking. That I really wanted to finish my PhD, but was too crippled by fear and anxiety–plus shame over how much of my TA position I’d shown up hungover for, when I’d bothered to show up at all–to try. That I’d thought I’d be married, settled and grown-up by this point in my life–even though I really had no idea what any of those things meant.
If I’m being honest, I don’t spend a lot of time mulling over what my life was like before I got sober. Not consciously at least. But my body remembers. So much so that the smell of tequila makes my stomach clench and my jaw ache (the anticipation of the lime after the shot, I suppose). And the memories of who I was when I drank live close enough to the surface that I’ve never been tempted to see if I can “try” drinking again. Even thinking about holding a drink gives me shame-flashbacks. It’s not tempting because I know what would happen: it would be an absolute shit show. And I would lose all the things I love.
Because I cannot control my drinking.
I get this fathomless internal itch when I start to drink. Like I’m trying to reach something, without even knowing what it is. It looks something like oblivion, though. Or nirvana. As soon as I take a drink and the alcohol hits my bloodstream, I get convinced, instantaneously, that more alcohol will be the cure-all elixir that will give me a deep, spiritual connection–with myself, with other folks, with the Universe. More alcohol means escaping from everything that causes anxiety, pain, sorrow. More is always better when I drink. Because alcohol is deliverance. Or at least that’s the lie that my brain repeats until I’m too obliterated to bother to listen anymore.
When I was still drinking, I never stopped to consider what a sober day might look like. What it might feel like to greet myself in the morning. To go to the kitchen, make my coffee, and climb back in bed to read & think & set intentions for my day. To feel real, deep joy and excitement about what the day might hold–even an extraordinarily mundane day. Because even the mundane feels magical sometimes, without the haze of perpetual alcohol-induced anxiety and ever-present existential crisis.
I am grateful to be sober.
I made it out of my particular cycle of addiction. Many, many people don’t. This life I’ve built is a gift, a second chance. When I chose sobriety, I did it just for me. I wasn’t court ordered to get sober. I wasn’t trying to save a relationship or a job. Or even my health. I got sober because I finally decided I might be worth something after all. At the very least, that seemed like an idea worth exploring.
I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself for all of this mess. For not pulling my shit together earlier. For expecting so little from other people and from myself. For practically being allergic to personal responsibility.
A lot of the work I’ve done over the past year has involved integrating the hurt, drunk, highly-problematic version of myself back into my present self. I spent years trying to disassociate myself from her. She was a bit mortifying, after all. But she was hurting. And lost. She’s part of who I am, part of how I got here. Learning to have compassion for her has been incredibly challenging. But I’m getting there. And the more integrated we become, the more at peace I feel.
Most mornings, I wake up, sip coffee, read, center myself, and run gleefully, headlong into my day. I’ve got my kid, my dog, and my partner all together in a little house in a neighborhood I love–in Atlanta, GA where I’ve wanted to be for my entire adult life. My best friend and her family live practically around the corner. I own a bookstore. I write sometimes.
It’s a big, gorgeous life. I’m so grateful.
And all of these things, every last one, I have because I got sober.