A Sober Birthday

I remember we were sitting in an Eat’n Park booth. He asked if I was happy. I squirmed a little in my seat. This was just a friend and we were catching up over coffee. We were already accustomed to asking the hard questions and diving deep, but I still felt embarrassed to be honest, to say, “No.” What I said instead was: “Uhhh, so-so.” I wasn’t ready to commit to that No even though my body knew the answer. 

It was the same way it had been when my father-in-law asked for our Christmas lists. I went through a period where these made me sad to fill out. I didn’t want material items. Yeah, ok, sure they’d be nice, but I knew that what I really wanted was not bought at a store. And this reminder made me feel hollow. I wanted to be able to get what I wanted, but the problem was I wasn’t even sure how to articulate that or what that even was. 

Now I know. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be grateful, to be alive. I wanted love, I wanted connection, I wanted family. I wanted my heart to burst with life. I wanted true happiness, deep contentment with my life. I couldn’t buy those at a store and a part of me knew no one else could really give them to me. 

My birthday was this week. This year I really wanted to do something fun. The original plan was to play putt-putt or ride Go-Karts. Quarantine altered those plans so instead I hosted an online dance party with my close friends and family. I had a great time and was filled with so much love for the people who showed up for me from two countries and five different states. It was exactly the let-loose fun I was looking for. Earlier in the morning my heart melted a little because of the texts and emails I received from people I haven’t heard from in awhile. It reminded me of the amazing people in my life. I can easily forget when I’m physically separated from them. 

Despite my birthday’s good ending, the morning did not start that way. In fact, my old habits came back with a vengeance. At risk of exposing my vanity, I’m a little embarrassed to even share this, but it’s important. Because it’s sometimes in the little things where our mental health unravels. My husband watched the kids so I could shower. If you don’t know, that’s a winning lottery ticket in the parent world. So, afterwards I was feeling good, refreshed. As soon as I got downstairs they were getting dressed to go play outside…in the rain…and I had to take them out.

Uggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. But I just blow-dried my hair! I don’t want to fucking go outside. Are you serious?! Ugggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. 

My husband could tell I was annoyed but I didn’t say anything. I begrudgingly agreed to take them out because saying “No” would have shown just how selfish I am. I knew fresh air and movement was exactly what they needed, but what about me?! When do I get what I want?! 

It was not a good morning. I hated being outside. I snapped some pictures of flowers because they were beautiful, but I absolutely did not want to be there. I wanted to get back inside and fix my hair. I felt raw all morning. I was raw with anger, resentment, bitterness, and anxiety. And I just couldn’t stop it. I cried on the floor, I cried in the bathroom. I assured my kids this wasn’t about them, but I felt so cut open. And of all days, on my birthday morning–when I had a dance party to host later! Ughhhhhhhhhhh.

That was how most of my life had been. It’s just been awhile since I’ve been that low. I’ve been sober for almost 486 days, which feels appropriate because those numbers reflect my birthday. In this time, I’ve had glorious highs but I still dip. I still drop. I still have days that remind me how quickly we can become trapped in our own thoughts. These days remind me how necessary it is to have ongoing self-care and self-love and how essential it is moment by moment.

I didn’t have a cake this year so instead of candles, I wished upon a star, upon the lines in my journal. As I wrote at night I couldn’t stop writing wishes. Well, one wish over and over. I wished that I would get everything I wanted. And what I realized yesterday after another Sobriety Meeting led by Laura McKowen was that I’ve got that now. It’s the same gratitude and astonishment that some of the speakers expressed–sobriety has given me everything I ever wanted. It’s not perfect. There are still lows. But even when I am low I do not feel empty as a person. I am now a full person with really hard days sometimes. I am a person with the human condition. 

For me being in recovery means that I am always striving for a balance and integration. For me I’m not worried about returning to alcohol as much as I am about returning to a life that’s unloved. I’m in recovery because I am still prone to anxiety, to ruminating, to self-crushing cognitive distortions. I still get tangled in my own loose ends and it will always take conscious work to straighten myself out. I’m in recovery because for so long I thought that booze would help me achieve the things I wanted, or at least get me part of the way there. Until I realized it wouldn’t. Until I realized it didn’t. Until I realized I wasn’t actually happy no matter how many good, fun moments I had while drinking or while I continued to live an unconscious life. 

When I first went to therapy it changed my life. It opened me up to watching my mind. I finally understood the word blessed. I thought I had unlocked the secret to life. Yet, it wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I realized there was a piece of me that was still missing. I was giving myself away to something that could never offer a return. I don’t think I can give alcohol all the credit for my unhappiness, but I do know what my life feels like before and after sobriety.  Once I stopped relying on a thing to make me feel whole, little by little, my pieces started to come back together. I realized that they never went away but got spaced out over the years. When I stopped drinking, all of my shards came back. I slowly mended. Truthfully, they’re still coming together. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I actually felt happy. I felt alive. I felt that I could achieve anything. 

I know that I will still have hard days, and I know that I’ll still resist the shit out of them most times, but I also know that I have a foundation now. I know that I walk on solid ground, and most days it’s not even a walk, it’s a run, it’s a soar. That’s what sobriety has given me. I put my heart back in myself. As I wrote in my journal last night, and wished upon the stars, I knew for the first time, I can have what I want. It’s all been made available to me.

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