Seventeen years ago yesterday, I spent my first 24 hours as someone who didn’t drink or get high. I was very lucky. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. In an AOL chat room in 1996, someone suggested I go to a gathering of other alcoholics who had found a way to live life without alcohol. I fell into a community of people who helped me believe that knowing peace was possible.
These days, I find it uncomfortable talking about how long I have been sober. I’m working to get over that, but, I have become one of those people who no longer believes that the length of time I’ve been sober has much to do with the quality of my sobriety or my life. Again, I got lucky. The foundation I landed on as I learned to live life without alcohol was strong. People guided me and shared with me resources that turned into my guidelines for living. I found a spiritual connection to what I call “god,” though it aligns more closely with my atheist friends’ concepts of life than it does with my religious friends. The connection is there, and for me, that’s what matters. These days, I recognize that many years of not drinking does not equal superior wisdom.
I frequently learn more today from people who are just beginning their journey into recovery than I do from “old timers.” The long-term sobriety people have important messages, too. But, at this point, it helps me so much to remember how frightening life was before I recovered. Through all of my life’s challenges in the last five years or so, I haven’t fallen into the world of fear that was my familiar life before I recovered. When “newcomers” remind me how mixed up life felt at the start, I am deeply grateful for my life and I am excited and hopeful for them. If they get to have even a fraction of the goodness I’ve felt learning how to live life as a recovered alcoholic, they will feel–as publications about recovery describe–”happy, joyous, and free.”
For a long time, I have known intuitively that difficult and dark times always get better. There was a brief period a few years ago, when I faced despair and lost my way. That happened not because I forgot the lessons of recovery, but because my brain chemistry changed and I needed medical assistance. Because of my experience living in the solution from alcoholism, I recognized my darkness was not something I should–or could–live inside. So, I got help.
I am allergic to alcohol. My body doesn’t respond normally to it. Rather than acting as a depressant, it acts as a stimulant. A feeling of craving sets in as soon as it hits my bloodstream (or, perhaps, as soon as I taste it). Not only am I allergic to it, but, before I recovered, I was constantly battling a spiritual confusion. My mind returned to the idea that I could drink without that allergic reaction. Imagine if I was allergic to shellfish, but I kept “forgetting” and ate it anyway. That’s the “insanity” of alcoholism. The only solution that worked for me, to relieve this mental obsession, was to reach out to what I call “god.” A spiritual solution.
In any case, today I am deeply grateful for all of the alcoholics who have gone before me and for those who are just finding out what life without alcohol can be for us alcoholics.
Each of these annual milestones bring up surprising reflections. The past changes as the future moves on. Today, I am returning to my roots of living life as a recovered alcoholic and spending more time with other recovered and recovering drunks. It is right and true. I feel all the feelings life brings. But, mostly, I am happy, joyous, and free.