Ten Years Sober

I recently saw a post that said, “If you made it through the pandemic without buying a dog, you deserve a medal.” The simple recognition that getting through something without some help – in this case, a loyal friend to greet you when you get home or go for a walk – is difficult, and I agree. I’ll admit, when I hurt my knee this past year and couldn’t run for months, my sobriety was tested in a new way. Stress can cause an increase in alcohol consumption, and we saw that during the pandemic – all of us were looking for some help, a respite. I remember walking one sunny day in May thinking all was far too heavy.

Another walk I’ll never forget was in New York City with my father, and when we passed an unhoused person, he gave them some money. I was a kid, but something I heard people talk about was how you should give food instead of money because you never know where they’ll spend it and, when I asked him what he thought about this he said something like “it’s not my job to decide how they use it” and that ultimately, even if it was being used to buy a drink, it might be the little relief they need for the evening.

Making it through life sober isn’t something that deserves a medal, but to someone who struggles with alcohol or just doesn’t want it to be a part of life, it is worthy of celebration. A lot of meetings I used to attend didn’t even hand out chips to recognize milestones so as to make the focus more about the journey and not the recognition, but I have fond memories of receiving my six-month chip. This was the amount of time that when I reflected, it seemed like it could be a lifetime reality. The last ten years have been the best and most challenging years of my life. I’m more solid and self-aware now than at any point in my life. This is a blessing, but also a challenge. In the past year, I’ve been able to name more emotions and movements which need addressing to take steps towards growth – an example being anxiety when things aren’t working out as planned or when there’s a lot happening at once. Typically, my response has been to try and outwork the pressure, but what I’ve learned is this way of proceeding can appear as fear and isolation. It’s difficult to collaborate with someone who has an anxious presence because it doesn’t allow space for intricate problem solving, and it can favor a decision too heavily influenced by opinion or more talk about the problem and less about the possibility. When I learned this about myself, I found I have yet another daily decision to make – working to be a non-anxious presence. I found this prayer in my phone – a picture taken years ago during a service trip in Jamaica, and I’ve started incorporating it into my daily routine.

Many people wake up every day and make decisions to do the tough thing even though they have every reason not to do so, and these are the people I think about whenever I’m feeling unsure of my course. I’ve learned to stay vigilant, even if things are good, and even if I’m not feeling a desire to drink which has thankfully been most of the time over the years. One of the daily decisions I make is something I picked up from a vital text in my journey – The Soul of Sponsorship – The Friendship of Father Ed Dowling, S.J. and Bill Wilson in Letters and this excerpt has stayed with me,

Bill had made a decision, Father Ed reminded him, to turn his life and his will over to the care of God, and having done this, he was not now to sit in judgment on how he or the world was proceeding. He had only to keep the channels open — and be grateful, of course; it was not up to him to decide how fast or how slowly AA developed. He had only to accept. For whether the two of them liked it or not, the world was undoubtedly proceeding as it should, in God’s good time.

We all need something to help get us through this life, for some of us what we turn to ends up taking us or dulling who we are or what we could be. For anyone out there who isn’t sure if alcohol is one of these things, just know that many don’t get to the point of being able to make this decision – this I have learned and so today I sit in acceptance and gratitude, not judgment.

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