I am ten years sober today.
Ten years is a long time. A decade. 10 birthdays without drinking. 10 New Year’s Eves. 10 Thanksgivings.
And yet in the grand scheme of things, I’m still not all that far removed from my last drink — that morning in June, 2002, when something snapped and I thought I cannot do this anymore.
And I quite literally COULDN’T; the drink in my hand that morning would not stay in me. I’d gulp it down, and it came right back up. Wracked by heaving, my body was finally rejecting the only thing my mind believed was the solution…to everything. Of course it wasn’t; by the end of my drinking any “relief” I may have felt was cruelly short-lived. I certainly wasn’t doing it to feel pleasure.
I remember that morning vividly, because I have to. I have to remember that picking up a drink will take me right back there, if I’m lucky. I say “if I’m lucky,” because in all probability, it will take me someplace even worse. The “disease model” of alcoholism is still a controversial one, but in my experience, it is absolutely a progressive, fatal illness.
But it’s progressive and fatal only if I drink. And, miraculously, I have not done so in ten years.
I don’t write this to rest on my laurels, or to invite everyone to congratulate me on my “willpower.”
I don’t want congratulations — I want understanding.
I want the people out there who are drinking themselves to death to understand that there is nothing romantic about being a drunk. It is not a cultural or artistic imperative to be a drunk. Drinking does not make you a better writer, a better artist, a better musician, or a better lover. It does not make you more in touch with the Universe, your muse, your emotions, or the person you’re trying to have sex with.
I want the people still out there, still trying to make it “work,” to understand that nothing is so terrible, no emotional terrain so unnavigable, that drinking will not make worse. I want them to understand that it’s not a balm; it’s poison. At the very LEAST, it is preventing them from processing their grief, pain, or frustration in a healthy way. It’s simple physics: you meet with a lot more resistance when you try to move through fluid.
I want people who don’t suffer from addiction, and the indignities it heaps upon those of us who DO, to understand that they need to stop making jokes at our expense. I want them to understand that we are not less deserving of grief or compassion when we die from our illness.
I want people to understand that I am, unfortunately, a statistical anomaly. Yes – “unfortunately.” Two out of three of us don’t make it. I’m still alive because I am sober. My friend Caroline is dead. I want people to understand what a fucking incalculably HUGE loss this is.
Ten years ago my drinking had ceased to be cool, relaxing, or a way to end a long day. Drinking had become a necessity. I want everyone to understand that not one of us picks up that first drink hoping that we’ll become addicted. I want everyone to understand that some of us — a great many of us, actually — can’t just put it down and walk away. I want everyone to understand what a horrorshitshow addiction is and that it’s not something that we CHOOSE to have. And if I can’t have that understanding, then I want you to understand that you DON’T understand, and therefore you CANNOT judge.
I’m sorry; this sounds angry. Understand that I am grateful for what I have. I am profoundly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, and the amazing friends I have made, in ten years of sobriety. I want other people to have these things. I want there to be less shame and stigma attached to this.
Ten years is a long time. Am I proud of myself? Sure, but I’m more proud of the person who woke up this morning without a hangover, for the first time in ten years. I’m more proud of the person who is just beginning this journey. Early sobriety is fucking terrifying. I sincerely hope I never have to go through it again. So don’t congratulate ME — congratulate that person you know who is struggling, or the person who’s just admitted that she has a problem and is seeking help.
And if you’re reading this and thinking you might need to stop drinking: congratulations. You can do this. And I’m not going to tell you that you have to do it the way I did. There are many resources available. Below are only but a few. Find the way that works, that resonates, and DON’T LET GO. How you go about getting well is your business…but just get well.