One Year Sober

“Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place?"

Virginia Woolf

One year ago I lay on the bathroom floor and sobbed onto cold tile. I sobbed for every single failure, every single misstep, every single wrong turn and bad decision that brought me here - divorced, addicted, and alone. 

At once, my world crashed in on me, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back up without making a serious change.

A few weeks earlier, I went on a date, the first in over 15 years. I wasn’t really sure it was a date. I told myself he probably didn’t like me that way and just wanted company. I figured, what’s the harm? I’m bored and lonely anyway. At dinner, I deluded myself into thinking I could drink a glass of wine, just to feel normal. Maybe all the pain of addiction and infidelity were behind me. Maybe I could go on a date like a well-adjusted single person, enjoy a nice dinner, and drink a glass of red wine. Is that too much to ask?

I felt normal for about 5 minutes. Then I felt groundless and out of my body. I didn’t want to be on a date with the man across the table. I also didn’t want to be drinking wine. After 6 months of not drinking alcohol, I knew I had betrayed my truth. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be here, and I had already done too much growth and self-reflection to pretend. 

I tried to pick myself back up once I got home. But the evening opened something inside of me, something dark and sabotaging. I felt the gaping wound of my husband’s affair all over again. Like picking at a scab, I opened the file on my computer and re-read her emails to him. I wallowed in her words, I love you. I want you. Until the letters slanted and warped through the tears in my eyes.

My therapist said to me, “With addiction, it takes a perfect storm.” Her sentence slammed into my chest like a boat crashing against rocky shore. The cracks in my heart swelled with tender understanding and jagged exposure. I was addicted - that was the immediate fire that needed putting out. I was also in pain from the loss of my marriage and I didn’t want to be. I wanted everything to go away. But that mindset only got me to the bathroom floor, unable to wish the pain in my life gone.

I remember the hard cold tile under my palms that day, and the gulping sobs that came too fast until I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know if I was more devastated by my husband having a girlfriend or my own self-betrayal. 

I remember thinking, why can’t I get this right? Why do I keep fucking up so much?

"She thinks she has no soul, no interior life, but the truth is that she has no access to it." 

David Denby

Today I celebrate one year of sobriety. I feel like an exclamation point needs to be at the end of that sentence. (!) Because I never imagined I could go one year without alcohol - and I certainly never imagined I’d actually enjoy myself. On the other hand, the year has been one of accepting pain I never wanted. Nostalgia creeps in from my marriage and I allow the somber emotion to sit inside my heart. I was in love, and I was happy. I made a home and we had babies. Life was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. 

I wanted to write a hero story about my one year sobriety anniversary, a story about all the presence I’ve experienced with my children. About the peace and patience that have found permanent spots in my body. About behaviors that used to be wildly foreign and uncomfortable, like saying no, sitting still, and honoring myself. Through recovery, these behaviors have become more familiar. 

I wanted to write about healing by unearthing pain from my body, and letting it go, but that makes the journey sound too transcendent. In reality, days have been hard, and often grueling. They require discipline and self-care.

I wanted to write about my healthy skin and my younger appearance, superficial side effects from taking care of my body. But the other side effects have been my ability to see unhealthy relationships clearly, to accept my imperfect self just as I am, and to learn that nothing and no one will complete me until I feel wholly complete on my own. These are tough wake up calls for an eternal optimist like me. There is no coping mechanism for being jarred awake in life.

The rewards of removing alcohol and addiction are profound and will continue to serve me, but the real testimony to my year sober is my ability to accept who I am. A few months ago, the thought crossed my mind that I could stop trying so hard. I mouthed the words, I accept myself as I am, and a lump the size of a walnut, right below my ribcage, suddenly burst open, and warm, calming liquid poured throughout my abdomen and up inside my throat. Since then, I’ve stopped asking myself, What’s wrong with me? And replaced it with, This is who I am.

I say no when I want to. I don’t go on dates just because someone asks. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t hide behind a pretty facade to save someone else from pain. I do what I need according to my highest values, which means I am a mother, a writer, and a spiritual seeker. Untangling from my husband and the affair has been monumental in my recovery. Accepting the truth, and that I had nothing to do with it, releases my obligation to fix it, or to understand it. I release the burden of what I can’t control, and I give myself permission to let go. Only my addiction could have taught me how to do that. Just like my alcoholism and my husband’s infidelity came to light during the same, catastrophic year, they also healed one another at the same time. Lessons overlapped, truths about myself and my fears became more accessible. The perfect storm that brought me to the bathroom tile became the perfect catalyst for radical change and healing.

I see myself in the bathroom mirror today, and tears don’t well up in my eyes. I actually like who I see.