Yesterday, we were in the car and we saw a woman smoking in a car next to us. “Mama, why do people smoke?”
“Well, some people like the way it tastes or makes them feel.”
“You used to smoke, mama?”
“I did. I liked it a lot for a period of time and then I didn’t and also it’s not very good for you, so I stopped doing it, but it’s not very easy to quit. Some folks just cannot quit or keep trying to quit but it’s really hard.”
“Just like you used to drink beer and wine but now you don’t anymore because you didn’t like the way it made you feel?”
“That’s right. I also have an anniversary of the day I stopped drinking beer and wine coming up, I call it my “soberthday”. It’s super important to me. It means my life changed that day, so it’s kind of like my feel good birthday.”
“Yay mama you get another one of those special coins!”
“So, mama, you’re like a totally different person than you used to be, huh?”
“Yes, my darling children. Yes I am like a totally different person than I used to be.”
This is 17 years sober.
17 years ago I took my last drink. It was awful. There was no joy left, no hope, no party, no promise of a good time. It hurt like hell to drink and it hurt like hell to quit but I had nothing left to lose, so I tried to quit one more time. I needed to face myself and deal with all this before I was gone forever.
These days it’s less about the not drinking and more about the quality of a well lived life in recovery. Because we do recover. This is long-term sobriety and the days of the pink cloud are long gone. This is the long haul. This is the maintenance of a sober life.
What does 17 years sober feel like?
17 years sober feels brand new.
17 years sober feels like forever.
17 years sober feels like I should know better by now how to handle situations that once used to baffle me.
17 years sober feels like I absolutely know what the hell I’m doing today.
17 years sober feels comfortable, sometimes too comfortable.
17 years sobers feels scary as hell.
17 years sober feels like I still only have this 24 hours.
17 years sober feels like the first and the millionth day I’ve done all this. I continue to do the spiritual and mental gymnastics to stay sober. To be present. To not make that choice that ends it all. It feels like several lifetimes and not all of them good. I wouldn’t do it all again, but I wouldn’t do it differently either.
Every time my heart gets ripped out, it gets ripped out sober. Every time my heart gets filled up by the great big giant love and compassion I see all around me, it gets filled up sober.
What I find most exciting, most fulfilling these days, is being a sober parent. My kids have never seen me drunk, but I know. I mean I KNOW. While there are times I wish I weren’t this sober, and many times I think to myself, “I am too sober for this”, most of the time, I am filled with awe and gratitude that I get to do this. I get to be a sober parent. What an enormous opportunity and gift.
I tell my kids, if they need help and they can’t find me, look for another mommy with kids and ask her for help. Recently, I woke up with a start, humbled and honored by how many kids in our circle look to me now as a trusted grown up. I’m actually so damn proud of that.
When we walk to school and these other children look at me, smile and wave or come talk to me, telling me their thoughts and feelings and hot takes on all things kindergarten, I take that as about the highest compliment. I mean, I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing as an adult most of the time but the fact that children trust me makes me feel so warm and fuzzy and fantastic all the way down to my toes. I’ve tried to explain this to my husband and other people, and I cannot find the words to describe what a complete honor that is.
I have been a person that many, many adults confess and share their greatest shame and regret with, but these children sharing their view on lunch and what leggings Hazel is wearing that day and what their little brother said while in the bathroom? THIS is the stuff, man.
As a sober parent, it still astounds me that I am granted this much responsibility. That these two lives are in my care and it is up to me to protect them and keep them safe. And I am doing just that. It is astounding.
THAT is sobriety for me. THAT is sober parenting for me. This wide eyed wonder that I get to walk through this world every day – this world that is in our neighborhood with friends that we’ve made – and I get to be a part of. That I get to participate in life fully because of sobriety. THAT is 17 years sober.
On October 4th, 2001, I took my last drink and my life is forever changed because of that decision. Living this every day normal somewhat predictable life is repetitive and monotonous. I mean, I sleep in the same bed with the same person in the same house every single night.
I have this nightstand. This nightstand was my great aunts and it’s an antique and it is filled with my lip balm and lotion and glasses and books and it is on my side of the bed and it has been for roughly 10 years with my husband who I love, I mean really love. I sleep on the right side of the bed and I know what I am waking up to in my own home with my own stuff and my own kids and Bella and it is well, it is mind blowing. 17 years later and things like having a nightstand on my side of the bed still astound me.
That nightstand and that sleeping on the right side of the bed is 17 years sober.
I’m writing this from an airplane going across the country at 10 o’clock at night. Pitch black. People all around me are sleeping and my laptop glows with the promise of these words being read by someone who might really need to hear them. My kids are snoring in the two seats next to me. We have a row of three. We are going to the desert to see my parents. I’m so happy to get to be with my parents on my soberthday. It wouldn’t be happening without them. THIS is 17 years sober.
I get to be a friend and a family member and employee who is loyal, consistent and reliable. This is no small thing for someone who wasn’t always this way. The conversations I get to be a part of would never happen if I were drinking. Never. My world is enormous simply because of the company I keep.
Living life can be excruciating some days. Anxiety and depression threaten to swallow me whole some days. But most days there are moments that are so profoundly good that I am so grateful I get to be part of all this. To do it sober. I had to get entirely vulnerable before I could get strong. But now I see that vulnerability is my greatest strength. I look around me and I shake my head, I am too sober for this. But also, maybe, I am sober enough.