Hey, so, check this out: I turned 15 years sober on June 20th!
And, if you’ve been friends with me for a minute, you know that usually I write a big long reflection somewhere on social media for my sober birthday. But … I didn’t write anything this year. I kept feeling like I should … and … for some reason I just couldn’t. And the moment passed.
And then I turned 15.5 years sober on Friday! And, again, I really felt like I should write something. And I kept feeling like that, and also I kept feeling like … I didn’t have much to say? … which was the problem back in June as well.
So I’ve been taking some time to think about why that is. As I’m sure many of you have picked up, “at a loss for words” is not my standard operating procedure.
And what I’ve realized is that I’ve been feeling conflicted about the very premise of making any declaratory sort of post about things in this moment. About being suited to the task, I mean. It’s always my intention, when I’m talking about my sobriety, to be an encouragement to people with whom I’m connected, particularly those who might be themselves struggling with addiction, or codependency, or unhealthy relationships, or whatever else we use to fill that yawning hole in the center of our chest. And, in that context, 15 years seems like a lot of responsibility. It seems bigger than me, somehow. And, in the face of it, I’ve realized that I feel a little lost. Like I don’t measure up, somehow, to this thing that I have made. Like I’ve been having trouble getting my arms around it. It feels bigger than me. Like I don’t have the authority to speak on it. It’s a strange feeling.
And I think maybe that’s the thing that’s been holding me up for the last six months. When you sort of say it out of context, “fifteen years sober” sounds like an impossible, moon shot-level achievement. To me, anyway. I remember having two weeks sober and being in meetings where old-timers identified themselves as having fifteen years sober, and thinking that sounded unbelievable. And now, to someone just starting out, I’m an old-timer. And I think that feels like a problem. Because old-timers are supposed to have wisdom! And answers! And perspective! And still, so often, I just feel like I don’t have a fucking clue. Like an unsure kid. Like I’m still just living by the seat of my pants every day, making everything up on the fly and constantly getting things wrong. I think when I hit my fifteen-year birthday, I thought I should feel something. Something different. Like I’d crested a hill or opened a door into a bigger room. Like I’d arrived somewhere. But it just felt like another day.
And I think that, for whatever reason, that kind of shut me up a bit. This particular sober birthday, for whatever reason, felt like it posed more questions than it answered. It put me at a sudden sense of disadvantage that I’ve been working my way through for the last six months. Like, what does it mean?
And I think what I’m arriving at is that it doesn’t mean anything. Fifteen years is an incredibly long time to have been sober. And that’s a very positive thing. But it’s also a trap. Because to try to contextualize fifteen years of sobriety requires that I spend a lot of time in the past. Which is an illusion. Also an illusion: the idea that I should have any more of a clue now than I did fifteen and a half years ago. Because every single day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment. Life presents new challenges constantly, that the old answers don’t work for. And I’m an entirely different person now anyway. I have lots more tools, which is good. But I’m just as inclined to fail to remember to use them as I was fifteen years ago. My brain is going to be trying to kill me until the day I die. They say we’re never “cured,” but, rather, that we are granted a daily reprieve from our disease, contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. And I must be doing at least a decent job at that, because I’ve strung together 11,000-odd days without drinking or taking drugs. And some days I do feel like I’ve learned a lot! But then, a lot of other days, I feel just as lost as I did when I started.
And I think that what I’m coming around to is that maybe “lost” is okay. That maybe indeed there’s no such thing as “found.” That there’s just the present moment, and how well you can do in it. And you win some and you lose some. But it’s not like you crest a hill. It’s not like you eventually find that door to that bigger room where everything’s okay. I think that maybe one of the big secrets of long-term sobriety is realizing that you never arrive anywhere. You just keep going. One day at a time.
Or, to put this all more simply: I think I thought I’d have more answers at 15 years sober. But instead what I think I’m learning is that I may never have answers. And, also, that not having answers might be okay. That, indeed, for me, not having to try to have answers for everything, or maybe anything, might actually be some sort of a key.
To my people struggling with alcohol / drugs / unhealthy relationships / porn / gambling / whatever it might be: this time of year can be incredibly triggering for people wired like us. If you’re feeling … not right … you are not alone. If you need to talk with someone who understands, you can private message me. I’m here. Hang in there.