Long term sobriety is something that happens.
Maybe around year three or five. You’re a solid way away from being a person who drank. When your existence stops revolving around not drinking and discovering the basics of who you are without booze. It starts being about growing the person you’ve become.
Long term sobriety can be a weird headspace.
You’re learning all the things you might have known about yourself except you stunted your knowing by drinking instead of facing what made living so hard. It’s like going back to college later on- you’re the same size as the people in class, but older and farther along, yet not- in unseen important ways.
I went to my first AA meeting when I was 23 years old.
I’d been black out drinking for almost 10 years by that point. I knew I needed help, but I never went back. AA didn’t click for me then, and it never did after. I would think about finding help several times a year, however my options seemed limited to AA. The words I’d wear and say for using the one option that seemed available were too heavy for my twenty something syllables to bear. I didn’t have the self esteem or the strength to carry the weight of the stigma. I struggled desperately enough with the burden of the pain and suffering that led me to black out drinking in the first place.
Fast forward to me at 41.
I’d been drinking for 27 years, and I spent the fall of 2012 drinking heavily. A few times a week I would load the kids into the van and head to the grocery store for something I’d invented a need for. (Oh! Toothpicks! Let’s go get some.) I’d leave them in the car and run in real fast- bottle of white, bottle of red, 12 pack of beer, one pack of American Spirits in the blue box. The I’d rush right back out to the van, hop in, head home, and begin. Again.
Some of the way I avoided quitting was convincing myself that I didn’t have a “real” drinking problem.
I never drank during the day. (I would always wait as late as I could because I knew that once I had alcohol I could not stop drinking until I was too drunk to remember to drink. Day drinking spelled disaster for me.) No drinking every day, sometimes only once in a week. Drinking wine, which somehow didn’t seem like something an “alcoholic” would do. Taking good care of my family and my home. Not calling in sick to work because I was hungover. Believing I functioned at a high level for as shitty as I felt some days. There was guilt, and remorse. At the time, to me people with “real” drinking problems didn’t feel bad about their drinking.
People with “real” drinking problems didn’t care how much they drank. And they didn’t care who they hurt. I cared. I cared so much that it hurt so much that I had to drink to stop the pain. Ugh. That seems pretty real.
The day I quit drinking forever is December 7, 2012. Forever is like the most powerful safety net for me. When I’m deciding whether or not to take it one day at a time I take all the days at a time and say no to them all at once. I finally understood that being trusted with one day at a time decision making never worked, not once in 27 years. The general wisdom did not didn’t fit me.
I didn’t go to meetings, I wrote to an anonymous woman in France who had a blog called Tired of Thinking About Drinking and she wrote me back. No one had ever said “try connecting, but in a different way.” I didn’t have to say my name, or call myself something that didn’t feel like who I was trying to be. I didn’t get a sponsor, I didn’t do the steps. I found online sober community, I stayed sober.
A year went by, then two. Now I’m heading towards celebrating my 8th year of continuous sobriety. I made my own way, and it worked. Both of those are important things. It’s been interesting to notice how the things I did on my own match things other people who are non-traditionally sober, like Holly Whitaker, do too. Things like not calling ourselves alcoholics, not thinking that abusive drinking is a mantle of shame never to be shrugged off for a different thing, like sobriety. I don’t wear my drinking like a badge, I own it as part of me. But it doesn’t define me.