“What are you doing to celebrate 4?” she asked out of nowhere.
After a few moments trying to figure out what she meant, I replied “I think it’s tomorrow,” realizing it had been four months without a drink.
“Oh, well you’d know better than me, it’s your sobriety.”
“No. You’re right,” I said as I checked the date. “Today’s 120 days,” I somberly muttered. “Huh.”
I woke up this morning thinking about what day 150 will be like. While I’m watching my friend get married, will I forget about my own milestone while I see him setting his? Beginning the rest of his life. Promising to always be there for his love.
I thought about what day 180 will be like. Sitting, writing, reflecting about the last six months of my life, presumably the most defining, from a new place of solitude. “A slice of paradise,” a stranger on the phone called it. Will following my heart work out? Will I be able to grow some semblance of happiness from this new reckless, untrodden path I’ve chosen? Will I still be sober in the spring?
And what about the one year mark? When the leaves start changing and September 25th rolls around. Will the cold air that meets me be as dry as the ones today? Will I have started all the things I promised myself I would?
When I was back in LA in the old apartment I’d have to look at the calendar from the year I tried to get sober the first time. It’s still tacked up on my bathroom wall, a painful memory I can’t find the strength to take down. I’m not allowed to forget, and honestly I just don’t want to touch it, as if it’s memory of failure is contagious. I had pre-filled in every 10 day gap with a red pen all the way into December. The numbers are only crossed out up to 50.
This time around for the first 100 days I had a calendar event every fifteen on my phone. Those fifteen day stretches took forever to reach, I assume because my focus was always on the next finish line. On day 60, Black Friday, I remember thinking that I had made it 10 days longer than last time, and that was enough of a fight. But I somehow made it to bed without a drink again, the wine bottles in the cabinet still corked.
The number of days have stopped mattering since the notifications have stopped appearing on my screen. Instead, events have become placeholders for the day I dream of giving in and having my first drink. But the events keep coming and going, and I keep staying dry, just like the program said I would.
As January has come and gone my traveling has slowly circled around my final destination, like water circling a drain. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Madison, Stoughton. A week from now this year long journey will finally see its end. I got on a plane on Jan 8th, 2018 with a one-way ticket and no reason to ever come back to reality. On February 4th, 2019 I’ll be stepping off a plane and having a key to a house handed to me. A symbol of not only the end, but also the beginning.
My therapist said something to me on Friday that I just can’t shake.
“Billy, the situation didn’t change.”
I had been explaining to her how grateful I was for the stressful tasks I had taken on recently. How after days of lamenting the responsibilities I seemed to keep coming around to appreciation for the challenges. Everything that was a chore turned into a goal. Everything that was a fear turned into a joyful discovery. And anger for people kept dissolving away, never turning into anything at all.
“Billy, your perspective is what’s been changing.”
It doesn’t get less impactful no matter the number of times I repeat it back. The tasks never changed. The happiness and fulfillment I was able to get from them were always available to me, I just needed to look at the situation without all the cynicism and doubt, and without the critical voice in my head constantly explaining to me how much I sucked.
It’s been helping me through a weekend of challenges, unreturned emails and calls, plans falling apart and deadlines being passed with complete disregard. What would have been an opportunity for drama and a slurry of curses has been replaced with the fact that…it’s just the way it is. And tomorrow it will either be the same or different. Something will work out as long as I put one foot in front of the other.
I’m now trying to take this lesson and look at sobriety with a different perspective. Remembering the last 124 days of resentment for all the things reminding me I shouldn’t be drinking, it’s obvious I need to change it. Looking at the ideation of an ending to this story being me buying cases of vodka once I’m finally alone and stumbling drunkenly to my dying day, it’s so clear I’m still stuck seeing things like I used to.
Try as I might, those thoughts and resentments are still there, and worst of all, still completely valid to me. I wonder if it’s because I’m actively trying to change it, and so many of the things I’ve learned recently always happen serendipitously.
I keep thinking back to the advice I was given near day 30 with someone 22 years sober.
“One day you’ll just not want to drink. That drink in front of you will represent everything your life used to be. And the life you’ll have will be more important than the escape you think that drink will provide. Life will be so significantly better. The thought of throwing it all away will be complete nonsense.”
So one more day, I suppose.