As much as I wanted it, I never really expected it to happen. I never really expected to get sober. I had become conditioned to losing, conditioned to failing. In so many ways I had given up before I ever really started. I expected nothing truly good would ever happen to me. On a rare occasion that things would start to go well, I couldn’t even enjoy it, because I was filled with the dread of knowing something awful was about to happen at any moment. The longer the good stretch, the heavier I believed the hammer would be when it finally came down. I didn’t deserve anything good. I deserved the hammer. I deserved to fail. I deserved pain. Mental and physical. I was more comfortable in pain than I ever was in happiness. Walking around with that cloud hanging over me, I wanted things to change…but I never really expected them to.
I wanted it though. I wanted it so bad. The years- I wanted years sober. I didn’t want to wait for years to have them though- I wanted them right now. I am an addict. We love instant gratification. The thing about sober time is that you can’t read ahead. You can’t test up. You can’t get promoted. You can’t lie, steal or cheat your way to years of sobriety. You have to earn it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In the process, maybe you learn to enjoy the types of things you have to be patient for.
When I reflect on my life since I stopped drinking I am struck by the gradual changes I have made personally. When I look back at my first year of sobriety, it was tumultuous, but I was either in jail, on house arrest, on work release or on parole the entire time.
The second year of sobriety was much more exciting. I branched out a bit. Just a bit. I traveled to 13 different cities in 13 months…mostly to see concerts. I called it the Freedom Tour. Let’s see how many I can remember:
- Orlando, FL (Eddie Vedder)
- Kansas City, MO (Sigur Ros)
- Kansas City, MO (Black Keys, Flaming Lips)
- Gulf Shores, AL (Hangout Fest)
- Kansas City, MO (Soundgarden)
- Knoxville, TN (Friends)
- Manchester, TN (Bonnaroo)
- Chicago, IL/ Wrigley Field (Pearl Jam / Phish)
- Council Bluffs, IA (QOTSA)
- St. Pete / Tampa Bay, FL (fun times)
- New Orleans, LA (Voodoo Fest)
- Los Angeles, CA (Pearl Jam – Turned down wine from Eddie Vedder / Friends)
- Seattle, WA (Pearl Jam / Friends)
Okay I cheated and looked at Facebook- there is no chance I could remember all of that. I was making up for lost time though. I was feeling so great, so confident and so free. I had some money in my pocket. It turns out for the cost of being an alcoholic you could basically travel once a month instead. There was this feeling like I was seeing the world for the first time. I could remember every night and I could trust my decision making. That was all brand new for me.
The excitement kept up in years 3 and 4 as I got engaged, then bought a house and got married. These are simply things that never would have happened if I had continued to drink. It’s said that getting married and moving are 2 of life’s biggest stresses, but I assume battling alcoholism isn’t up for consideration. I found them, by comparison, to be quite simple. That’s not to say there weren’t stressful moments along the way, but I wasn’t turning those difficulties into week-long benders. I wasn’t self destructing at every opportunity. I didn’t burn it all down at the first sign of trouble. I like to say that when I stopped drinking I stopped having bad days, only bad minutes or at worst, hours.
Unlike the instant gratification of a weekend trip or a 3 hour concert, I was now starting to think about the future. I was thinking long-term. I was beginning to find joy and excitement in things that took longer to develop, longer to fulfill. I was happy, and more importantly I was becoming comfortable with happiness. I didn’t get married with the idea that eventually she would leave me, or buy a house that I thought would eventually burn down. That type of gloom and doom thinking was fading and a more positive, confident, rational thought process was taking over. It wasn’t something that I focused on, it just happened. Everything about me was changing. The way I viewed the world, the way I interacted with the world, and most importantly, the way I reacted to the world.
Years 5 and 6 I added the garden. I took sunrise pictures. I learned how to do things around the house, like power washing and lawn treatment. There is a long list of homeowner chores when you live on an acreage, the types of chores I would have paid someone to do when I was drinking. These are considerably less exciting than the things I did in years 1 through 4, but I was finding so much peace in doing them. They bring me a lot of joy. There is something about hard work that feels so good when you complete it. You can really lose yourself in it. Mowing, gardening, wood splitting and so on. These things are great healthy escapes from the stresses of the day.
Now I’ve added writing. Who knows what I’ll be doing next.
There wasn’t a plan when I got sober. I would have never expected any of this to happen. I couldn’t have guessed it. If I had been asked “where do you see yourself in seven years?” there is a 0% chance I would have said “on an acreage, gardening, keeping care of my lawn, playing with my dogs, loving my wife, loving my family and writing a blog about it all.” 0%. In fact I might have thought that type of life sounded awful- so boring and slow.
….and that’s just it, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I had lost track of those things years ago. Once I stopped drinking, the world became available to me. Once I stopped drinking, I became available to the world.
7 years ago I couldn’t see the beauty in a sunrise, or the harmony of the birds on a summer evening. 7 years ago I couldn’t see past my hand.
A lot of things have changed in the past 7 years, but one thing has been constant. I take it one day at a time. One minute, one hour. I try to always do the next right thing. More often than not I succeed (except when it comes to late night snacks, I always fail when it comes to late night snacks). I have learned to be comfortable with success, and to actually deal with setbacks.
You don’t have to have a plan. I certainly didn’t. Just do the next right thing, and don’t drink. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
“And if hope could grow from dirt like me. It can be done.” – Eddie Vedder