Today marks my one year sobriety date.
I’m fortunate, because I remember quite a bit about a year ago and the days in between (many who get clean and sober don’t have that luxury). May 27th 2011 I was frightened, dried up, spiritually-desolate. I was ill at ease. I was angry, defensive, confused, resentful, and in pain – and (more relevantly) I was unable or unwilling to continue to hide my real self from other human beings. I experienced cognitive dissonance for the first time in a deeply profound way. I realized my outsides didn’t match my insides and I was done pretending they did. Distressingly, I found I couldn’t prove to anyone how much it hurt but I also realized I could never, ever prove it. I had people to blame for my problems but I suddenly knew in my Knowing Place that whoever’s fault, whomever was to blame, I was the one with the problem today, and no one was going to rescue me. I would have to accept my reality and stop relying on others to validate it. It was the most lonely place and one of the bravest moments in my life.
See, nothing was that unique about me, being an alcoholic, and nothing is that unique about me today. I could still pick up, if not alcohol or drugs, which are only symptoms, then the armor of self-sufficiency, the veil pretending I am separate, different, better or worse than other human beings. I could still pick up the act that I’m Fine and not a mess. I could still start to put a system in place and start the bullshit, it goes something like this: I might have little problems but not BIG ones like the rest of you, I feel sorry for you all, et cetera. Alternatively, my problems are SO BIG and I’m a victim and you just don’t understand! Ad infinitum.
I am not alone, but I am relatively rare in admitting publicly my life wasn’t working out, the way I was doing it. Many people suffer and continue to willingly suffer day in and day out. They stay in pain and play the victim or play the martyr or the provider (however precisely they may blame others or rationalize these strategies), not because they enjoy pain but precisely because like everyone else they have carefully crafted and manufactured and held an Ego-self and claimed it as their true self. I believe the Ego is neither bad nor good but rather self-growing, an entity that will keep us separate from one another and from God, or if you like, the incomprehensibly wonderful and powerful forces larger than ourselves that offer us a wellspring of healing the moment we stretch out our hand.
Yes, to the mind the experience of the Ego feels so good, it’s a high itself. And yet it requires all sorts of compromises, far more damaging to us than Surrender really, but we ignore or minimize this self-injury, numb our pain by chemical or process addictions.
It is the mark of strength to admit we will not willingly continue on our path of suffering. As I heard today in our last Unschooling talk, “Acceptance is not for sissies.” Slightly misogynistic terminology aside, this is true. Acceptance, surrender, forgiveness. Cornerstones of my Recovery. Not for the faint of heart. Not for those who want to be assured that they’ll come out looking good after all is said and done. Or as I’ve heard said, “You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.”
Today I took a trip outside the hotel as I have daily. Far from home and those who helped me in early sobriety, I had known I’d be a li’l homesick on my anniversary but didn’t realize how much. Still, of course, I was cared for. People who hadn’t laid eyes on me today hugged me and gave me a coin and one woman sixteen days sober (who remembered me from yesterday) brought me a balloon and candle. I was asked to talk a little bit. One thing I said I’ll share here: “When I came here I was as small a person, I wasn’t even a person. I am a person today.”
I don’t have adequate words to sum up how I feel today. Gratitude and humility and a joy at being alive. No fear, and a sense of having a place in the world. That’s all I got, for now. The individuals who’ve helped me, far too many to name here, so I’ll make sure to keep saying “Thank You” on a daily basis. I’ll continue to pay it forward as best I know how.
I’ll leave you with a clip from one of my favorite films. Loved it since I first saw it at age seventeen.