Today I woke up with five years of sobriety. Five years is a long time, and yet, in reality, it’s a blip. All I have to do is look at photos of my kids from five years ago to see how long it has been since I had my last drink of alcohol. Tate was only two-years-old, thumb in his mouth, still putting together sentences and not yet potty trained. Lucy was a first grader with two loose front teeth and she didn’t have her glasses yet. Today they are seven and eleven, and the years have gone by faster than I can imagine.
I woke up today waiting for what to say, what to write, how to express how incredibly significant this milestone is to me. But honestly, the words didn’t really come. I always forget how these anniversaries sneak up on me, the emotional and mental weight baring down until I have a moment of clarity and remember “ah yes, this is how I always feel on my sobriety birthday.” I tend to need solitude, space and rest. Days like today are where my introversion really shines. I crave my bed and the comfort of myself. Sometimes I wonder if this is healthy, this need to be alone, but today I realize it’s what refuels me to go out into the world that isn’t always the easiest for those of us who struggle with living life on life’s terms.
Five years ago I was miserable. I’ve written about that day quite a few times (here and here for example), so I don’t really want to rehash it all again. I think I’ve reached the point in this recovery journey where my focus is more on what is better now, as opposed to what was awful before. I know for a fact that the last few years would have never happened if I hadn’t found recovery. I was so lost, so alone and so utterly self-conscious about the state of my life, there is no way I would have taken the risks that have gotten me to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t be working in advocacy again. I definitely wouldn’t be able to be there for my kids in the way I’m able now. I surely wouldn’t have a marriage at all.
In the last five years my life has exponentially grown to a point where sometimes I look around me and simply cannot believe it’s real. My life used to be very small. Now my life is bursting at the seams. Sometimes I look at my calendar and have a slight panic attack over how full it is. But then I remind myself that my life is full because I choose to fill it with beauty and love and goodness. I choose to work for myself, building a business I love. I choose to be involved in my kids’ school and activities. I choose to work on my marriage and my relationship. I choose to spend time with friends and family. I choose to fight for causes I believe in. I choose to be a human who participates in the world around me. That wasn’t always the case.
I am imperfect, and I still mess up all the time. My life didn’t magically become a fairy tale just because I stopped drinking. But it definitely stopped being a nightmare. I rarely feel regret these days, which is a gift I never knew I needed. Living my life as an honest person is challenging, but it sure beats pretending to be someone I’m not. I don’t have it all figured out. I guess I thought I would by this point, but now I realize no one really knows what they are doing. We are all just apes, flying through space on a tiny planet that feels massive to us. We are all making it up as we go along, and not just those of us who happen to struggle with drinking or shopping or drugs or [insert coping mechanism of choice here].
So, what do I have to say about five years? It’s wonderful. If you are new to the journey, I’m sure five years feels like a lifetime. And it is…but it’s also just a few revolutions around the sun. A glorious blip. And when I think of the last five years, I don’t think of “not drinking.” I think of all the things I got to do. I remember all the moments I didn’t miss. I see my daughter’s first ice skating recital and my son’s first school play. I think of the time I picked up the keys to my very first studio or the art show that was packed with a line out the door. I remember marching in Washington D.C., lobbying on Capitol Hill and testifying at the Kansas statehouse. I see several trips away with my husband, and hours in counseling, re-learning how to be a partner. I remember sharing my story with teenagers in a drug treatment center and getting emails from friends and strangers saying “me too” or “I need help.”
I get all of those memories because five years ago today I woke up sober and every day since I’ve done the same. What a gift.
All of the images in this post except for the one of the kids were taken by Kymberly Janelle. Thank you, my friend, for capturing me at this stage of my recovery. It’s so appreciated and I’m forever grateful.
If you want to learn more about my story of recovery, I suggest listening to a few interviews I’ve done on the subject here and here and here. And if you are worried about your own drinking or someone you know needs help, please reach out. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No judgment. Just love.