Today marks 1,000 days since September 28, 2014. The day before, I drank. Again. On that day, I was also the Vice President of Marketing at a PR agency in Boston, not-yet-divorced-but-newly-separated, the mom of a five-year-old girl, 37 years old, running and doing yoga regularly, and outwardly doing just fine. Some of my friends and family thought I’d been sober for much longer. Others had no idea I ever had A Problem. I was in a dating-shaped-thing with someone who thought the world of me but also knew I was pretty full of shit when it came to this. Nobody really knew what was up with me. Because while I’d learned to stop lying so much, I didn’t really know how to tell the truth just yet. My life was still very compartmentalized. I was still sick and incredibly scared.
When I went to write this post, I thought about all the things that have changed since September 2014. I thought I could write about all that stuff, but there’s almost too much. Everything is different, especially on the inside. So I decided to pick five things — lessons, ideas, shifts — that feel the biggest to me today.
1. Nothing is Wasted
Even though I woke up on September 27th in my own bed, next to my daughter, and there had been no outward damage done, I woke up in fucking Hell. Hell on earth is real, you guys, and it feels like not being able to stop doing something that’s crushing your soul. It feels like knowing it would be much, much better to die than go on living the same nightmare.
My nightmare wasn’t that I couldn’t get sober, it was that I couldn’t seem to stay that way. “Couldn’t” feels like a bullshit word, because the truth was I didn’t really want to stay sober — at least not all the time. Sometimes I wanted to drink more than I wanted to be sober, and sometimes I wanted to be sober more than anything. It was the worst kind of purgatory.
That morning, my heart hammered against my ribcage like it always did after drinking. I woke up like I had so many other mornings — hundreds, thousands of mornings — with anxiety so thick in my throat I thought I’d faint. I went on like that all day, through getting my daughter ready for her soccer game, through standing there on the field in the hot sun making small talk with the other parents, through a drive to and from Logan airport in hellish traffic, through a surprise party for my mom’s 60th birthday, through responding to the incessant needs of a kid who wanted time, energy, and attention from me that I didn’t have to give.
I don’t know why that was my last day one. I wrote about the complexity of tipping over the edge to sobriety here. The thing I know for sure is nothing was wasted in all my days of trying, failing, succeeding, false starting, and giving up. Every single thing I did, big and small — the time I did Gabby Bernstein’s “May Cause Miracles” 40-Day Program for three whole days; every inane Instagram post I put up; every time I talked to God as if I was a teenager begging for a new car; every time I did anything at all in the direction of my healing — it all counted. So did all the fucking up, the line-crossing, the bashed up metal of my car, the lie I told to the EMT about wanting to kill myself because I was afraid I’d get a DUI — all those things count, too. None of it was wasted. None of our efforts are wasted, and if you’re still here, the story isn’t over yet. I was so beyond sick of myself by the time I got to September 27, 2014. I’d been done — really, really DONE, you guys — so many times. I’d fallen so out of integrity with myself that my words were laughable. They meant nothing to me anymore. I lied so easily I thought maybe I was just sociopathic. I really, really believed I’d lost my capacity to heal. But I wasn’t any of those things, not really.
I was sick, but I wasn’t forgotten.
2. Don’t make anyone your God.
The tricky thing about losing your center or having a shaky one to begin with, is that you’re always running around looking for other people to tell you who you are. And how you feel. And what to think. And what you’re worth. And everything else. This is a risky enterprise for anyone, but especially for the sensitive types of souls like me, because our brand of strength isn’t as readily recognized or rewarded in this world, and so it’s very easy to believe we don’t have any. So, we (I) go along as passengers in our lives rather than drivers, and we (I) do things to blot out the pain of always leaving ourselves, and we’re (I was) able to hold up this dance for a long time — a shockingly long time, sometimes right to the end — until we either can’t or we won’t or it’s too late.
“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” — Mother Teresa
And so I denied all kinds of things about myself, big and small. I did it with my dad. I did it with friends. Co-workers. Writers. Artists. Musicians. Teachers. My husband. Boyfriends. Coaches. Programs. Bosses. My daughter. I’ve made a lot of people my God over the course of my life and while there’s nothing wrong with being open to others’ views, taking counsel, or being a humble student, there is something very, very wrong with believing someone — anyone — knows more about what lives inside you than you do.
If you don’t believe me, try making someone your God for a while. When it’s bad and you’re hearing awful things about yourself, that’s scary. When it’s good and you’re hearing the best news about yourself, that’s even scarier. Because both sides have nothing to do with you and somewhere deep down you know it.
Making another human your God is not only dangerous, it’s really unfair. To them and to you. The only one that needs to be your God is God. Whatever that looks like for you.
3. You are allowed to change.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
The biggest fear most of us have about changing is what other people will think. When I went to get sober for the 534th time, I thought, But I’d just gone out drinking with those people last week — what will they think if I post something about sobriety on Instagram?
That’s what we’re worried about (as I’m running late, driving to my daughter to school…hungover…with a suspended license…and no car insurance)?
I’d take this even further to say, you will change — it’s the nature of things. You’re different than you were yesterday. Or even two minutes ago. You’ve got new cells and new processes happening in your body every moment. While you’re reading this sentence, another leaf just sprouted on the tree outside and a billion new creatures just burst forth inside the ocean. So you’re changing; everything is changing. You’re allowed to do that because you already do it.
One big thing that’s changed for me in my sobriety path is my view on AA. In the spring of 2015, I wrote this piece about it. I believed every word then. I think AA is a beautiful program still. But my view today is also much different than it was in 2015. That doesn’t cancel anything out. It doesn’t make what I believed than any less true or important. It just means I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and so have my views. I’ll write more about this soon, but my point is I’m allowed to change, and so are you.
4. You don’t need to ask permission.
Further to #3.
As my friend Natalie says, you’re a grown ass adult! You don’t need to ask permission. From anyone. To do anything. At any time. Ever.
5. We are (still) the luckiest.
This past month has been really tough. Holly and I are taking a break from recording HOME, which in many ways feels like the earth’s rotation is screeching to a dangerous halt. My daughter tells me she hates me at least once a day. My work got rejected by another literary agent. I don’t know how I’ll make a living past August. I’m certain I’ll be single for life. And I can’t stop eating Fritos and Peanut Butter M&M’s.
There is no gift like this gift. There is nothing more precious than the pain of waking up to your life. Showing you this is the mountain I’m willing to die on.
Originally published at www.lauramckowen.com.