Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.Muhammad Ali
In the clearing stands a boxerSimon and Garfunkel
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains
In the beginning, I was told I only need to do this thing twenty-four hours at a time. I thought, twenty-four WHOLE hours? In a ROW? Ridiculous. I felt exhausted even thinking about it. It was impossible, yet here we are. Today is four years.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
On an early June evening four years ago, I sat in my Subaru in a strange church parking lot caught between a life that was unmanageable and unsustainable and the complete unknown. I’ve faced some hard things, but that was the most scared I’d ever been in my entire life. It felt like the end of the freaking world.
It was the beginning.
That’s true but it took a while for it to feel true. I spent a lot of early sobriety feeling defeated. It took some time for me to choose this way of life. It took me even longer to insist on it.
Every now and this thing happens. I’ll be sitting in a meeting and I’ll see it. I’ll actually see the moment someone gets it. I get to bear witness to the moment they decide to live. It brings me to tears every time. It’s a hand to God miracle. I’m not entirely sure when that moment was for me.
Was it when I first said the words, “My name is Laura and I’m an alcoholic?” I don’t think so. Was it when I went to my second meeting, a women’s meeting, and realized I was in a room full of people who were telling the actual truth about their lives? Possibly. Honestly, I didn’t enter into recovery to recover. Not initially. I started going to meetings so people I loved who were furious with me would see I was going to meetings and it would look like I was trying as hard as I felt like I had been trying.
It’s not cute but it’s the truth.
I think it might have happened at the beach. I began attending beach meetings almost immediately in sobriety which will surprise exactly zero people who know me well. The ocean is Church to me, so it stands to reason my favorite church basements involve sand and beach chairs.
Anyway, I had a few meetings early on where I felt safe. I was not ready to commit to being a member of this particular club, but there were some groups that fit better than others. This weekend morning beach meeting was one of them. It helped that it was small. The people were kind. They were appallingly happy. They talked a lot about gratitude, which lead me to believe they’d not correctly assessed the situation we were all in.
I would sit and listen and watch the sun glint off the water and for an hour I could breathe. It was a new experience for someone who’d spent most of her life in ‘fight or flight’ mode. The details don’t particularly matter, but there came a day when I got pushback for going to this meeting. It was impacting others. They weren’t being jerks, they just didn’t get it. And up until that point I had been unwilling to let my recovery inconvenience anyone the way my drinking had. I figured I’d shoehorn in a few meetings around other people’s schedules. Anyway, I’d only recently started going to this meeting – or any meetings – so really, how big a deal would it be for me to miss it so we could get on the road earlier?
Turns out it was a big deal. When faced with the prospect of not making it to that meeting I felt panicked. Desperate. Exactly the way I used to feel when something or someone stood in the way of me being able to drink. In active addiction, God help you if you got between me and what I needed to be okay. That beautiful summer morning, I insisted on going to the meeting. I sat in that circle anxiously waiting for it to be my turn to talk. We were running out of time, though. Again, panicked. I still had not acquired the ability to raise my hand and say I was struggling. Then a woman who had been eyeing me the whole hour asked if it would be okay if they held off closing the meeting so I could share. I burst out crying and said,
It was just really hard to get here today.
After the meeting, I was immediately surrounded by women, a few of whom who would become my touchstones in recovery.
That was the moment, I think. The moment I knew I was choosing sobriety and that, in doing so, I was going to have to fight for it. Hard.
I don’t know what the inside of anyone else’s addiction looks like, I have only traveled the bleak landscape of my own. I know that toward the end of my active alcoholism I drank just about every day. I thought about drinking all day, every day. I prioritized my drinking. When I wasn’t drinking I was wondering when I would get to drink, how I would hide my drinking from the people who loved me. I was problem-solving what I would have to do to get what I needed. It was a full-time job because addiction is a rapacious beast. It’s never satisfied.
My addiction required my attention and commitment every day. I was devoted to maintaining my drinking so I don’t know where in the exact hell I would get off thinking my recovery would be any different. Every decision I make, and I mean every single one, supports recovery or relapse. It’s a binary. Those are the options.
Every act of integrity shores up my sobriety. Every time I tell the truth – even if it’s ugly and messy, actually, especially then – I am taking a step away from the despair I felt at rock bottom. Every time I pick up the 10,000 lb phone to call someone when I need help I am fighting for my sobriety and my life – which is a little redundant. Every time I bob and weave, every time I try and jazz hands my way through pain and struggle, every time I do anything that betrays the woman I have fought to become, I am pivoting and walking back toward it.
It’s weird, this thing. You surrender to get it and then fight like hell to keep it. Some days it’s just a little footwork, sometimes it’s a war of attrition. Recently, it has been a bit of a street brawl. I have had many days when I’ve closed my eyes and said under my breath, “Next right thing, next right thing, next right thing.” It has been a very long year. A very long, sober year.
When I was newly sober, I remember having nights when I counted minutes because hours felt unattainable. Come to think of it, I did the same thing when I was in labor with both of my kids. Can I get through THIS pain for ONE minute without resorting to anesthesia? And I did. I had both kids without pain medication. Early on, one minute of staying present in my life without using alcohol, the only tool I had at that time, was daunting. It’s why someone barely sober can be a bigger inspiration than someone with thirty years. I thought the people who had decades of recovery were either full of crap or superhuman. Hearing someone who seemingly had their stuff figured out talk about staying sober did not seem applicable to me in any way. Hearing someone who was still pretty jacked up share about how they made it to thirty days was invaluable.
The childbirth analogy is a solid metaphor because I am giving birth to a beautiful life without resorting to numbing myself. I feel pain in real time so I don’t have to carry it forever. That is the commitment I’ve made to the little girl I was who fought so. fucking. hard. to survive, and that is the commitment I’ve made to the woman I am today, about whom the same could be said.
So for 2,102,400 minutes, I have kept that promise to fight like hell for her, to guard her sobriety like a junkyard dog, to heal the wounds that still need healing, to repair what I broke to the best of my ability, and to extend my hand to the still sick and suffering. Because that is absolutely part of it. It’s a package deal. No me without them. I don’t just fight for myself, anymore. I go to a meeting every day because when I went to my first meeting I was welcomed and protected and mothered and challenged. I go to a meeting just about every day because those meetings saved and continue to save my life and because I have debts to pay.
I had a really hard day a while back. I was grieving some things, dealing with some shame. Vulnerable. I was out doing errands, one of which was to get ice. I went into a convenience store and they didn’t have any. I stepped out and right next door was a package store with a giant sign that said ICE and I thought, “huh. Maybe I’ll just go in there.” Then I felt a flash of fear, got back in my car, and called my people because that’s what I have spent four years practicing.
There was an old-timer who used to always say, “I’m in here and my disease is out in the parking lot doing push-ups.” I used to think that was kind of silly but now I’m not so sure. Boxers train relentlessly so that when they are in the ring, they don’t have to think about what to do, they can just fight. I go to meetings on good days so it’s not hard to go on bad days. I tell the truth about where I’m at all the time so it doesn’t feel foreign to do so when things are falling apart. I train for it. It’s sobriety muscle memory.
When someone says how much sober time they have, regardless of how many weeks, months, or years it is, my response is always the same:
That’s a hell of a lot of days.
In a bit, I will head down to the beach to circle up with my people. I will raise my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Laura and I’m an alcoholic. I have four years today.” I will be one of those annoyingly grateful people because I am keenly, painfully aware the fact I am here today is a gift. There will be gaps in our circle, today. There will be empty spaces left by people who didn’t live to fight another day.
The reality is that no matter how many days of sobriety I have behind me, all I really have is this day. That was not guaranteed. None of this is guaranteed, which is what makes every day sacred. I have this one beautiful June day stretching out in front of me. I think I’ll fight for it.