Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you’re secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction, but to gauge, miserably, the odds of rain?
I lived in Seattle for more than a decade. When you live in the Pacific Northwest you develop a nuanced relationship with the weather. Most people seem to have the impression that it pours there all the time. Not so, PNW rookies. Not so. It rains a little bit almost every single day for nine months out of the year. Lots of gloom. Meteorologists in the Northwest are prone to saying things like, “It’ll be a brighter grey today.”
I always loved that.
As usual, this morning I woke up long before the alarm at what Favorite is prone to calling, “stupid o’clock.” I stretched. I waited for my eyes to focus and adjust to the light. The room didn’t spin, my head didn’t hurt, my stomach felt just fine. I wasn’t filled with dread or fear or remorse or shame. My hands weren’t shaking. I wasn’t afraid to check my phone. I remembered the details of last night. I breathed in the sea air coming in our bedroom window. I looked at the early morning sky with clear eyes.
Then I had the same first thought I have had most mornings for the past twenty-four months:
Today is two years. Two years ago today, I stopped drinking. I didn’t make the decision that day. It wasn’t that cut and dry- and honestly, it didn’t feel possible. I absolutely did not believe I could stop. I didn’t yet have the clarity or the bravery to commit to sobriety that day, but I didn’t drink and I dragged my shaky, exhausted ass to my first meeting.
So today is day 730.
There’s an old story in my family about one of my sisters getting glasses- you know how families have those dog-eared tales? Well, this is one of ours. I guess she was about four? She’d gone and had her eyes checked, she’d gotten her fabulous seventies spectacles and was in the car riding home with my mom. It began pouring out and she exclaimed aloud to my mother,
“Oh, Mommy! I can see the rain!”
And just like that, it was a whole new world- a brighter, clearer grey.
There was nothing bright or clear about this time two years ago. I mean, it looked fine on the outside. I’ve always been great at outside stuff. I can smile and jazz-hands my way through the unspeakable like. a. boss. But regardless of my shiny veneer, the road to rock bottom was one of despair. I recently heard Rob Bell define despair as the belief that tomorrow will be exactly like today. Brilliant. That is precisely what it felt like for me near the end of my drinking. This will never change. I held that thought simultaneously with this one: I cannot do this anymore.
When I first got sober, I started to come out of that fog of despair- I stepped into the brighter grey. Things began to level out and I began to feel hope again. That was a scary time for me. New-found hope is the only thing scarier than hopelessness. All of a sudden there was just so much to lose. I began to get some measure of clarity, both literally and figuratively- as in, things and people STOPPED BEING SO BLURRY ALL THE DAMNED TIME. Also, I had more awareness, perspective, insight.
That might sound positive, but that initial period? It seriously sucked.
I started to look around at all the wreckage I’d caused, all of the collateral damage. The people I hurt, the situations I made worse by avoiding them. It was awful. I imagine it’s why so many people relapse early in sobriety. I became keenly aware of all this pain, my own and, even worse, that of the people I love. This happened at the same time I’d voluntarily given up my anesthesia and my blinders. I made the conscious decision to feel and examine all of the things.
I would say I don’t recommend it, except I do- but only, like, every freaking day.
After that initial stage, which is wretched but finite, things started to get better and everything seemed fantastic- better than ever. That stage had an expiration date, too- because even sober, life will kick your ass.
Still, I am grateful every day. Not just the good days, when gratitude is a feeling that washes over me, unbidden- but the hard days, the awful days, the tragic days when gratitude- much like sobriety, and literally every other important thing in my life- is a practice. A decision. I set the intention of gratitude and then I live it.
My first sober year was very much about NOT DRINKING. That was overwhelming and excruciating at times, and so I gave myself a pass on other life stuff. That year was about finding a new normal. It entailed developing a new pattern to my days and nights. Like with all practices, sobriety has a fair amount of rhythm and ritual. It took some time to find what works for me.
My second year of sobriety has been so much harder in some ways. The focus shifted. The not drinking has mostly gotten easier. I don’t white knuckle my way through a day wrestling with the urge to drink. Here’s the thing, though: Sobriety is challenging. It is as simple and hard as active addiction is easy and complicated.
The past few months have been among the most difficult since I got sober for a variety of reasons. At one point I found myself out for breakfast with another friend in recovery and I told him about something incredibly painful I’m going through, and that I’d recently had my worst day yet in sobriety. His answer? “Fuck no. You had your BEST day yet in sobriety. You didn’t drink over it.”
Thank GOD for my people. When I am lost, when things are unclear and I need some perspective, they hand me my glasses and I can see the rain again.
I am learning how to do life, and I am surrounded by amazing, brave, generous teachers every day.
I had another glorious friend say recently that she thought sobriety would get her to the mountaintop, but instead, it just got her out of the hole. Just to sea-level. So freaking true. We think it’ll get us to Mount Olympus, but it only gets us out of Mordor.
Bless our hearts.
I stopped drinking only to realize that sobriety isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting gate.
Now the work- the REAL work, begins.
Year two was about the digging in, the come to Jesus-ing. The reckoning, with myself and with others, and about learning to sit still for and lean into pain and uncertainty.
And now I have 730 sober references. 730 days I survived without numbing myself with alcohol. Some days shitty, some days spectacular. All of them, sober- so now I know that’s possible. Sure, I sometimes substituted other things (Hello, carbs, cleaning products, and terrible television. Love you. Mean it.) but I am, as ever, a work in progress.
I’ve been reflecting on that story about my sister a lot, lately. About how none of the adults knew how bad her vision had been because she didn’t know. She likely didn’t know clearer vision was an option. Before my sister could see the rain it was just something that came out of nowhere and happened to her. That’s what life used to feel like to me, something that just happened to me. In sobriety, I know that’s not true. It’s just happening. Before I got sober, I didn’t know I could weather pain and loss and love and failure and uncertainty and success and life without resorting to escape. How could I have known? I hadn’t tried and this world of ours is so damned quick to teach us how to escape.
I couldn’t have known that any more than my sister could have known raindrops were something you could see – know why?
Because we don’t know what we don’t know.
Sometimes you can’t know how bad something is until you know how good it can be. It’s like when I lived in the Northwest. You have those long months of darkness, but then the summer is so spectacularly beautiful it defies description. And you don’t get that without the gloom and the rain. So it’s not that you forget the nine months ever happened, you just know they served a purpose and you turn your face toward the sun and say, Thank you. Thank you for every dark day. ThankyouThankyouThankyou.
There is not a single part of my life that isn’t better today- and that includes the parts that are hard and parts that are painful. It’s all better because I am. I am better, today. I am better sober. Far from perfect, but so much better. And when life is hard or scary or painful, I can look at it through the clear lens of sobriety and use the tools I now have to navigate it without drinking.
It occurred to me recently that if there were some cure that enabled me to drink like a normal person but the cost of it was to give up this way of life, this truth-telling community I’ve found?
This beautiful, clear, bright grey morning, I would not take that deal.
I have a community of people who SEE me, who show up for me, and for whom I show up. They’ve taught me to move through the world more gently and with some small measure of grace, and for that my gratitude is endless.
Today I live differently, and as long as I don’t pick up a drink the world opens up to me. Is there a magic formula? Hell if I know. For me, it seems to be God’s grace + my willingness. The former has always been there, the latter is two years old today.
As a brilliant young woman I know always says, I can choose love or fear. Rain or shine, that’s my choice every day: love or fear. I can only live in one, though- and today, on day 730, I choose love.
Tell the truth.
Ask for help.
Help when asked.
Lather, rinse, repeat – forever and ever, amen.
Love you so,
Rain is good for me.
I feel like I achieve clarity, actually, when it rains.
The longer I have to sit and wait,
the clearer my game becomes to me.