Well, would you look at that. After years and years of struggling to achieve three days of sobriety (“I did two in a row, and then only had a couple of glasses on the third night. I don’t have a problem after all! Where’s the corkscrew?’) I’m at one hundred days. Just over three months. 100 days of not picking up a glass of wine, 100 sober mornings, 100 afternoons enjoyed for themselves and not for the countdown to oblivion that they represent.
My last drink was on a warm evening; the ice cubes in my glass melted as I sipped, I averted my eyes from the way my upper arms looked in a sleeveless dress. Tonight the windows are fogged with condensation from the contrast between the near-zero temperature outside and the heater inside. I have a huge bowl of lentil soup waiting patiently for me to stop writing and eat it. The seasons have changed, and so have I.
Before I say anything else, I do want to make it clear that I am under no illusion that I’ve cracked sobriety. I know there’s a debate out there between the AA mindset that you are always perilously near your next drink, and the mindset that if you count days and stay mired in the alcoholic world, you aren’t truly free. I don’t know enough to have a position on this. All I know is that the idea of having an alcoholic drink is so repugnant to me right now that I will do everything I can, for as long as I can, to avoid having one ever again. So everything else I say should be tempered with the caveat that this is only the beginning of a lifetime journey.
However. This is my valedictory speech, damn it, and I’m delivering it.
You guys. YOU GUYS. I am so happy. It turns out I’m a pretty decent person! I am a nice wife, I am a good friend, I am a (mostly) conscientious employee. I am a fucking fantastic mother.
That last one has blown me away. I mean, I thought I was pretty decent before, but mostly – as I have come to realise, thanks very largely to some awesome commenters, of which more later – because I was compensating madly for my shame and guilt and deceits. Every time I found myself counting down the hours until the first glass of wine, which was every day, I would do a mental check of how well I was doing as a parent, so as to reassure myself that I wasn’t hopelessly failing my children. Had they had more than their allotted half hour of television? Had we been to the park or at least outside that day? Was their dinner home cooked from scratch, using wholesome ingredients, or was it more instant? Was it alright that they’d had more television but also a lot of park if I cut corners on dinner? How many stories should I read at bedtime? Did 2T + O/2 + 3B – 1FP = Decent Parent, or not, and if it did, surely I could have that glass of wine before they were in bed?
I no longer make those calculations. Some days I just let them watch TV all afternoon, some days we do three times the writing practise because Big Girl wants to, some days we just all sprawl about in a happy tangle of notcaring and wallow in one another’s company. And it’s all fine, because I love them and I trust myself that that’s enough.
It should be enough. Because the actual love is so, so much more. It bubbles over, it spills out. I have gone from a prickly parent, one who jealously guards her space and pries sticky fingers off her legs, to one whose children swat away with an irritable ‘Not KISS me ‘gain, Mama’. I am astonished by this. It is revelatory; so this is what other people mean when they talk about all encompassing love! I always loved them, I always adored them, but I loved them through a glass darkly. Now we are face to face, and known.
I’m not saying that they don’t irritate me. Or that I don’t long for their bedtime so I can pick up my book in peace. And not all of this change is directly attributable to the lack of alcohol; some of it is them getting older, and a lot of it is a secondary sobriety effect, in that I am much, much better at guarding my space now. But when we’ve recharged and come back together, it is superlative. It is beyond everything, and if this were the only thing that I had gained, it would be enough.
But it is not, of course. It is only one thing of many. I have gained sleep; gorgeous, voluptuous, sleep. Sleep as rich as heavy cream, as sensuous as silk, sleep like the sleep that overwhelms my children, sleep that, it turns out, was never reserved for them. I have gained my looks back; I took a photo the other day, to show somebody my new haircut, and my eyes shine like sapphires against glowing new skin. I have gained confidence, and energy, although I will never be one of you mad 5.30am people. Not with sleep like mine. No contest.
I have gained this blog. This blog has been huge for me. This is the first time since my teens that I have written this consistently, and the first time I have ever had an audience. And it is life-altering. It won’t ever be anything except this, in and of itself, but it has shown me that this is what I want to do, I want to write. And for the first time in forever (oh, goddamnit, now I have that song in my head) (and so do you, I expect. Apologies) I have the confidence that I can write. I can sit down, day after day, and make time to do the thing that makes me happiest in the world, and I won’t sabotage that. Augusten Burroughs says – find something you want to do more than you want to drink. This. This is what I want to do. Forever.
And you guys! Who knew you were all out there? Talking, and listening, and writing, and sharing, and wrapping your sober arms around the troubled world. You all say such amazing things. In the early weeks, I read hours and hours of sober blogs, entire archives, story after story, and there wasn’t one post, ever, that didn’t help. I read and I thought – oh she’s right, I never thought of it that way! Or I thought – oh, thank Christ it’s not just me. Or sometimes, in wry recognition of my own failures, I would feel sympathetic and determined and warier than ever of the traps. And when I complained that my life wasn’t transformed at three weeks sober, you didn’t laugh, or you kept the laughter to yourself, and instead you reassured.
I am not angry that I can’t drink. I am not sad. I am glad that I can’t drink, and that in finding that out, I have found so much more. I have been given gifts beyond my reckoning. Mostly, I guess, I have been given myself. And it turns out, I think I’m pretty fucking amazing.