Caveat: If you are in the first year of your sobriety, close this tab and go to a meeting. Nothing to see, here.
Also: if you are in the first five years of your sobriety, subscribe to my blog at the link up top, bookmark this post, then come back in about a decade.
But…if you’ve got some sober time under your belt, I invite you to pull up a chair, pour yourself a bowl of blue corn chips, dip them in some tasty salsa, and hear me out:
I knew the people gathering outside of that one house on my drive home weren’t drinking beer in their showers like I was, though I suspected that at one time they may have. So on May 14th of the year 2000, I finally went in and asked them if they knew how to stop drinking (every day) in the shower.
They kindly barraged me with the standard “suggestions” for how to turn my life around, offering up those wise and whimsical phrases we’ve all seen written in cursive across coffee mugs at gift shops and in Fingerhut magazine:
One Day at a Time.
Easy Does it.
Let go and let God.
Grant me the serenity…
You know the drill: standard recovery lingo uttered during the meetings that they always get slightly wrong in movies. And I listened to them. Begrudgingly. Blah blah blah….stop drinking….blah blah blah.
But there was one phrase that quantum leaped my heart from despair to hope, from Dammit all to hell, to Hell, yeah! There was one nugget of experiential wisdom that inspired me to break up with “Miller Lite,” my steady lover of fifteen years.
Someone said that recovery had given them a life BEYOND THEIR WILDEST DREAMS.
Teetotaler after teetotaler assured me that, after giving up the hooch, the life they ultimately discovered was BEYOND THEIR WILDEST DREAMS.
You promise? Because I have some pretty wild dreams.
YES. BEYOND OUR WILDEST DREAMS.
It sounded almost too good to be true, but I believed them: I wanted in.
I never touched another drink after that spring night in 2000, and I am forever grateful that those folks shared their experience, strength, and hope with that disheveled, stinky, desperate woman.
After 18 years of sobriety, my life today is not beyond my wildest dreams. Not even close. In fact, my life is the very existence I used booze, in part, to avoid: that of a garden variety, middle-class shmuck. There sure as shit ain't no fairy tale being sold at Barnes and Noble that looks like my life.
What the hell, man?
Not that I think those people were lying. I know "beyond one's wildest dreams" is real. I’ve seen a few people in my sober orbit hit the “wildest dreams” jackpot. KAPOW.
But the dream I’m living is the kind that you remember half way through the day and think, “Huh. I had a dream last night. I think there were trees….”
I haven’t played it safe, either. I have big-sober-leaped more than a few times, having had faith that the wildest dreams nets would appear.
But they didn’t, and I have experienced some rough landings. I’m still paying for some broken sober bones. Meh.
Howbout we dial back that whole “wildest dreams” thing?
Because if that’s the pot you are promising at the end of the sober rainbow, there will continue to be many, many people on the road of happy destiny who, after a couple of decades, will feel one of three things:
- that they were bamboozled
- that they got a raw deal
- that they blew it
Allow me to tweak the message a bit to reflect more accurately the more realistic gifts of long-term sobriety. In my experience, it's less A LIFE BEYOND MY WILDEST DREAMS, more:
*A life in which you eventually have more than a pasta jar of bills and loose change to your name.
*A life in which you aren’t DRIVEN to leave your house to score a fix when your kid is asleep in their bed/crib.
*A life in which you get better and better at allowing other people the dignity to make their own mistakes (with or without your unsolicited advice or self-righteous lecture, hey now!)
*A life in which your own moral compass is more powerful than the jury of your peers.
*A life in which you can recognize the errors you've made, thereby sparing you the doom and humiliation of their recurrence.
*A life in which you don’t have to tap the brakes lightly to avoid the embarrassing sounds of beer bottles clinking under the driver’s seat.
*A life in which second chances aren’t synonymous with “last chance.”
*A life in which the ugliness of others’ actions will still (and forever) be painful to watch.
*A life in which you understand that everyone bears the weight of a cross of some kind.
*A life in which spotty memory comes naturally, and not at the behest of a blackout.
*A life in which you have the privilege of failing at the thing (or things) you aspire to, and the dignity of knowing you genuinely gave it your all.
*A life in which you stand to keep a few friendships for the long term.
*A life in which it will be sad but ok to let some people go.
*A life in which not everyone around you practices these principles in all their affairs. Some may even engage in acts of such selfishness and insensitivity that it will take your breath away.
*A life in which we don’t get special privileges just because we stopped drinking like pigs. We simply get the privilege of a ‘do-over.’ We still have to face the realities of life head on, just like all the other shmucks out there who didn’t drink away decades of their life.
*A life in which the words "surrender" and "God" will never be fully understood.
Sometimes I miss the high of renewed hope I experienced early on in this journey.
Fortunately, true fellowship never fails, whether floating on pink clouds or slogging through mid-sobriety crisis. It’s a “we” program, and there is always common ground. I’ve never been truly alone since I stepped into my circle of sober friends, so even now I am able to experience this “wildest dreams” disenchantment with like-minded soul sisters. (Stay Golden, Girls!)
And who knows? It ain’t over, yet. Perhaps I’m writing this too prematurely. I’d love to come back after 19 years and eat these words on the other side of the wildest dreams fence. Stay tuned...
EDITOR’S NOTE: it’s very important that the following statement is on the record with the Universe: I’m grateful for everything I have. I do not need the Universe to make me appreciate what I have by taking it away from me. Dear God, no. This is not a diatribe about how shitty my sober life is. I’m grateful for everything I’ve got. I do not regret nor have I ever regretted walking into that house on Damen Ave. I hope that's 100% clear. We cool, Universe?
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...