It has been 16 years since my husband, Steven Dahl,had a drink.
It was time. He had a great run, living large, living sloppy. There came a day, however, when we were dealing with bubbling anger in one of our sons. We went to see a school social worker. Together we developed strategies for quelling teenaged angst. In fact, this week I picked up our resource manual, (STEP) as I was cleaning a bedroom to house the new baby. My action plan fluttered out.
I smiled at my “to do” and “don’t do” lists. My son never really embraced my precepts, and he signed out of counseling. He outgrew most of his cantankerous nature.
We were assembled there for a higher purpose. Steve heard himself described by his family in equivocal terms. He knew that the boys were getting old and world-wise enough to figure out the Two Faces of Steve. If there is any characteristic that defines Steve, it would be his refusal to be taken advantage of because of weakness. With grit that I have seen in many spheres of his life, Steve simply stopped drinking. No meetings, no further counseling, no medication, no substitutions. He was jump-started by two claustrophobic sessions of family counseling. It is the largest miracle of my life, after childbirth.
Now my marriage is bisected by the gift Steve gave to us. I have loved two men, Drinking Steve and Sober Steve. I do not think I could have loved Drinking Steve for the 33 year run. I would be adverse to raising my three young men with bad example. I saw how they could play us against each other- Party Dad and Bitch Mom. Followed by really crabby, hungover Dad and even more Bitch Mom. This cycle held very little promise. On the other hand, sober Steve was a great carpooler, curfew enforcer, Alpha Dog and husband.
I do not take lightly the sacrifice Steve made. He is shy by nature, and morphed into a social man after a few drinks. He loved stepping outside of himself, letting go. What he did not like was the time when he could not snap back into control. He fixed that.
I would be lying if I said that he never misses it. I suppose, on some level, he misses it every day. I am certain that some days are harder than others. Yet he has not lost his iron will.
He did not make the choice for me, or for the boys. I think self respect and honor are at the root of his sobriety. Yet it is I who hit the lottery. Marriage is hard; change is elusive. Yet here we are, still married, still loving each other, forgiving and forgetting. We each resolve to place the magnifying lens on the good stuff, and to shrink the bad stuff. We both try to refrain from inventorying each others’ assets and liabilities.. It is better to just let life teeter totter, and to know that stuff evens out on the balance sheet of a durable marriage.
It has worked out. Steve lost the radio pulpit that he loved as much as life; he never cracked open the liquor cupboard. The podcast he does every day nurtures and anchors him. He has added tiers of discipline to his days, even as I have divested myself of routines. He will end his exile stronger, thinner and healthier. He has no map or plan to resume any part of his former life. One Day at a Time….
Though he does not work the Twelve Steps as such, he embraces the One Day at a Time mantra with fervor. In his diet, his health and his marriage- it is working for him. For us. How many people are fortunate enough to restart and reconfigure a life together? I cannot understate my good fortune.
After a year of sobriety, Steve received an AA coin from a mystery sponsor. That first coin was a talisman that he practically rubbed a groove into. Steve was working a summer remote broadcast at the Sam Adams brewery when he let it slip from his fingers. Jim Koch had his brewery guys take the boards off the patio so Steve could retrieve it.
Steve no longer needs to stroke a talisman; he has resolve etched into his being. The AA coins are stacked in a safe place, where a pulled drawer reveals a little metal shrine. This glimpse gives us a moment to feel proud, to take stock. He knows the identity of his cheerleader, who has moved to Las Vegas. Last week, # 16 arrived.
Yep- One Day at a Time. It is such a help with overwhelming challenges. We can carry a bit of sand every day, and someday we will fill a bucket, sandbox, or a beach.
Life can bring a wagon of despair on any given calendar page. It has brought us great loss and sadness, as well as enormous blessings. But by starting each morning with a promise to navigate 24 hours with your best self, the days can crochet themselves into a life of uncommon grace. I am the recipient of this grace, and for that , I thank Steve. Happy Anniversary, Steve. Let’s make the next 24 hours….just like the last 24. And better.