Today I woke up 5 years sober.
It is a glorious achievement.
It means I have reached “stable remission” from alcohol use disorder.
Milestones are a tricky thing.
Just as a huge achievement was rounding the corner for me, a crippling wave of shame crept in even faster.
I spent most of the weekend in tears.
My loud inner critic was shouting at me. Screaming that I could not celebrate, because my drinking hurt people. I could never take back my alcohol problem. It will never be over. I need to live in my darkest shadow forever. I should feel no sunshine. The only appropriate way to be is on my hands and knees in repentance. Forever. Joyless.
That voice said, I am not allowed to be happy and free.
How dare I celebrate?
My drinking hurt the people I love most. I should nail myself to the cross and live under my dark cloak of shame forever. The dark forever sorry-ness closing in on me. Suffocating me. The only response is to tattoo myself with unworthiness across my forehead so the whole world can see.
I should never have had this problem in the first place. I am not allowed to make mistakes. Shame on me for blaming alcohol. It was all my fault. I can’t play victim. I should be more perfect. I should not have let alcohol get the best of me. I can’t take it back.
It was alarming how much louder this voice got as I was approaching my biggest milestone yet.
In an emotional fury, I once again apologized to my family.
My darling daughters, my steadfast husband, my earth angel Mom.
I AM sorry.
I am so very sorry. I blubbered my apology through tears, leaving the door open for future conversations to further my living amends.
“You can tell me how I hurt you. I can handle it. You can always talk to me about it. It was never your fault. I am here for you. You are allowed to feel uncomfortable feelings about me, Lovies. I am sorry. So very sorry. I love you so much.”
Changed behavior will always be my best apology.
Yet at times, it does not feel like enough.
They didn't ask for this. They have already forgiven me. It was me demanding myself to do something. Feel something. Be more sorrier. Not take joy in my milestone. Deserve no credit. You can't take something bad and now make yourself a hero.
My sober gal pals took me out to celebrate. I blurted some long held shame about questionable relations with a bartender on Spring Break when I turned 21 and more. I was received in love and understanding and a chorus of me too’s. Many of us experienced blackouts in the company of strangers. Today, we might call that sexual assault. Back then I just called myself a desperate drunken slut.
More shame. More hatred. To me from me.
Finally yesterday, on the Eve of my 5 Sober Birthday, I had a moment with myself, on a walk where I felt at a crossroads.
I could continue the whipping or I could stop it and choose something else.
I looked at the sky and I prayed I would make the right choice here.
I let out a big uncontrollable sob and then I choose to stop it.
To stop the beating of things that can’t be undone.
To see myself through the lens of self compassion. My younger self who was doing the damn best she could while surrounded by alcohol.
Alcohol, the magic elixir that helped me abandon myself over and over again.
A most familiar feeling, like home to me. I had a thirst for that.
I sought people and situations to give me that familiar ache of abandonment over and over again throughout my life. Like a craving. Then I gave that familiar pain to myself too. I didn’t listen to myself. I didn’t take care of myself. I vied for approval, attention, and validation from others. I begged people to love me. This felt most like home to me. I affirmed my own unworthiness. Proving myself right over and over again. I was unlovable. The forever ache could never be cured.
That was the thirst trap of my youth. At 5 years sober I no longer want to do that. I no longer want to fall into the quicksand of alcohol and lose myself completely in a black out. I no longer want to wash away my feelings of abandonment. I want to stay with myself. I want to hold myself up. I want to pull myself away from the things that are no good for me.
I do not want to leave myself anymore. I want to take care of myself.
So I practiced forgiveness.
I forgave myself.
I forgave myself for pouring alcohol on my pain when it’s all I knew how to do. I forgave myself for being a person who became a mother before her wounds were scabbed over. I forgave myself for my daughters’ witnessing me in more pain than they should have seen, and then hurting myself too by drinking more than I said I would on more than one occasion.
How much this must have hurt them. I am sorry to them. I am sorry to myself too.
I now recognize forgiveness is not a finish line or a thing you do, cross off, and get over.
Forgiveness is a walking path, a way of life, a constant to be addressed each and every time it calls. 5 years sober means continuing to walk the path of self forgiveness. I imagine 6 years sober will mean continuing to walk the path too. It is not a cloak of shame to wear, held hostage by my darkest moments. It is an invitation for deeper healing. Over and over. Again and again. A higher self love. More compassion.
It is choosing to celebrate myself. All of me. What a wonder I am!
Full of darkness and light. Mistakes and triumphs. A fully human being walking her way to a new home. Not one of abandonment, but one of love and forgiveness. The one I made for myself within me, by the journey of self discovery that is sobriety.
I arrived home in time for dinner and just like that my daughters and their friend walked in with a party box full of disco balls, confetti, the number 5, and alcohol free drinks that my friends made for me.
My girls just giggling in the background, video taping my surprise, knowing it would make me cry, because of course it did.
Today I choose to join my loved ones in celebration. I have not forgotten the pain I have caused with my dependence on alcohol. I choose to celebrate anyway. I am worthy of celebration. The rising up and overcoming deserves at least as much credit as the falling. I am over the self flagellation.
Today, I woke up 5 years sober. I continue to learn to forgive and celebrate myself.
Sobriety has been the grandest party of all. The portal to self actualization. The healing of generations. The biggest surprise of my life. I am learning to take care of myself and in that, I am teaching others too.
The greatest of all was the two voices from my teenagers waking up this morning and saying “Happy Sober Day Mom!” with the biggest smile on their faces.
Then friends calling, sharing how I have inspired them.
My clients texting their gratitude for showing them the way.
Pinch me, I get to be here living this life with all it's mess and confusion and tears.
I know the path back to myself.
Happy 5th Sober Anniversary to Me!