by Patty N.
The day after tomorrow, my handy 12-Step iPhone app – the one with the sobriety calculator that I compulsively check every day – will finally read, “You’ve been sober for one year / 12 months / 365 days / 8,760 hours.” Yes!
Needless to say, I will not be celebrating with champagne, like I did after drying out in 2008. That was the year I set out to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. So I quit drinking – except at my 25th high school reunion when, in my whiskey-impaired state, I got into a car driven by an inebriated classmate and, thankfully, didn’t die on the way to Denny’s. I also drank on New Year’s Eve and blacked out after only a few glasses of champagne. Then there were the prescription drugs – which I took not exactly as prescribed but, hey, at least they weren’t alcohol.
After my year “on the wagon,” I bought myself a big bottle of bubbly and picked up where I left off. But it became very clear, very fast, that I shouldn’t drink and that I couldn’t stop. Embarrassed and ashamed, I started counting days in AA. At first, I felt like I was being punished. I’m the good kid, the hard worker, the hands-on mom, I thought to myself. How did I end up here? And, every time I said, “My name is Patty and I’m an alcoholic,” I would think to myself, But I quit for a year! I didn’t drink everyday! I was high-functioning! I can’t be an alcoholic!”
Slowly, though, the veil of self-criticism and harsh judgement receded and a gentle, clear-headed, self-compassion took its place. I started wondering: Would I hate myself for having asthma? Would I attack myself if I had diabetes? Would I be terrified of running into someone I knew at the dentist office if I had gingivitis? No!! So why didn’t I view my alcoholism in the same, straightforward manner? As Dr. Drew says (I can’t help it, I love him), alcoholism is about chemistry, not character. So why would I be ashamed about a condition over which I have no control?
Looking back, I’ve spent a lot of time this year regretting the past and, oftentimes, wishing to shut the door on it. I realize that’s part of the process. But as I mark this significant milestone, I’d like to quit mourning my old life and start celebrating my new one. On Sunday, I will go to my regular AA meeting and announce that I have one year of continuous sobriety. I’ll collect my special anniversary coin and an amazing group of people, whose last names I may never know, will greet me with applause and hugs and flowers from the corner deli. And I will call myself an alcoholic, without reservation, without judgement, without shame, and with enough strength to finally bust through that cocoon of self-hatred and fly like a beautiful liberated butterfly.