I made it. Today I hit a milestone in life that very few people will ever know. Unless I do something really screwed up between the time I hit the publish button and the time I go to bed, I will have accumulated seven thousand three hundred and five days of sobriety. (Don't let the date heading fool you, this is a just a bit of a late night.) That's exactly twenty years. Happy birthday to me.
Well, except that I'm not celebrating. I can't help marking the passage of time. I have lived twenty years and more beyond the times I should by all rights have died. You'd think that there would be an accomplishment worthy of celebration. To tell the truth, I had always sort of pictured doing this at an AA or NA meeting, surrounded both by the people who helped me to get here and those who hope against their experience to make it this far themselves.
That isn't going to happen. I have to thank AA and NA for bringing me into sobriety and for letting me know the things I have to do to stay sober and alive. I thank the members of those fellowships for telling me my story in their words and giving me hope. For most of the first eight years of my sobriety, I attended meetings at least daily, often twice in the evenings and three or more times on Saturday and Sunday. Meetings became the whole of my life, much the way that the things that qualified me for membership once had been. The Twelve Steps have been good for me (and I still live my life by them), but the meetings have not. I still go to the odd one to recharge my batteries, as it were, but I don't have a home group, so there is no party.
If I am completely honest, though, I know that I have remained sober out of fear. Most of the time I don't drink or do drugs simply because it is no longer my habit to do so. After the first few months of struggling, the patterns of living that inevitably led to a binge were broken. A "slip" would not have been an accident any time after my first cake and medallion.
There have been times, too (and rather a lot of them, when I think about it) that I wanted to erase the world. It isn't so much that I want to drink or get high for the party. It's more of a suicide thing, but just a temporary version of it. Not wanting to die altogether, but not particularly wanting to live through a particular moment either. That kind of thinking is obviously insane, so it's not as hard as you might think to talk oneself out of that line of thinking. I don't want to make it sound easy -- it's just not impossible to see where your mind is trying to take you as long as you are paying attention.
No, the real killer for most folks in recovery for any extended period is the insidious belief that if one has been able to stay on the wagon this long, then maybe there's a chance that one was never actually addicted. Yeah, that's the ticket. I was young and irresponsible and just overdid it a bit. I'm more mature and responsible now. I can have a beer or two with the boys and that'll be the end of it, right? Not this kid. During my bad phase, I was on the wagon nearly as much as I was drunk or drugged. Never could find that moderation thing people were talking about. Still can't. For me, nothing succeeds like excess. So, yeah, I'm scared to death of that first crisp, frosty pint of an India Pale Ale, the creamy delight of a gorgeous Ontario ice wine or the peat-and-honey nose of a dram of 40-year-old Laphroaig. As much as I can taste them just writing about them, I know that the first will just be the first of many too many. And when I'm too stupid to know it, I'm still afraid that it might be true.
Staying sober for twenty years has been the easy part. Living through some of those same years has been much tougher.
To steal a turn of phrase from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have learned what it is to love with all my heart and soul, and I have learned what it is to have both heart and soul torn to shreds by the loss of that love. I have been there to see the spark of hope and life lit in the eyes of the hopeless and dying, and I have seen too many people with infinite promise ahead of them lose hope and kill themselves. I have had the resources to help the less fortunate around me live a slightly less desperate life, I have had nothing and found no-one there to help me.
There have been times I've asked myself if it's really been worth it. When you're living on borrowed time, sometimes the interest rate seems a bit high. To those I've known for whom the answer was no, I remember you with love, and I hope you have found your peace. I'm still looking for mine.
I'm hoping that much of what I have been feeling over the past few weeks has been the build-up to today. I've been spending far too much of my time gazing at my belly button lately. Perhaps, with this out of the way, I can find a little motivation to get on with my life rather than contemplating what might have been had I lived the last twenty years a little differently.
Tomorrow never knows.