The numbers keep climbing on my sobriety tracker app (yes, there is in fact an app for that), and so do I. As time goes on I feel like I’ve largely moved past the roiling murk of fear and uncertainty and bone-deep self-hatred that ran through me night and day back at the start of the summer. I’m stronger and healthier and I can feel the sun on my face. I’m hugely reluctant to repeatedly poke my head back down into the clouds to revisit all that led me here.
After several sessions with my counselor went by with me saying — truthfully — that I haven’t been struggling with temptation, she gently brought up the importance of not taking things for granted. I think the metaphor she used was something about keeping your shadow in front of you.
What’s that AA saying? Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Here’s another one that rings true for me: The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.
This is something I’ve been mulling over and over lately: can I be successful without attending a never-ending series of meetings (because I have not been)? Can I be successful without constantly revisiting painful old ground? Can I move forward with my shadow at my side, maybe, instead of directly in my field of view at all times?
I’m reading Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, and where I’m currently at in the book the main character is a recovering alcoholic, ten years sober. He still checks in with his sponsor several times a week, and at one point they have the following conversation:
“You sober today, Danno?”
“You ask for help to stay away from a drink in the morning?”
“On your knees?”
“Yes, on my knees.”
“Because I need to remember the drink put me there.”
Oh, how those words leaped off the page at me. I don’t do this — ask for help, on or off my knees — but yes, that feeling of humble gratitude. The acknowledgement of the good things in my life and how terrifyingly easily I could throw it all away.
Maybe I’m in denial about what it takes to remain sober for life. Maybe you have to keep turning and turning over the dirt in your brain and listening to others do the same, or your past loses its power to keep driving you in the right direction.
That’s hard for me to believe, though. I don’t know about you, but for me the most amazing, heart-shattering memories all eventually fade like Polaroids in reverse, no matter how I fight to hold on to them. The terrible ones, the ones filled with humiliation and regret, are the ones hardwired to my body, so that I can recall things that happened decades ago and still feel a face-reddening gut-punch of shame run through me.
Which is to say, I cannot imagine ever forgetting what alcohol has done to me. What I have done to myself with alcohol.
Recovery is filled with slippery gray areas. Confidence, not complacency. Exercise, but don’t let it become a substitute for former addictive behaviors. Be present, don’t settle.
Gratitude, though … that seems like a pretty basic concept. You can’t be grateful without recognizing the big picture. You can’t be grateful and take things for granted at the same time. It seems to me that focusing on gratitude — carving out daily time for it, even — is a way to live in the light while still accepting the truth of those clouds.
I am so grateful, every morning, every night. A thousand times a day, and it is such a good feeling.