Never forget

Most of us remember where we were 12 years ago today. 9-11 became our generation’s JFK or MLK assassination, a day we can unfortunately recall the mundane details more vividly.

I remember driving my husband to the PATH train in the small town in north Jersey where we’d moved only the year before. My husband was doing freelance work in NYC and I was a stay-at-home mom with our then baby girl. When I think of 9-11, the first image that comes to mind is our baby girl in her blue flowered carrier, her brown eyes wide and her lips pursed in that serious, almost studious look that all babies seem to master unless they’re crying.

I remember getting a panicked call from a friend right after baby girl and I got back from the train station. “Is Joe ok?” he asked. This friend was prone to drama and I had no idea about the plane or the tower (it was just one of each at that point) but I turned the news on and any ease I’d felt drained away.

I finally reached my husband on his cell and found he’d been on the last train that pulled into the World Trade Center stop. He said the train sat and sat but the doors didn’t open and passengers went from curious to restless to angry. He said he smelled a pungent odor, which in retrospect might have been jet fuel, but of course no one had any idea what was happening above ground. Eventually an official announced that the train would be redirected to Newark due to “police activity” and everyone groaned. They didn’t know yet how lucky they were.

I remember driving along a highway with a parallel view of the new york city skyline and seeing smoke spill off of both towers. I remember watching a sea of people in smart looking suits and dresses pour out of the Newark train station and not feeling terribly worried how I would find my husband because he’s really tall. I remember asking him to drive home once we found each other because traffic was snarled everywhere.

Once we were safely home, we walked to the top of our hill and saw massive smoke and dust clouds in the city skyline. By that point, both towers had collapsed. A coworker of my husband’s found himself stranded nearby and came to our house to huddle around the television and only left when I asked if I could please drive him home. In those days, I was a nightly drinker, but I remember being alert and clear for the drive. In those days, I still used alcohol recreationally and never thought to down a shot to numb or quiet jangled nerves.

When I think back 12 years ago, I feel a sweet sort of tenderness for my old self. I was a new mom and had no idea how certain hardships would change our family and mold it into something almost unrecognizable. Really, I’m not talking tragedies but standard life-altering events which feel anything but standard when we’re in the thick of them. Afterwards we pick them up by the edges and examine and say “yes, I handled that one pretty okay, I did” or maybe we furrow our brow and set it back down to look at another time.

I get now why we say we must learn history so we don’t repeat it. Lately I’ve felt a certain complacency in sobriety that ripples through my subconscious and makes for weird drinking dreams and a certain craziness in my waking state. I haven’t entertained serious thoughts of drinking again because I know the effects would be disastrous, if not immediate. This is what is saving me right now, this absolute certainty that I can’t drink socially or casually or moderately. Not now, not in 20 years, not ever. Many things have changed over the last couple of years, but this solid truth I feel deep in the core is not one of them and I hope to god I never forget.

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30 thoughts on “Never forget

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  1. I remember that day vividly. I was in a building on 42nd Street having arrived in NYC the night before. At breakfast a colleague and I discussed going to the World Trade Centre as they’d never been and we didn’t have to be in a meeting until lunch. We decided to go to the office and help the technical guys set up instead – like your husband I was that close to being right there.

    As it was we got stuck in NYC until the weekend as there were no flights out. It was awful, being so disconnected from those you love and not knowing when / if you’ll get home. We were staying at the UN Plaza hotel which was behind a cordon thrown around the UN building as well and 2nd Ave was one of the disaster routes. Sirens all day and night. Difficulty getting a phone line out to talk to home etc. The unforgettable taste of the acrid smoke/dust on your tongue.

    We decamped to CT on the Saturday thanks to a very very generous colleague who just turned up with some vans to help move us – there were 10 Brits in all stuck there. We flew out on one of the first flights back on the Sunday – and that was a horrible flight as you can imagine.

    I was still drinking then – in fact it was the beginning of the end, my drinking really escalated once home after that – daft feelings about the fact I could have died and all that – rather than being grateful I was angry and destructive. It was the spur that led to me trying to stop/control it less than two years later and three years later I was remembering that day in the early days of sobriety. So in some ways those terrorists bizarrely saved my life rather than taking it in some ways.

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    1. Not that this is the first time this has happened, but your comment feels far more powerful than my post. I can see how your drinking might have escalated after returning home. You say you felt angry and destructive instead of grateful and man, I can’t see how grateful would have come first to anyone, really. But then look where you took it. Beautiful story, thanks for sharing, G.

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  2. This was a beautiful, amazing post. I relate to so much of what you wrote. That date was before my active addiction as well, and I think back at myself on that day (ironically, I was at the gym when it happened), I only had one child, who was 1 1/2 years old, and I feel that nostalgia for my old self as well… if I had only known what would unfold as the years go on. The day (and days that followed) was terrifying, but my life, as I remember it, seemed so simple.

    But it’s like the Barbra Streisand song… “misty water-colored memories.” Was it that simple? Probably not. When I look at life through the lens of addiction, I can long for the time before it grabbed hold, and wish that I could go back and change the course of my life. But when I look at life through the lens of recovery, I am truly grateful for the events that unfolded, because my life is so much better, so much fuller, than I can ever remember it being.

    Does that make sense? Probably not, but if ever there was a day for contemplation, this is it. Thanks for providing me the opportunity to do so, and see you Saturday!

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    1. Makes total sense! One of my husband’s favorite things to say is ‘nostalgia is a liar’ and it’s often true. The distance softens the parts I maybe tried hard to forget. And yes, wouldn’t trade the mistakes for where I am now, which I guess should give comfort when I go through the next hard thing, but I’ll definitely need reminders along the way. Thanks for your awesome comment, looking forward to Saturday!

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  3. “This is what is saving me right now, this absolute certainty that I can’t drink socially or casually or moderately. Not now, not in 20 years, not ever.” … my favorite line. Thank you for this thought. I expressed (just an hour ago!) this same thought to my girlfriend. My daughter just started a new charter school and I will be home schooling her on Tues/Thurs. I was all twisted with emotion after I dropped her off. (Not sure who this day was harder for … her or me.) In my heart I know I have made the best choice, but man oh man … I just can’t stand when feelings are so unpredictable and churning within me. I feel fortunate that over the years I have managed to remember that wonderful line in your post. Thank you for being a sane voice in my sobriety today. Whatever life throws my way I will never be a “good’ drinker. I drank like an alcoholic.

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    1. Boy can I relate to your beginning of school year emotions. And how ugly or hard they can be to bear. No amount of thinking it through or rationalization seems to take the sting away. Still hard, still can’t drink. Still need reminders, probably always will. Thanks for your comment, it really helps. xo

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  4. The word “complacency” really struck me in your post. Funny how as time goes by we become complacent and forget the drama. We are no longer surprised at the crimes around us, the terrible song lyrics, the disgusting behavior in the movies. We become numbed to it. We must keep our memories sharp – to remember how we felt when we awoke the morning after with guilt, remember those we embarrassed by our drunken behavior, remember our promises to ourselves that were continually broken. Most of all, remember how proud we are of ourselves today – SOBER FOREVER. I promise not to be complacent.

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    1. In all fairness, complacency came from a conversation with a wise friend. She put a word to something I’d been feeling for some time but been unable to identify. Thank you for your comment, love how we can exchange ideas and learn from one another!

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  5. Thank you for sharing this intense and beautiful post! Although I live in Sweden, far from USA, what happened in New York twelve years ago shocked us all deeply. I was at work when my then current boyfriend texted me about what was happening in NYC. I told my colleagues. As other colleagues appeared with the news that they had heard on the radio. Everybody stopped working, together we listened on the radio news and also checked the news sites on the net. It was an incredibly horrific day, very hard yo grasp.

    With your post you had me walking down memory lane… On the 11th of September 200 I I was a young 28 year old, had met an absolutely fantastic man, had fallen in love and what I did’nt now then was that about five months later I would move to Stockholm and my boyfriend and I would live together and soon thereafter get engaged. At the place where I worked at that time, that was my very first proper employment – I was so proud and felt very successful. I partied every weekend, was surrounded by friends and colleagues, I was on top of life and life was fantastic. I had’nt become addicted to alcohol yet, but yea – I drank far too much once I drank.

    I shed a few tears, because remembering those days brings sorrow to my heart. I wish I could go back to those days and stay there forever… I miss being in love, being able to party, being full of energy. But at the same time I would’nt want to go back, because now I know that I was very unhappy then. Unhappy and scared so very deep inside, that I did’nt even know it myself.

    I agree with you entirely, there is no doubt that we can never again drink socially or casually or moderately. I crossed that line years ago, and there is no going back. I can’t drink one drop, not if I don’t want to hit another painful bottom.

    Oh I’m sorry for this lengthy comment, again – thank you so very much for your brilliant post! *hugs*

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    1. I love your comment. Thank you so much for leaving it. It’s painful to remember those times filled with hope and where we felt like we had it all, but telling that we still wouldn’t change a thing.

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  6. Lovely post, thank you for your honesty. we all wonder sometimes…it’s good to be here reminding each other why? And there wouldn’t be all of these wise wonderful people in my life if I went back to alcohol, there wouldn’t be room for much else…there just never was.

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  7. Beautiful and poignant. Sometimes sobriety comes down to accepting the simple fact that we can never drink again. And remembering WHY we cannot.

    Life will hand us bad days, boring days, sleepy days, sad days, tragic days, stressful days, happy days, complacent days. None of it matters. We can’t drink. Not an option.

    Life became so much simpler when I finally let go and accepted that.

    Thank you for your words and inspiration, c

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  8. Thank you for this amazing post! I can related to so many things. I love the tenderness you refer to, the times before onset of the alcoholic drinking – good memories. But. I was in the midst of my drinking on 9/11 and actually from that point on I took off with it. No one questioned why, they kept saying oh, we understand, have another! I used this tragedy as a get drunk all you want card! It’s very sad. Like furtheron, I was angry and destructive instead of being grateful, and I was no where near the NYC, or Washington DC, where the third plain crashed. These are the moments that I have eyes opening experience, when I see even more how destructive my drinking was! And even more it makes me grateful to be sober!

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    1. That anger and destructiveness sounds very much like PTSD or some other reaction to devastation and grief. What came out of it, eventually, is what gives us that gratitude. Gratitude isn’t something I really thought of much before, so I suspect it only comes after a great deal of pain and appreciation of the hell we’ve escaped. Thank you for your comment, Maggie!

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  9. A really powerful post. Like everyone, I remember where I was when I found out – driving back from looking round Leeds, the university I would eventually choose to study at. I was 17. I wouldn’t have a clue what was ahead of me – in life or in terms of my drinking. As you say so well, it’s important to remember the past.

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  10. On 9/11 I was on a short vacation in Zutphen, a very beautiful little town in the east of Holland. I got into my car for the drive back home and turned on the radio. The news of the towers hit me hard. It felt surreal. The 100k home went too slow. The rest of the day I was glued to the TV. The feeling of disbelief didn’t leave me for a week and each time the incidents were shown again I was mesmerized.
    I still have not completely accepted that such things are actually possible. It is the one and only event I can give a date and a place.

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  11. Thank you for the important reminder. I always enjoy your blog, it is a favorite, you and the comments come to the rescue, you make a difference. I remember JFK, MLK, 911, and all the others, my slice of sixty years worth. Wish these types of things were different and hope that they will be. Just thinking out loud but lots of things like those big events, my own life junk, and now drinking and not drinking can wear on a man. Wear as in anxious apprehensive fear. Powerful stuff fear. Can be a pretty good motivator but in the long run it is a tar pit. That said, you know as always, I still have choices. You are in or you’re out, you do or you don’t. My sober clock hits a year about now. And may I say, it has been one of the most trying and difficult years of my life. A domino drop of dread and worry. Never say things could be worse unless you’re itching to find out. So, back to choices. Fold up and quit or go the other way. If I quit the fear is still there, always there. Maybe I should take up drink again. No, the lack of drink did not cause this year from hell. With drink I’d be at the bottom of a hole and not even realize it until everything around me was collapsed and crushed beyond recognition. Ignorance truly is bliss isn’t it? Besides if it’s one thing we learn after becoming sober, responsibility counts. Am I being punished? No that’s just another plate of fear. Then I must be a total screw up. No, I know better, average maybe but not worthless. Those excuses don’t hold water. This year is just what it is, lots of chickens have come home to roost and things happen in life. So if I believe that, the best move for me is to keep going, keep moving forward. I should kick fear out at the corner and motor on without its heavy bloated lifeless clinging ugly dragging useless debilitating persona. What can I do? One life, this life. With an anchor. I am either in or I’m out.

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    1. The first year sober is a bitch. Not without rewards and high (and middle) points but puts us through the wringer. Congratulations on your year, Whistler. I am glad you’re still here.

      I gather from comments here and there that you’ve had your fair share of upheaval this year. No, it might not have anything to do with getting sober, but you still have to feel it unfiltered and unnumbed.

      But it will get better, as you know, and in the meanwhile, you won’t be causing further harm to yourself and others. You will have a clean conscience and slowly things will feel better. Believe me, I’ve struggled with these thoughts so much during stress. Am I really better off if I’m this fearful and anxious? But I know in the quiet moments – the real ones – that are much more prevalent than before, I know this is where I want to be.

      I’m of course assuming it continues to feel more natural over time. I’ve heard that it does.

      Be well, my friend and congratulations again on your year. That’s hard work.

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      1. Man, I just re-read my comment after reading your comment to my comment. I have got to stop hitting the post comment button without a 24 hour buffer or stop commenting altogether. What was I smoking. Very sorry. If I had wanted it to be understood, this is how I should have written my comment.

        Thanks. Life is difficult but not due to sobriety. Fear is not productive in the long run. I am not afraid right now. Everything’s gonna be alright.

        Sorry, some days the thread is thinner than other days.

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      2. Are you kidding? I love your comments and look forward to every one! I knew what you meant and we all know about the thinner thread. If you are interested in writing a guest post some time about what your first year sober was like – the dizzying highs and lows – I would be honored to post it (email me at byebyebeer@gmail.com). Always enjoy your perspective and outlook. No pressure, though. (Seriously.)

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    2. Congratulations on Year One, Whistler. I’ve greatly enjoyed your comments here on BBB’s site and I’m very happy for you.

      I’m not sure if you blog? And I hope I’m not pushing boundaries here, but I know many of us would love to hear about your highs and lows of the last year. Maybe bbb would be open to a guest post spot if you were so inclined to share, Whistler?

      Regardless, congrats on your milestone, and know that your comments are read and appreciated by others.
      ~ Christy

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  12. My wife was not at home the other day when I grabbed a sandwich and scanned over the newspaper. One article described how Renee Fleming guest coached some Rice University vocal students on a recent afternoon. Ms. Fleming was genuine in her approach while gently bringing the students into a more full understanding of their craft, their art. The article spoke of Ms. Fleming’s down to earth practicality and experience. Her approach with each student was hands on but done with patience and compassion. Her efforts were rewarded with obvious improvements demonstrated by the singers. As I read the report I began to cry. Not a soft isn’t that sweet tearing but head in hands full tilt sobbing. What’s up with that. Symptomatic. Probably will not figure it out completely but it will morph into something a little less weird and a lot more stable and usable in the practical sense, hopefully soon. Until that time I think it best to live in the shadows of the cyber world occasionally popping up to make a rambling comment about how blue the sky looks today. Your offer is extraordinarily generous, thank you. I want you to know how much I appreciate you BBB. And thanks to all you bloggers and commentators. You are an important lifeline. The sober reality journey can get a little trippy. Special people like you keep us on the road and the trip focused. Thanks BBB, thanks Christy, you are making a difference.

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    1. I know this sobbing! It used to feel more hormonal or at least predictable for me, and now it feels more like a constant emotional fragility that is not necessarily bad…at all. If something moves me to the point that I cry (okay, sob) I feel like I’m experiencing it on a level I never had access to before. It’s usually beautiful things too, like the newspaper story you described. These reactions may be asymptomatic or maybe they’re just proof we’ve thawed back to real live human beings. Maybe it’s a rewiring of our brains that comes after all the synapses and other junk are pretty sure we’re done trying to kill them and give the go ahead to rebuild. I do also know around one-year is a big trigger for some, so it could be any or all or some or none of those things in your case.

      My “offer” always stands for you if you want to guest-post. For now, we’ll make do and be grateful for your comments. Have a great weekend!

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    2. The sky in Texas is a gentle, calming blue today, much how I envision the skies of my youth, when I would lay in the grass, without a care in the world, and watch the clouds as circus acts stroll forth.

      In sobriety, I am often caught off-guard by Beauty. I stare memorized at her, as if I were a deer in headlights, transfixed momentarily before the flood of tears come. And they do. I am so more moved by beauty than by ugliness. It’s like I’ve become jaded by the continuous horrifying images in the news and media. Ugliness is common; beauty so rare.

      I’ve often wondered if I’m the only one who cries over random acts of kindness, over music, over one person making a difference in another person’s life, over the blue blue miles of clear sky.

      It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone.

      So nice to be with you two, Bbb and Whistler, sober and unabashedly moved-by-beauty.

      Have a peaceful weekend,
      Christy

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      1. I’m so glad that you’re husband was on “that” train. So many of us came so close that day, I was still living on the boat then and we were parked at Gangplank Marina in DC. We were supposed to fly out from DC that morning for a trip back home, but of course, we didn’t. We watched as the two planes flew into the twin towers and then we heard a horrible explosion across the Potomac. The plane crashing into the Pentagon.
        I have felt that something was missing in the last few months, I thought it was just the newness of my sobriety wearing off after two years and now real life was setting in. But I’ve decided that wasn’t it, I think I let myself let my work on my recovery suffer because I was so busy doing other things. I didn’t take time to notice the miracles. I’m here to tell you, there will be no more of that.

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