I used to believe gum takes seven years to pass through the digestive system. I believed the seven year itch was the biggest threat to a relationship and that within a seven year period, all the cells in our bodies regenerate. The idea of getting to be someone new on a regular basis has its appeal, but the fact is some of our cells take longer to turn over and some stay with us until we die.
I am seven years sober (today!) and I have never felt more like myself. This does not always feel like a good thing. At certain (okay, many) social events, I feel that same third-wheel wallflower paralysis I remember from the eighth grade dance. I still somehow say too much for someone who talks too little. I still prefer the company of cats and dogs and certain children to most people and look forward to dessert and bedtime more than is probably healthy. These used to be things I wanted to fix and believed I could, especially once I got sober, but more and more I think, eh, there are worse things I could be than me.
Alcohol used to loosen my tongue and inhibitions and filtered some of the angst that comes with being a human, but it created far more problems than it masked. It numbed the joy too, the pure kind we get to find in the smallest things. Even in the early days when I didn’t really want to not drink and couldn’t guess how it would become appealing, I felt an underlying sense of relief. It always felt right to give up drinking and I have never regretted it.
And give up drinking strikes me as a funny phrase now. In the first two years especially, that feeling of missing out and nostalgia for drinking – maybe more so the contradictory longing to escape and belong – came over frequently if not regularly. I dreaded going out to dinner with my husband sans cocktails and hated beerless Friday nights with dark passion. I had to change up certain routines temporarily, even though it felt like it would have to be forever. The cravings and bouts of resentment and self pity gradually passed faster and with less drama. I don’t feel the same worries or fears I felt in the early days about what sobriety would do to me or my marriage or my place in the world. Even if it didn’t turn me into a brand new person, I changed and grew because of it. Somewhere along the way, I saw I hadn’t missed out on a single thing by not drinking. I gained far more.
Seven years later, I still love my sobriety. Even though it feels more like an appendage instead of an affliction, I think about it every day. It’s like a smooth stone I keep in my pocket and knowing it’s there brings strength and peace. I know it makes me a better mother and human being, which probably accounts for a lot of that. I wish more people who struggle would get to feel it, that lightness and relief and return of spirit.
I want to leave you with a video for a song I find lovely, more than a little haunting, and a little bit maddening. It’s Wish That I Was Sober by Frightened Rabbit. Even the band’s name reminds me of something a petite, soft spoken woman said at an AA meeting years ago. She was talking about how fear had ruled her life when she was drinking. It had taken so much mental and emotional energy to hide how much she drank and how awful she felt. She’d felt trapped when she was drinking and then surprised to feel about the same in the early days of giving it up. She said she felt like a scared bunny and I remember there was a tremble to her voice that made me think of a rabbit’s twitchy nose. Even so, her eyes were bright and she was there, sober, and she was talking about it. I see her on a semi-regular basis, though not at meetings and I don’t think she remembers me. She still has that softness but with an underlying strength I admire and believe is there for anyone who wants it.