Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy sobriety anniversary dear Mandy, happy birthday to me.
It's been three years since I've had a drink or drug. And I feel very grateful.
But I also feel very bored.
Don't get me wrong. I won't ever go back. To me, I look at drinking/drugging as being like a boyfriend who treated me like shit -- so no matter how sweet and alluring he could be occasionally, there is No Fucking Way I would take him back.
And the leaps and bounds my life has taken these last few years never would have been possible if I hadn't gotten sober. I get that. I get gratitude.
I still remember how distinctly early sobriety felt, during my first 90 days, and magical things kept happening to me. One after the other. A connection here. A synchronicity there.
I met people and went to parties and had opportunities and developed relationships I never could have experienced if I wasn't fully present. If I wasn't fully sober.
Opportunities that never would have been possible when I was fucked up or when my self-esteem and self-confidence was in the toilet because I was fucked up or had been fucked up the night before.
And it's only gotten better.
I always point to one story that I like to tell to illustrate what happens: the superpower you achieve in sobriety.
I was a few weeks into quitting, and I was meeting with one of the many friends who helped support me in the very beginning. We met at a health food store where he was waiting for me, knowing that I just needed to talk because I was kind of freaking out. "I can't stop crying," I texted him. "You don't have to meet with me. I'm sorry."
He wanted to see me. He got it. He had seven years. Of course he did.
"You don't understand," I tried to tell him when we finally met up, "I've just screwed things up so badly. I'm humiliated. I messed up this one friendship, and I can't even think about it without feeling terrible."
My friend looked in my eyes and smiled. "That will all pass," he said. "You'll see. You're going to be able to handle things that you never thought you could handle before."
I just kept insisting he didn't understand how poorly I had acted. How embarrassing, how shameful, how humiliating, how unrecoverable, how sad my state of affairs was.
"Did you kill anyone?" he asked.
"Well, no," I said. I laughed through my tears and sipped my green tea.
"Mandy, you're going to be great," he said. "You are great. Just stay sober. You'll see."
I stopped fighting what he said but secretly I wondered: How could anyone ever love me? How could I ever love myself? How could I ever even like myself when I had acted like such a jerk, and didn't even remember acting like such a jerk because I was in a blackout?
My friend hugged me tightly and assured me that if I just stuck with this, I would see that everything that right now felt too painful for me to even look directly in the harshness of daylight was actually going to be OK.
I didn't believe him at the time, but of course my friend was right.
I look back on that time now, and the difference that I see is that I no longer worry about who I am or how I represent myself -- or even so-called "humiliations" that I've experienced along the way.
How much did I risk? How much did I love? Did I stay sober? Did I stay true to who I want to be? The life I want to live? That's all that really matters, in the end.
Nowadays I live my life with more acceptance than I ever dreamed possible. That friendship fallout I confessed three years ago I have since mended -- and even if I hadn't been able to, I see now that this outcome would have been OK, too.
It is all OK, really.
Because I've stopped looking for OK-ness outside of myself. Instead, I now find it in myself.
Today, I received from my mom this sobriety anniversary card in the mail. This is the envelope:
And this is the card itself (my mom takes card-making classes, so her cards are really, really good):
Don't you just love it? Because I really, really do.
But -- I also have to be honest about the fact that I am also sometimes really fucking bored.
Honesty about such things is important.
I am such an adrenaline junkie that I miss the dark laughter that comes with remembering how crazy things got the night before. I miss the out-of-control feeling that comes when you don't have to be fully responsible for what exactly goes down. I miss the spinning high that comes with drugs or drinking and the fatalistic party that surrounds you when you are doing line after line, and who cares what tomorrow may bring because tonight you have tonight and let's just fucking do it all.
Fuck it. Drink it. Snort it.
Who wouldn't miss that? It's human nature, I think. It's chaos. It's evil. It's forbidden. It's "you're not supposed to." Darkness appeals to us all. The secret, I think, is simply putting it in the light of day -- through acceptance.
So that's what I'm doing right now, allowing myself the honesty of feeling these feelings and acknowledging that it is not all sunshine and roses to have this new different life. Instead it is a process.
I can touch those partying memories in my mind and ask myself the question of where it plays out. "What happened next? Where does the story end? How did that work out for you?"
Because I know the answer. Often it worked out with a crushing sadness that I didn't know was possible to feel so acutely and overwhelmingly. A hopelessness that left me flattened far worse than any person could ever inflict. After-effects that left me lying in my bed, crying, realizing that I so desperately wanted to be saved, but was unwilling to save myself and so was thereby destroying myself in the most dangerous way possible: a socially acceptable one.
And it was ever slowly, with a patience, a determination, a focus and intensity that terrified me.
It led me to so many bleary-eyed next mornings, forcing myself to limply raise my corporate Blackberry to type up some excuse for why I couldn't come in that day, then tapping on my personal iPhone a tepid cry for help message to several people I hardly knew with the prayer that they might write back and the knowledge they probably would not:
"I'm so sad," I typed, "I can't stop feeling so sad..."
I remember that feeling still. I remember that answer. How did that work out for me?
It worked out for me like that.
Not always, of course.
Which is the undercurrent of uncertainty, right? The shadow of doubt. The willingness to let someone talk you into what you believe. Because sometimes it was really fucking fun. Sometimes it was really fucking exciting. Sometimes it was a party that was so amazing I'm glad I took the risk of saying yes. I think it's OK to be honest about that. I know it is, in fact.
But I also know that the uncertainty is part of the insidiousness of alcoholism.
The uncertainty is part of the abusive ex that alcohol and drugs represents for me.
What if he sent me roses? What if he told me he changed?
I know how I got out of that dark hole. It was by accepting something about myself I never thought I would or could.
I had to admit that I was flawed and sick and an alcoholic.
I had to take it seriously to see if I could escape from the sadness that felt like an actual weight crushing down on my chest, punishing me for trying to lift it off whenever I would even dare try.
How dare you fucking try. This is what people do. This is what people do. This is what normal people do. They party, Mandy. Are you not normal? What's wrong with you? Do you want to be accepted or not?
I had to admit defeat to find victory.
And victory can be boring sometimes. I'm certain of that.
Victory can look like control and power and the will to determine what happens next. Rather than letting five gin and tonics and a blunt do it for you.
Because within The Boring, the secret I hold close to my heart is knowing that life is no longer happening to me. For all of my romanticizing of sex and drugs and spiraling out, I've found an almost intoxicating strength inside me.
It's the strength of acceptance.
It's the strength of self-love.
And I'm no longer scared I will collapse like so many alcoholic house of cards.
I know I won't. I know I can't.
I refuse to accept anything but defeat.
These past three years I've uncovered a far greater drug than the one that partying affords. It is the allure of living a life where all fear and shame has been shaken out -- until the only thing that is left is you.
No cover of alcohol or drugs. No shield.
Only you. A stronger you than you ever dreamed possible.
It's the most intoxicating feeling in the world.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.