3 lessons, 3 years sober

This Thursday, January 24th, will mark exactly three years sober for me. I could have posted the celebratory post on Thursday, but that would confine the celebrations to a single day. I prefer to think of this as my “anniversary week.” Privately, I think of January as my “anniversary month.” In fact, I’ve discovered there is no amount of time so long that it can’t be modified with the word “anniversary.”

This is a bigger deal than my birthday. (I know. Let that sink in.) Crawling out of the womb was one of the easiest things I ever did. I think I was born to do it. In contrast, maintaining sobriety for three years has taken exactly three years of hard work.

(My parade)

In short, I would like a parade. I’m particularly interested in bells and whistles. I’m thinking that Birthday Cake Oreos and La Croix could collaborate with the color “rose gold” to put together something really spectacular.

What’s that? I’m the only one who cares about my anniversary? Oh, well in that case, I’ll throw my own party, and it’ll look a lot like creating a list.

(Side note: I used to throw my own birthday parties, and creating the list was actually my favorite part. Yesterday, I hosted an event called Bachelor, Brunch, and Blankets and the alliteration combined with the need to make a shopping list were my favorite part. Sorry to those who attended, but you just cannot compete with a fresh legal pad.)

So, without further ado (ok, go on), here's a list of three things that improved in three years sober.

1. My appearance.

Oh, what the hell - let’s get the superficial one out of the way first. I promise it ties in.

There was a phase of my drinking where I masked my discomfort with my body by quite literally putting on a mask. I wore a shade of foundation that was decidedly wrong. I had many unfortunate run-ins with sunless tanner, and the sunless tanner won every time. And, despite lifting weights several times per week, I rarely saw progress.

Now, if I’m working towards something and not making progress, it does not escape my notice. In fact, I’m the queen of “If-something-isn’t-working, change-ten-things.” (Not exactly a controlled experiment.) I’m just as pale as nature intended, and I’ve ditched foundation entirely. I never leave the house wondering if my body matches my face.

2. My learning curve.

In the last month or two before I got sober, I vividly remember the feeling of stagnation. I was on my way to Target to buy champagne, and I had just begun taking Zoloft a few weeks before. (Hot tip: alcohol negates your anxiety med.) I didn’t feel sad. I felt nothing.

I now know that “nothing” is how you feel when you are trying not to feel everything - when there is something acutely wrong just below the surface, and you aren't quite ready to look at it. As far as cover stories go, feeling nothing is as plausible as the dog eating your homework.

In sobriety, I sometimes feel small, empty, disappointed. I don't confuse this for "nothing," and I am never without the option to change. I reflect upon and tweak my life on a rolling basis, and I rarely have the feeling of stagnation. Sometimes, I give myself whiplash.

3. My relationships.

While drinking, my friendships often resulted from a shared interest in drinking, "going out," and validating each other's unambitious weekends. I was undoubtedly surrounded by interesting people, but I didn't care to know the first interesting thing about them.

Now, I am friends with people on the basis of enjoying their company, finding them interesting, feeling understood by them, or some combination of the three.

While drinking, I didn't know what I wanted in a romantic relationship - only that I did not want to be alone. And yet, because I did not like myself enough to be known, either, the compromise relationships that followed served merely as a distraction from myself.

When things invariably ended, I quickly found a new person, a new hiding spot, a new place to redirect my anxiety.

Since getting sober, I have dated people who challenge me, who make me stronger. They are unique entities, rather than places to hide. I can more fully see another person precisely because I am not afraid of seeing myself in the process.

In fact, If I had to assign the above list a title - and the best lists have titles - it would be this: three years sober, I’m no longer hiding. When I go out searching, I'm not afraid of what I'll find.