This morning I woke early to stomach pains. These are the natural result of a body in transition.
About four months ago, I began to recover from my eating disorder. This resulted in my gaining weight and kicking my hormones into gear, arguably for the first time in my post-pubescent life. I’ve had pain nearly every day this week, my body’s way of letting me know that it had all but forgotten how to digest a day’s worth of food until now. I now understand what PMS feels like because my body is remembering what it’s like to have enough body fat and little enough stress to consider procreation.
Ha! She thinks it’s safe to get pregnant again. She’s wrong, but it’s kind of cute. I forgive her for waking me up early.
When I woke, my mind spun back to four years ago at this time. I was in the spare room of a friend’s apartment back in Madison. No sooner did I open my eyes than shame and regret overwhelmed me. The night before, I’d gotten so supremely stoned and drunk that I’d ruined a rare night with my brother. That night was rare, too, for the fact that the shame didn't even wait until morning. It held me captive while I was too drunk to put up my typical fight. As I rolled out of bed that morning four years ago today, my friends and I made a silent agreement to laugh off what happened. We focused on another girl’s antics instead; hers were funny, and mine were sad.
It was a Sunday, the kind where you might just drink to ward off the encroaching reality of a thankless workweek. I’d done it many times before. On that day, the thought was merely wishful. No sooner did I consider drinking than I realized the shame was far too real from the night before. It would be a long time before it felt safe to drink again.
I didn’t know how long. When finally the shame began to fade, it was replaced instead by the relative euphoria of staying sober. I felt focused, proud, purposeful. I was in alignment. Never had I made such a profound decision that felt so equally right. In truth, I haven't made a decision like that since. For someone as consistently inconsistent as I am myself, that decision was a miracle. It felt like God.
This morning, four years later, I have perspective on my pain. Yes, I feel sluggish, queasy, fragile. Yes, I feel like falling asleep again, although my benign cocktail of coffee and Lexapro are making short work of that feeling. Yes, part of me compulsively wants to check my email, while the other part knows doing so will be lethal to my creativity. But when I checked my phone – compulsively, let’s be honest – I saw instead a text from my partner. She congratulated me on four years. My story matters, she reminded me. She loves me.
I’ve had my fair share of partners in sobriety, and this is the first one to whom my sobriety has truly mattered.
It’s quite possible that the stars will never again align so clearly as they did when I quit drinking. Since then, God has provided subtler evidence when I am on the right track. She works in nudgings and leanings and maybes, and never fails to remind me that even my mistakes will ultimately make a perfect sort of sense.
The pull to give up alcohol was not subtle. That was visceral, as black-and-white as one can feel who perpetually lives in the gray. But sobriety, I’m learning, is an ever-evolving process defined by increasing willingness and resultant self-honesty. Four years in, I am not just sober from alcohol, but from hurting others as badly as I once did; from punishing my body for how it will never look; from lamenting the fact that my brain is my brain, and not that of someone smarter or more successful. Sobriety is not just self-honesty, but self-forgiveness.
I am a long way from the shame that got me here. God willing, it will be the pull of freedom, rather than the push of regret, that keeps moving me forward.