This year, for the first summer in five summers of apartment living, I took advantage of the community pool, which opened each morning at 10:00 A.M. weather permitting. For such an enormous complex, I expected a less-than-desirable experience but was pleasantly surprised to find the place very clean and completely dead until about 1:00 P.M. or so. This meant I was granted sunbathing solace for at least a few hours. Many mornings, I draped my big fluffy beach towel over a plastic lounge chair, covered the surfaces of my skin in dark tanning oil, and settled in to read and drink iced lemon water from a plastic tumbler. Surely my heaven will include something similar.
On one such morning, my peaceful, heavenly atmosphere was disrupted by the sound of approaching children. I probably groaned a bit as three loud and lively young girls, accompanied by their grandfather, threw open the gate and clambered their way to an umbrella-covered table not far from my lounging spot.
The youngest was probably three, the oldest maybe nine or ten. It’s not that I hate children, it’s just that I love quiet and children are rarely quiet. Whatever irritation I felt quickly dissolved as I listened to their interaction, which was decidedly reminiscent of the relationships between me and my sisters when we were little. It was hard not to laugh out loud as they bickered and giggled and doted over their baby sister, taking turns holding her in the shallow end.
Wrapped in the heaviness of late-morning Michigan heat, I dozed off at some point only to be startled awake shortly thereafter by an ear-piercing shriek.
“I’m doing it!!! I’m DOING IT!!!! I SWIMMED!!!!!!!” one of the little girls shouted, presumably to her grandfather but loud enough for all the surrounding buildings to hear.
Her enthusiasm was equal parts surprise and elation – as if she couldn’t believe she was actually doing this thing. She “swimmed!” And it was miraculous…her exultation raw and pure.
I celebrated my one year sober-versary on Sunday 🙂 I took a four-day weekend, assuming I’d experience overwhelming emotions and need the extra time to sort through it all. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the anniversary of my sobriety date going something like this: a deeply intellectual private celebration…a reflective few days, full of long meditations in nature and drinking coffee and reading Mary Oliver and writing eloquent observations about sober living…spiritual lessons…crafty metaphors…aha moments of clarity. My mind’s eye is almost always super dramatic like that.
I waited for words to come. I racked my brain searching for the perfect way to describe how I feel one year into sobriety. I wanted the words to be lofty and grand.
None of that worked and I let the weekend be whatever it was going to be. I went shopping. I took a lot of naps. To be fair, I did drink coffee and read Mary Oliver.
I also kept remembering the little girl from the pool. In eight words, one of which may not even constitute an actual word, she was able to define my precise truth and capture the essence of everything I now wanted to say.
“I’m doing it!!! I’m DOING IT!!!! I SWIMMED!!!!!!!”
Affirmative statements, dripping with excitement and surprise. This is sobriety one year in. I get to LIVE like this! I’m DOING this thing! This thing that once felt utterly impossible is now my normal?! How freaking AMAZING is this?!
On Saturday, it occurred to me that maybe it was an appropriate time to revisit the past, to lurk in the murky shadows of my drinking days. But when I got there it didn’t feel good at all. I didn’t stay long because it hurt like hell to witness my own pain.
I forced myself to watch a video I recorded (timestamp: September 30, 2015, a whole year before my last day one).
My eyes grew wide as I saw myself on screen. It was a rambling, nine-minute drunken rant that I recorded and sent to an ex-boyfriend. I remember waking up the next morning and realizing what I had done. I remember feeling mortified. But I was used to waking up feeling mortified, so I simply deleted the ‘Sent’ message from my e-mail account and tried to forget it. I never viewed it again. Until Saturday.
I watched with one hand covering my mouth. The footage was shocking. My appearance was shocking. “My god” I whispered to myself.
I was huge. There’s just no getting around that and it doesn’t bother me to talk about my weight as it relates to my drinking: they went hand in hand, building on one another as the years progressed. I wanted to die so I treated my body accordingly, which in my case resulted in approximately 70 extra pounds. In the video, my eyes and mouth appeared small – they were fighting the bloat and excess weight in my face for real estate. The bloat was winning by a mile. I could see the remnants of red wine in my mouth – a dark purple stain I’d become accustomed to scrubbing away with a toothbrush in the morning. Smudged black eyeliner pooled underneath droopy, glossed-over eyes. Why the hell did I send this to anyone, let alone an ex?
I’m not entirely sure what purpose it served – going back to visit that particularly dark, harrowing space in time, except maybe as a reminder of how far I’ve come…how far away the girl on the screen is from me now.
I bumped and scraped along the bottom like that, continuing to drink for another 13 months until finally, finally I surrendered it.
Watching that video created in me an ache – deep and wide. I wanted to climb into the screen of my laptop and sit next to her on the couch and clean the makeup from under her eyes and hold her face and say, “It’s going to be okay, sweet girl. You’re on the right path. Keep going. You may not believe this right now, but in two years, you’re going to be celebrating your sober-versary. You’re going to love your precious life.
You’re going to be screaming, “I’m doing it! I’m DOING IT! I swimmed!!!”
P.S. I decided to make things official with the Teetotaler tattoo because I want in for life. Sobriety is my life partner…“when you know, you know” and all that ♥ You can learn more about the rebranding addiction / social proof movement here.
Also, when the guys at the tattoo shop wanted to know wtf this element symbol meant, I said, “I’m celebrating. I’m one year sober today! It stands for teetotaler.” The waiting room clapped. And Ivan, my artist, said, “Really?! I’m on year eight!” Because the Universe loves us.