For me, my sober birthday is far more significant than my actual birthday. I don’t think I deserve to congratulate myself or have others congratulate me. It happens, and I say ‘thank you,’ but I’ve always felt kind of awkward about how to respond. It’s like when someone says “you’re girlfriend is really pretty.” What do you say to that? “Thanks!?” as if it reflects well on me somehow? I didn’t make her pretty.
So, last week– August 27th–I “celebrated” my birthday. The day may not be totally exact but I’ve kept that day since this journey started in 2010. That month–August–and for that matter, all of 2010, was a whirlwind of awfulness. The last month left me utterly confused and cognitively, a mess. In a foreclosed house, by myself with a pillow and Chris Farley’s autobiography, I went on my last solitary crusade. Technically speaking, my last drink wasn’t consumed in those hallowed walls. It was in my parent’s living room with straight vodka in one hand and a bottle of red Gatorade in my other, where I watched the Food Network with my mother. I was preparing to go to detox and rumor had it, you had to be really drunk to be accepted. I took on the challenge with much more vigor than any of my college essays. I succeeded and entered the hospital in Cape Cod with a BAC of .34. They wouldn’t even accept me into the detox until I got less drunk. I give myself an A- for that performance.
A sober birthday for me is what New Years should be. I think I’ve always hated New Year’s Eve. All these people desperately trying to make grandiose plans for an expensive night that never will meet the mark. It never really appealed to me after the allure of somebody’s parents not being home in high school became less exciting. August 27th is a concrete day where I can reflect on things, life, and what I’m grateful for. Now, this is something I (and probably everybody) should do far more than one day a year. But the day is especially symbolic, and it holds much greater weight to me. After my one year, where my parents took me out to dinner, I haven’t really “done” anything except manipulate a free round of golf off my friend Andy. But it’s a day I personally hold dearly, and everything that comes with it, and from it, are experienced internally.
Writing a blog about all of this seems to contradict some of what I just said. And maybe it does. But there are people who read this. There are people who read this that I had no idea read this. I found this out a few years ago. A girl I went to middle school with, who I hadn’t spoken to in probably 15 years, told me she read this blog. I was a little surprised to say the least but she then told me that she had a brother struggling with alcohol. She thanked me for my honesty in the blog and asked me if I could be of any assistance to her in helping her regain the brother she once had. She didn’t use those terms but I sensed a real sense of helplessness through the stories she told. I was reliving my days drinking merlot under my bed covers as she told me about her brother. I knew his story, because for most alcoholics and addicts, our stories are cliches. I offered some advice knowing that this kid had some more drinking to do before it got really bad. I knew my advice wouldn’t help much in the sense of results, but I felt like I could offer a realistic perspective of what was to come. Many months later, we conversed again. I had told her much about Maine and she told me her brother was actually coming to live in Maine. I kept tabs on him a bit through people I know and met with him a few times. I, in no way, am responsible for this kid’s recovery, but he is sober today. This isn’t why I do this blog, but it doesn’t hurt when people relay that type of stuff.
Robin Williams died recently and any time anyone dies because of alcoholism/depression/addiction, I’m reminded–selfishly–of my own mortality. The same thing happens when it’s a random person I hear about who overdoses in Portland. It’s just a gut check that says despite my perceived “OKness” relative to 2010, absolute despair is not far away.
I’ve thought a little about what makes me happy recently. There’s this spectrum that I fall on, and if I look at it close enough, I can gather where I’m at. I have no idea if it’s the same for other people but it works this way for me:
The more opportunity that I sense I have in life, the happier I am. It essentially falls back on hope for me. Whether or not I act on these aspirations or opportunities is somewhat irrelevant. If I sense that I can do whatever I want–achieve whatever I want–then things are really good. When I feel like those windows are closing, or that my choices are becoming more limited, a certain self-doubt and pessimism creeps in. This lands me on the other end of the spectrum.
I was outside at night and heard some rustling in the woods recently. The woods are a fucking scary place in the dark, especially in Maine. And for me, those woods serve as the metaphor for my life. Life is pretty scary in the dark. The more light you have, the more you’re able to see that there’s not much to fear. The more light you have, the more opportunity to take whatever path you choose. Sometimes, like in 2010, it seems like there will never be any light, any opening. But it’s there. It was made available to me, and I took it. And believe me when I tell you: I never want to go back to that dark place.