Today I am three years sober.
I wrote a post not long ago that referred to my first year of sobriety as feeling as though I was crawling out of my skin. The more I think about it, the more apt that phrase seems. I really did feel as though I could not just sit with all my chaotic feelings about the awful things that were happening.
In retrospect, a lot of the awful things that happened were precisely because I couldn’t sit still with my feelings, because I couldn’t just realize that sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes people are assholes, and sometimes I make costly and embarrassing mistakes.
Bad things still happen. People are still sometimes assholes. And, unfortunately, I still make costly and embarrassing mistakes. But the feelings around all that are different. I no longer feel as though the whole world is against me, that I’m standing in the face of a storm that won’t stop buffeting me long enough for me to catch my breath.
When I make an expensive mistake or a social faux pas or lose my shit with my kids, I remind myself that everybody does stuff like this. I’m not the worst, most pathetic person who ever lived. I am just a person in the world, like everybody else.
When I was drinking and newly sober, I cycled between feeling intense shame because I was The World Person in the World, and righteous indignation because other people didn’t treat me like I was as perfect as I wanted to be and in moments of grandiosity convinced myself I was.
Shame and grandiosity. Self-hatred and narcissism. These are the poles between which we swing when we’re drinking. When we stop drinking and take those first shaky steps on the road to recovery, those poles are all we know. We know nothing of the bland flyover country of the soul, where we are just as valuable – and just as flawed – as every other person. We don’t know how to acknowledge our mistakes without self-flagellation, clean up the mess as best we can, and move on. We don’t know how to forgive other people because they’re only human and doing the best they can, even when they hurt us.
Life is so much better now than when I was drinking. I still have problems. I still get angry. I still get embarrassed. But the problems are not catastrophes, the anger isn’t rage, and the embarrassment isn’t soul-killing shame.