Today is my sixth anniversary of getting sober. According to my app, that means I've gone 2,193 consecutive days without drinking or using drugs (unless prescribed by a doctor). At this point, it's been quite a while since I've been surprised at waking up sober in the morning. I also pretty much expect that I'm going to make it through the day and go to bed sober again. However, when these milestones come up and I get a chance to step back and look at the big picture I'm a little overwhelmed by it.
It's not so much that I can't believe I've been living drug-free. I did that on and off for most of my 20s. The shocking part of it is my commitment to being sober and to participating in a 12-step program. I've been on the earth for several decades now and, other than things that are absolutely mandatory, I'm not sure I've ever stuck with anything else for six consecutive years.
Right from the get-go I was a quitter. I ran out of kindergarten and declared I was never going back. As I recall it was something about my brothers and sisters and everyone in our neighborhood having off for some Catholic holy day, but I went to a public kindergarten so I had to go to school. I don't have the best memory of childhood events, so this might not be what happened; but it's definitely what I remember happening. It took two or three people to drag me the eight or so blocks to the school, with me kicking and screaming and crying the whole way. They finally got me into the classroom, but I was not there long. I threw my “I quit” tantrum and took off out the door. I'm fairly certain that I made it back home before my brother and sister (although for the life of me I don't remember how I could have gotten past them unseen).
That was a theme that pretty much carried through my life. I went away to college for one semester and dropped out. I took off half a year, then went back to a different college for another two and a half. Then I drove across the country and lived in the Monterrey area for two months. Then back to college in Philadelphia. I left Philly in 1988, six credits short of an undergrad degree. I finally went back to school in San Diego and transferred the credits back to Temple University to get my BA. From first class to graduation day, 12 years and three months elapsed.
Most of my jobs have lasted one to four years and a few of those I stormed out, quitting in a fit of rage. A couple of those I went back to the next day, a couple I didn't.
My longest relationship so far has been three-and-a-half years.
I left detox after 72 hours even though they recommended I stay a week. I walked out of inpatient rehab at 11 pm the first night, against medical advice. I spent more time waiting to be admitted (eight hours) than I did in the rehab (six hours). The outpatient program I attended was a five-day-a-week program that typically lasted six months for most people. I went for a little over three months and the first two of those I only attended three days a week.
You get the picture I'm sure. I did not walk into my first 12-step meeting expecting to stay sober and certainly not expecting to stay connected to the program. I envisioned a year of abstinence from alcohol and drugs and maybe going to meeting for six months or so. I figured I'd get to the middle of step four and then wander off to follow something shiny. I had no reason to think this would be any different from anything else I had ever done.
None of what happened next was part of my plan. I just started doing the things everyone else was doing. Little by little my life started changing. I think it helped that things got better really slowly. If everything had returned immediately to the way it was before, I have a feeling I may have not have kept doing the work. It took just long enough – about two-and-a-half years – for something really great to happen. That's when I moved from NYC back to Southern California. Then, when I got to San Diego I had to start completely from scratch again. It was just like it had been when I first got sober – no job, no money, no place of my own to live. I really had no choice but to stay close to the program where I knew there were people who would help me. It took me that long again to put my life back together and start to feel like I was standing on my own two feet. Before I knew it I had been sober five years and still a very active member of the 12-step fellowships.
Something happened during those five years, something that probably took every day of that to get deep enough inside me to really change me. Little by little over that time, I came to realize that there is something waaaaaay bigger and more powerful than me running the show. Some people recoil from the word God or god.* But we can't communicate without words we all understand and everyone pretty much gets the gist of what is being talked about when that word is used. It happened incrementally and so gradually that I didn't even know it had occurred until last year at this time. It was in that moment to step back and look at the big picture. All of a sudden I just knew that I trusted god completely. THAT took me by surprise. The chance of that happening had never even entered my mind in 2007. Once it was real for me though, the whole game changed.
This year has been all about doing things that I previously thought were beyond my capabilities. I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter if I think I'm capable of doing something. I'm only responsible for doing my best. I just leave the outcome up to god. In doing that, I discovered that faith isn't a feeling. Faith is action. I do the next thing that's in front of me and I let go of the notion that I know what the outcome should be. I just keep on moving forward and I let god navigate. So far, every stop along the way has been exponentially more amazing than anything my pea brain could have imagined. I can't wait to see what's next.
*I have this tug of war with myself all the time over the capitalization of that word. I'm not trying to be disrespectful of the beliefs of others, but I don't conceive of god as having any human qualities. I can't imagine that god is a he or a she or that whatever god is gets all bent out of shape about something so silly as a capital or lowercase G.