One year ago today, I took my last drink.
I had spent 10 years of my life drinking almost every day, 5 years of hiding how much I drank, 2 years telling myself that I wouldn’t drink that night and failing, and 1 month of almost succeeding at quitting, only to fall back into the addiction harder than ever.
I would drink before going on stage and at intermissions. I would drink and get drunk the night before early auditions because I had convinced myself that I was a better singer when I was hungover. I drank before social situations to be “more myself.” My drinking got worse when I realized my desire was much queerer than I had previously expressed. I drank to overcome my fear of rejection in queer spaces. I drank to connect with my mom and my dad, even though it only brought out the worst in us. I hosted wild parties to secure my place on the social ladder and avoid having to be vulnerable with people. After the guests were gone, I would gulp down the leftover wine in the glasses, because my substance was so precious to me. I drank my money away and considered wine more important than food. I drank to avoid feeling my feelings, and the feelings of everyone around me. I drank so people wouldn’t think I was better than them – to shock them out of thinking I was innocent, sheltered, “Miss Perfect.” I drank to write. I drank to tell the truth, and the truth was, I couldn’t get sober alone. I needed support.
One year ago today, nervous as all get-out, I took a deep breath and stepped through the doors of my first AA meeting. The people at my first meeting were smiling, gentle, vulnerable, present, at 11am on a Saturday, which was unheard of in my world. I wanted in; I wanted whatever I saw glowing inside all of them to be ignited in me, too. Inspired by a little silver plastic chip in my pocket that said “Women in Recovery” on one side and the serenity prayer on the other (and my phone full of new numbers), I found a desire within me that I hadn’t even known I wanted until I stepped into that meeting. I wanted myself back.
I’m convinced the timing of my sobriety is not a coincidence. About a month after I quit drinking, Lena, my sister-in-law, found out her cancer was not disappearing in the miraculous way we had all hoped and prayed for. Her body was not holding up. She was dying. Lena, Matt, my mom and my four nieces needed me to be there, all of me, my bravery and empathy, to hold us all as we lived Lena’s final months, weeks, and days, together.
I was fully present for Lena’s last Christmas. I was fully present for Matt when he wanted to talk about what was going on in his heart and needed my strength during our weekly phone calls. I was present for my own grief when I had to spend days in bed crying. I was there for my mom when she needed to tell someone that she wasn’t sure how she was going to go on when everything was so intense and the need for support was so great. I was able to be present in every single way for my family in Lena’s final days.
I got the call that it was time to come home around mid-February – I had almost 3 months of sobriety under my belt. Didi, my cat, came with me. I cancelled all my singing gigs for the rest of the season without hesitation. My being there meant there was another set of hands available to help care for the kids. Matt couldn’t leave Lena’s side because he was the only one who knew how to administer her medication and monitor her symptoms and help her to the toilet. She couldn’t leave the house, so he couldn’t either. I called my clients from the girls’ bunk beds while Lena’s respirator hissed outside the door, the girls fought over lego pieces, and mom did dishes and laundry and prepared lunch.
I played and sang the song I performed at Matt and Lena’s wedding for them in their living room. I accompanied Lena and the girls on her final trip out of the house for family girls’ night at the spa. I was there to sing hymns as she exhaled for the last time and Matt closed down her eyes. Through all of that, I didn’t have a single drink – I did not escape – I stayed and let my heart break with my family’s.
I think wanting to escape from difficult emotional experiences is something very human. But my escape became my whole world. I fear pain and I fear change. Sobriety has brought me face to face with pain I’ve been avoiding for many years, and fresh pain is amplified as I am more and more sensitized to what it means to feel it all without my usual means of escape.
In the world of Harry Potter, Harry is never the most powerful or the most skilled wizard. But he does have two superpowers that make him more powerful than even the best magicians. He receives help from others, and he is willing to listen and recognize the power in others’ contributions.
I am trying to embody this vulnerability magic in my life. After a year in recovery from alcoholism and working my 12 steps, I can say that I am awake and willing to do everything it takes to stay awake and use my presence and energy to make a real contribution to the people around me. I am becoming more aware of the ways in which I have hurt others and myself in my past, and I am working towards doing that less and less in the future. I am trying to be open to receive support and love from people around me, instead of isolating myself in hopeless individualism. I pray every day for honesty, courage, humility, and serenity. I can see things in myself that I love, and I can love myself even while I see things I want to change.
Life is so much better this way, and I am so grateful.