Someone said something interesting in AA last night. They had relapsed and wanted to get back to how they felt when they were 5 years sober – with 5 years sober, like they liked themselves.
That struck me. I have over 5 years booze-free and most days it feels like a burden, not a blessing. I wish I could go get drunk. I wish I could get high. Someone said they were impressed I’d quit smoking pot (it’s been 5 months now) but didn’t want to do so themselves…I quipped to them that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I told my therapist that. She asked if my life was better now since I quit smoking pot. I said, oh yes, so much better now. She said, “so your life is better since you quit smoking pot, you say it’s helped your anxiety, but you wouldn’t wish that on anyone?”
Well, it sounds nutty when you put it that way. But it’s true, from a gut level, it feels like suffering to be sober. Reality is rude and unrelenting and painfully honest. It builds character to be sober, sure. It helps me learn to cope using my own resources, of course. It forces me to dig deep and find new resources I didn’t know I had, to get medical help for my pain instead of numbing it. Big deal. Who cares about building character when I could be up there in the sky, having forgotten my worries, dancing in the Milky Way? Sigh.
Well, apparently, I care. Once someone said something about liking themselves with 5 years sober, I realized I like me now. And when I was a drunk, I didn’t like me much. I had more friends, I was more popular, but my self loathing was strong. Even when I was booze free, but still getting high every moment I could spare, I didn’t like me. I didn’t hate me, but I didn’t have confidence in myself or my coping skills.
Now, I can honestly say that I do. It’s not just getting clean. I’ve worked the painful and hard 12 steps, feeling like I wanted to die or at least crawl out of my own skin, along the way, and I know I need to keep working them. Feeling okay may not last forever – I’ve had a line up of blessings, mental health wise, this season: the sun is shining, I’m financially okay, I have health insurance that has led to steady therapy, I have a loving partner and a steady home, all things I haven’t had in the past, and won’t last forever. I know fall is around the corner and with it, my seasonal affective disorder. Overall, I know life is better sober – why I stick with it, I suppose – but I’m still sulking about it. I still wish I could turn back time to when I had an escape route from mundane reality. But after AA last night, I realized there’s something to this ‘building character’ thing I hadn’t seen before. It’s not just something parents wish on their kids because they want societal order. I like myself more after making myself do the stuff I didn’t want to do. After becoming someone I wanted to be in the long term. It’s nice to take a look back on all this drudgery and see it got me something I never had before…self esteem.