The drive to get sober

My decision to get sober has a lot of parallels to my decision to move to LA, in that I made it fairly quickly and impulsively, but looking back, I realized there were SO many signs pointing in this direction. And once I set my consciousness on it, more signs validated my decision.

I always say, if you told me in 2003 that I would move to LA in 2005, I'd have thought you were crazy - I had never been to LA, didn't know a soul in LA. Fast forward a year later, I had visited five times, had three friends move there and more professional contacts pop up, and it seemed unthinkable NOT to move. A lot can change in a year. 

In the fall of 2014, I didn't know anyone who was sober - at least not that I was aware of. But then, when I started a new job, I began listening to podcasts on my commute. It was the season of Serial, but I spent most of my drive time listening to Marc Maron and Chris Hardwick. I loved the depth of their interviews - both spoke to guests an hour at a time, and really seemed to connect with them. They also both juggled at least three high profile jobs - podcaster, TV host, actor, stand-up comedian - and I marveled at how they fit everything in. How do they have time to interview A-list celebrities, appear on national TV, do regular comedy gigs across the country, and I was exhausted from my one job sitting at a desk? I came to understand: they were sober. 

That planted a seed in my mind. The seed didn't grow right away, as much as it would just poke me every once in a while: What could I do if I stopped drinking?

Other changes were set in motion that fall. I joined a tennis team, and for the first time, my fitness had a purpose beyond vanity - I had a dozen people counting on me to show up and play every week. After 20 years of solitary workouts, I loved the social aspect as much as the drive to improve and win. At the same time, I became a Big Sister through Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. This was a twice-per-month-for-the-next-8-years commitment that flooded me with both responsibility and gratitude. After years of spending my weekends shallowly searching for the perfect buzz or boyfriend, it was incredibly fulfilling to feel like I was part of something - two things - greater than myself.

The next two years continued without note, though I increasingly started thinking about my drinking. I began a relationship with someone who wasn't a big drinker, so we spent most of our time together sober. I prided myself on being fully present with him - a first for me in relationships - but then I'd grab the wine bottle the minute he left. At the same time, another podcaster I had started listening to, Andrea Owen, began opening up about her sobriety; suddenly I couldn't ignore that the three broadcasters I chose to listen to every day all had this one kind of major thing in common.

The gears shifted into fast-forward this fall, though, when Andrea launched a weekly Recovery series, interviewing women who had gotten sober and now worked in the recovery space. I. Was. Hooked. I started listening with the guilty fascination of someone who is waay too interested; the way I would watch after-school specials as a kid, already recognizing pieces of myself in the troubled characters. Episodes would drop on Mondays and I looked forward to each like, well, an addict. I'd hoard it until I knew I could listen without interruption, and then I'd hang on, savor, every word. Within the first five episodes, the voice in my head that used to wonder, vaguely, about getting sober, started telling me that one day, I would. It was just a quiet truth I came to know, even though I didn't understand how or when. 

In December, the guy and I went away on a 10-day trip. The first night, I had a beer with dinner. One beer. And I woke up wired at 3 AM, with adrenaline, or more likely, metabolizing sugar, running through my veins. This was something that happened to me after a day of drinking, a bottle or two in. Not after one beer. This is it, this is the end, I heard the voice say, referring to my drinking career, which was starting to give me more trouble than it was worth. Regular me countered, No way, I'm not ready yet! But I was closer than I could have believed. 

I drank every night on that trip, including and especially when we broke up on New Year's Eve. Then I went home and drank for another 10 nights in a row, trying to numb myself from the disappointment. I'm nothing if not a pragmatic drunk, though, and decided right away to get myself back into therapy. At 40 years old, I was still choosing the wrong men and carrying around an intense sense of shame whenever the relationship inevitably ended. 

I had my first appointment on January 10th, and decided pretty quickly that if I was going to pay someone $150/week to clear my brain, it didn't make sense to drink and fog it right up again. This was quite profound thinking on my part, as I'd never once considered stopping like this, at least not in a way that I looked forward to, which suddenly I did. I was ready to do the hard emotional work and grow out of my state of arrested development. Alcohol would only inhibit that - I finally saw it as the thing keeping me from being happy, rather than as one of the few things that did. 

I allowed myself a final bottle of Chardonnay to ease the mental transition. By that point I had been drinking like 20 out of 22 nights, I was grossed out at the thought of what my liver must look like - what my life must look like - and I was ready to be done. I didn't know, necessarily, that I was done done - it seemed so crazy to think I'd just stop, become a Person That Doesn't Drink literally overnight - but that voice inside didn't think of abstaining as a temporary thing.

I didn't tell my therapist until our third appointment, when I had 12 days sober - the longest I'd gone without a drink in 20 years. Her reaction? "Oh, did you know I was sober, too? Fifteen years!" I'd had no idea. But that sweet bit of synchronicity reassured me that I was on the right path. Validated my decision. And I haven't questioned it (much) since.

92 days today.