On February 12th, 2014 I will have gone twenty years without drinking or doing drugs. In nine days I will have gone two decades without trying to kill myself and hating the way I feel sober. I’ll have committed to something longer than I’ve ever committed to anything.
It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I feel like it has been harder for me than most people, but that’s just me comparing my insides to other people’s outsides. I have struggled for twenty years not to obliterate my reality for tingles in my face and a warm belly. I have given up so many times but something always stops me from walking out that door.
Some years had been easier than others. There were years where the people around me and the clarity I felt made it easy to stay sober. Without those people, I would never have learned about unconditional love. Some years I went months without ever thinking about taking a drink or a drug.
I have gotten to know a lot of amazing people over the years and some are still in my life today. Others have grown up and went to the next place to live their amazing lives. Others haven’t been as lucky and they aren’t here anymore. The worst is that they are still alive and out there somewhere trying to survive. A few are doing time in prison. Some things are worst than death.
I don’t know how or why I have managed to stay sober this long. I never got sober in the first place to stay sober for twenty years. It just kept happening. I sometimes get survivor’s guilt. People much better than me didn’t make it.
A famous guy died who had gone twenty-three years and gave it up to get high again. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with his pictures and people’s sadness. There was more about him than the super bowl. I didn’t know him, but I know what he has taught me and that is to never let up. I can’t let up. I can’t let any of my selfishness or my ego have their way. I am not unique, nor am I entitled. I don’t get to coast in life.
I have to work hard not to be an asshole and I have to work hard to be normal. Sometimes this gets to me. Sometimes I feel weird that I have to be focused and disciplined so I don’t act like a baby. I can’t afford to be an asshole.
This last year I came out of a huge depression. At the beginning of this year I was sleepless and morbid and getting that itch to destroy everything around me and walk away. I remember listening to people who had only been sober for a few years seem impervious to sadness and depression. I felt like I either missed something or I was incapable of living a decent life.
I had to cut some people out of my life and make some changes. I knew that I just have to work harder than others to have a decent life. I put down the chip on my shoulder and tried to accept the world as it is. I listened to people and put aside any prejudice I had about them and tried to absorb what their message is. I had that tiny kernel of hope alive that I can still get better.
I did. I got better and learned that I am capable of living a decent life. I am a good person and that I am not a horrible monster bent on self-destruction. I fell in love with a girl who is good and beautiful and fits me like a glove. I am capable of love and compassion. I am capable of sharing myself completely with another person. I’m not going to die inside the minute it gets hard.
I’ve lived a strange and beautiful life. I’ve gone from darkness to light and then went back and forth again and again. I’ve felt horrible, terrible things and I’ve felt wonderful, terrific things. I’ve watched people grow up and become what they are today. I’ve even helped some get there.
I’m always remembering the way I was before I got sober the weeks around my anniversary. I see the skinny little kid not know the difference between delusion and reality and not really sure he wanted to be anywhere. I see him smoking menthols on a red picnic table in Louisiana seeing lightning bugs for the first time and I think that was me noticing for the first time the amazing world around me that I was trying to shut out.
I am thankful for every person I’ve met along the way. Some people had huge impacts on my life and I can’t even remember what they look like or remember their names. Some people are still there. Some people have been with me for a long, long time and others I have just met. Some people don’t even like me anymore and some people hated me at first and like me now. Some people have changed me forever.
I never wanted to be sober for twenty years. This was not my plan at seventeen. I sometimes think I’ve stayed sober for twenty years by accident. I have made a lot of mistakes. Some of my mistakes have been malicious and selfish while other mistakes have been due to my stupidity.
I have grown up slow. I have taken my time maturing. My beard is getting white, but I hope I never get rid of my mischievous twinkle in my eye. I’ve taken my time learning to be a man. I’ve been a boy longer than most people. I don’t mind. Grown-ups don’t have any fun.