Alcoholism, or any addiction really, is an insane thing. No matter how chaotic life is or how glaringly bad the problem gets, you can’t see the mess until you’re out of it. You’ll make excuse after excuse, rationalize the most irrational things, and pretend everything is completely fine. Until you finally, finally get the gift to see that it’s not. It’s not fine, it hasn’t been fine, and something needs to change.
One day, when I was 24 and sitting in group therapy, I had a strange internal dialogue. A woman was speaking to the group. She was much older than me, a divorcee with a string of DUIs and a broken family. She had been drinking for longer than I had been alive. A thought popped into my head.
“She’s so lucky. She got to drink her entire life, basically. She never missed out. I’m going to miss out on so much.”
Yes, I was looking at this woman who was at rock bottom, and I was jealous. How absolutely deranged is that? I couldn’t understand why she was struggling with recovery. Poor me – I have much more life left and I was going to have to spend every damn second sober.
I rattled off a list of things in my head that this woman got to experience that I wouldn’t. She got to have post-work happy hour for decades. She got to celebrate her kid’s boozy 21st birthday. She got to party in Vegas, taste wine in Italy, and drink sake in Japan. The thing I kept going back to, over and over, was:
“She got to have champagne at her wedding!”
That was the harsh fact I couldn’t get out of my head in the beginning. Fine, I’ll stop overdoing it on the weekends. Sure, I’ll stop drinking on work nights. But really, how can anyone possibly expect me to not indulge in the champagne toasts at MY OWN WEDDING? It was absurd.
24 days ago, I got married. 24 days ago, I somehow (gasp!) made it through my wedding without a sip of champagne.
I’m out of the mess now, and I can recognize my own insanity. I cringe when I think about 24-year-old me, clinging to the idea that lifelong sobriety would be miserable. I want to smack myself for the way I wrote off that woman in treatment, who likely would’ve traded places with me in a heartbeat. I got my second chance when I was young, with the rest of my life ahead of me.
When it was time for the champagne toasts at my wedding, I was so glad to hold up my sparkling juice.
I cried when my Maid of Honor and bridesmaid spoke of our friendships – I can’t imagine they would’ve stuck with me if I continued down the path I was on.
I cried when my mom spoke so lovingly, because she’s been by my side through all my storms and we’ve made it to the other side. I thought about how many nights she worried about me and wondered who I was surrounding myself with, and I cried understanding the comfort she feels knowing I’m in good hands.
I cried a LOT when I looked at my new husband, because I know with 100% certainty that we would not be married if I was not sober. He wouldn’t have come within ten feet of my crazy. At my very core, I was the same person back then. He wouldn’t have been able to see it. I couldn’t even see it, after all.
24-year-old-me was right about one thing: I missed out on a lot. I missed out on more embarrassing moments, familial fights, nauseating regrets, and dead-end relationships. I missed out on blurry weekends and painful hangovers. I missed out on those hypothetical champagne toasts, and I couldn’t be happier.