On Jan 9th I achieved 4 years of sobriety. Somehow no one remembered so I pushed it to the back of my mind. I’d told my family about it. I’d told my friends about it. For months prior. Because I’m excited. Because I should be excited. Because it’s a big deal. My feelings are hurt so I’ve done a pretty good job at just ignoring it. I have friends who get lavish parties and new Mercedes on their sober birthdays. I don’t want, need or expect a Mercedes but a call would be nice. A card. A text. SOMETHING.
And because I like to flirt with disaster, also called self sabotage, until last night I hadn’t been to a meeting since I turned 4. Taking a cake and giving a birthday speech couldn’t have been farther from my mind when I agreed to meet a sober friend at an AA meeting yesterday hight. I was thinking about school, and cursing Google Maps for doing me wrong (what?!) with its sadistic, less than static, bus route directions, and preemptively worrying about navigating a meeting full of people I had never met before. It’s like going to a party where I only know one person. Shaking hands and smiling surrounded by a room full of strangers, all whose names I have no hope of retaining. Pulling pleasantries from my mouth worse than pulling teeth trying to compensate for the fact that inside my skin is crawling and I desperately want to escape to someplace utterly devoid of people.
Now I was taught that taking a cake at meetings and speaking a blurb about your “experience strength and hope” is done for the newcomer. You get up there and share because it might help someone else. So when it came time to celebrate birthdays at this meeting last night I didn’t selfishly sit it out, even though it was a room of 80 unfamiliar faces, I said my piece. I was horrified at first having had no time to try and be all eloquent and compose what I was going to say but I guess on occasions there is something to be said for winging it.
Dealing with debilitating anxiety on a daily basis I’ve come up with a mantra. I don’t know where I picked it up. It says, “All I have to do is get through the next moment authentically.” To me it says – you don’t have to be perfect, you are not here to impress anyone, being perfect and impressing people is not your job, being YOU is your job. People always say, “just be yourself,” as if being one’s self is the most natural thing in the world. My default setting is to be whoever you want me to be so you won’t hurt me (doesn’t take much to hurt me, like many alcoholics I’m way too sensitive). So in my mind if I can manage to be true to myself in how I negotiate the day, God will take care of the rest. If I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack and look like a hot mess and am stumbling and mumbling and embarrassing myself… that’s OK. My authenticity at the moment is to be a hot mess which makes me a success and I don’t have to trouble myself with what the people around me are thinking. Which is a HUGE relief.
(And not a Christian/Jesus God, though there is nothing wrong with that. MY God. I subscribe to no religion. “God” is just handy nomenclature even though I cannot stand that this benevolent, omni-potent/present, creative force is always referred to as a man. God is a HE?!?!? That is so deeply, deeply, deeply, wrong and damaging.)
So heading up to the mic that’s what I said to myself – all you have to do is get through the next moment authentically. It’s amazing what you do when you get out of your own way. Because I feel I spoke much better than had I come with a speech prepared in my head. Even an hour’s prep could have ruined it. I had about 10 minutes notice. And I got a ton of laughs! Which my ego LOVES – damn do I love to make people laugh. It brings me joy in a way that is much more than ego. I could never be a comedian though because I can’t keep a straight face – I laugh at myself when I get everyone else laughing. Unfortunately my love of the wisecrack works to my disadvantage because if I’m in a meeting spending the whole time distracted with trying to think of something witty to say I’m not really present and getting the benefits of communing in a room with fellow alcoholics. It wasn’t just laughs though, there was meat to my birthday message at this meeting and I balanced the laughter with some serious shit.
For example, four years ago I was a broken human being locked in a prison version of a mental hospital unable to bathe or dress myself. My mind was gone but I am able to remember being present enough in fits and spurts to be ashamed to my core that I needed help because I couldn’t figure out how to put on my shirt or the steps one takes to get clean – nozzle, soaps, body parts, rinsing – too confusing. At one point I lost the ability to read and write. Briefly, thank God, but that was seriously a low blow. Now, however – I went back to school a year and a half ago and am a straight A student (careful there, perfectionism)! That’s HUGE. That deserves commemoration. And I felt commemorated when I was able to get up in front of 80 strangers and share my story and feel their love, support and appreciation for me – someone they’d never met. I haven’t come across a meeting with such a good vibe in a long time – I’ll be there next week.