by Sue Smith
Last month, I celebrated seven years sober. I still go to meetings at least three times a week. On my anniversary someone asked me, why? That's a good question.
When I was 25, I was a mess. I wouldn't admit to myself that I had a drug and alcohol problem, though, because I had an apartment and a job. Except I was about to get fired because I was sloppy as hell and snorted all of my boss's blow. When I drank--which was daily--combining the booze, blow and anti-depressants made me black out three drinks in, like clockwork. I'd lose my motor functions and stumble through traffic on Delancey Street. I slept with friends' boyfriends. No one really liked me. Neither did I.
There were these two guys who hung out with my group of friends. They didn't drink and always seemed comfortable in their skin. After a rough night I messaged one on AIM. (LOL, AIM! I also had a Sidekick at the time.) He took me to my first meeting and, finally, I felt like I fit in somewhere.
My sponsor told me that one day, this experience would benefit others, which made me want to punch her. But it truly did. Now, I'm the go-to person for advice on bedbugs. An expertise I've always wanted.
Here were a bunch of degenerates cleaning up their act, who wanted better for themselves. I'd always been searching for a spiritual connection but I didn't fit in with goody-two-shoes Jesus people. Bad kids who believed in a Higher Power, whatever that was: I loved it. I'd always seen things in extremes: I couldn't be a good kid, so I had to be the worst. Here was a program that blended the two. I was in.
My first year, like many newly sober people, I was on a "pink cloud." The expression sounds super-cheesy, but I literally looked up at the clouds one day and the sky was way bluer than I'd ever seen it. All the colors seemed brighter and more vivid--I swear to God! Life had hope.
Before I got sober, I'd resigned myself to a life of sadness. I thought that since I was diagnosed with major depression, I was just destined to be depressed for the rest of my life. It was my chemical makeup. I conveniently dismissed people who mentioned that alcohol was a depressant. I'd party at night and wake up the next morning wanting to rip my skin off in shame. What did I do? What did I say? How did I embarrass myself this time?
I'm proud to say, I have never ever had that feeling in sobriety. Not even close.
In Year One, I started to become a reliable adult who arrived on time for work --sometimes even early! When I was using, I lived two blocks from my job and showed up almost an hour late every day. Every day! It was nuts. I also left an hour early and took a two-hour lunch break. Man, I was a shitty worker when I was 23. But I'm sure everyone else was too, right? Please tell me that's true. Today, instead of trying to prove how much of a badass I am, I just try to be a worker among workers.
During Year Two, that pink cloud got a little...cloudy. I started to experience life on life's terms. You can get sober and work on yourself all you want, but it doesn't mean your life is going to be roses and pork chops forever. You still have to pay your bills and do your taxes. That will always suck.
I found that I was still human when I got bedbugs. I thought that, because I got sober, the universe would reward me and I would get to drive in the easy lane. Not true. Bedbugs are the worst. They'll mess with your head. I couldn't sleep at night because I thought things were crawling on me. I didn't get sober to have bedbugs!
My sponsor at the time told me that one day, this experience would benefit others, which made me want to punch her. How annoying, right? But it truly did. Now, I'm the go-to person for advice on bedbugs. An expertise I've always wanted. See? Life is beyond my wildest dreams.
Years Three and Four were like my growing up phase. Before I got sober, I had just expected to be miserable and die young. But during this time in my sobriety, I realized that I could live a long, happy life. I got into a relationship that I'm still in today. (I had honestly thought I was going to be a Susan Boyle spinster my whole life.) I also went to EPRA (the Employment Program for Recovered Alcoholics), which I highly recommend. It was a very Piper Chapman experience, but it taught me how my disease affects my work. They helped me become a registered yoga teacher, which gave me a larger sense of purpose.
In Years Five and Six, there were no big deals. When I would have gotten stressed out in the past, I just didn't anymore. Take taxes, for example. During my second year, when my accountant told me I owed $3,000, I had a panic attack talking to my sponsor on the phone on the Second Avenue bus. Now, I do my taxes every year and it's NBD. When I get mail from the IRS, I open it right away instead of putting it on a pile on top of the microwave with the other unopened mail. If I owe, I owe. If I don't, cool. I might still have financial insecurity, but I definitely no longer have the fear of financial insecurity.
In Year Seven, I realized I still needed outside help. In addition to depression, I've also had OCD my whole life. I obsess about the future and work stuff a lot. Being an actor and getting close to getting huge jobs all the time doesn't help. These thoughts just don't go away. They build up and, if I don't get the job, I sometimes want to hurt myself. I've tried every Jedi mind trick my recovery program has taught me, but it doesn't help with my OCD. One reason I drank and smoked weed was because it made those thoughts go away.
Yes, I've learned to meditate and all of that great new-agey stuff, but honestly, no matter how hard I try, sometimes being sober just isn't a cure for all of my problems. And that's ok. Because I know that if I didn't stay sober, I'd have even more problems. So I still continue to go to the meetings and do the work, because it helps me live like a fucking adult.
This year, I've also had to make my spirituality a more important part of my life. Or, I've been meaning to, anyway. My life has gotten bigger: more people in it, more things going on, more dreams. So I feel like I need to start doing outside things to make my Higher Power bigger, too.
When I get around to it.
To be honest, I'm not at the ambitious, proactive place I was seven years ago. When I first got sober, I was willing to do anything to stay that way. I worked the 12 Steps three times in my first five years. Then I realized that I was beating myself up and tried to be a bit gentler, just incorporating the Steps into my daily life and occasionally checking in with my sponsor.
I'm doing the best I can. I'm trying to cut myself some slack.
So the answer to that nice person's question is this: I don't know why I still go to meetings. I'm not sure why it works, but it just does. So I don't let it slide. I know that I always feel better after a meeting, never worse. So I don't question why, and I just keep going.
One thing I do know is this: I can't drink normally. I have seven years sober and just this morning I woke up from a very vivid drunk dream. I was at a co-worker's house and told myself I was just going to have one glass of wine and hide it from everyone.
Of course, I ended up wasted.
Sue Smith is a comedian living in New York City.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.