What a difference a year makes. Last year, on May 31, I was a hot mess. Kind of. Completely lost, looking for something that was supposed to be right in front of me but wasn’t. That day should have been my one year soberthday. But, I had relapsed almost seven months into my first long-term, non-pregnancy induced sobriety. So, it was just a day.
But, it wasn’t truly any old day, and I knew it. I flip-flopped between wanting to celebrate it and feeling like I should mourn it.
Fast forward one year. I was actually looking forward to May 31 this year. I remembered how I had felt last year and now, having finally celebrated a full year of sobriety, I could see with so darn much clarity what this date is supposed to mean. Even with my six-week relapse, May 31 marks the start of my recovery. I made a choice that day. And, I made the same choice for the next 207 days. In a row. And, since my relapse, I have made the same choice every single day for almost 500 days.
Last year, I mourned what could have been had I not killed it. Yesterday, I celebrated what is because I saved it.
This year, I embraced the day, happy to see my relapse so very far away when I glance in the rear view mirror. It used to fade further and further into the distance and now it’s just kind of stuck right on the edge – I can see it enough to know it’s there. I’m fairly certain it will never disappear from my sight. Honestly, I don’t want it to. While I absolutely do not recommend relapsing, I don’t ever want to forget that I did and what those six weeks taught me.
My attitude has certainly changed in the past year. I am more comfortable than ever in my sobriety. I’m less focused on it from an “if you feel like drinking, do this instead” standpoint and more intent on simply living the new alcohol free life I have created. I’ve relaxed. So much so that for several months I all but abandoned any attempt to fuel my body with healthy food. Over and over again, I caught myself reaching for other unhealthy rewards without even thinking about it. And, when I did step back and ponder my choices in advance, I found myself justifying the manipulative treats the way I used to excuse alcohol. I’m now re-teaching myself how to use my sober tools, not to avoid alcohol but to fend off the evil advances of caffeine and sugar.
It has become rare for me to hide my sobriety from those who don’t know about it. I’m not announcing my situation every time I walk through a door, but I am also not refraining (as much) from mentioning it when given the chance to insert it into conversations. Most times, when I bring up my recovery, the person I am talking with either knows another alcoholic or knows someone who might benefit from my story.
Last year, my feelings of failure and inadequacy following my relapse caused me to loathe May 31. This year, every single victory I have achieved in remaining sober for almost 16 months drove me to embrace the date. And, what could be better than sharing the day with someone very special who just happened to be celebrating 100 days alcohol free? Yup. Can’t make this stuff up. Just too cool. So impressed. So, so, so much love for this person. Huge grin. Beaming with pride.
And, though I had not mentally noted the day, something else happened on May 31. It was 2013. Facebook reminded me of it yesterday by popping up this photo:
Yep. Yesterday was three years since we brought home our ailing pooch. Our first baby. He was 12 years old and the vet found a tumor (ended up being hemangiosarcoma) on his spleen. He was hemorrhaging and needed emergency surgery. Afterwards, he just wasn’t responding and we ended up agreeing to a blood transfusion. Then two days of round the clock veterinary care, adjusting meds, talking with different vets, snuggling, and more. No improvement. He wouldn’t eat or drink.
I was about three glasses into a bottle of red wine when my husband and I decided to turn in for the night on May 30, 2013. No sooner had we turned off the light when the phone rang. It was the vet with the update we’d been waiting for all night. The doc made things sound very grim, and I argued with him. I got pushy and borderline nasty. After hanging up, I had this horrible feeling in my gut. I had to go take control of the situation, so I raced to the hospital to be with my pooch and make sure the vet was following our orders. The photo was taken about three hours after I arrived. We brought him home later that day.
After the cancer diagnosis, we decided to try chemo. We said goodbye to him on July 5, a few days after his third treatment.
Losing that dog was something I didn’t think I couldn’t get through without booze. If I was crying I was drinking. And, if I was drinking I was crying. Today, I know I was wrong. And, I wonder if my handsome boy knew how sick I was. He was the kind of pooch who was so incredibly aware of his humans’ physical and emotional conditions and so crazy sensitive to the dynamic of his surroundings. I bet he’d notice how different and better I am now that I’m sober.
I had been on my way to meet my husband and him at obedience class the day I had my car accident in 2001. He watched us bring home our babies in 2004 and 2006. And, he almost got to see me get sober and fix my back in 2014. My Gibby. He was something else. Always there for me. So brave and strong and stoic. I wish I could have shown him I am all those things, too. Perhaps not stoic. Well, maybe. Sometimes.
Gibby and I had something special. And, not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. In fact, I usually talk to him. And, what I realized today makes our bond even stronger. On May 31, Gibby came back from the brink of death. Though his recovery was short lived, he made his remaining days the best they could be for him and for us. May 31, 2013 was Gibby’s semicolon. And, one year later, it became mine, too. Even if it isn’t my official sobriety date.
Also published on Medium.