This post was originally published on July 15, 2015.
I am a sucker for a movie with the big, happy ending. If I am going to dedicate two hours of my life to something, it better have a grand finale. I admit I blinked back tears as Princess Leia handed out the medals to the rebel fighters. I downright sobbed as ET croaked at us that he’ll be “right here.” And I cheered as Jaws got blown to disgusting smithereens, just one more time.
Yes, I know. All those movies totally date me.
I just really like it when the hero saves the day, and all is well in the land. Life is just better when it’s awash in Technicolor.
Prior to sobriety, every night I was ingesting enough wine to try and paint my life with a similar Technicolor glow. Well, the glow faded pretty quickly after about the first 20 minutes or so, before the addict kicked in, and then I just drank like crazy in hopes to get that glow back somehow. But my pursuit of happy-ever-after was kind of blown out of the water, in true Jaws style, when I got sober. Reality is messy. Reality has no filter for the camera. Plot lines don’t tie up neatly, and life just keeps coming at you.
I didn’t get a medal of valor each night for making it past 5 pm.
In sobriety, it’s all one day at a time, or one hour at a time. On some days, it was 20 minutes at a time. The fact that I made it to bed those nights without doing the ugly cry was a bonus.
Since I am kind of a Big Picture person, this proved difficult. “Stay in the moment,” my sober friends would tell me. “Keep it simple and stick with your feelings,” they would add, as I would implode over the latest challenge of recovery, like paying bills on time. Or answering the phone. Or making eye contact. Everything was super hard and I was adrift, I felt, in all this jarring Now-ness.
As I slowly walked my path of recovery I also longed for a Big Moment, the moral of the story, some sort of final project grade about what my New Sober Life would mean. This Life needed to come with insurance that my happy-ever-after would happen. It would all be very Mary Poppins, kites veering, people breaking into song. Cartoon penguins. I would be dancing about in the middle of it all, blissed out on my perfect family. One kid would bring me a sparkling seltzer. “Thank you, Mother darling, for being the best mother ever. The life we have is perfect and lovely, and we all owe it to you and your sobriety,” he would say. “Would you like a lemon wedge?”
Or something like that.
The reality is that most days are good if the drinks aren’t spilled on the floor. Suffice it to say that there are never any lemon wedges.
Being in recovery is hard. And hard things are best tackled in small, bite size chunks. When I first got sober, my life became “fun sized.” Mornings, go on a run and drink 40 cups of coffee. Afternoon, eat chocolate. Dinner, feel some despair and eat chocolate. Evenings, watch Netflix and get in jammies at the crazy hour of 7 pm. Repeat all this the next day. Newly sober, I slogged along, with all my small moments, Serenity Praying all over the place. I waited for it to get easier, because people kept telling me it would. And then it did.
But with the getting easier part came some new problems. I wanted to know all this was going to be worth it. I wanted proof that one day I would end up rich, thin, maybe even a little tan, and fabulous. And all because I got sober. Also, my children would be brilliant and well dressed, and the husband would finally learn how to put dishes in the dishwasher. After all, if there wasn’t this big payoff, maybe I would get to a few years from now and think, “Huh, I really wished I had stayed blitzed for all this time. It would have been so much more fulfilling to see life with one eye open.”
I guess I wanted a big, fat, certificate of You’ve Got This.
This need for my Big Picture certificate, or at least a T-shirt, intensified around my second year of sobriety, when I decided to celebrate by signing up for a half marathon. We people in recovery sometimes operate like this. We climb the big, fat, arduous mountain of getting sober, and then we decide to add more big, fat, killer mountains like half marathons, or writing books, or finally cleaning out our basement, as a reward for not drinking.
Perhaps we should just go out and buy a nice necklace.
Anyhow, I had run a half marathon before, so I felt pretty confident, and had great plans to share this glorious day with my recovery group later. “It was awesome!” I would gush, all aglow with health and vigor. “I ran 13 miles! Because I don’t drink! Other people just run, but I had a lot of symbolism hanging on this race, I tell you!”
And so, my Big Picture Moment, where I limped across the finish line, tearful and sweaty, was going to redeem me.
Except that it didn’t. Because two days prior, I tripped as I walked down a really treacherous bit of perfectly flat sidewalk, and when I looked down at my foot, I noticed one toe was sticking out at a right angle to the rest of my foot.
A half marathon cannot be run with such a toe.
In fact, even walking was reduced to a kind of Frankenstein-like shuffle, and there was no glory in trying to describe the incident to people. No Big Picture. No redemption. Just, “Well, I was walking, and then, well, I tripped on an earthworm, and um, I broke my pinkie toe.” There is no glory in a broken pinkie toe.
I spent the next week mainly on the couch, watching the Real Housewives implode all over the place, and feeling very sorry for myself. My children were peevish and didn’t understand why I couldn’t push them on the swings (I never pushed them on the swing—now at least, I had a valid excuse). My husband tried to cheer me up with, “You can always sign up for another race! In fact, we could train and do one together!” which struck horror in my soul. All my training, those early mornings avoiding skunks on the running trail, the fact that I used terms like “core work,” and “intervals,” all of it was all for naught. My sobriety anniversary came and went without so much as a balloon, and I felt, literally, deflated.
But then, one afternoon as I was lurching about my house, attempting to prepare dinner, I noticed something. It was 4 pm. My foot was throbbing. The children were focused on perfecting the chaos theory, and everything was just rather awful. My race date had passed three days before, which also really sucked.
And during it all, even when the cat picked this moment to start erping all over the Oriental carpet in the dining room, not once had I thought about drinking. Not once.
And I leaned back against the counter and smiled. Here was my Big Picture. It was the happiest ending of all. And, if I kept at it, just one day at a time, I would keep having them.