Did I ever tell you about the first time I got drunk? Summer of ‘98. My first college apartment. Vodka and lemonade in a Big Gulp cup. Lettuce and mushrooms on my pillow. …
I was 20 years old when I experienced the classic rite of passage that is waking up in a pool of your own vomit.
Somehow, that incident didn’t ruin my ability to stomach salad — I still eat it every day…with mushrooms, even! — or make me think twice about entering an intimate relationship with alcohol.
Nothing in the following 20 years deterred me from pursuing that toxic love affair with complete abandon — not crashing my car into a median while covering Braves spring training in Orlando, Fla.; or cleaning vomit out of the same car (passenger side!) the morning after a Cinco de Mayo party in Macon, GA; or waking up in my Bensalem, PA, apartment with all my clothes lying in a pile by the front door and the wreckage of a binge from the bakery section of the 24-hour GIANT strewn about the living room; or all those countless times I came to, lying next to my husband in our various Langhorne and Newtown abodes circa 2005-2019, and snapped into super-sleuth mode, trying to piece together what embarrassing or hurtful shit I’d done or said under the influence of tequila the previous night. I became quite adept at changing the subject when Hubby tried to confront me about how that shit affected him…
It was all so pointless, riding that vicious-cycle roller coaster, ignoring every “DANGER” sign and passing up every chance to get off.
Sitting here now, at 20 months sober, it’s still hard to figure how I made it out of alcoholism alive, without (physically) hurting anyone else or going to jail, and how I was gifted with a second chance to be a good spouse.
An even bigger challenge is understanding why.
Whatever the reasons, it’s impossible not to believe in some kind of higher power after experiencing a miracle like this.
Through no “fault” of my own, I have the luxury of life, and of healing. I’ve made it far enough along the path of recovery that I can look back with something like detachment. Those drunken, devil-may-care-attitude days seem far, far away. The addict in denial who “pulled a geographic” multiple times in my 20s, uprooting from Illinois to Georgia to Pennsylvania in what I thought was an effort to find myself, but really it was running away from myself, finally hit a dead end, recalibrated my internal compass, and now am at least pointed in the right direction.
I am so grateful for this new lease on life, but I often wonder, why do I deserve such good fortune? It seems arrogant to say, “I’m here for a reason,” especially when I’ve been a big lazy lump for most of the winter — the past month, in particular. I’m not special, not better, not more deserving than anyone else. I didn’t do anything extraordinary in these past 600 days, except get up every day and not take a drink.
Well, not that it qualifies as extraordinary, but I did get involved in a 12-step fellowship. I accepted some A.A. service opportunities, through which I discovered a passion for connection that makes me want to help other addicts ALL THE TIME. I also got accepted by a grad school psychology program, and — breaking news! — I’m currently trying to find entry-level employment in the recovery industry so I can lay a foundation for a career in addiction counseling. (Key word there: trying. No dice as of yet.)
My purpose here on Earth does seem a bit clearer since I quit drinking, but I still feel many miles away from fulfilling it. I still feel so lost sometimes, so confused and afraid and unworthy.
Nearly two years into recovery, I’m pondering the same question I tried to avoid answering for 20+ years by pouring booze down my throat and escaping into oblivion.
What is the point of all this?
I remember asking myself that question on the last day I got drunk. Twenty months ago, I sat on my deck (above is a recent pic from the exact spot), draining a bottle of Patron in what turned out to be a depressingly anticlimactic “last hoorah.” The amount I drank then would’ve turned 20-year-old me inside out — like, a full week’s worth of 🤮 in the bed, not just one measly 🥗 — but it barely fazed a 41-year-old veteran alcoholic. I ended up moving from my lawn chair to my bed and fading to black, just like any other uneventful, nondescript night.
Talk about a lack of purpose!
Next morning: the dreaded DAY ONE.
Today is Day 601, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how it feels different. I still grapple with that sense of emptiness, sometimes to the point of inertia, where I’m so unsure what I’m supposed to be doing that I end up doing nothing. Months pass, marks get made on my whiteboard, but nothing really happens. Occasionally, I’m struck with a paralyzing fear that I’m wasting time sober, the same way I wasted time drunk, and I think, “Shit, Jen, if you do have a purpose here, don’t you think you should get to it already?!?”
But then, it hits me: It took more than TWENTY YEARS to wake up to the ultimate futility of addiction, and in just 20 months, I’ve found the entry point to an entirely new way of life. I’ve even taken a few steps toward a new vocation.
I have, in fact, discovered what was lacking, deep down, what “drove me to drink” for all those years. I found my “why.”
Turns out, the point of my life is the same as it is for any human life: I’m here because I might be of help to someone else.
I mean, yes, it’s going to take a lot more time, energy, hard work and overall personal growth — not to mention money — to pursue addiction counseling as an actual profession. There’s no rushing that process. But there’s also nothing stopping me from living out my true purpose right now. Today.
I spent half a lifetime wrapped up in myself, riding that roller coaster to nowhere, running away instead of facing the hard questions of existence. But every day I wake up sober, I have a chance to look outward and add something positive to the world around me. If I seize that chance, any chance, from moment to moment, no mark on my wall is made in vain.
If “the next right thing” is all I — or any of us — ever accomplish, who says that’s not a life well lived?