I'm not a fan of July anymore. The angle at which the Limelight hydrangeas droop from a neighbor's yard over my backyard fence; the peculiar way the light of each day drags on so late into what should be night that the sky never quite gets black enough to call "night" before it starts lightening again; the insistence of last-of-the-season straggler fireflies lighting up with warning signals meant just for me; all of those things combined crowd my senses and cloud my thinking, all pointing back to a year ago, to an entire month of summer-perfumed regret -- a month where I could feel my own internal barometric pressure changing, of being keenly aware of looming danger.
I've been warned about sobriety anniversaries. Warned that along with a sense of achievement, also sometimes comes a deep sense of shame. August 12 is my sobriety date, and the last forty days has been the toughest so far. I don't want to drink, no worries there. But July of last year was a truly terrible time and the first few days of the thicket of last August were even worse. And every one of these past forty days has been saturated in deep embarrassment over my behavior then -- I remember more and with each tiny spark of memory comes another shadow of shame. People who have been quite successful at recovery tell me all the time to not live in the past, to not regret any of it. But that's impossible; I wake up every day convinced that everyone remembers every tiny bit of misbehavior on my part. "Oh," they're thinking, "today's the anniversary of the day when DG drank a bottle of Fireball before noon and got too drunk to cut his steak." They're not really thinking that, of course. But it's hard to convince my brain of that, to get rid of the hilarious need to put myself in the middle of everyone else's universe.
Yesterday was when the earth rotated back around to the exact point where it was last year, when it got as bad as it could get, and as I took every sip from each bottle that day, I knew it was the last weekend of it, one way or another. I was perfectly happy to drink myself to death...or to stop drinking and not die. I somehow couldn't make the decision, though. I was very lucky to have the right combination of people working behind the scenes trying to figure it out for me, and everything fell into place as I've documented here over the past turn of the wheel. It could have gone the other way. It didn't.
Will next July be the same? Will I refuse to bring one of those cut backyard hydrangeas into the house because they remind me of a vase of them that sat on my dining room table that horrible weekend? Will I avoid going to the funny little marina steakhouse with foil-wrapped baked potatoes because I'll remember too much about the night I behaved so badly that I rendered five other people awkwardly silent for the better part of an hour? I don't know. I can't see into the future. I can barely see into the right now. But every day after August 12th will be the anniversary of a day when things got better. Every day after August 12th is a year-plus-whatever further away from the worst days of my life.
I have a friend who is thinking about giving up drinking. I don't know what her reasons are, and to be honest, I kind of give terrible advice. I am clearly not official sponsor material quite yet. But I'm always ready to answer direct questions about the whole experience and when she asked me outright "what does sobriety look like?" I only had to think for a second: "it looks like a styrofoam coffee cup most of the time." That's the glib answer, but then I do like a good line. The real answer isn't much more complicated, though. What does sobriety look like? It's six feet tall, with thinning hair and it's forty pounds overweight and it needs to run spell check on this post just as soon as possible.
I'm going to get past August 12th and then I'll see you next year. All of it.