Three years ago today was my first Day 1. I woke up a hotel room that wasn’t mine, with someone I didn’t know, to text messages from my family asking where I was. I had left my little girl alone in a blackout. The night before was my brother's wedding.
I still can’t write those words without feeling very sick.
I don’t revisit that night so I can chastise myself again, but so I can remember why I’m here now. Because not all mornings looked like that one. Most days I didn’t appear to be someone in big danger. To most people—unless you knew where to look, or were very close to me—I was fine. Even great. I was just like everyone else.
Except I wasn’t. I wasn’t fine at all.
I didn’t realize today’s significance until I went to schedule a doctor’s appointment. I texted my friend to tell her and she asked if it felt like a long time ago. I answered yes. “An eternity,” I said.
I mention it was my first Day 1 because I had never really tried to stop drinking before then. Even though I was aware I drank differently since I was 17—that I seemed to have a biting hungriness around alcohol I didn’t notice in others—I never really actively tried to keep it away, save my pregnant months. I tried to keep myself in check, yes. I made plans to moderate and stave off blackouts and many, many times over the years I could drink without feeling the need to get completely smashed, but on the whole I didn't see any appeal in stopping.
But that morning I was plucked out of my own denial and my immediate family’s was smashed pretty hard, too. My drinking became something that needed to be dealt with. And the only thing more sobering than what had actually happened was my reaction. It was not sadness nor terror nor humiliation that took up the most space that morning, but anger. I was so goddamn mad I’d been caught.
For over a year after that morning I would try and fail at staying sober. I would swear many, many times that I was done, and I would mean it—and then suddenly, and often to my surprise—I would find myself drinking again. I would attend 12-step meetings and try to want something I didn’t want. I would bang my fists against my pillow and crash my car into a stone wall, totaling it. I would try to make the people in my life feel better by sounding good and I would marvel at the profound difficulty of my first sober Saturday night. I would read all the addiction memoirs I’d collected over the years another time, and then again, while taking scorching hot baths and hiding in bed. I would stack them up next to my bed like old friends who knew the secrets I wasn’t willing to tell. I would practice telling the truth and I would cower away when it got too hard. I would deem the whole thing impossible and would give up again and again. I would be so lonely my skin would hurt.
The other thing that happened, though, was this: every time I let myself burn through something without alcohol, I got better. Every time I faced down another day, another conversation, another piece of life I hadn’t been able to face while drinking, I grew new. New looked like destruction for a long, long time. New was a holy, tender mess until I grew a home there.
I don’t know what finally made the difference between my first Day 1 and my last. But I do know if I can have one, so can you. We can all have our last Day 1 and we deserve to. No matter what. No exceptions. Not one.