A dozen times in the past couple weeks I've been asked a version of the same question: WHEN?
When will I feel better?
When will I stop thinking about drinking so much?
When will it get easier?
When will I stop feeling so raw?
When will I stop wanting to claw my own skin off?
I get it, obviously. We want a date to mark on the calendar. A friend says she practically interviewed people when she was newly sober, as if she was writing a research paper. When was it: One month? Two months? 500 days? TELL ME WHEN IT WILL GET BETTER.
Of course, she got no concrete answer because there is no concrete answer.
For me, the desire to move through it all quickly was so great and confounding I refused to even acknowledge the question. I already knew the answers, which were: hold on, keep going, one foot in front of the other, let go and let God and all that crap.
I went through the same thing when I separated from my husband. I remember “dating” someone right away, who was divorced, and when I told him how long I’d been separated, he paused and very kindly told me I was “too new.” I thought, pfffft, f*ck that. I’m gonna skip that part. I’m gonna skip right on past the "too new" part. So I did what every person does who wants to move through something quick: I swam faster. I turned up the volume really, really high. I went out on a lot of “dates” and I drank to oblivion and I denied entire universes and I just, like, moved on.
Then one morning a few months later I woke up to an empty bed. I stood up and looked at the table beside my bed—the empty water and wine glasses, the books I couldn’t read—and a flash of truth snuck into my consciousness. It said, in a voice that doesn’t use words: the drinking is the root problem.
And again I thought, Nope. I'm taking a shortcut.
I truly thought I could skip past most of it, too. I thought I could fast track the healing because I’d blown through so much difficulty already in my life. I was resilient, after all; hadn’t I been told that since I was young? What I didn’t know, even at the age of 34, was resilience isn’t the same as burying. What I’d learned to do in the name of resilience was to deny, to stuff, or my favorite, to drown.
My husband and I finally filed for divorce nearly three years after he moved out. Many people have asked me what took so long, and I never have a good answer. We weren’t in a heated battle over custody, finances, or our agreement. We weren’t questioning the decision, at least not consciously. Certainly there was a bit of laziness. For the past two years, I was getting sober, which required every ounce of everything I had for a while. I think the best answer is that it took what it took. We did it when we were ready. We did it when the dust had settled enough to proceed with clarity. Time takes time.
I was listening to a Marc Maron interview a couple months ago and he was asked how he feels about all his success now, in his 50’s, after going at it for so long. He said among other things, that he was so glad it hadn’t happened in his 30’s or 40’s—or, God forbid his 20’s—because he wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
That’s it right there. Things happen not when we want them to, but when we’re actually ready. It's infuriating.
I’m approaching a year of sobriety, which is a tiny blip in time, and also massive. As I continue to unravel myself as a non-married person, a mother, and someone who doesn’t escape to a box of wine every night, I see that this is exactly how it was supposed to be. It was so impossibly hard—getting sober, that is—for as long as it needed to be so that I knew precisely how precious and hard won it is. I fell as many times as I did because bones become harder in the broken places, and I needed to make my bones, so I could stand strong for myself, for you. I wanted so badly to fast forward through the painful parts and now, I'm so glad it doesn't work that way. I see the value now in enduring each day, month, year. I see the beauty truly is in the breakdown.
To you, who wants to know when it gets easier. To you, who's positive they’ve reached the end of their rope. To you, who cannot stop clawing at your own skin:
Time takes time. Let it.
It will happen for you - for all of us - as it should, whatever it is: your heartbreak to lessen, your grief to un-clench, your body to heal, your depression to lift. It will happen perfectly and on time so long as you stay course best as you can. This I can actually promise. Perhaps those words are cold comfort, and that's fine. Just know they're also true.