The worst birthday I ever had (in many ways) was my 30th. By all appearances, it was okay. Mom and I went to New York City. She was trained to work in a detox, so I could not drink the way I wanted to when I spent a significant amount of time with her. In fact? I turned down a free trip to Ireland with her for this very reason. I labored over this decision, trying to think of a way to get away from her but I knew deep down that it would be too obvious.
Toward the end of my 30th birthday, that day in November 2001: When it started getting dark, the cravings really set in. We had dinner and I had a soda because having just one or two would have ignited that big fire in me and I would not have been able to put it out. I thought it would be wiser to abstain until I could get home and unload.
But was this a reason for it to be the “worst?” No. It was my feelings about it. Here I was entering a new phase of adulthood and these are the things I wanted and didn’t have:
1. A decent job/career
2. A husband/significant other
3. A child (didn’t want one at this point/knew I couldn’t handle being a decent parent – and somehow knowing this stung all the more)
4. A house
5. A decent ME
Now let me tell you more about why I didn’t have these things:
1. Career – I was a college graduate, graduated summa cum laude. Not bad for a drunk, huh? Graduating top of my class? That was part of my denial. What I easily forgot was that it took 7 years to get my 4-year degree. When I graduated, mom’s relatives were asking if it was my Master’s. It wasn’t. I continued to work in a restaurant because I wanted the evening shifts to fill my time because I knew I could easily become a round the clock drinker. I also knew I couldn’t get up in the mornings. Ever see that t-shirt that says, “I used to hate myself in the morning, so I started sleeping past noon?” Well? That was partly me. I didn’t have what it takes to get out of bed and face the day – there was that and the fact that I was still intoxicated in the morning from the night before. I detested my restaurant job and felt superior to the people I worked with. I felt contempt for the customers like it was somehow their fault that I worked there – and I felt a special contempt for the ones who treated me like a peon because they amplified what I was already feeling.
2. A Husband/Significant Other – All through my 20’s, I had a boyfriend who I loved dearly. It took years for me to get over the fact that I drank him away. A bulk of what bothered me was the what “could have been” with him and knowing that I was single (or hopping from one brief bad relationship to another with nothing sticking) because of ME. Today I know I would have outgrown him. It’s good that it didn’t work out. But at the time, it stung profusely. I latched on to ANY guy who showed interest in me. I detested being alone. That was another component to this
3. The Child – When I was with the man I mentioned above, we had “an accident.” I swiftly went to the clinic in the morning and took the Morning After Pill. It wasn’t that I was anti-life and it wasn’t that I never wanted to have a child. The urgency had mostly to do with knowing I could NOT quit drinking for 9 months. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I couldn’t even think far enough ahead to think of what kind of a parent I would be. So at 30, my feeling like I didn’t have a child and was subsequently a loser was different. It was because I knew I couldn’t stay sober long enough to raise a healthy fetus. There was also something about having a child as something “to show for” my life as an adult. My friends all had one. Part of me felt envy for them and part of them felt sorry for them. I mean, they had NO life! At least that’s what I thought.
4. House – I couldn’t take care of a HOUSE. Neighbors would have HATED me. My lawn would have been towering with tall grass and would have been a flowing Lyme Disease risk. Dead leaves and decay would have stagnated there year after year while I didn’t rake – swearing “I’ll do it tomorrow.” And the money …. I was paying my rent with a credit card. Of course, the fact that “my bills were paid” was part of my strong denial system. It never occurred to me that paying my bills with credit cards and sending them the minimum – $65.00/month – was NOT effectively “paying my bills.”
How would I have come up with a down payment? How would I have paid a mortgage? And how would I have maintained it? The thing would have had peeling paint, a broken furnace, and who knows what? It would not have been kept clean. It would have been given countless promises from me that I’ll “pick up tomorrow.” And it would have sat there squarely and silently, rotting: a testament to my sickness.
On November 4, 2011 I turned 40. By all appearances it was wonderful. Surrounded by friends and family, I was the subject of a surprise party. My son was there. I drank diet soda and laughed a lot. My boyfriend (who I was now living with in a HOUSE) was the one who arranged it with some help from Mom. Co-workers were there. Co-workers who admire me in my CAREER. I now had all the things I didn’t have at age 30. But you know what? It’s better than I imagined and I’m at a point – sober for 9 years and working on my SELF and my character defects – where I can nurture the things I have and deserve them. Here’s the difference:
1. Career – Although my degree is in Writing, my career is in Human Services. A friend in AA admired what I have some years ago, admired the work I did with sponsees. He had a friend who was hiring at a homeless shelter. I interviewed and gained an entry level position. In 5 months I was promoted. Today I work with people who have disabilities for another agency. I never would have been able to follow this path with my credentials alone. It was partly networking, partly doing the next right thing, and partly “getting it” – the “it” being people’s struggles.
2. A Husband / Significant Other – I met him in AA. He is the LOVE of my life – and thank GOD things didn’t work out with my boyfriend from my 20’s. I cleaned house and maintained it for some years and I was ready for my guy. He and I both have the same amount of years of clean time. And speaking of milestone birthdays – we’re both coming up on 10 years in the next few months at the time of this writing. Two of my ex boyfriends went to prison, so being with a nice guy is a change of pace for me. In AA I was taught to deal with difficulties “one day at a time.” Well? I learned to deal with the good things “one day at a time” because there’s that nagging voice deep down that says “this won’t last,” “don’t get used to it,” “you’ll f**k this up!” He excels at some spiritual things that I don’t yet. Likewise, I have strengths that he doesn’t quite have yet. We learn from each other. And we live together. Having lived together for 6 months at this time, we haven’t had an argument (yet.) I’m sure we will and we’re not perfect, but our misunderstandings and miscommunications lead to discussions. Sometimes they’re uncomfortable but I don’t have to get defensive and yell at him. I sometimes swallow those damning words such as “I told you so” or “Why didn’t you listen to me?” That’s hard to do. I used to think good relationships were luck. I realize now they are WORK, but if you love someone enough … it doesn’t feel like a big sacrifice.
3. A Child – The week I got sober I had a dream about his name. I told my then-husband and he thought it was cool. Two and a half months later, my boy was on his way. They say “no major life changes” the first year of sobriety. I was nine months and three weeks sober when my boy was born. My life was a shambles. But I stayed sober for those nine months and I didn’t doubt I would. I kept going to meetings.
I used to think people with kids had “no life.” Well? When my little honey arrived, my life began. What a blessing. He shows me things I never would have seen. And the magnitude of love is amazing.
4. A Home– Notice I said “home” and not “house?” I never knew there was a difference. If you asked me the difference, I could have come up with definitions … but no lived experience to support the definitions. My boyfriend and I are renting a house. We’re taking things slowly – just seeing what it’s like to live together and if it will work with my son. It’s a big commitment, and if it works out we might buy a house. This house is lovely. It has a fireplace and SO much square footage (holy, I never thought I’d live in a house this big) so that we can all have our space. It was the best place to celebrate Christmas and my boyfriend’s son and granddaughter slept over to spend it with us.
This brings me to something that hadn’t been on my list:
5. Family – I had no idea that bonds such as this could be so strong. Not only do I have my boyfriend and son, but I have my boyfriend’s grandchildren and his son and his son’s girlfriend (that seems an inadequate title for her since they share a child, but she’s close to us). I love them all so much. For my 40th birthday, my boyfriend’s son taught his little 3 year old daughter to call me “Grandma.” It was an age joke, but I loved it. The title does not denote an age so much as a role, and it was flattering to be called that. I love her so much – and the other grandchildren , too.
Our Christmas included a fire in the fireplace, laughter, sneaking around and being “Santa,” and love. Honestly, I had no idea that I could ever have something so beautiful. It almost makes my heart explode.
We’re free to talk about feelings. I was never used to that. We’re free to be ourselves. We are all loved as we are. It’s not perfect – don’t get me wrong. There are misunderstandings and tensions, but it comes with the territory and we love each other enough to work it out – and to swallow our pride (I’m not used to that either).
So ….. being 40. This is the BEST. I never thought I’d feel this way, but it’s the best year ever. Life just gets better all the time. I’m tempted to say I can’t wait to turn 50, but things are SO good right now I just want to live in the day.