‘World No Alcohol Day?’…Why It Gives One Woman a Reason to Celebrate
This Sunday is “World No Alcohol Day.” That may not seem like an occasion to celebrate. After all, times
are tough and having a drink to take the edge off seems like a reasonable thing for others to do. I say
others because I’m a recovering alcoholic.
It’s not something I talk about a lot, but when I do, I’ve noticed the impact it has on those I’ve shared it
with. Whether the topic affects them or someone they love, hearing my story gives them one person’s
perspective on the process of getting sober – one day at a time.
My drinking career began and ended before I was of legal age. Though brief, it was a memorable career.
Or an unmemorable career if I’m being honest. This is the thing I wanted to talk about – honesty.
When I walked into my first AA meeting on December 30, 1986, I was very much alone. Not just in that
moment, but in the sense that my family and my friends had all withdrawn from me. I had effectively
alienated everyone in my life because of my drinking. It wasn’t that I had to have a drink every day, it
was that when I did drink, I did not stop – not willingly, happily or easily. I went way beyond drinking to
take the edge off. When my drinking buddies told me I had a problem, I knew it was serious. I felt
completely isolated, in pain and without anyone I could comfortably turn to. At that first AA meeting
someone said, “Getting sober isn’t hard. It’s like picking up a boulder. That’s not ‘hard’ – it’s a simple
act, but it can be cumbersome.”
I don’t remember much about what else was said at the meeting. I just remember feeling like I was in a
safe space. I didn’t feel judged. I felt like I was in good company – among people from all walks of life
who were sitting in a room talking painfully honestly about where they’d come from, where they were
that day and what struggles they were dealing with. I was in pretty bad emotional shape, but as I tuned
in to what others were saying, that sense of being isolated left me.
At the end of the meeting, they asked if anyone would like to take a white chip – the first step toward
getting sober and the first step toward getting honest. I got up from the folding chair I was sitting in and
went to the front of the room to accept one. In that moment, I was acknowledging what I’d been
denying for a long time – I’m an alcoholic. In that moment, buoyed by the applause of other addicts I felt
like I really could go a day with no alcohol – but only one day.
On December 30, 1987, at the end of the AA meeting in the same clubhouse I’d been visiting regularly
since that first day, they asked if anyone would like to take a white chip. I applauded as several people
stood to accept this small piece of plastic filled with enormous meaning. They also gave chips to those
who had had no alcohol for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and six months. When they asked if anyone was
celebrating their first birthday – the anniversary of taking that white chip – I stood up from the folding
chair and walked to the front of the room to accept a blue chip.
As I did, I was very much not alone. My family, my friends and the family of new friends who were also
in recovery were there to witness this. Many of us were crying. That first year was an incredibly
transformative experience. I stopped pretending. It was the first step toward recovering myself –
without the anesthetic effects and comforting buzz of a good stiff drink.
In the process of working the program I had to get honest with myself first. As importantly, I had to get
honest with those in my life that I’d hurt through my self-absorption and disregard, for my moodiness
and anger, for the things I’d done in an altered state or in the aftereffects of my altered state. Having to
own these things I’d done and apologize directly to those I loved, and hurt was a humbling process. I
was grateful to each person who I spoke with who responded with grace and forgiveness. It was a
healing conversation for each of us.
This process of being honest with myself and others changed the way I lived. It helped me connect with
the comfort and freedom of not hiding. I no longer had to lie about where I was or how much I’d had to
drink – I moved from those things to understanding that living honestly was so much simpler than
covering up or pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
By getting honest about my addiction, I was able to get honest about one of the things I’d been covering
up by drinking – my sexual orientation. Coming out as gay at 19 was much less dramatic than I’d
anticipated. Fortunately, my family and friends all continued to love and support me. Again, I could be
myself and breathe. This process of recovering myself has continued through my life and career. It led
me to get clear about the kind of work I wanted to do. Initially making a positive difference by serving
others in social services, then onto creative work through my writing and collaboration and now once
again, more directly serving others through professional coaching. This work is informed by a sense of
recovering oneself – I see so many incredible people who tend to overlook their own value of being
Sobriety gave me many things – a committed relationship of many years, long-standing friendships and
working relationships. Trust from so many who I’ve known and loved and worked with. A sense of
compassion and non-judgement of others. We are all doing our best. We are all making mistakes and
bumping into barriers we perceive – some external and some of our own making. We are all trying to
figure out where we fit and where we shine, where we want to avoid and where we want to land.
Getting through the day is sometimes all we can do, and other times things seem to flow, laughter
comes quicker, and breathing is easier.
For me, I’m grateful to that first day without alcohol and though a lifetime of sobriety seemed
ridiculously out of reach, I understood the importance of simply accepting the challenge of going one
day without alcohol. And then getting up the next morning and going one day. With sobriety came
clarity and a boatload of relief. That I could just be – myself – without pretending.
World No Alcohol Day brings all of this to mind, so I’ve chosen to share with the hope that you find some
nugget of understanding or meaning that is helpful to you or to someone you love.
Thank you for reading.