Life changes in an instant. One minute you are sauntering down a sunny street in Tribeca, coffee in hand. Sunday morning, all is right with the world. Next, you are flat on your back on the pavement, three broken ankle bones, foot facing sideways. Poof, all your plans have altered. As the ambulance workers trundle you onto a gurney, you realize nothing stays the same. Grad school, barely two weeks away, will be done in a wheelchair—or not at all. Surgery, and school on a motorized scooter—all because you stepped off a curb with insouciance.
But never the urge to drink. This is what being in your 10th year of sobriety feels like. The urge to drink has disappeared.
You remember another time: your first meeting when a woman with elegant silver hair and a warm smile told you she “had” 10 years, and you thought: impossible. I can’t get 10 days. I can barely get 10 hours.
You remember that first summer, post rehab, when cocktail hour came around on a Saturday night at the houseboat and you white-knuckled your way through the waning light, as others poured gin and tonic, fragrant with lime. When it came time to make dinner, you excused yourself and took an urgent trip to the bedroom where you had a bottle of Pinto Grigio stashed behind your long summer dresses. Your hand reached behind the floral fabric for a bit of relief, and then the shame came so quickly.
It took weeks to figure out that you would have to shut down the cocktail hour, that there would be no parties that summer. Instead, you sat on the hard wooden bench before dinner, reading Charlotte’s Web to you lover in the twilight, feasting on E.B. White’s words. When bedtime came, there was more reading to be done: old New Yorkers, and then lovemaking like a teenager, alert as a full moon flooded the room.
And you counted the days, marking them off in your journal as you drank your coffee each morning. Ten days. Eleven. Twelve. Each one so tough. You made it to 17. And then you drank, just two glasses of wine in a fancy restaurant, to celebrate your sobriety. And you started all over again. You went to meetings, and you collected chips, and you counted to 10. And then you drank again, just one light beer with pizza, because your lover told you light beer didn’t really count. But you knew it did.
And so it went, month after month, until you were too tired and diminished and dispirited to live. And just when you were certain you were out of resolve, that death was the only alternative, you went to a meeting and sat at the back and wept. At the end, a woman crossed the floor to ask you if you needed to talk and you said yes, you did. And you did. Would you like to go to another meeting tonight? Yes you would. And you did. Would you like her help? You would.
And you began to count days again until you hit 100, and then 200 and a year. You had a dinner to thank all those who had helped you. And after 500 days you stopped counting days because it was just easier to count years.
You remember all this. But what you can’t remember, as you are about to turn 10, is this: when did it get so easy?
Last night, a tornado hit your house and the top of a tree flew off and punctured the ceiling above your bed, like a dagger in a Tarot card. You lie in your bed looking at the trunk protruding and you think: it happened in an instant. Just like your broken ankle, this happened in an instant.
But quitting drinking? The craving in your rear-view mirror? That took time.
Last week a woman said to you: “I have five weeks. Can I ask you something? Does it ever get easier?” And you said: “Yes, yes it does.” And your heart was warm.
But for the life of you, you can’t remember when. All you know is this: you hope it never ends.