Today marks five years of sobriety. I can’t help thinking of Jack and wondering whether he’ll always be part of my getting-and-staying-sober story. In the grand scheme of things, he wasn’t around for that much of it.
We met when I had nine months. By two years, our romantic relationship was (at best) on hold. By 28 months, he was dead. More than two-thirds of the past five years have been spent either not knowing Jack or grieving him. This is a long time for someone who isn’t even alive anymore and hasn’t been for almost three years.
I just can’t let go much more than I already have, at least not right now. There are so many ways in which the grief has eased. One small example: at a play last week, the audience was asked to write on 3×5 index cards something that causes pain. Some people wrote “breakups” or “getting shot.” Two years ago — possibly two months ago — I would have written “having the love of your life die suddenly.” But that night, the first thing that came to mind was “childbirth.” (Even though it’s been ten years since I’ve experienced that.) It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that Jack might have been the answer not long ago. But he wasn’t. Maybe he isn’t anymore. All I know is that night, he wasn’t.
In any case, it’s been five years without a drink, and that’s something. I’ve been through a lot over those five years — not just with Jack but with chronic unemployment, medical issues, homelessness (which, technically continues), child custody struggles, and (not least) moving to NYC. They say in recovery that sometimes it’s not the big things that cause people to relapse but small things, like broken shoelaces. I’ve had my share of both tragedy and annoyances, and I’m still standing. That says something.
It also says, to me, that I have something Jack never experienced: a life in which I have a sober past, one in which I’ve known happiness and serenity despite the things going on around me. I’ve long since worked out any survivor’s guilt I have about Jack’s struggle with alcoholism and his subsequent death — but I do, every year on my anniversary, feel deep sadness that he wasn’t able to “get” what I’ve “gotten.” There are thousands of Jacks out there, most (if not all) of whom were loved and cared for by people who feel the same sadness I do. Perhaps some of them haven’t been able to look back at their loved ones with compassion, but I pray that they will someday. I know that the ability to feel compassion for even the most hopeless among us is something I learned from Jack’s death.
Tonight I’m meeting my friend Claire for coffee and going to a meeting. She and I moved to NYC at roughly the same time, but I’ve not been able to see her so far more than a couple of times. It will be good to spend the evening with someone I’ve known for more than just my 3-1/2 months here, someone who has seen me move from a woman in deep grief to the woman able to move halfway across the country on a wing and a prayer.
Things have changed a lot over the past five years. Not in the ways I wanted them to — I thought by now I’d have more material success, or at least I never imagined I’d be sleeping on a couch and four days away from not having anywhere to sleep other than a hostel — but definitely in ways that have made me a better person. I’m reminded of what Anne Lamott says in one of her books (quoting her friend): “Prayer isn’t asking for what you think you want but to be changed in ways you can’t even imagine.”