Those mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb — Najwa Zebian
This month marks the one-year anniversary of my sobriety. In the earliest days of my sobriety I attended AA meetings and was encouraged to count the days since my last drink. I realize that is an ironic statement because someday I’ll look back on these days as the early ones, too.
I had my last drink on my living room couch — a beer with a 9.8% alcohol content — as my ex-boyfriend Joe revealed that he’d been arrested for the second time for smoking marijuana in public and his visit to my apartment was a pit stop on his way to a New York City courthouse. There had been so many nights and mornings that I’d woken up with the gnawing feeling that I should quit drinking and I wish I could say that afternoon on my couch was in some way a rock bottom that catalyzed my sobriety, but it was much less victory than it was a surrender to my own powerlessness.
I had to take back control, and that meant I had to say no to opening another beer when Joe left my apartment. It meant I had to say no to half of my nightly routine as I bought goldfish at the corner bodega the next day. It meant had to say no to the office happy hour that Friday and to holding my mom’s glass of wine while she used the bathroom at a family function that weekend.
I could do it if I treated it like sobriety required nothing more from me than surviving each ‘no.’ Each time that lone syllable left my mouth was another step in staying sober and taking back that control. Just a single, fleeting moment.
Last month, after much persuasion, my partner convinced me to go rock climbing with him. I spent a lot of time watching other climbers at the gym that afternoon and was surprised by how slowly and deliberately they made each move up the walls. Every problem was solvable but the solution had to change depending on each climbers size and strength. Some climbers had to take steps back in order to move forward, others found ways to stand on the narrowest holds while they pulled themselves up with all of their might.
Since that first climb, I’ve gone back once a week. At first I was afraid of falling but after a few inevitable slips I’ve gotten used to bracing my body for the impact of hitting the ground. The phrase climbers use for someone who falls without bracing themselves is “blacking out” and unsurprisingly, you can do a lot more damage if you fall that way. The only way not to fall is not to climb, and each time you fall you have an instant to choose: to brace yourself against the fall or to black out and let the fall win.
The thing that makes counting days so effective is that every time the sun rises and sets and I do not have a drink, I get a small victory. And while those are small mountains to summit individually, some climbs have been a lot harder than others.
I’ve been climbing this mountain for 345 days now and the view from up here is pretty spectacular. But, when my partner and our friends crack open craft beers around our coffee table on a Friday night, my ginger beer doesn’t always feel so satisfying. When my family toasted to my little sister’s graduation, my seltzer felt blasphemous compared to champagne. I know that these desires are not so much to drink as they are to be capable of just having one and stopping. But just like the ache in my muscles on Mondays indicating my climbing progress, I’ve learned that when it comes to these feelings: this too shall pass.
And in the meantime, I’ll keep counting days.