Summer is here and that means sunshine, vacations, and barbeques are on our minds. We play and swim and rub on sunscreen, and we enjoy the longer days with family and friends. We watch fireworks and we talk about independence and freedom and the world of possibilities that they beget us. Summer feels hopeful to me, like maybe the words my dad said to me over three decades ago are true, and I really can do anything I set my mind to.
I haven’t always felt that way about summer though, or any other season, for that matter. That sense of freedom eluded me for a long time. But since getting sober, little by little, I have felt that feeling return—the thought that anything is possible, the anticipation of good things coming to pass, the feeling of liberation. That’s what freedom feels like to me.
For me, active alcoholism was like a prison that I locked myself into and then threw away the key. It came with an ambiguous sentence, one that could offer parole, but seemed destined to impose the death penalty. I was an inmate, and I suffered at the hand of my jailer—the disease of alcoholism. I lived in that prison for as long as I could stand it, alone and isolated, hopeless and afraid, and then I realized that I had to make a choice. I either had to give in to that death sentence, or I had to fight for my freedom, no matter how hard. There was a time that decision would have been hard to make, like deciding between the lesser of two evils. But, thank God, three and a half years ago, I made the choice to fight for my freedom from alcohol.
I didn’t just want freedom from alcohol though. There was a lot of wreckage (most caused by me) that had come along with it, and I wanted to be free of all of that too. And so, the battle began.
I had to fight to be free from many things, the biggest of which was the guilt and shame I felt for being an alcoholic and for the things I had done while drinking. I had to learn to forgive myself and accept that I was no longer the person I was when I was drinking. That was a hard fought battle. Some days, it still is.
I fought to be free from the resentments I had collected and held onto over the years. I had to let go of things from which I thought I could never unclench my fist. I learned that forgiveness is for me, and that it doesn’t have to mean reconciliation. I return to this thought often, as new resentments pop up and I have to deal with them.
I also fought to be free from the loneliness and isolation that so often accompany addiction. I had to learn to function in healthy relationships and to trust. I found comfort in Alcoholics Anonymous, in the company of others who are like me.
I fought to be free from my past; to accept that it is what it is and that I couldn’t rewrite it with a happy ending. I had to start where I was and write a new story if I wanted a different ending.
I fought to be free from the dishonesty that I had learned to practice so expertly during my active drinking. I realized that telling the truth is a whole lot easier than managing the lies, the biggest of which were the ones I told myself.
Freedom from active alcoholism, and all of the things that it brings with it, has not come easily. I still have to fight for freedom from some of those things daily. What I have learned in my years of recovery though, is that some battles are worth fighting—and the battle for the freedom that recovery gives me is one of them.