I don’t go in for AA. I’ve not found a way for the Twelve Steps to resonate with my atheistic soul, and I think it’s a cult. I’m not saying it doesn’t help people, just that it’s not for me. That said, it was in AA I learned I’d been living in a state of deep lassitude, shades of grey which matched the skies I was under.
I have been to AA meetings, when I was on the edge and needed to know there were other people out there, like me, trying to control their drinking. I went for the sense of fellowship with other drunks, and I found just the sort of collective wisdom available anywhere people congregate for the purpose of helping others.
I was closing in on my dream of moving to a sunny climate, after years of longing to free myself from the heavy chains of seasonal depression. It was springtime in the city, a glorious sunny day, and my move was within sighting distance, things coming together left and right. I’d never been at more risk for an alcohol relapse.
You see, my drinking tends to accelerate during the good times. It’s no coincidence I took a nosedive off the wagon during my bachelorette party. Seven years without alcohol, poof! Gone, because I was about to get married! The single most anticipated event of my life was happening to me! I’ll toast to that! During the best times, I reach for the bottle. During the worst, I swear it off.
The only sense I can make of this contradiction is that I must believe, on some deep, existential level, that I don’t deserve to manifest my dreams. I know full-well alcohol’s supreme destructive power over me, and using it in happy times undermines and almost immediately cancels the good. Now I know that when I’m on a hot streak I need to pay closest attention to my drinking, because I’m at the greatest risk for self-destruction. And it’s these types of internal dramas that are most isolating. I was sure I was the only person in the world.
I went to three meetings in two days that beautiful April week. One was in a conference room at the Starbucks global HQ, another at a neighborhood community center. The third was in a residence close to mine that turned out to be a halfway house for newly-released criminal offenders. Seriously, AA meetings are everywhere. It was in this group home, sparsely furnished, interior covered in plastic, painting supplies littering the front room, that I found an answer.
My good days weren’t much different from my bad, because I was celebrating nothing.
The guy presiding over the meeting, a resident of the house, patiently explained to me (after I shared about being on the ropes) that if we don’t learn to celebrate, our good days aren’t much different from our bad. He talked about the importance of taking time to try things we want to try, to do things we want to do, and while we’re doing them say to ourselves, I’m celebrating! He talked about wanting to learn to bake, and getting up at 5 a.m. to use the communal kitchen for this purpose, all the while declaring to himself, I’m celebrating!
He was right. Because celebrating put me at risk for any number of things–disappointment, criticism, being perceived as arrogant and audacious, relapse–I stopped. I stopped celebrating without realizing it. It got so bad that I didn’t want to do holidays, or my birthday, or a bridal shower, or a graduation party. Nothing I did was important enough to savor and enjoy, and thus all the days of my life began to melt into one long, grey blah, good rather indistinguishable from bad. Some days were worse or more challenging than others, but that was about it. It sucked.
Of course celebrating nothing put me at risk. When the good did occur, well, I was so scared of it ending or being ruined somehow, I tamped down hard on my own enthusiasm. I tried to appear nonchalant, breezy. Nothing was any big deal. The event or circumstance would fade and I would be back to grey, where I felt most comfortable. And this is why I drank, because alcohol gave me permission to ride the light, for my head to explode with joy, for me to dance with abandon, to revel. When the good came around, I could grab a bottle and immerse myself in the present, in ways I simply wouldn’t otherwise.
It was time to learn to celebrate. It was time to notice myself trying new things, having fun, participating in long-anticipated activities. It was time to note, I’m celebrating! and let it sink in. If I didn’t start, changing climates was unlikely to be anything other than a temporary fix. The thought of listlessly laboring under sunny skies was even more depressing than the present, so I started.
I spent a weekend at the beach with friends. I’m celebrating. I tried making a new recipe. I’m celebrating. I stayed up late singing karaoke. I’m celebrating. I went to see a band I loved play. I’m celebrating. I stayed home on a Friday night, painting my nails and listening to music. I’m celebrating!
The good days began to feel like good days. They had color and texture. I could observe that I was in the middle of a good one, because I said to myself, I’m celebrating! The bad days sucked like always, but they had a definitive end. And if too many strung themselves together, it was time to do something I wanted to do and remark, I’m celebrating!