After waking up, there is always the question of what comes next—what life might lie beyond the life you’ve left behind. — Leslie Jamison
When I got sober four months ago, I began to wake up. With each passing day, my world came more sharply into focus, and the experience of assessing what surrounded me was like standing on the point where several states meet—one foot here, one foot there. I was in transition—living in a sober house, spending my days in treatment, not working, and simultaneously examining how I’d gotten to that point and attempting to make decisions that would shape the new life that lay spread about before me … a loose map with only a few knowns.
Defining my life, even the immediate now of it, was daunting because I felt like a completely different person. Without the effects of alcohol and drugs, things seemed a lot clearer, and many of the ways I felt and thought and lived my life that I thought were immutable began to seem a bit more flexible. In the years right before I got sober, when my addiction was progressing most rapidly, I had been a staunch atheist, afraid to want children or a family because I didn’t think I could have them, insistent upon working in the bar and restaurant industry, convinced that I was essentially alone.
I heard in a meeting that normal people change their behavior to meet their goals, but alcoholics and addicts change their goals to meet their behavior. I had to—better yet, I got to, I could, and in fact I couldn’t help but—rethink everything. I imagined my life in six months, a year, five years, ten. Who would I be when I could be just about anything?
Sight of Myself
A few weeks ago, I was in a friend’s basement having my hair cut in her home salon. I sat in the swivel chair before a large wall of mirrors and watched pieces of my white-blond hair fall to the floor. The baby of another friend sat gurgling in his little rocking bassinet nearby. When my stylist went upstairs to get him another bottle, she asked if I wanted to hold him while she was gone. I did, and I leaned down and scooped him up.
As I turned this way and that, bobbing a bit to soothe him and me, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My hand cradled his head gently; miraculously, he was calm, and I saw the way my arms curved around him, as though the world just outside the makeshift salon was knocking hard at the door and my only job in life was to make sure he was ready for it when it came.
The crazy thing, the thing I couldn’t believe, was that I looked like I could do it. I looked like I could hold him carefully, and teach him things, and feed him when he was hungry, and let him know with my arms and my words and my heart that he was not alone, something I could do only because I no longer felt alone. I looked like I wanted to. I looked like I was ready for the challenge. I looked and I looked, and just for a moment, I began, incredibly, to believe it.
— Anastasia is a Chicago writer in recovery. She recently began contributing to The Observer’s growing archive of addiction and recovery resources.