I wasn’t really sure if I was going to write about this this year. It has become more of a personal, sacred piece of who I am and I find that the more I retreat from public spaces online, the less inclined I am to share too much of myself. I’m wary of a lot of things these days, but more wary, I think, of too much of anything.

I question, on a regular basis, why I write publicly. My friend, the writer Steve Amick, and I wrote back and forth about this recently. Is a writer a writer if he or she doesn’t share what they’ve written with anyone else? Do the readers make the writer?

I’m not sure. Is a musician a musician if she never sings in public, only writes lullabies for her babies and sings them to sleep at night? Are we defined by what we do with our gifts out in the world? By how those who are on the receiving end respond to our output? I’m not really sure.

What is it that I’m supposed to do with my story? With the stories I see and hear and collect every day?

Today I celebrate eight years of sobriety. If I were in AA I’d be getting some kind of special coin, some applause, hugs, pats, etc. But I’m not. When I quit I quit, I just stopped doing the thing. And I kept on not doing the thing. Eight years is a long time to not do the thing, and so I feel proud. But it’s also a long enough time so that it’s not really a deal anymore. All the other things are, though, all the things that came to take the place of drinking in my life, those are things.

I know there is a movement now toward something called sober curious. There are non-alcoholic bars popping up, so people seem to be feeling something around too much alcohol in their lives, and I’m happy to hear that. I can’t say anything terrible has happened as a result of not drinking; I can say that a lot of lousy things happened as a result of drinking, so I can say with 100% conviction that it was a good choice for me to stop drinking.

It’s my tagline and I plan to stick by it for the rest of my life: I have yet to see drinking improve anyone’s life. Ever. I could start a list of all the people I’ve known (and the relatives I wish I had known) whose lives got all screwed up because of booze, but it would put you to sleep and I don’t have enough time today to go there. I know I’m not supposed to hate anything in this life, but I hate booze. I hate the way it smells, especially on someone’s breath, most especially the day after they’ve had too much to drink. I hate how it turns a perfectly nice evening into an unbearable shitshow when two nice drinks becomes five and someone I would like to have a conversation with can barely stand up. I hate what it does to the kids of drinkers; I hate how it erodes relationships and snakes through families with an insidious tenacity. I hate that it kills people when it’s in a person who chooses to drink and drive. I hate how we have made it so fancy and sexy in our culture, how seductive the bottles and cans are; how marketers want us to believe that the drinking lifestyle is so awesome, so cool, so important.

It’s not. Your life is short and there are lots of people (I hope) in it who love you and deserve the best of you. When you drink, especially when you drink too much, which for most people is a lot of the time, you’re not the best of you. I would argue that even when you drink a little you’re not the best of you. Because you’re not drinking because it tastes so dang good, you’re drinking to fill some emptiness or longing or fear inside yourself that you don’t want to feel.

The hardest thing about not drinking anymore isn’t the not drinking part—you just stop buying the stuff. The hardest part is what to do with the void, the emptiness, the space where drinking used to be. Chances are pretty good that you and the story of your life are somewhat of a hard pill to swallow and there’s nothing we hate more than being left alone with ourselves. Looking in the mirror and seeing everything just as it is is hard, hard work that most of us avoid with all our might and many of us try to avoid with a glass of pinot noir.

It’s the only path to growth, though, and that’s why I spend time each year shouting from my soapbox about this. It turns out that pretty much all spiritual development is about giving something up in this life. And if you’re not here for the spiritual growth workshop then you probably took a wrong turn back there somewhere. You might want to revisit the map.

Eight years ago an old friend came to me in a dream and then he returned to me in real life. In the days when I was a daily-drinking lousy mom, crappy (soon to be ex-) wife, generally an all-around lost-in-space jackass, my friend came to me and handed me a little bell. He told me to ring it when I needed him, said he would be there for me, and with compassion and love (and almost twenty years of sobriety in his satchel) led me to the trough of sobriety.

I drank it all in. Every fucking drop. Bitter, bitter, bitter was the truth. Delicious, sweet and everlasting were the rewards, though I can’t say they came quickly. It took time, patience, fortitude, courage, but I did it. We did it. It takes a village to keep a sober person on the train; there’s no way I could have done it without the love and support of every single person who has walked with me these past years, most especially my kids. Turns out kids really like it when their parents don’t drink. Who knew?

It has not been easy. The hangover that comes with sobriety is the worst one of all, it’s the one where you meet yourself naked and real for perhaps the first time. No aspirin on the shelf can mask that discomfort. You live through it, though. You do. You more than live through it. You expand. You expand in your capacity to love, you expand in your ability to empathize, you grow in your dedication to growing. The more willing you are to face the world just as you are and the world just as it is, the better your life will be. I promise, promise, promise this to be true.

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What do I do now with all that time, those long and sometimes tricky evening hours when I once plied my trade as a professional wine drinker? I write, I read, walk Daisy dog, hang out with the only remaining kid at home. I drink tea, swim, talk with people I care about. I go to the farm in town to eat some woodfired pizza with friends and hear Jack’s awesome band. That’s what I’m doing now, today. Come on down, I’d love to see you!

Tomorrow? I don’t know; I’ll see when I get there. I do know what I won’t be doing, though; I have had eight good years of practice.