The question is almost always, “what happened??” Folks want to know what happened whenever I have shared over this past year that I’ve decided to step away from alcohol being a substance that I use. What happened to make me take this drastic move away from something so standard in our society? There is a need to know what happened because a common narrative of sobriety is that there was some great tragedy that forced a person to make this move. The beginning of December marks my first full year of sobriety, and while I haven’t been overly private about this year, I also haven’t talked much about it publicly. Instead, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on that question that I’ve been asked over and over again: what happened?
What happened was that I prayed a lot, which is not an altogether surprising or interesting response from a priest. I remember the exact day that I knew that alcohol couldn’t be a part of my future. Driving home from a normal day at work, at the last stoplight before I turned my little white car into my neighborhood, I sat with my hands on the steering wheel while craning my neck under the heat that is wearing a clerical collar in the dead of summer. I noticed the cars beside me and the rolling bright green hills in the distance. I was praying through my day, as I often do on my way home from the church, and was looking forward to taking an afternoon walk with my dogs. Then, while the stoplight stayed red, it occurred to me that perhaps I should consider seriously the role that alcohol played in my life if I wanted to continue to follow God’s call upon my life
There had been no major disaster, no rock bottom, but I knew sitting at that red light in the middle of a bright summer day that I couldn’t continue to drink and become who God was calling me to be. My relationship with alcohol was never one of great tragedy, but it certainly wasn’t the picture of a healthy and balanced usage either. Something struck me that day, even though it would take another five months before I was actually ready to give it up; it hit me that something that numbed me from the deep feelings and intense joy and pain of this world that God created and how God had created me to navigate this world could not be anything to celebrate in this life.
But forever is a scary word, so my initial thought was to give up alcohol for a year; Advent to Advent I would abstain from alcohol to take a step back and to really consider the role that it played in my life. Giving things up is something that I actually enjoy; I’ve done Meatless May, and even went a year without eating chocolate once. Because while I had participated in month long breaks that have become popular like Dry January or Sober October, I knew that if I wanted to be able to take a full view of alcohol’s role in my life I needed more time.
It wasn’t long into my year of sobriety that I realized that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthier than I realized. It didn’t take long for me to see the ways in which dependence had slowly started to creep in, and that this was not actually who I wanted to be. It didn’t take long for me to see that the light breaking in through the cracks was not something to lament because I could no longer drink, but that it was actually the light of hope shining brightly through the tiny holes of this façade that eventually broke through to show me what freedom could be. Very early on in this past year, I got to feel what hope could feel like when I wasn’t numb; what pain and anger could feel like too, because to get sober shortly before the pandemic hit has been the most unexpected gift of 2020.
This year has shown us that we never know what the future will hold, but I am so grateful to be keenly and fully aware that I’m able to show up wholeheartedly and without any caveats to whatever is in store this next year. One thing I know for sure, is that I hope that my answer to the question, “what happened?” is the same: that I prayed a lot.