Krystal and Cristal — it was the tradition my husband and I shared for 15 years. For those unfamiliar, Krystal is a hamburger chain headquartered in Dunwoody, Georgia. And Cristal, well, you know that’s champagne. It’s a purposeful mix of “high-low,” born on our first New Year’s together when, without a reservation, my husband and I grabbed a sackful of Krystal burgers and champagne, December 31, 2001.
The tradition evolved in subsequent years. We ate the burgers off Lenox china gifted to us for our wedding, then on a silver tray once at a dinner party, and then the tiny burgers were cut into quarters for our small son. This year, La Croix will be substituted for Cristal. Because this year, I quit drinking for good.
It used to be that I would feel sorry for the person who wasn’t drinking. How could I have a New Year’s Eve? How could I have any kind of Friday — or Tuesday for that matter?
This year’s toast is not about the things that I have lost. Drinking worked until it didn’t. It was how I coped with life’s stresses, accomplishments and joys. It kept me running on fumes when I was working too much. It soothed me while my mother was hospitalized. It fueled many a dinner party, business meeting, deadline. I thought it represented freedom.
How free could I be?
Answer: not at all — not when I was drinking.
When I was drinking, including those champagne-filled New Year’s (my husband stopped after a glass, and I finished the bottle), the results were always the same. At best, I felt like shit the next day. At worst, I couldn’t remember the night before. In hindsight, I see it for what it was: a predictable, self-destructive script. One that some never do escape.
But back to the future. This year, I toast to the people who have shown me that sobriety gives us everything alcohol promised. I toast to the woman who answered my cry on a secret Facebook group the morning after I relapsed, lonely and broken in a hotel room thousands of miles from home. SP said, “Put on your tennis shoes; we’re going for a walk.” And she led me out of that hotel, one foot in front of the next.Now I toast to a life in which I don’t have to run from anything. Instead, I run toward.
We walked across a bridge over the Colorado River toward a smoothie shop. And when I said, “I don’t know if there’s a way out,” she assured me that yes there was. She didn’t tell me what to do next — just listened and offered up feedback when I asked questions. People in recovery are good listeners, especially those with some time under their belts.
Back at home, SW listened to me on her porch and in coffee shops and while I sat in rush hour traffic on the way home from work. She said nothing I would tell her would be shocking. She led me deeper through the steps of recovery and assured me that at my loneliest, my most uncomfortable, my most in pain (sobriety has also brought a realization of the chronic physical pain I’ve grappled with for years) — that there was only one way to get through it, and that involved facing every single broken and every single beautiful part of myself.
Now I toast to a life in which I don’t have to run from anything. Instead, I run toward.
This year, I told the world that I am a person in long-term recovery, doing that without shame because there is no shame (or shouldn’t be) in owning that you have a disease. I refuse to live in shame, a force that held me under for so long.
I run with this tribe of badass sober warriors now. And lest you think we sit around and talk about the sauce all day, let me share: We don’t. We talk about the things we’re making — the books we’re writing, the kids we’re raising, the trips we are taking (and actually remembering.) We do talk about navigating life in a culture that normalizes drinking at every given chance and learning how to live in not just sobriety but recovery, which I believe is a radical act.
I toast to the women who ask, “Now that we’ve wrestled and reckoned with our past selves, what shall our future selves do?”
For me, next year that life means jumping into my first full year of my 40s. It means raising a 10-year-old, preparing to see my brother get married in Tuscany, helping my parents downsize from the home in which they’ve lived for 20 years. It means showing up for the people who need me the most. It means continuing to tell my story out loud in the hopes that it will help another woman who is struggling.
So maybe this really isn’t a toast. Maybe it’s a raised fist in solidarity with a generation of women who have or will put down the bottle to become their true selves. The women who listen to the voice within themselves that says, “You were made for more than this” and then fight for that.
Maybe it’s not a toast; maybe it’s hands raised in prayer. One of thanks for second and third and fourth chances.
Maybe it’s hands reaching for a door, welcoming in the women who need to hear the message that there is hope. In my home, it looks like a family on New Year’s, eating tiny Krystal burgers and drinking sparkling water.
There’s always room for one more here. Consider this your invitation.