(Photo Credit: Andy Kropa)
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the world of work. I got my first “real life” gig right out of college as a publishing assistant, and every job since then has pretty much fallen into my lap. That’s not to say that I didn’t work hard to become qualified for those jobs, or that I’m not proud of all that I’ve learned and achieved along the way. It’s just that I never had to sit down and carefully plan out what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go or how I was going get there. One thing just seemed to organically lead to another, and after spending close to 15 years total at three jobs that I really, really loved, it seemed like the perfect time to embark on a freelance career. So I did. This was about four years ago.
But then life threw me for a bit of a loop. I suppose that loop had actually been there for a while, curling up tighter and tighter inside of me, making me loopier and loopier. But I managed to keep it all together, on the outside at least, until I no longer had a nine-to-five to schedule my life around.
Now, very cautiously, I’m starting to think outside of the wine box.
As it turns out, the freelance lifestyle is not an ideal one for an active alcoholic. And it’s especially troublesome for an active alcoholic who doesn’t know she’s an alcoholic. Or an active alcoholic who “maybe knows” she’s an alcoholic but doesn’t want to admit it to herself. Or an alcoholic who knows she’s an alcoholic but honestly no longer cares.
That was me, all three scenarios respectively, and it wasn’t long before I crashed and burned and was shipped off to rehab. Which I can say now was a blessing, one which might not have come so quickly if I had been working full-time and trying to keep up a front. And my recovery since then has been dependent on my flexible work life — I arrange my deadlines and meetings around all of my various self-help groups and sober-living activities.
But here’s the thing: now three-plus years in, I’ve lately caught myself asking, “what do I want to do with my life?” I’m not sure I’ve ever really asked myself this question before. Not seriously, anyway. And I’m not sure I know the answer.
Getting sober didn’t just change my drinking habits. It also changed a lot of my beliefs, my outlook on life, and especially my feelings about myself and my capabilities. When I was drinking, I inadvertently shielded myself from experiencing the full force of so many key “adult” life lessons. Because there was nothing a big boozy bottle wouldn’t fix. Failure at work? Drink. Crushing heartache? Drink! Scary money problems? Drink…a $14-dollar martini, ‘natch. As a result, I unwittingly started to underestimate my ability to take care of myself without a spiked beverage.
I also cheated myself of many opportunities to try, fail, and get back up and try again. Especially when it came to work — I stuck with what I knew worked well, for fear that any kind of failure would break me.
But sobriety is changing this. Rehab was almost like College: Part II (those four months certainly felt like four years) and now I’m feeling so oddly young-adult minded, so green, inexperienced and raw, despite the fact that I’ve just turned 40.
Instead of lamenting the time I’ve lost, why not revel in this second act?
I could look at this two ways. The first involves mutterings like “This sucks,” “I’m old,” “I screwed up my life,” or “I’m DOOMED.” That’s my default perspective, the super negative, woe-as-me minded outlook that used to fuel my drinking habit. It’s easier to see things this way because I don’t really have to do anything about it. I can just sit back and feel sorry for myself.
The other option, which I’ll admit took some work to bring into focus, is to see all of this as opportunity. A wide-open and exciting world is in front of me, filled with things I haven’t yet tried and interests I haven’t realized. It was impossible for me to discover those things while I was drowning in vodka martinis, because the only thing I really knew for sure back then was that I wanted more vodka martinis.
And when I was newly sober, the only thing I really knew for sure was that I had to stay away from vodka martinis.
But now, very cautiously, I’m starting to think outside of the wine box. Maybe….I could write a book. Maybe…I could start a business. Maybe….I could be a mom. Maybe…I could do anything now that I’m truly starting to get to know myself. Instead of lamenting the time I’ve lost, why not revel in this second act? I’m grateful for it, certainly. And scared of it, yes. But really, it’s no more frightening than what lay before me when I graduated college — a huge expanse of hope.
The only thing that’s different now is that I’m 40….going on 25.