If I had to guess, 2009 New Years, I was probably blacked out.
I did that a lot 10 years ago. I don’t see what I would have done differently on one of the largest drinking nights of the year.
I was 20 years old and halfway through my third year of college. I can’t say I remember most of the first two years. I was excited to be away from home and most of the time mind-blowingly drunk.
Once I figured out that I could use alcohol to completely turn off the world, I began doing it most nights. Don’t get me wrong, I added in a layer of responsibility. I only drank to black out Wednesday through Saturday. I usually took a break on Sunday and drank mildly on Monday and Tuesday. Though, sometimes I’d accidentally get too drunk and black out anyway.
I completely quit drinking two years ago. New Year’s Eve 2018, I chose to take my last sip and be done. It wasn’t a grandiose gesture like I would have done in college. It wasn’t a bottom of the barrel one like I would have done in my mid-20s. It was a somber recognition that I did not have the self-control to have alcohol in my life.
This isn’t about how great it is to be sober. You can read countless other stories about how wonderful life became after sobering up. This is about forgiveness.
About a week before the end of the decade I took part in a Taoist forgiveness ceremony. I thought I was going to forgive myself and others for the difficulties I’ve faced over the past two years (yep, the two since leaving alcohol behind). It turned into forgiving the entire decade, including my misuse and abuse of alcohol.
I like to document the things I’m grateful for. Sometimes I like to look back to people and events from years ago and find reasons to be thankful for them. A funny thing happened when I started this practice after the forgiveness ceremony. I became grateful for alcohol and the people who fueled those times.
Forgiveness is the simple act of creating space from the anger, frustration, and general sh*t that we hold around something or someone. In its wake is gratitude. Not gratitude in the “thanks for showing me how lousy things can be” or “thanks for giving me a reason to get my life in order.” Grateful in the wholehearted recognition of how that was positive.
I recognized that those maddeningly drunk days were the true start of my healing journey. I was trying to learn to heal myself.
Hate it or love it, alcohol was the first substance that I had the courage and means to use to medicate my pain. It numbed me enough to act as I would without pain and in its wake I had to accept that I was in pain. Even greater, it opened my eyes to the potential that there are things that can help me heal from my past wounds.
Alcohol itself is not a good long-term medication. I don’t even know if its a good short-term one. Like any substance, it cannot do the inner work that is required to heal. But it opened my eyes to a world of possibility. The simple idea it sparked, that I could use this world to heal, has led me down a previously unimaginable door of health and support. And for that, I can completely forgive the hard times and be truly grateful.