“For me, the path to success was never attaining wealth or celebrity. It was about the process of continually seeking to be better, to challenge myself to pursue excellence on every level. The question I ask every day is the same as it’s always been: How much farther can I stretch to reach my full potential? What I know for sure is that it’s only when you make the process your goal that the dream can follow.” –Oprah
“It’s only when you make the process your goal that the dream can follow.” Oprah knows her shit right? Whenever she starts with “What I know for sure…” my ears perk up, I know something good is coming–something I will use for life. I’ve got this first line written on my marathon training plan that’s underneath a souvenir Portuguese tile magnet on our fridge. I glance at it each morning before I scoot out the door for my run and tap it with my pen upon my return as I triumphantly write in my mileage. I even repeat it to myself as I wave goodbye to my husband and take my laptop into another room to write each night. It puts my head exactly where it’s supposed to be. It reminds me that this is it–that I’m actually right in the middle of living my dream.
In a few days, something sort of cool is happening–something that I won’t acknowledge publicly but will have a mini high-five celebration with my friends and family about: I will have nine years clean and sober.
It’s crazy because it literally feels like just yesterday that I was struggling to try and stop drinking. I remember when I met people who had three or four months clean, I was completely in awe of them. I thought they were superhuman; I didn’t understand how they could abstain from their drug of choice for so long. A whole year of sobriety? Forget about it, that was unimaginable.
Then something changed. I began to see people who had stayed sober for years–decades even, and one specific thing shocked me about all of them: They looked happy. I stopped looking at sobriety as this gut wrenching, grit my teeth, day count (although early on, it definitely was!) and started seeing it as a possibility for life. It was no longer about not getting into trouble with the law or getting my Mom off of my back. Suddenly, or finally (depending on the way you look at it), I wanted to be sober.
Once I had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to drink anymore, I wanted to be “better” at sobriety than anyone had ever been. I laugh now because I’m honestly not sure what that means. Knowing myself as well as I do now I can only surmise that it meant that I wanted to be perfect; I wanted to be recovered quickly and completely. I remember struggling mightily with smoking in the first couple of months. I wanted so badly to quit, smoking did not match who I wanted to be anymore. But I couldn’t. I could put down the booze but I just had to smoke. I cried about it to my sponsor for days. I felt like such a failure. Finally she interrupted my third or fourth sobbing session that week and said, “Stop trying to quit right now, just smoke, it’s okay. What you are doing is hard enough, give yourself a break. When you are ready, you’ll be able to quit, I promise.”
My sobriety date is August 14, 2008. The day I quit smoking was February 14, 2009, exactly six months after my last drink. It’s crazy for me to look back at that–why was I so hard on myself? Six months? I did great! I also see now that my sponsor understood something that I did not–that this whole thing was a process–that there was no finish line and no need to rush through things because this was it–this was my life now.
I really did think something wild and dramatic and life changing was going to happen when I got a year sober. It was similar to the longing I felt on my sixteenth birthday; I was sure I was suddenly going to feel like a woman that day–or at least, different. While neither benchmark offered any instantaneously transformative feelings, I did feel somewhat enlightened after 365 days without a drink. That’s when I settled into the idea that I was going to spend my life trying to be more sober–trying to be a little bit better than I was the day before. There is no destination–not a year, not ten, not forty–I have to keep going. No, strike that, I get to keep going. I’ll spend my life trying to become more loving and more kind. I’ll struggle to be more patient and forgiving. I’ll gain understanding and be understood. Nine years gone by and here’s what I have: Life is a process–it is the journey and the destination–it is everything. Whatever dreams may come are wonders not necessarily to be reached for, but to be realized. To know your dreams is to know yourself. To know yourself is to know the truth.
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