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Senior Sober

Issue 18

I am sixty-one years old. Not quite senior, but certainly approaching the cusp. I have reflected on words my father spoke often to my brothers and me growing up in Pittsburgh.

“Today is the youngest you will ever be, live like it.”

This was a mindset that escaped me when I began recovery at 46 years old. I sat in the 12-step room and listened to men and women who were 20 and 30 years sober. They had begun their recovery years and decades before me. It honestly depressed me. I wasn’t sure if I even had that many years in front of me with all the damage I had done to my body.

I lamented the loss of a way of life and uncertainty about a projected future free of the bonds of substances. I was terrified of looking at myself in the mirror, stripped naked, having to love the person I saw without an expensive but ill-fitting suit of cocaine and booze. I wasn’t even sure I was an “alcoholic” nor did I care that first day in 12-step. I simply wanted to wake up the next day and for the first time in my life, walk to the mirror in my birthday suit naked, look at myself and love my reflection without the aid of substances. A feeling I had never experienced without the drugs.

Beginning recovery at any age is difficult. It often involves some sort of loss: Loss of family; the loss of self-respect and the breaking down of self to ground zero before the slow re-build begins; sometimes the loss of freedom.

When it happens at a later stage in life, there is a lot more room to engage in looking back at all that destruction. I certainly did that quite a bit in those early days of recovery. I obsessed over the years I had “wasted,” convinced that I might as well have lit a match to them. I felt the shame, regret, and contemplation of the uncertainty and fear of “middle-age sober.’

Starting out, it ripped me apart that I had two successful brothers who I measured myself against and never came out feeling good about it. I engaged in the most self-destructive kind of reflection on the past. I call it “revisionist recovery:” going over every moment in my past and wondering how things would be different if I had only not taken that first substance. Would I have been a better law student? A better husband. A better brother. A better son. A better lawyer.

I eventually realized that this was not going to help my recovery because it boiled my life down to moments in time rather than viewing it as a fluid chain of events that make me the person I am today.

Do I have regrets? Sure, I will always regret the collateral damage, but that is what making living amends and doing my best to change the world with acts of kindness is all about for me. I can’t change the past, but I can control how I respond to it and do my best to stay in the present, trying to do the next right thing every day.

I had the epiphany that, for my recovery to truly move forward, I could no longer obsess about “wasted years” and how things could have been different or what I could have done in my life if I had gotten sober earlier.

I embrace who I am today. Today is the youngest I will ever be, and I will live like it one day at a time in my recovery. That’s what I hope as I move through my sixties. When the time comes, I will embrace the cusp of senior sober, hopefully looking forward with verve and purpose. Senior sober will be a wonderful place to be.

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