Then and Now

My first day sober marks a schism in my personal history the way human dominion over fire marks a schism in the history of the world.

It is the major landmark that explains why my life today is drastically different than how my life was then. It’s like the Great Divide—the Rocky Mountain range that divides the water that flows east from the water that flows west. If a drop of rain falls on one face of the mountain, it will flow to the opposite shore from the drop of rain that falls on the other side.

A helpful tool if you have a sobriety date, or any other landmark event in your life, is to see how different life was before it by plotting two similar points on both lifelines. Take your greatest fear then and compare it to your greatest fear now. Or, take your biggest problem then, and compare it to your biggest problem now.

You’ll find that to chart certain truths, you have to map their opposites.

Take happiness. What if I were to take my happiest day in active alcoholism and drug addiction and compare it to my happiest day clean and sober? What truth would I discover?


Then (2004)

Not me, for the record. The copper mines look nothing like that.

It was a beautiful New Hampshire day. Hot, not humid. Bright, not glaring. A warm mountain breeze cooled the baking sun. Three friends and I drove to an abandoned chasm of copper mines, where large man-made canyons of water turned azure from the rich mineral and sediment. The land was excavated so thoroughly that you could jump from 100 feet up, plunge into the water, swim as deep as you could without ever touching the bottom. No one ever did, at least that I know of.

We filled my friend’s car with smoke from a blunt, and listened to something—I can’t remember. It was the summer we discovered Leonard Cohen via Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. So, I like to imagine us listening to Suzanne or something of Cohen’s—something calm and poetic.

The smoke got so thick and our heads became so weightless, it’s a wonder we found our way there at all. On several other trips, we got lost, in fact. We’d get lost on roads that snaked over the White River and back, finding bridges with deep pockets of water to jump off instead of the mine cliffs, and then eat meals at general stores with broken windows.

We found the mines that day. And I recall standing on a ledge, so stoned that I was, at once, paralyzed with fear and uninhibited with action—this bizarre mix of chemical synthesis whereby death at once felt nearer than ever and inconsequential. It felt like I could put my head in the lion’s mouth without spilling any blood.

I jumped. The blood rushed to my head; my feet broke through the water painlessly. I let my body go and rose back up in the mine-water like an astronaut floats in weightlessness. My happiest day, back then.


Now (this Saturday, actually; 2017)

Like the “then” example, the “now” example began with a car ride. Although, I drove this time. And my only passenger was my four-year-old son, eager to camping. Sober days continue to renew the title of “happiest of my life”—I rarely have to search my memory too far in the past to find my next personal record of joy.

There were many happy moments.

My son rips quite a yarn (remember this one? Or that one?). He gets so into the stories he tells that we need to pause and stop everything else, as we did here:

“So then what happened was…”

But my happiest moment on the trip, and I think my life, was when we were in the tent for the night. I read a few chapters of Treasure Island, pausing only so he could repeat and memorize the phrase “15 men on the dead man’s chest. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.” In the time it took to read those pages, the gray of twilight turned black. When we flicked the light off, the sky opened up in all its stars.

All of a sudden we could see the expanse of stars flickering as the trees brought them in and out of sight. The infinite felt within reach; I imagined the joy he must have felt, becoming awe-struck by a galaxy within grasp. It was a sinking feeling—or maybe an elevating one, I couldn’t distinguish between the two.

Moments before the latest happiest moment of my life.

What is the difference between happiness then and happiness now?

However happy I was while high off my ass and cliff diving—and I promise you, especially because I was with my best friends, I was quite happy—I can’t ever separate my mood on drugs from the drugs themselves. Synthetic highs, at least for addicts, at the very least for me, will disappoint eventually. I became so hooked on the feeling weed gave me that day, for example, that my weed-smoking became a nostalgic obsession. No matter how much I smoked, I couldn’t’ get it back. It stopped working; but I never stopped trying.

So, the then memory, while incredibly happy, is inextricably tied to misery—to a series of causes and effects that cannot escape the endgame—the “I want to die to prove I’m alive” side effects of my marijuana usage. I must “play the tape through” as I’ve heard, or “think through the drink.”

I must not forget that the memory is a still photograph in the tragic motion picture of my addiction.

My memory from Saturday is one of many consistent memories of sober joy. It seems that chasing the wild highs just brought me record-setting lows, while true joy waited in the middle. That joy—the miracle of the mundane stuff—is sustainable. Not only can I sustain it, it propels itself.

It just needs a nudge—like sleeping under the stars—to remind you that it’s there, waiting for you to experience it.

24 Responses to “Then and Now

  • Thank you,
    It is indeed the miracle in the (maybe not so) mundane, the being present to appreciate those great moments.

    I saw the milky way for the first time last year, on a camping holiday with my son, where up to now I’d have been too busy looking for the miracle in the bottle to take time look skyward.

    Thank you for reminding me of this,

    • Using a telescope? I’ve never gone that stellar. Haha. It’s amazing. This parenting thing. Blows me away. Thanks for the read, bud.

    • Wonderful memories now and a great reminder of then. We do t shut the door on the past. It is our greatest asset. Love your blog on WordPress as I write This24now. I tried to comment there but couldn’t so i came here. Hugs

      • Yeah, not sure how the whole comment / word press thing works, but I’m sure glad you visited and dropped a line!

  • Stephen Andrew Rick
    9 months ago

    Beautiful. “Suzanne” is one of my favorite songs. Felt like I was looking at the stars while reading this.

    • Thanks Stephen! I love that first part “Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water”

      It’s just gold–all of it. I’m glad I was able to, sort of, convey the feel of it. It was hard, but, I’m glad you know what I meant.

  • saoirsek
    9 months ago

    Parenthood rocks! There I said it. A super post?

  • this is so beautiful! thank you for sharing!

  • Excellence. Glad I saved this one to read. It’s particularly instructive (if not healthy) to “not dwell on the past nor shut the door on it.” Since much of my usage I had done alone, the highs could get pretty fun (or as much “fun” as you can have when you’re all by yourself—don’t let your imagination run too wild! LOL)

    “Synthetic highs, at least for addicts, at the very least for me, will disappoint eventually…” I think for me this is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. My brain tends to flash back to the euphoria, which to this day is still present. It never instantly flashes back to me puking and shitting blood in a basement jail cell. Ours is a brain illness, and if we’re going to look at our best times NOW, I think it’s important that ANY good that we have at this point is because we’ve embraced long-term sobriety.

    Your piece is at its typical, which is nothing mundane! Evocative, forward-leaning, muscular writing. I’m blessed to call you friend and a fellow writer in the program. Now, MY turn to write something online. It’s been too long because of all the stuff with this book project!

    – Danno

    • So glad you read, Dan! I know you’re busy with a lot on your plate. I do think this is “the miracle of the mundane” at it’s finest so I’m glad you did.

      And I agree with how you see the “then and now”. For me, instead of a basement jail cell, it’s a Mexican church (something you know but so few others do).

      I’m going to that article you tagged me on right now!

  • One of the best “better sober” posts I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot, Mark. You nailed it.

    • Thank you so much!

      I didn’t want to do the “drinking sucked” and “sobriety’s awesome” thing because, in truth, I had some great days out there, drinking and using. But the whole scale of what is “great” changed in sobriety. So, I guess, that’s what I was trying to convey. I saw you re-blogged this? Man, I appreciate that.

  • A change in the direction over space and time can make an astronomical difference

    • Man, I wish I thought of that line before I published this! Thanks for adding to the post! That’s a beautiful summary that nails on every theme in here.

  • I love that. I will share it with my son!

  • My goodness what a beautiful post! I love the way you explain how difficult it is to differentiate from a happy memory and the influence drugs had on that moment. Very often we use and drink on social occasions when we are with our friends, are typically happy occasions anyway. NOTHING tops sober true joy, absolutely nothing.

  • Beautiful. It really puts a perspective on it all when you think back like that. What you thought were such happy days really weren’t after all. If you can even remember them which is always questionable. And you can’t really be present when you are using. Not really present. Good one!

    • It is definitely complicated. Hard to explain, but you hit it, exactly like it is. What I thought was happiness was something different, now that I know what true freedom and happiness mean. Thanks Susanne for your support.

  • For everydifficult (sober/life) moment, I live in an undeniable place of peace. Mundane peace is THE BEST HIGH.

  • Hi Mark!
    I loved this post!
    I was thinking about this, and I might write a post about this.
    If I do, I’ll be sure to tag you so people can read your post!
    I hope all is well.
    (Your son is SO cute!)

    • Thanks Wendy! I’m so glad it gave you something to think about. If it includes something to write about, that’s a bonus!

  • Fantastic. Ironically just this week I encountered a situation wherein I was confronted with “now versus then.” Emotionally and psychologically I am in many ways the same person, but for the first time in a long time I recognized a situation I would have drunk about. I didn’t WANT to drink (no cravings)…but I recognized that, “then,” my solution would have been to get fucked up. It was unsettling….emotions I haven’t felt in awhile….but thanking god (literally) that I’m sober.

    • Those moments! It feels to me like I’m living in entirely new skin now.

      Crazy meta stuff happening what you describe. You can step outside of it and see it for what it used to be and do something different now…mind blown.

      • To add: decided I really needed to hit a meeting. Went to a step meeting at noon and we read/discussed the 6th step. Man oh man a direct hit! Wild! (And good!)

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