First of a two-part series: An excerpt from We Are the Luckiest
Before Laura McKowen got sober, she had a long, successful career in public relations in the Mad Men-esque drinking culture of the advertising industry, where “liquid lunches were frequent and drinking at your desk in the late afternoon was perfectly normal.” In the five years since she stopped drinking, she has become one of the foremost voices in the modern recovery movement. In her new memoir We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life (New World Library, January 2020), McKowen flips the script on how we talk about addiction and encourages readers not to ask, “Is this bad enough that I have to change?” but rather, “Is this good enough for me to stay the same?”
This is how it is done — how anything is done. One moment, then the next, then the next. This is how my book is being written: I type this word, then this one, then this one. The words build sentences. The sentences build a paragraph. A book is impossible, but a word and then another word is not. A lifetime of sobriety was impossible, but a moment of sobriety was not. I was doing it, and I was doing it, and I was doing it again.
On that train ride, I did something new: I stopped promising myself I would never drink again. I didn’t make any grand pronouncements; I didn’t declare my intentions to anyone; I didn’t send texts; I just sat there. I listened to Matt Berninger’s baritone voice bellow in my ears as the train chugged toward the city.
I had been so tripped up by forever. By the idea of my entire life rolled out before me without a glass of silky red wine with my girlfriends, or a hoppy IPA on a deck, or a happy-hour cheers with my coworkers — ever again. Holidays, birthdays, summer, fall, winter, spring. What if I got married again? Finally traveled to wine country or back to Ireland or just down to New York? What if I dated someone who loved good whiskey or beer; what about the next big client dinner? Sure, I could make it through this week, or the next, and maybe even longer than that…but forever? What did that even mean?
After my first recovery meeting, a woman came over, took my hands in hers, and, with shining eyes, told me, “You never have to drink again!” I thought, Is that supposed to make me feel better? Because it makes me want to die. I didn’t want to never drink again. I wanted to drink normally. Passably. Like I had before everything got fucked up. I’d assumed something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel relief at her words. But nothing was wrong with me — I just wasn’t there yet.
And I still wasn’t there that morning on the train. So I stopped pretending I was. I stopped pretending, period.
I didn’t commit to forever, or even tomorrow.
Just today. I wouldn’t drink in this moment, or the next, or the next. I remembered something else a sober friend said to me: “If you want to drink tomorrow, you can. We can decide that tomorrow. Today, you don’t, though. That’s all.”
It was the smallest resolve. The tiniest shift. Almost as if nothing had changed.
The Next Moment
I don’t remember how the rest of that day went, but I know I didn’t drink. And now, nearly five years later, I still haven’t. This isn’t true because I said, I will never drink again. It’s true — at least in part — because I said, I will not drink right now, no matter what, and I finally did everything necessary to be able to say that same thing in the next moment, and the next, and the next. Not because I was committed to forever, but because I finally realized the future was built on a bunch of nows, and that was it.
Every once in a while when I share this part of my story, someone will say to me, with a lot of animosity, “Oh, so you’re saying we should just ‘let what happens happen and not try to shape our life’?” My answer is no. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that anyone who knows the pain of purgatory knows there’s no such thing as the future when the “right now” has you by the throat. I’m saying, for me, the arrogance of I’ll never drink again…is the same arrogance that told me, It’s just one drink….I’m saying you can drown in “forever” whereas you can wade into “right now.”
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle says, “Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now.” I have found this to be true and helpful as it relates to doing a thing that at one time I was sure was impossible for me but that now I’m doing over and over and over again.
Day by day. Hour by hour. Moment by moment.
My thing is alcohol. But I am not drinking it.
Next month: Part 2 — A Bigger Yes