The only life we have

Woke in the night to rain on the roof, but this morning the grape vine is glowing red in the sun and the clouds are moving east–a little strange, since the wind seems to be blowing west, but maybe it’s different up there where clouds live.  One of the things I’ve always liked about plane trips is being up there with the clouds.

I am not one of those seasoned travelers who pulls down the blinds, puts on eye covers and ear plugs, and sleeps the hours away.  I’m the one with my nose pressed to the window, thrilling at snowy mountain tops and long winding rivers cutting their way through the landscape.  Once, when my husband and I were flying back from the east coast, a man sitting across the aisle got absolutely enraged when I refused to pull the blind down.  I “didn’t understand the rules,” he said. He traveled a lot, he said, and “knew what was expected of people.”  I was “thoughtless and inconsiderate” of passengers who wanted to sleep or watch a movie. I could use my reading light, after all, what was wrong with me?

I’m not usually very good at standing up for my rights in situations like this, but I don’t travel often and was damned if I was going to spend the next four hours staring at the inside of a 747 and deprive myself of cloud-watching, so I stood my ground, as did my husband.  The man called the flight attendant and complained, the flight attendant relayed his complaints, we politely declined to go along, and she shrugged and went about her business.  For the next half hour, the man stared at me with hatred, then put on his eye covers and went to sleep.  Whew!  Another axe murder averted.

Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I’ve a lot to do, but I’m remembering how nervous I was about Thanksgiving three years ago when I was eight months sober, and what a non-issue it turned out to be.  In a post on a recovery forum, I wrote:

A sober Thanksgiving, fancy that!

I didn’t even think about alcohol until after dinner, when my back was hurting and a head cold was hitting and I thought, geez, is it always like this? and then remembered that I would’ve been drunk by then and wishing everyone would go home….

 …the usual sumptuous fare, and my daughter and son-in-law took on more and more of the work, so I got to sit a little and talk with the neighbor who was there.  I missed my sons, but in some ways it was more fun having a smaller group than usual, and I liked that my daughter and SIL insisted on having so many of the things I’ve cooked over the years.  I feel very close to her and her family, and lucky to have them around.

 And although I was pretty wrecked by the time they left and hobbled into bed, I wasn’t drunk, didn’t pass out, and could remember it all this morning.

I was  still estranged from my eldest son then. We’d had a meeting together with a therapist, but I hadn’t heard from him since and had no idea what direction things would go.  My younger son, recently divorced and coping with a lot, had said he needed to hang out with his AA buddies. I remember how sad I was about it, wondering if we’d ever be a whole family again.  And then, only three weeks later, I wrote:

Today I got a Christmas present–the best.

 My eldest son, who has barely spoken to me for over a year, came by this afternoon, and we had a long and amiable talk. The healing has begun.

 I am one happy mama.

For any newly sober people who are wavering, wondering if it will really make any difference in your lives, I am here to answer that question with a resounding YES! It won’t solve all our problems, age will still creep up on us, bones will ache and muscles will hurt, and life will still bring us crises and pain and commotion, but sobriety offers us a chance to be present in the only life we have and to make it better.  Seize it with both hands.

The Poet With His Face in His Hands

You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes.  But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water-fun and you can
stand there under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

–Mary Oliver

Hermit thrush



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2 Responses to The only life we have

  1. mishedup says:


    thank you for this.
    The reminder that things get better, though maybe not perfect.
    That we can do this.
    Last year was my first sober Thanksgiving, Xmas, everything. And though I was in a lot of pain from feelings, I felt a certain amount of pride that i was actually getting through this without drinking. This year seems to be a little more work…and I am working on it, trying to find the balance between what I need and what is expected, or what I want to control. And staying present is huge for me…I am doing it.
    It is the only life we have and it is better. Better is so good.

  2. This post fills me with so much gratitude. What a blessing you are to us Susan, thank you so much.

    I adore that Mary Oliver poem. It reminds me a bit of the poem that first introduced me to her work, Wild Geese. Tell me of your despair, and I’ll tell you mine, meanwhile the world spins on. “Announcing your place in the family of things…” seems to be a consistent theme in her work. We’re all pieces of the whole.

    I love your airplane story. I’ve gone full circle from awe-struck traveler to jaded traveler back to being awe-struck. There’s nothing like seeing the sun rise or set while you are soaring above the clouds.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Susan. What a gift to be sober, aware and present.

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