Thirteen Years Sober, Plus a Ton of Love

April 3rd has been a big day for me for many years: it has been my sobriety anniversary since 2003.  This year (if you suck at math) will be my 13th sober year.  But the date has, of recent times, taken on a few extra meanings.  It now also marks my love and I’s half anniversary (this year being one and a half years) as well as the one year mark of me moving from Philadelphia back to Central PA (although you may recall I spent the first month back here at my father’s house, so it is NOT the one year anniversary of me and Karla living together).  Got all that?  The bottom line is it is a date that now marks, essentially, the full evolution of my life.

(I’ve written extensively about this topic before; if you’re new to the blog and interested, I detailed the days I got sober in a two-part blog, part one here and part two here .   There’s a dandy of an entry on the topic here.  Here is a good one about when I was very close to rock bottom.  Anyway, there are TONS, I’ve been writing this blog a long time, feel free to go to the home page and explore the tags “Recovery” and “Addiction”)

For the first few years of sobriety, obviously the anniversary date was a very big deal to me.  I made sure to get together with family and friends, wrote poignant poems, went places with significance to my recovery story.  As the years passed, the day morphed gradually; while it never lost significance, it did lose intensity.  Somewhere around Year Five, Dad and I started marking the occasion with a breakfast at The Hamilton, in Carlisle, a tradition that was a little short-lived due to my moving away from the area around Year Nine.  In addition, around Year Six I began to make a point of watching “Dark Days”, a documentary about homeless addicts who live in the New York City subway system.  While my life never dipped as low as that, I certainly felt like I had stared that kind of desperation in the face and just barely escaped it.  Watching the documentary (which is not just emotionally affecting but a startling display of filmmaking) is a way of keeping that reality fresh for me, a kind of “there-but-for-the-grace-of-Whatever-go-I” kind of experience.  As I now live with a family and have a busier schedule than at any time previously in my sobriety, I’m now watching “Dark Days” before the actual anniversary.  Here, check it out:

I’ll also be able to see Dad on the actual date again this year, which will be nice.  We had just gotten into the swing of the tradition when it had to stop.  Unfortunately, The Hamilton isn’t open on Sundays, so we’ll have to change it up a bit, but of course change is nice, mostly.

Of course, if all those wrenching changes hadn’t happened to me back then, I never would have been in a position to meet, woo, and win the dear love of my life, Karla, and help her raise her amazing son.  The year and a half I have been lucky enough to be doing this has been a delicious treasure, like a secret revealed to me.  The size and scope of the love I have been able to feel for them (as well as our dog, Benji, who is my “poocher love”) continues, routinely, to shock me.  It is honestly a level of emotion I would not previously have thought humanly possible.  It is akin to reaching the highest level of a video game, being positive it is the highest level, and then discovering there is not only a level beyond it, but in fact twenty more levels.  I frequently have to tell Karla, breathlessly, that I don’t know what to do—I don’t know how to express or even deal with my love for them.  She just smiles and kisses me; what else is there to say?

I’ve made many slide show videos before, but just to mark the occasion, I’ve made a new one encapsulating Karla and I’s entire relationship.  Have a look:


What really excites me is how the advent of my family life really highlights for me the changes I’ve gone through internally.  When I think about myself thirteen years ago, of course, the changes within me appear very dramatic—at the end of my drinking I was as big of a mess of a human being as could exist.  But even beyond that, once I got sober and began taking the baby steps into reliable, independent adulthood, I still felt for many years as though I had many, many character traits I needed to work on, often becoming convinced I could never make the necessary changes.  I was selfish, grumpy, standoffish, a certified loner.  And while elements of those traits still clank around within me, my life with a partner, child, and pet continually show me my progress.  I don’t bring this up in an attempt to get a pat on the back (after all, being a good person should kind of be a given) but just because I think it’s an extraordinary fact that it is possible for anyone to set out to “work on themselves”–to make alterations to their inner workings and, over time, actually see quantifiable results.  Four or five years ago, when I was living an isolated life, giving strangers the finger in the gym, going to great pains to avoid my neighbors…I would not have thought it would be possible to make significant change.  This date, April 3rd, gives me now a terrific chance to measure almost everything, and commemorate almost everything; how far I have been able to come since sobriety, how much Karla and family have changed me or helped me register change, and how being back in central PA has affected me.

Speaking of now being back in Central PA for a year–I feel as though I must acknowledge I have failed, to an extent, in some of my other relationships.  Most of my family and friends here I have seen between 1-3 times.  My sincere apologies to those of you who may feel I am ignoring you.  I won’t belabor you with excuses (however very, VERY true they are) of how busy and challenging life with a toddler is, etc etc, but I will say, however…that’s life, you know?  We’ll keep trying.

And what is sustained life like back in Central PA after taking such a long trip away?  Well…it’s not quite the same, but not entirely different.  It is without a doubt a nice place to live.  It is cozy and vibrant and there is more than enough to do.  It is bizarre, though, feeling as though I returned to the place a different person.  I like the river very much.

2 Responses to “Thirteen Years Sober, Plus a Ton of Love”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    You know I and many others in every aspect of your life are way proud of you. Rather than offer up a yearly congratulation (Congratulations! Seriously!) I’d like to ask a unique question.

    What do you miss about your lowest days?

    • sethdellinger Says:

      wow…that is a very unique question. But, perhaps not surprisingly, there ARE things to miss. But what popped into my head right away was the complete lack of responsibility. Like, the LOWEST days, when I had even stopped going to work…although they were filled with misery…I was accountable to nobody and nothing. It was a hell of a feeling.

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