Yesterday was my 45th birthday, a semi-milestone, right? Well, either way, it gave me pause to consider the broad spectrum of birthdays past. My husband asked me last night, “What were your childhood birthdays like?” The one that stood out the most was my eighth birthday. It fell on a Saturday, and a typical Saturday morning involved, almost without fail, a shopping trip to somewhere incredibly boring, usually Sears, because my Dad peripherally worked for the company as a truck driver, hence a family discount. I still associate extreme boredom with that store, and I still look at circular clothes racks as potential hiding spots. Anyway, my Mom woke me up and told me to hurry up and get ready, because we were going to Sears. Outrage feels like a small word to describe my feelings on this subject, we are really going to this store AGAIN on MY birthday?!? Yep, so get moving.
I was resentful for the entire ride, and as we entered the parking lot, my Mom drove past the usual place we parked, and kept on going to the back of the store. I’m asking questions, but she’s not answering. There, waiting behind the store, in his 24-wheel tractor-trailer, sat my Dad, he was waiting to give me and my younger brother a ride for my birthday. It was my first (and, come to think of it, last) experience with a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” and the cool things I experienced stay with me to this day: I learned that the horn was not on the steering wheel, but a string that hung on the passenger’s side of the cab, so the driver has to reach over to pull it. The height at which you sit in such a vehicle is awe-inspiring (alright, that fact may be glorified by the age I was at the time of the experience, but still). Most of all, I felt incredibly special, that my Dad was thinking of me and made such arrangements on his day off, almost like a celebrity paid me a visit. I wish my Dad was alive so that I could tell him how much that simple act affected my life. Mom, you read this blog, and you put up with my complaining that morning… sorry for that, and thanks for the wonderful memory.
Lots of other birthdays since then, many memorable ones, both with and without alcohol, although as the years passed, the alcohol played a more and more dominant role. I remember one birthday, I’m guessing my 35th but I can’t say that with certainty, was a low-key affair: the kids were small, my husband had given me some time to myself, and I came home to a nice dinner, and a really nice birthday gift. It was a pink iPod mini with an inscription he had engraved:
I wish I could say the only reason that birthday is memorable is the beautiful, thoughtful, romantic gift my husband gave me. It is not, although those facts are true… my husband was and is the most romantic person I know, and I am including myself on that list! Sadly, I also remember it because of addiction. Of course, the details are hazy from both alcohol consumption and from time passing, but the morning of my birthday I had a terrible hangover. And since I’m fairly certain it was a weeknight, I am confident that hangover was due to drinking solo, most likely in secret. What I do remember, clear as crystal, are the promises I made to myself as I spent time alone that afternoon/evening: “You just can’t drink anymore… it’s not worth it! It is not worth waking up with that feeling of sick dread, not remembering what you did!” I remember the resolve I felt as I had these thoughts: I. Am. Done. It felt liberating, that light bulb thought, “I just won’t drink anymore!” I can remember these simple thoughts getting me over the hump of the hangover. I remember coming into the house, and being surprised with dinner, the day keeps getting better! And I remember my husband pulling out the wine glass and bottle, there was no real point in asking the question, as the answer was obvious. And I remember the instant blank spot. Just like that the pain of the hangover was banished from my memory, the resolution and the joy that resolution brought me also gone. Wine was there, it was my birthday, and of course I’m going to drink it.
About 10 birthdays have passed since that one, some were alcohol-fueled (40th surprise birthday party, I’m thinking of you), some were in a period of being alcohol free, but far from being sober, the last three have been in recovery. And here’s what I’ve learned: when you look through the lens of gratitude, your birthday, and life, is a magical thing. Here is how my birthday went yesterday, and I will add pictures when appropriate:
4 am: my daughter wakes me up to tell me she is not feeling well, can she climb into bed? I roll over, and then proceed to lay there and figure how to get her to sleep, not wake up my husband, and not wake up my severe claustrophobia (I finally gave up on the third, and rearranged to put her in the middle, just thinking about being in the middle right now has me breaking out in a cold sweat). As I’m laying there, I’m thinking how lucky I am to have this moment… it’s not very often that either kid will come and snuggle in with me (they are 14 and 12, so it’s pretty understandable), so it felt like a really cool way to start my birthday. Of course, I was sad she wasn’t feeling well, but the silver lining was she got more sleep than she would have on her own, and I got to feel good being a Mom.
6 am: Got up, decided she was feeling well enough to go to school, and went downstairs to find my first birthday treat, a vanilla latte and donuts from the most delicious donut store in our area:
6:30 am: Got my daughter off to school, woke my son up, and he presents me with this card. In case it is not obvious, I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen for decades:
7: 30 am: Got son and husband off to their respective places to be, enjoy the rest of my coffee and donut(s), and head down to my Mom’s for our annual trip to Sephora and lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. This has become a tradition with on my birthday since recovery, and I look forward to it every year. Buying make-up at that store is just plain fun, I’m saying this as one who is really not much of a shopper. Plus, Cheesecake Factory, enough said. Here are two of the delicious things we ordered:
3 pm: Came home from that delightful afternoon to find my husband has left work early to surprise me (and cut the grass before it gets dark). There are beautiful roses awaiting me, in my favorite color, which, in case you haven’t yet guessed, is pink:
5 pm: The evening plans revolved around sports schedules, so I figured we’d maybe get something to eat in between drop-off’s and pick-up’s, but I did not anticipate my husband hooking us up with reservations at a restaurant I have been really wanting to check out. It was an amazing experience: it was one of those farm-to-table deals, I normally roll my eyes at that particular trend, but there has been so much good press that I wanted to see what it was all about. The food really was noticeably different in the preparation (fresh as in, make sure you have some time to spend fresh), presentation (the choices were the most unusual I have ever experienced), and taste (Oh. My. God!). It was such an intimate, unique, and satisfying experience, I still feel overwhelmed by how special I was made to feel.
And I forgot to mention the gift the kids got me, to aid me in my fitness ventures (which I sorely need, after resting my ankle and celebrating with all that food):
With the gift came this card made by my daughter:
8 pm: Coming home from the restaurant, my son had this surprise waiting for me:
And another from my next-door neighbor, her sons baked this by themselves in their EZ Bake oven!
9 pm: Then I got to sit down, and read all the thoughtful birthday messages on Facebook from friends as young as grade school to neighbors I did not see face-to-face. Say what you want about Facebook, the ability to connect with people, and just send a small uplifting message, is a really special thing, at least it made me feel really special and loved last night!
10: 30 pm: The final gift of the night, and I’m sorry to be cagey here, but I can’t talk details until everything is officially sorted out: a text regarding a complicated matter seems finally, after a very long time, to be coming to a favorable conclusion. The fact that this information arrived on my birthday felt like a thumbs up from God himself, “Go ahead, have a great day, you deserve it!” And of course, I did just that.
So that was my day, filled with special things, but made even more special by the conscious and present-minded appreciation of them, all throughout. And none of that, absolutely none of it, would have been possible without the ultimate gift, on my birthday and every other day, of sobriety.
I am so very blessed.
Of course, all the miracles I just described, plus, and this can’t be overstated, transferring these pictures from my phone to my desk top computer is a miracle!