One Simple Decision: Gratitude and Sorrow

By L. Robert Veeder 11/21/18

My sobriety cost too much; I have always believed this and now, after 15 consecutive years, I am sure that I always will believe this.

Figure against colorful sky with clouds and water. Gratitude
Today is the 15th anniversary of my sobriety. It is a date that is perpetually entwined with gratitude and sorrow. This is a date that I will always celebrate and mourn. PC: Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and I am sitting at the desk in my office. I’m not at work officially yet, won’t be for another hour or so. Then the race will start. Kara had asked me if I wanted to go to a meeting this morning, to pick up my 15 year coin. I didn’t.

She said, “The day can look however you want. I have a babysitter, so if you want to go out after work and celebrate, then we can do that…or nothing.”

I said that I thought that this year I just wanted it to be a day, just to be a day like any other day. Sometimes I really want the celebration, but this year, this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to come in here and sit and think and spend some time alone. So, I woke up early, my daughter’s warm, tiny body next to me through the night sleeping heavily after a late evening of trick-or-treating excitement, costumes, candy, and other children running wildly through the streets. Kara, still exhausted, is next to her, a new puppy sleeping soundly at her shoulder. There is a cat at her feet curled up contentedly as all cats sleep. Last night we went to bed laughing about this — the animals, our child, about the busy place that our bed has become. I pointed out that nine years ago this would have been an absolute dream come true.

Kara said, “Nine years ago this couldn’t have even been imagined!” and we laughed together at our own amazement.

Today is the 15th anniversary of my sobriety. It is a date that is perpetually entwined with gratitude and sorrow. This is a date that I will always celebrate and mourn. My sobriety cost too much; I have always believed this and now, after 15 consecutive years, I am sure that I always will believe this.

Sobriety always comes at a cost. I’ve been around enough 12-step rooms and other sober support communities to know this.

It is veritably impossible to hear a person’s recovery story without being very often stunned and amazed by the levels of grief and despair that their recovery has cost. The cost of my own sobriety was lives. I still shake my head 15 years later even as I write those words. It just doesn’t seem possible still. I can just never make it better. Not ever.

I am Sysiphus, eternally condemned to pushing a boulder to the top of this mountain.

But it is also great, which is an odd dissonance. It’s a perpetual mourning, but also an absolute celebration, and discovery, and adventure.

I work with people daily in very early recovery. They sit in my office and cry and are angry and are desperate and scared. They sit across from me and I see myself. It would be impossible not to. The words they use, the language they use, is a close memory hermetically sealed forever in my mind. I listen to them and I hear myself. I feel sad for them, and grateful that for me that the chaos has ended. It has finally ended. I remember how it felt to have the heavy fog of eternal delusion lift and what it felt like to start to see for what felt like the first time ever. And I am so grateful for the utter simplicity of today’s problems.

But again, I question the cost.

One simple decision.

One very simple, very wrong, decision.

And some poor soul never gets to see their child again, their parent again, someone they love ever again, and there is no way to ever make that better. That can never be made better again.

After taking Story trick-or-treating last night, she climbs excitedly into her car seat and asks for her bounty, her new treasures, her bucket of goods scored on a lively Hallows Eve. Kara tells her that she doesn’t want Story to eat all of that candy and make herself sick. Story insists that she won’t. We relent and let her have her reserve. On the way home we are absolutely charged. What a great night! We tell Story what a good kid she was and how much we appreciated her saying “thank-you” to all of the people that gave her candy. And because I never want her to forget it, I remind her of all of the great things we did leading up to this night. I ask her to join in with me, and we laugh about corn mazes and hot apple cider. We talk about apple picking and candy corn. We revel in her having been read the entire first Harry Potter book not once, but twice! We remember carving pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds.

Occasionally, Story asks if she can turn the light on in the van so that she can carefully pick her next treat. Kara says she can do it as long as she does it quickly, and I can hear the crinkling of tiny brown wrappers behind me and I am filled to the brim with love and joy and just Life!

And then I wonder…

Was this what it was like for them?

Fifteen years later this is what I have to offer not just my own victims, but the world. This is what I owe:

My boundless gratitude.

My eternal apologies.

My diligence and determination.

My thankfulness.

My joy.

My promise.

My sobriety.

Thank you to everyone, friends, and families, my victims, just everyone, who has made this incredibly magical, and far too meaningful journey possible. Thank you all. And please don’t drink and drive. Please. Just don’t.


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On November 1st Robert Veeder celebrated his fifteenth year of sustained remission from substance use and dependence. Robert was in a drinking and driving accident in 2003 that sadly cost six people their lives. He was incarcerated as a result of that accident from 2003 until 2012. After his release in 2012 Robert and his wife moved to the Rochester area where he pursed a Health Science Degree with a concentration in Substance Abuse Counseling from Brockport College. Robert Graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2015 and has been passionately working as an addiction therapist ever since at a local outpatient facility. Robert is happily married, madly in love with his wife, has a five-year-old daughter named Story, is a prolific writer, a juggler, a musician who plays banjo, piano, accordion, ukulele, and occasionally a djembe. He is passionate about the recovery community and excited about the opportunity to not only help people achieve abstinence, but more important to achieve lasting peace and happiness.