THE BLOG
05/21/2014 07:50 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

17,000 Sober Hours

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I see joy in my nephews from nothing more than me just being present for the moments that are special to them. (Photo: Cassandra Bradley, BlueSky Studios, Inc).

When I was in rehab, we had a very structured routine. We had to be up and ready at 7 a.m. for breakfast and the morning devotion. After breakfast, we would sit around the kitchen table and each one of us would read out of a recovery daily devotion book. I kind of hated this at the time, because some of the devotions were beyond my limited spiritual mind, but I was always able to hold on to something someone said. I've never heard of a case where a spiritual devotion actually hurt someone's day, so I was patient with the process.

Sure enough, life got better in rehab with each passing day, so it was suggested we stay on the same routine once we were released into the wild (aka society).

Once I got home, I set up a spot in my house where I keep all my devotions and books on recovery that I read daily. It's right outside of my bedroom. Choosing this place was intentional, because it's the first thing I see once I open my bedroom door. So, each morning, I wake up, let my dog out in the back yard, make coffee and sit down for my daily readings.

This morning, for no reason, I checked my sobriety calculator. Not something I do on the regular, but I opened it up and there it was: "You've been sober for 17,000 hours." What? 17,000 hours! For some reason, this really shocked me a little. Maybe because I am used to milestones of sobriety being in days, months and now years for me -- to see it in hours was eye-opening.

So, I paused for a moment and just thought about what that meant to me. 17,000 sober hours.

Not one of those hours was spent wasted drinking at a bar, being drunk, or hung over. I didn't make any trips to the emergency room. I didn't spend any nights in jail. I didn't waste one hour in court. I haven't wasted an entire day sleeping it off and feeling miserable because of drinking the night before. And most importantly, I can account for every single one of those 17,000 hours.

Now, this may not sound like anything special if you're not an alcoholic, but I spent many, many hours of my life in a blackout state. Not recalling what I did or said the night before. Passing out at bars. Waking up in strange places. Most of my hours were spent in a blur or a blackout.

I was usually able to tell what kind of night it was by looking through my phone the next morning. Text messages, recent phone call records, and my picture gallery were often a good measure of what happened -- my mind was not. But still, those were only pieces of the puzzle. Next, I would go down the list calling the friends that I was out with to fill in the missing pieces.

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Passed out at a bar with a chair stacked on top of me. No recollection of this until someone text me this picture the next day. (2010)

I guess it was a blessing that I didn't remember some of the more embarrassing things I did while drunk, but I also missed out on what I heard were great nights with friends and precious time with my family.

I wasn't present for anything. Life was just a blur. The number of music concerts and theatre performances that I don't remember is sad. I had to drink for family dinners, nephew's ballgames and birthday parties, sibling's weddings, and even my little brother's funeral.

Putting excessive amounts of alcohol into your body doesn't allow you to be present for life.

So, I guess that is why the 17,000 sober hours really made me think. I am so grateful that I have been present for every single one of them. My senses are alive. Guess what? Feeling won't kill you! I know -- I had no idea either! I know my emotions and I listen to them. I see joy in my nephews from nothing more than me just being present for the moments that are special to them. I remember conversations and promises I make. I show up for commitments.

And really -- it's just called living. Living life on life's terms. Being present. There is no price I can put on the serenity and contentment that the past 17,000 hours have brought me. Knowing that I am not wreaking havoc on the world and those around me is priceless.

You don't have to be an alcoholic to not be present for life. Many things in our lives cloud our mind. But for me, it was alcohol. Realizing it, accepting it and changing it has allowed me to live life on life's terms one day at a time -- or hour, if you will.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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