I used to think that progress was measured in big lengths, 180-degree turns, dramatic change. Going Alicia Silverstone vegan rather than just cutting back on red meat. Giving up a promising and steady career to join the Peace Corps (as opposed to the somewhat less dramatic move of working for an admired non-profit).
The expectation that change must be extraordinary can, in and of itself, prevent meaningful – if small – progress.
Today is my 36th birthday. Like many people, I measure progress in my life in years. Where was I last year? Where do I hope to be next year? Birthdays afford us special opportunities to navel gaze. And for me, they have taken on additional significance: three years ago today, I took my last drink.
It was a glass of red wine from a lovely bottle given to me as a birthday gift by good friends. Several years earlier, one of those friends had given me a similar birthday gift, only that one was a jug of the cheap stuff, the label replaced with a hand-written one that read “Jenna’s Jug o’ Wine.” The jug was apparently reminiscent of a similar one I’d drunk all by myself at a party. Frankly, I don’t recall.
More than three years ago, a birthday without booze would have been like a day without sunshine. Not only could I not imagine a birthday (or any celebration) without alcohol, the drinking became the main focus of my attention. The food, friends, and conversation all took a back seat. Am I drinking too fast? Has anyone noticed I’m more than a little tipsy? Am I having enough fun???
To celebrate my birthday today, two friends came over (one of them the bearer of the famed jug) and I made pizza. We drank seltzer and ate cupcakes. We watched the utter drivel that is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Doritos for the brain).
No one died from lack of alcohol and the celebration was no less special without wine or cocktails. Rather it was more special for their absence. A testament to the value of slow, steady progress, the daily discipline that allows any of us to make real lasting change.