Celebrating Birthdays – Milestones Of Sobriety Time
Celebrating Birthdays – Milestones Of Sobriety Time
Today my sister-in-law celebrates 5 years sober. Tomorrow, my brother will be celebrating 5 years sober also. Both birthdays mark a big milestone because of where they came from. My brother always says “If I can get sober, anyone can”. And knowing what he was like before he got sober, that statement couldn’t be truer.
So, what is the purpose of celebrating these birthdays/ milestones of sobriety? Some say it is for the person, to remember where they came from, and to celebrate the time that they have been sober. But, I have found it to be much more than that.
First, a little backstory on birthdays. When I say the word “birthday”, the first word that probably comes to mind is the day a person was born. And you would be correct.
In the Fellowship though, we celebrate two birthdays: “Bellybutton Birthday” means your actual birthday, or the day you were born; “Sobriety Birthday” means the day you got sober.
Celebrating these two birthdays is a way to celebrate two births. The first birth was the day you were born. The second birth is the day you got sober, or the birth date of a whole new life.
I know for me, the day I got sober was the beginning of a brand-new life, while my old life “died” in a way. Active alcoholism was a sort of fire, figuratively speaking, and through that fire my old ways died. Sobriety has meant the birth of my new life, which was born out of the ashes of my old life. I had to go through the gates of hell and fire to be cleansed and re-born.
When I was in early sobriety, my friend (who is now my current sponsor), told me he was going to hold me to 30 days. Hitting the 30-day mark is said by some to be a huge milestone in sobriety. If you can get to 30 days, theoretically the rest is just cake. I myself would argue that point, but for the sake of this article, I’ll hold off on those thoughts.
I do have to say though, hitting 30 days was huge for me because that meant I got a chip/ medallion. Something tangible I could hold on to. That chip meant a lot to me because it not only showed me that I was making progress, it gave me something to show for that progress too. I carried that chip in my pocket all the time. Hearing it jingle against the angel coin in my pocket was a little reminder of why I was doing this sober thing in the first place. And when times were tough, as they were frequently in early sobriety, I could reach in and hold that chip as a source of strength.
Speaking up every month on my sobriety birthday also gave me courage. It gave me courage to speak because I was always afraid to speak in meetings. But it also gave me courage because I was telling the room that, finally, I did something right. Getting applause for staying sober helped my self-esteem. Before I got sober, I felt like nobody. But there, at meetings, I felt like somebody. I finally felt that connection I had been longing for my whole life. I finally had friends who cared, and friends to celebrate an achievement with.
But, as my sponsor pointed out to me at one point early in my sobriety, birthdays aren’t just for the person celebrating. Sure, it’s great to get a chip and a hug on your birthday. But if that’s all it was, I think we’d have a lot more ego in the rooms. That’s why the purpose of celebrating birthdays is for others as well.
Birthdays are for the newcomer. Before I hit 30 days, I would see other people celebrate their 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days, and it gave me motivation to keep going. When I would see someone celebrate multiple year birthdays, I was able to see what long-term sobriety looked like.
Birthdays are also for the “old-timers” (long-term sober people). Today when I see a newcomer hit 30 days, it fills my heart with joy and hope. It also takes me back to the day I hit 30 days. I remember telling my friend, “Hey Bill, guess what? I got 30 days today!” It takes me back to the days before my 30 days, and how the time seemed to go so slow! I remember what I was like in that first year of sobriety. I remember what I was like before sobriety. It takes me back, period.
Traditionally as well, when someone announces their birthday, someone invariably asks “How’d you do it?” What they mean is, tell us how you stayed sober over the past month/ year. By doing this, the birthday celebrant is sharing for the newcomer what it took to stay sober for however long they’ve been sober. Sometimes they are short and sweet – “Clean house, help others, trust god”. And sometimes people get emotional, or nervous, and go on and on. But, by sharing what they have learned, they are helping the new and old timers alike.
Next time you have a birthday, whether you go to meetings or not, take time to celebrate it. If you go to meetings, get that medallion/ chip. If you write here on Medium, write an article about your birthday. Don’t be afraid to celebrate. Speaking up about your birthday not only helps you, it helps everyone. And who knows, someone may be listening/ reading that could be helped by what you say.
Originally published December 2, 2016