This old guy at our church used to lecture us about calling the holiday by its proper name: Independence Day. “Calling it the Fourth of July diminishes it to nothing more than a box on the calendar,” he would explain indignantly. He was annoying. He always had something to say and seemed to rarely listen. A collective groan could be heard throughout the sanctuary when he raised his hand during announcements.
But in this case, I think he was right. Independence is something to be revered and cherished. We have to fight for independence, and the cost is brutally high. Celebrating independence should be solemn and sacred. What we do on the fourth day of July each year, I think, misses the mark entirely.
This isn’t just another blog post where I complain about how Americans turn every holiday into a booze fest (although that’s true – we certainly do just that). It’s about something deeper. It’s about a yearning for freedom and the high price we have to pay to release the shackles of our oppression. It’s about celebrating the journey because the destination is elusive. It’s about replacing arrogance with humility and finding peace in persistence.
I spoke to a woman this week who is participating in our SHOUT Sobriety program to help people navigate early recovery. She’s a couple of weeks sober, and she’s struggling to wrap her mind around the depth of the changes to her life that come with sobriety. She is far too intelligent and thoughtful to complain that it’s not fair that she can’t drink while her friends and family can. She doesn’t debase the expression of her feelings to sadness about missing out on the party or wishing she could still enjoy drinking like she used to. She’s a deep thinker, and she knows independence comes at a price. She knows that on the fourth day of July, freedom requires her not just to swim against the tide, but to survive as the tidal wave crashes down.
Independence Day falls on a Thursday this year. When I was drinking, I would have been very excited for this gift from the calendar. Party all day on the fourth, limp through an unproductive work day on the fifth – biding my time until I could ease my headache and dehydration with beer on Friday evening – then celebrate unconstrained by limits of civilization on Saturday and Sunday (because civilization approves of unlimited drinking on long holiday weekends). Those four blissful days of flickering memories and slurred words would have been followed by cataclysmic depression and shame to carry me through the next work week. And through it all, I would not have thought about sacrifice or struggle or commitment to freedom one singe time.
This is the holiday of full coolers, mattress store sales and dogs barking at mysterious explosions. It really hasn’t been about independence for a very long time. But it’s not our fault really. It’s hard to understand freedom on a day spent hoisting 12 ounce cans of dependence – one after another – just like our society has trained us.
I’m two-and-a-half years sober, and I haven’t figured out how to enjoy Independence Day yet. Temptation is gone. I can watch my friends get drunk without wishing I could join them, but watching my friends get drunk just isn’t all that much fun for me. I’ve tried to be reverent and think of sacrifice and commitment, but patriotism is a team sport, and it feels like everyone else is playing a different game.
I’m not going to drink beer all day on July fourth, and I’m not going to buy a mattress. I’ll watch fireworks, although, in our overstimulated digital world, they seem more of a boorish required ritual.
So what should celebrating freedom and independence look like? I know I won’t find the answer in my memory bank clogged with hops, barley, selfish indulgence and bad decisions. Maybe tradition is overrated. Maybe instead of bitching about how Americans decimate our sacred holidays, I should celebrate solemnly the journey of my recovery from dependence. No time for regrets from the past or worry about the future. Maybe I’ll soak in the raw and rare emotions of the present.
Maybe I’ll quietly celebrate my freedom, because it is the hardest battle I’ve ever fought in my life, and it humbles me to know how fragile independence really is.
If you are ready to find enduring freedom and leave dependence on alcohol behind, please consider enrolling in SHOUT Sobriety.