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Sobriety Narratives

by Sybil Heffernan

I have been told sobriety comes after rock bottom. Some say it’s the aftermath of selling your only pair of shoes in the middle of winter because nothing hurts more than the withdrawal. Some say it comes after watching the foundation of a family crumble to dust and rubble. Some say it’s the vicious unfamiliarity of every sleeping place-- from treatment center, to street corner, to dirty sofa, to street corner again-- shadows of bodies in all corners which look more ghost than human. 


Some say sobriety comes after surrender-- the recovering ones liken themselves to bodies that were caught in the ocean currents, mangled by sea rocks, drowning. They say sobriety came by submission to the power of the waves to wash their disfigured bodies to shore. 


My father was fonder of kicking, surfing, and paddling than surrendering. He began winning medals for swimming when he was eight years old. He taught hundreds of children across the Midwest how to swim, and coached the best of them to success. Once, when our fishing boat died in the middle of the lake just before a storm rolled in, he took off his shirt, tied the boat to his feet with a coarse yellow rope, and swam four miles to the shore. 


In the span of six years I watched my father fade from swimmer to shadow.  He came to know the ghosts on the street corners better than he knew his children. I don’t know if he was wearing shoes when they found his body. His clothes were burned along with the rest of him, the damage too great for anyone to bear witness to. They told me to seek comfort in how he looked the last time I saw him. I remember his straw sunhat and red swim shorts. He didn’t smile with his teeth anymore, but there was still some light left in his eyes, like no matter how unlikely change was, every day he spent above held possibility. His arms were tan and rippled as if they could still grab water.


My father did not surrender to the tides. He fought until the power of exhaustion became stronger. Rock bottom was too deep to resurface.

I have been told even the world’s best swimmers can drown if the current is strong enough. Survival does not define the strength of the fight. 

About the Author

Syble studies International Studies and English at Nebraska Wesleyan University. She started writing to entertain herself in small town Nebraska and filled countless journals on buses and garden benches during her year as an exchange student in Brazil. She participates in Spoken Word and is employed by the Nebraska Writers Collective. In addition to writing, she loves to read, dance, swim (especially in the sea), dig her toes in the dirt, paint, and eat stovetop popcorn with coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt.

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