Writing about alcoholism, my own, and sobriety on this day each year matters. Not for me. I’ve told my story many times. But for knowing there might be – out there, reading this, someone who needs encouragement to find their way back from the brink, to get and stay sober, to stay alive, to not die. If this impacts one person in a life-altering way, that’s enough to make it worthwhile. If this is not a message for you, it might be of value to someone you know. Feel free to pass it along.
Staying sober, for me, has been easy.
I realize that’s not the case for many, but it has been for me. Some have questioned whether I was ‘really an alcoholic’ like ‘those drunk-tank alcoholics’ and homeless street-folk?
I am so lucky to have not fallen back, or I indeed would have become one of those.
Getting to sober nearly killed me.
But not getting sober would have killed me for sure.
Thirty-five years ago today, my nightmare ended.
Followed by a period of fear, uncertainty and self-doubt – those first few weeks of not knowing were a scary time.
I knew I was sober, but I feared I would slip backward.
It would have been so easy not to quit.
Just one more drink, that’s all it ever takes to keep from quitting.
But I knew one drink would lead to two, and two would lead to a sewer, and that sewer would lead to death.
Convinced of that certainty, so many white-knuckle days those first few weeks are memories as vivid for me now as was that hell-year leading up to that December 7th, to that last drink, 35 years ago today.
I was watching Jeopardy on TV – it was a glass left half-full, put down and never finished.
I took the dog for a walk.
I’ve been walking a straight sober path ever since.
Each year as I celebrate this milestone, I get congratulations from friends, acknowledging it as a 35-year accomplishment – and that always feels weird to hear because it hasn’t been 35 years of struggle.
It began with a year of struggle to stop.
If I’d not succeeded, it would have been fatal.
It was putting that drink down on the table.
A few weeks of nail-biting self-doubt and fear of ‘not having quit for certain’ – because the hard work was done. The hell was over. The change had been made. I dared not tell anyone because few people knew I had a life-threatening problem, and I knew that telling anyone that I’d quit would then have everyone knowing. To my surprise, very few people noticed or cared. The big fear moment of admission to being an alcoholic came together with celebrating sobriety – as emotional a moment as you can imagine, full of self-loathing suicidal mess being flipped on its head to simple be my ‘mess’.
Today, for me, is filled with every emotion I know.
Not because I have anything significant or horrible, or urgent going on, but because of the date on the calendar, brim-full with memories of the last 35 years. The road, the direction, the elevations and viewpoints were fantastic primarily going forward, but as I look back, different issues loom more significant …
Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken has always felt like an emotional gut-punch. It underscores how dramatically different our life can become from what appears, at the time, a little choice – sometimes the innocent coin-flip over which similar path to take, or the life-altering choice to leap in the air rather than leap off a cliff. I got sober, and I’m alive to tell the story – so I think I chose the better path.
Writer and fellow alcoholic Anne Lamott has often used the quotation: “I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my expectations.”
It’s a funny line, one that could easily describe a tough time-frame of depression for any of us – but it is hilarious to an alcoholic, drunk or sober, because it rings so true.
The holiday season is upon us now – a mixed cocktail of family, emotions, laughter and tears, parents and children and good cheer. Sadly, too often, booze gets in the mix …
Have a safe holiday, everyone.
If you have someone in your life who has a problem with alcohol, feel free to tell them how to reach me and I’ll help the best I can. The trick is not to offer solutions, the trick is to listen. Not to be a shoulder to lean on as much as a friend to hold onto.