Two years ago, I took my last drink.
A loving God separated me from alcohol on May 4, 2011, and for that I am eternally grateful.
If I knew it would be my last drink, I would have made it a fancy one. But we all know that our last drinks are rarely festive. Our lives and our drinking at that point are way past anything celebratory, and have spiraled down into deep and dark places. Places where many of us don’t return from. Places where we finally see ourselves in a way that we never thought we would see ourselves. Broken and hopeless. And as I finished up my final quiet, sad, pathetic and lonely drunk, I found myself in that place. I couldn’t go on drinking, I couldn’t go on not drinking. Dark place indeed. No matter how far down the scale we go, we get to that place. For some of us, it takes more pain and loss and damage to get there. For others, the ride stops soon enough to a merciful end. But we are still in the place. And there is nowhere to go but up.
I will probably tell my story here one day. I have revealed glimpses and cracked open the box a few times, but there are no secrets, really. There are no real salacious details, mind blowing experiences or earth shattering episodes in my drunken life to share that would excite or make a great A&E epic showpiece. I drank. I lied, I cheated, I stole, I made bad decisions and even worse judgement calls. I hated everyone, mocked everyone, taunted everyone, wounded everyone, manipulated everyone, lied to everyone, and took many people hostage in my day. I took my first real drink at 15 and finished up 25 years later. A once bright, energetic and ambitious boy reduced to rubble and blood and dirt and vomit. Cheers to that. There was no cheering when I made the decision to end it, to concede to my innermost self that I could not drink any more, to surrender to the thing that wanted me dead. There was no cheering when I finally saw that I was a mere shell of a man, a hurt boy in an adult’s body, a void bereft of light. Suicide by installment plan.
My first year of sobriety was pretty much about me. I don’t mean that in a selfish way. Or maybe I do. But what I mean is that the first year was me learning to walk. I was like a newborn foal trying to find its legs, trying to ground itself, trying to break free from its protective womb that no longer served it. And learn to walk I did, as I came to recovery on my knees, crawling. These days you will find me on my knees in prayer – for thanks and for strength and guidance. In the first year, I learned all the things that I never knew how to in my entire life up until then – to love well, to forgive, to treat myself properly, to treat others with dignity and respect, to step into the sunlight, to feel my face against the wind as I sought the horizon, to hug, to hold, to fumble, to see that I was not a mistake in God’s eyes, to see that I was exactly where I needed to be.
I had to first learn how to just spend a day, then a few days, then a week, then a few weeks, and so on, without a drop of alcohol. Not one drop. Sometimes I had to count down the hours with sweaty hands and racing mind. Sometimes I had to distract myself. I used to go to up to five meetings a day, walking the streets endlessly, eating and reading to distract myself, hiding out, avoiding things that I had alcohol associated with – which was pretty much things like air, sky, ground, gravity, and days that ended in “day”. Not easy. But I got through it, and I slowly learned to deal with things as they came up. I learned how to not over react, to not jump to conclusions, to not think the worst, to not beat myself up, not to blame others and eventually, was able to grown and stretch slowly into my own skin. A first for me.
I worked the steps with my amazing sponsor, James. He showed me what a man could be – sensitive, in touch, generous, emotionally available, respectful, humble, loving. And still be a man. This is a man who looks like a biker, who did time, who is a bouncer, who looks like he could rip a phone book in half (and probably could). And this is a man who cries when he needs to, reaches out even when it’s inconvenient to him, and gives of himself to anyone, and I mean anyone. I haven’t been able to approach his wonderful way of living, but I am hoping to get closer. He is one of my true heroes.
This second year has been about giving back. At least, that has been my aim. I sponsor men. I talk to newcomers. I do service as often as I am able to. I meet other men for coffee and talk recovery. I go to meetings and share. I help others outside the rooms too. I try to keep my ego in check. I often fail. I try to be unselfish. I fail in that too. But I keep at it, and realize when and why I am getting back into old habits. I try to show other men what I have done, and continue to do. I learned to blog and share here. I go to my treatment center on alumni nights when I can. I write for their newsletter. I go to conventions, and do service there. I make my amends when needed. I offer my experience to mothers and fathers of alcoholic children, I offer my experience to those online who are suffering or have questions. I do my best to get me out of the way.
I have had spiritual growth spurts and times of regression. I have gone through slumps and bumps and being a grump. But I have also soared and felt like I was touching the (pink) clouds and felt so at ease with myself that I thought I would just melt on the spot and soak into the fertile ground beneath me. I have had breakthroughs, like when I forgave myself or when I saw that my role here was to help others, period. I also had mental slips and emotional breaks, where I wallowed in self-pity and allowed myself to block myself from the Sunlight of the Spirit, where I let ego run wild. But in this year, I have felt the subtle sense of humanness permeate through me, that I am neither perfect nor am I one of the Creator’s damaged afterthoughts. I no longer feel that I belong on the dented can shelf at the grocery store of life. I know that I am where I need to be at this moment, and right now this spot is me typing these very words at this very second. Enter. Carriage Return.
I never thought I would see two days or two weeks let alone two years. I have to sometimes remember that I was a very different person back then. Even a year ago, I was very different than I am now. Being an alcoholic who has recovered is like having two lives in one lifetime – what a gift, what a bonus. It’s like the pain and suffering I endured and put on others was like the prep work needed to put me where I am needed now. I truly feel that without having untreated alcoholism, burning my life down to ground, and then recovering, I wouldn’t have grown in the way I have so far. I would have gone the rest of my life with my eyes closed. I don’t have them fully open, but I am gazing across the land and I like where I am going, even if the terrain is a bit rocky at times. I have a lot of work to do, but I am on the pitch at least.
So, today my prayers go out to the still suffering alcoholic. They can be found in the rooming houses, the rooms of AA, the classrooms, the boardrooms, the motel bedrooms, the mansion dining rooms, the rooms with a view. They are among us, drinking, abstaining, sobering up, recovering. From park bench to Park Avenue, from Yale to jail and everything in between. My prayers sing loudly with hard, quiet love. My prayers go out to those want to stop but can’t. My prayers go to all my friends in the program, to all the men who I have worked with and all the men and women who have shown me the way, and continue to show me the way. My prayers go out to the man or woman who thinks death seems a better way than living the way they are. My prayers go out to those who don’t know that just by being alcoholic, I love them dearly.
My blessings go out to you, kind reader. Thank you for helping me on my journey. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for your wise words and inspiring thoughts. Thank you for being you, because you being you is just perfect enough for me.