Today marks my 5th sober anniversary. I don’t really talk about this much but I guess today makes a useful time for reflection. My basic reflection is this: I am immensely grateful to have given up the drink! My life has improved in major ways (i got a tenure track job, I got married!) and in small ways (saved a lot of money, no more hangovers!).
I knew I had a drinking problem when I was 18. I didn’t drink everyday, I never got the DTs, I was never reduced to drinking Pine-Sol or anything like that, rather my problem was once I started drinking I found it very difficult to stop until I passed out. The only way to describe it is as a compulsion and the voice in my head telling me to have another was much stronger (most of the time) than the voice telling me you have had enough. I thought that I would eventually grow out of it that the latter voice would start to win out as I would settle into a pattern of normal responsible adult drinking, but that never happened. Right up until the end the compulsion was always there and as strong as ever.
Despite knowing this at 18 I didn’t quit drinking until I was 32, with a few periods of sobriety sprinkled between, including a year and a half stretch at one point, because it is hard to quit drinking. It was hard for me to quit not just because I had a compulsion but because it was fun (for the most part) and because all my friends did it and I just desperately wanted to be able to drink like a normal person. All of this led me to create elaborate rules for myself about how much I could drink and where and when etc. I would be able to stick with these for awhile but eventually it would all collapse. I also tried hard to moderate my drinking because I felt that if I quit completely I would lose all my friends. I remember something an English professor told me when I was an undergrad. He didn’t want to quit drinking because he thought that meant giving up friendship and he didn’t want to give up smoking because he thought that meant giving up conversation. At the time he said it I completely understood what he meant. What I realize now is how completely not true that was. Not to mention how demeaning this is to my friends to assume they would abandon me once I quit drinking, which of course did not happen. The kicker to that story is of course he did quit drinking and smoking and he didn’t have to give up either friendship or conversation but I didn’t grok that part when I was just a dumb undergrad. Nevertheless, this is all something I see in hindsight, while I was still drinking I held onto this excuse tightly so that I didn’t have to give up drinking. So what happened?
As cliche as it is, I hit bottom. Without going into all the details I will just say after one night of very heavy drinking I woke up and just finally felt and knew that I had to quit. None of the excuses that I used to trot out to justify my drinking were going to cut it anymore. There was only one option left and that was to quit. Now five years out from that day I can still remember what I felt like that morning – physically sick and deeply ashamed. I knew I had to take positive steps to make sure I quit for good this time so I reached out to my family for help, which was something I hadn’t done before but made all the difference in the world. If you are going to take a step like that you need support and I had that in spades. I also knew I needed some professional help but that was expensive so I started going back to AA meetings.
I had went to AA meetings before but had grown resentful of their overtly religious tone. Not to mention that the whole program seemed comprised of drinking bad coffee and repeating a bunch of cliches. This time, however, I went with a more open mind and received a bit of advice that has stuck with me ever since. At one meeting I attended a guy in his late 40s who looked like a roadie for Motley Crue and was celebrating 4 years of sobriety said something that I really needed to hear. When asked “how he did it” he said “I learned how to enjoy living sober.” This was so simple yet so earth shattering for me. I knew I couldn’t drink anymore but was depressed about it because I thought my entire social life was over. What this guy showed me is that a new way of living was possible and it promised a much better life. I have tried to remember this point everyday since. Of course I couldn’t have done any of this without the complete support of my family, friends, and my wife. I am very grateful and thank you so much. . . Now back to your regularly scheduled inane political commentary