20 years. I’ve been sober for 20 years. That’s 7300 days, one day at a time. That’s longer than I drank. It’s unfathomable. I give full credit to the fact that I have consistently worked a program of recovery for 20-plus years now. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I’ve never stopped. My long-term sobriety is utterly reliant on that simple fact. I just keep coming back. I just keep doing it one day at a time.
I knew there was an issue with how I drank very early on. I loved it. It was clear to me that the way I loved alcohol was different from the way my friends loved alcohol. I had a good group of friends who all loved to party. But I was different. They loved to party, but they loved to be sober too. I wanted the relief that alcohol brought me all the time. I used alcohol to escape until I could no longer escape alcohol. To say I became a servant to alcohol is not much of an exaggeration. In the end, there was rarely a waking moment that didn’t revolve around alcohol. Getting it, hiding it, keeping it cold (some of the time,) keeping my breath minty fresh so you wouldn’t know, keeping my sideburns straight so you wouldn’t know, keeping my eyes clear so you wouldn’t know, standing downwind of you so you wouldn’t know, not getting caught. My life had devolved into near-constant fear and shame. It’s heartbreaking to look back on. My recovery program says, “we will neither regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” That’s true, but I sure feel bad for the guy I was, the servant I was.
My disease made me experience the shame of going into 7-Eleven with the sunrise to get a much-needed pint of Popov and a quart of Gatorade. The pain of gulping it on the way to work, like I hated myself, because I did. I feared that they would figure it out, that I would get fired, divorced, or arrested. Drinking was the only way to stop the fear. Nothing worked like drinking. I needed the effect produced by alcohol so badly that I didn’t even like to eat on an empty stomach. I wanted a belly full of booze first because food wrecked the buzz. I only ate after drinking because I had to, and I thought it would make me smell less like booze.
I knew something needed to change, so I gave up smoking weed because it made me honest with myself. I would smoke some pot, and the fear would come over me. The fear of recognizing how much I drank, of how many empty vodka bottles were hidden in my truck. Knowing people died drinking as much as I did. So what did I do? I quit smoking weed! Alcohol was killing me, but I could not live without it. I would stop for a day or two, but I’d be overwhelmed with how miserable life was. I was crawling out of my skin, my mind racing, feeling like I was going to go nuts, die, or both.
Fortunately, about this time, my wife decided to go to Al-Anon. I hated it at (then) because I was afraid. I was so fearful of life without booze. Anytime I tried life without booze I was miserable. My drinking at the end almost always sucked, but being sober was worse.
But an astonishing thing happened when my wife intervened on me with the help of our marriage counselor. I surrendered (that’s what it takes for this thing.) Surrender, complete surrender. Not a ceasefire, not temporarily halting the hostilities, surrender. When they intervened, it felt like a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders. The weight of the world. Knowing that things were going to be different at that point had to be better. I no longer thought different would be worse. The fear of staying the same had become greater than the fear of change.
So I jumped (with a couple of speed bumps.) I jumped into a program of recovery that has been paying dividends ever since. My program is such a good deal (a deal implying that I give something to get something) that I would feel ashamed of myself for not showing my gratitude. What I give and what I get are almost the same thing now. I get the chance to be sober. I get a chance to be helpful. I get to be relieved of the bondage of self, even if a little at a time. These are also the things I give. I can be of service. I can be a friend. I can be a partner. I can be a good example of recovery. I can be at peace in my world. Alcohol gave me a cheap simulation of that. One day at a time for over 20 years now, recovery has delivered what alcohol promised.