I am going to do it.
Yes. A necessary again.
I quit acting the fool and take on a better role.
It’s true. Those struggling with addiction resist those defining labels: problem drinker, addict, alcoholic, drunk. It’s hard to swallow, especially considering most alcoholics don’t fit the image of the stumbling morning drinker hiding in a trench coat, shaking every sober moment and willing to sacrifice his first born for a sip of whiskey. Not at all. In fact, most alcoholics lead outwardly normal lives with only a thin layer of skin and a whole lot of silence concealing a much darker reality.
But, is it really that bad? If someone leads a normal life, is he or she really an alcoholic?
This is a common question, and it’s one that has led many an alcoholic to relapse. Again, and again, and again.
No one likes to be told they can’t do something they enjoy and even feel compelled to do. After all, is it really that bad? What is the big deal? What are a couple beers at happy hour with coworkers or friends? Who can’t knock back a few during the Super Bowl? That’s damn well un-American!
Well, many can’t, Uncle Sam.
I’m one of them.
Like many, I do want to “have a few.” But time and experience and genetics all point to this drinking thing being a problem. Not a nuisance. A problem. And a big one, for that matter.
On one level, it seems not to be true. It seems alcohol enhances our enjoyment of life. Take the Super Bowl. It’s a great thing. I love football as much as, if not more than, the next sports-loving, beer guzzling, burger-gorging, Roger Goodell-hating American, so much so that – on many hungover occasions – I felt the day after the Super Bowl should be declared an American holiday. Not because I was being particularly patriotic, but because a holiday here would allow me to drink more brewskies during the game without the worry of waking up the next morning and dreading the day before me.
Oh yeah, and that America thing.
When the Patriots won their first championship against the Rams – a great Super Bowl, from what I hear – I couldn’t remember if Adam Vinatieri made the game-winning field goal or shanked it, like, Steve Harvey style (pronouncing Vinatieri was oddly challenging, too). Instead of talking about the game afterwards, I was driving to someone’s house drunk, on my way for further celebrations (uh, what were we celebrating again – oh yeah – America!).
But the Super Bowl is just one event. There’s also the old “just a couple” at happy hour, a phrase that’s code for “let’s explode our livers!” if you come from where I come from.
So then, what’s happy hour like for an alcoholic?
I can’t express what every alcoholic’s experience is like — I’m just one of em’ — but I’m sure their experiences aren’t so different than mine in a few key ways. They usually aren’t.
You’ve heard it before. For all alcoholics, a couple isn’t a couple. A few isn’t a few. And if it is, you can bet that alcoholic is obsessing inside about the possibility of that next drink. Fantasizing. Dreaming. Hoping, just maybe . . .
Think of the shirt-torn, desperate, mad-faced Marlon Brando yelling “Stella!” in A Streetcar Named Desire. Imagine that voice and face inside an alcoholic’s brain cells, silently screaming, and you get the picture (in fact, that alchy might be actually yearning for a Stella).
Unfortunately, I fit this cliché. My “couple” at happy hour usually amounted to another “couple” after happy hour and another “couple” after the after-happy hour drinks (and, if you were with me in my mid-twenties, a slurring madman bumbling the wrong words to “Folsom Prison Blues” on the karaoke stage while thinking he’s awesome). It might even result in a cab ride home where a certain someone’s exposed rear end ends up intentionally plopped against the passenger’s window, a mooning wave goodbye for the ill-fated diver.
That wasn’t my bottom though. Well, not that kind of bottom. It wasn’t the kind where an alcoholic hits his or her ultimate low and is ready to accept the call to recovery. That wasn’t what made me realize maybe I have a problem and should fix this. After all, I still got by. I still earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I even got a good job, eventually. It’s true, I realized I had a problem, all right — alcohol made me miserable inside and allowed me to settle for less in life — but doing something about my drinking was just not part of the picture then. Addict? Please. Alcoholic? Nah. That’s the other people in my family. Besides, I was in my twenties (or was it thirties?) and finishing up grad school. Isn’t that what everyone who’s really living life does in his or her twenties?
Thankfully, however, I would, in time, realize this sort of thinking is false. People were getting married, having kids, buying houses, and planting gardens in their yards. Through help from family, I stayed enough on a productive path to get a graduate degree and hold a job. But at night I was pulling out flowers from the city’s gardens and planting them in random people’s front yards after last call while stumbling home to Mom and Dad’s house.
Eventually – huzzah! – I would try to quit.
And I would, like most alcoholics on their first attempts at sobriety, fail within the first few days.
It happens, a lot. There are obstacles that many a well-intentioned alcoholic is unprepared for. I’ve had my share. And unfortunately, many would come in the form of friends.
When I took my first sip of a Miller Lite after finally achieving a stretch of sober time – 111 days, thank you very much – there were literally tears streaming down a good friend’s eyes. Not tears of sadness. Tears of sheer joy. Joy for my drinking (this person would get two DUI’s in the coming years and have one of those weird blow thingies in her car to allow it to start). The date was March 15, the Ides of March. “I fell like Caesar did,” I wrote in my journal, on the surface, amused, but underneath, ashamed. It was 8 years later when I’d recover from this relapse.
I am going to do it again.
A necessary again.
What do you mean “again”? And why the “yes”?
If I learned one thing while looking at my failures, it’s this: Regret over past relapses shouldn’t deter progress in present recovery. Mourning over the past robs you of the present. Keep going. Keep trying.
There’s no guarantee I got this. I have to work at it every day. I have to keep going. It took time. It took failure. It took pain. Lots of it — to get back on the right road. But not nearly as much as it could have or has for other people – not like it’s a competition, and if it is, take me out coach, please and thank you.
It’s true for me as it is for many – most of our suffering is not visible to outside viewers, not the true depth of it, not even to those closest to us. My parents, best friends, siblings, cousins, and wife, they all knew I liked drinking, they all knew I liked drinking a lot, and they even knew that it was a problem from time-to-time. How could they not? But the extent of its effect on my life, that was another level of understanding that only I held.
“Yes,” I say. It is a “necessary again.”
It was I who had to eventually and honestly answer the call when cries for sobriety arose. No matter who wanted me (or who didn’t want me) to quit drinking, the answer ultimately lived within me. For many alcoholics, it’s either answering this call, or the call of something like the banshee. Sound dramatic? It’s not. It is indeed a “necessary again.”
Again, until it sticks.
Again, until it works.
I have to remember. Each “again” has been more painful than the last, even though the personal experiences I noted here look comical on the outside (I mean, who hasn’t mooned a cab driver when they’re 29 or 30?). But there was, like there usually is, more to the story. I was escaping a true pain inside me and replacing it with something that only increased this suffering. More serious realities existed underneath, and more outwardly messed up things happened that I didn’t list here in this particular article; however, it’s in my heart where truth speaks.
I know. I acted the fool for too long, so it became time for me, after several relapses, to finally realize I needed to “quit acting the fool,” and to truly know that the fool is not who I really am. Feeding my addiction forced me to act the fool. But deep down, there’s a truer self, a better self, and I was lucky enough, after several “agains,” to feel it. To finally listen to it. To answer. To accept. To move on. To say goodbye to an artificial life so that I could experience a real one.
It’s as simple as it is difficult. It’s up to us to take on a better role.
I am the one who decides to be sober. I am the one who refuses to live a fool’s life. I am the one who chooses to walk a better road.
And that’s when recovery begins.
True, lasting recovery.
– Sober Mike
PS: Uncle Sam, the Super Bowl is tonight. I’ll probably watch the game with family. I’ll still gorge on some burgers. I’ll probably still dislike Roger Goodell. I’ll eat some more bad food and drink coffee until the cows come home, as they say. But I’ll remember the game this time, even the commercials if they’re any good. When the final whistle blows, I’ll know who won. I’ll drive home, not afraid of accidents or officers. When I get back, I’ll walk the dogs, set the alarm, and go to bed with my wife. I’ll lie down, go to sleep, and dream. The next morning, when the alarm rings, I’ll wake up, not particularly happy about the sound, but not hating life and dreading the day. I’ll go to work. I’ll interact. I’ll contribute. I’ll try to be a positive influence on people’s lives in small, but not insignificant, ways. I’ll be a part of society, a part of life, a part of this thing called living.
And that, Uncle Sam, is something worth celebrating.