In just less than two weeks, I’m on my way to London. I love London. It’s one of the world cities I’ve actually seen sober, as a teenager, and because I have friends who lived there and took me around during the day when I legitimately intended to do more than just drink. It’s been about 10 years since I visited, but I recall the city well and look forward to going back. I’ll be working for three days, and on vacation for three. I’m even planning to go get a shirt made on Savile Row, which is a superbly exciting prospect for me.
But let’s also not kid ourselves. I’ve spent a lot of time in London drunk too. I love English beer. I love that it’s served at cellar temperature instead of the ice-cold flavor repression temperature that Americans drink it at. I love the pub culture where you can meet strangers and have conversations. And it’s going to be World Cup time still, and I’m staying in a tiny, crappy college dorm. I doubt there will be television in my room, or even wifi. If I want to watch the matches, it’ll be out. And football in an English pub and a couple (or more) Imperial pints go quite well together.
And I miss those things. But I’ve done them. I was in England during Euro96. I’ve been drunk and obnoxious on English streets. I remember the way I was as the way I choose to remember it. I remember the good parts of the night. Not the stumbling home, lost, drunk, stupid. I smoked cigarettes by the dozens and guzzled lagers and generally made the finest sort of ass of myself I could. That was who I was. That’s who I still am. At least, it wouldn’t take me long to get there if I chose again to drink.
But it’s alright for me to remember things how I want to. It’s alright for me to miss the beer. One of our promises, in Alcoholics Anonymous is that we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. And that’s come true – mostly – for me. I don’t regret my drinking life. It had consequences, but those experiences have helped to shape who I am now. And for the most part, I like who I am now. I have deep flaws. I have important things to learn still. And I know how to learn from my experience.
My experience with drinking has taught me something important: I cannot drink and also do any other thing. Not anymore. If I choose to drink, it will become the only thing I do. Very rapidly. And because I have abandoned myself to my alcoholism, because I have accepted that I cannot win a battle with drink, I have also become unbound from the bottle. Because I cannot control my drinking, I need not drink.
But I can remember. I had that experience. My drinking life was not all bad, and I don’t need to pretend it was in order to leave it behind me. It is not dangerous to me to allow myself to fondly recall the flavor of a well-pulled pint at the Red Dragon in Egham. But I am free from that now. My compulsion has been quelled. My life, once narrow enough to slip entirely into a bottle, has widened and spread into a full, breathing thing.
My life is a rich place, today. I have alcoholism, in part, to thank for that. The past is sometimes fearsome, sometimes lonely, sometimes sad, and sometimes inviting. But it is the past. Today I live in this strange present tense. Here I am. Sober. Free.