The Thirsty Years.
Eight years ago today I woke up in a hotel room. I had a backpack and a plane ticket. I drove to the airport and parked my car in the long term parking. It was snowy and cold. I was depressed, and afraid. I was tired. I’d been tired for a long time. As long as I could remember. I sat at a bar at the airport and I had a beer. Then another. Then two shots of Knob Creek Bourbon. Then I got on the plane. I haven’t had a drink since.
Tomorrow will, unless I do something spectacularly stupid today, be my eight-years sober anniversary. Today is the anniversary of my last drink.
If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know how much has changed. I’m sober, stronger, saner, fitter, healthier, happier, and more productive. By working the steps of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have regained a life that I once thought completely lost to me. Through the daily maintenance of my spiritual condition, I have achieved a remission from the mental illnesses that I have that would like to kill me.
If you go to a room where we congregate, especially a larger room with many of us, and if you could see the time each of us have in sobriety, you might notice a worrying trend. Lots of us have a few months, lots of us have a few years. And there are always a fair number of older folks who have a few decades. But there is a swoon in our numbers. Starting round about eight years.
Some of us, sober and confident and healthy, simply leave the rooms. And we never really know what happens. I think lots of us are out there living happy, fruitful, sober lives without attending meetings anymore. I know at least one man like that. But that’s not the only path we take. And I don’t even know if it’s the common one.
For a lot of us, somewhere between eight and twelve years, we relapse. We become complacent and foolish. We think we’ve beaten the beast. We know what we’re doing and we’re capable and strong and we’ve survived so much. And so we let go of the ropes that have been pulling us forward. And we relapse. Because there is no beating this beast.
It’s easy to become confused. People congratulate me all the time on beating alcoholism. I’ve stopped correcting them. I know what they mean. It’s kind. I appreciate the admiration. I enjoy it. It’s easy to let the perspective shift, and see myself as a victor in a battle against a foe. It’s easy to soak up those congratulations and offer myself as an authority on recovery. To be self-aggrandizing.
But I haven’t beaten alcoholism. I am as alcoholic as I was on the 15th of February, 2008. As susceptible to my own lies and cravings, my rationalizations and my selfishness. I can never beat alcoholism. I cannot defeat the beast, because I am the beast. My alcoholism is woven into the code that makes my body mine. I am never relieved of it.
There are always challenges in sobriety. These thirsty years are the next one. Enough time has gone by for me to forget the miseries of daily drinking. The annihilation of it. The need to be silent and alone and to hate everything that stands between myself and alcohol. That hate is so exhausting. But we can forget. I’ve known so many who have. Some come back. Some die. Sometimes of the drink, sometimes of the exhaustion of it all.
When we think we’ve earned more time than today, that’s when we fall. No matter how well I work my program, the reprieve from my alcoholic hell never lasts more than a day. For 2922 days, I’ve had that reprieve. All that work, all that effort, all that surrender, day upon day upon day, has earned me only this. Only now. Only today. Tomorrow will have to look after itself.
For a lot of us, we seem to think that after eight or ten or twelve years that we’ve earned a lifetime of sobriety. We haven’t. We can’t. I haven’t.
My favorite opening line in all of literature is this: “I am a sick man, I am a wicked man. I think my liver hurts.” I awoke that way every day for a decade. More. For the past eight years, I’ve awoken differently. And if I hope that that gentle waking is to last the rest of my life then I cannot focus on it lasting the rest of my life. I only have tomorrow’s dawn to consider.
Tonight, I will go to bed sober again. And tomorrow, well, I’ll face tomorrow when tomorrow comes.