My very first drink was at the age of 13, a summer night before entering high school. A dozen of us met at the rope swing that hovered over the river; the outskirts of a small town surrounded by farmland. We weren’t addicts or alcoholics, we were curious in nature. The beer commercials promised an attractive design for life, alongside bikinis and freedom. Having already lied to my friends I’ve drank beer before, the can I cracked open was truly my first. As I reflect on that night, I can feel the draw of the rope swing dangling nearby, ever reminding me that my childhood will always be available if I want it bad enough.
Every bitter swallow left me with a foamy bubble gut. I do not like this beer in my hand, I do not like it, Jon I am. Blehk. Prior to this, the only drinking problem I might have had was with Kool-Aid, OH YEAAHH, requiring twice the amount of recommended sugar. But my first experience with alcohol wasn’t so sweet. Muscling down another gulp took effort. And I couldn’t throw it out, I’d done this before, remember? I had to live the lie to save face, and even if I had the capacity to be honest, all I really wanted was to feel a part of. Deep inside resonated inadequacy, a fear that I was not good enough. There was no peer-pressure; the only pressure came from within. And so I drank.
While a committee in my head was trying to muster up a plan to weasel my way out of having another, the physical effects of alcohol won me over. Minutes before, I was thinking about how I could pretend to be holding my 2nd without alarming others but before I knew it, I actually wanted another. A looseness came over, a freedom I’d never felt, and all the fear and inadequacy was gone. This yucky, unpleasant experience had turned into an immediate solution. From that day forward, every opportunity I had at drinking would be exercised. No human power, not even myself, could do what alcohol did for me. Like William Wallace and the sound of bagpipes playing in my soul, FRREEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOM!
For the next 20 years, alcohol became a major player in my life, alongside many different forms of dry goods. I never considered myself an alcoholic because my perception was a person begging for 35 more cents outside of a liquor store; or a disheveled lady pushing a grocery cart yelling at the nearby fire escape. Losing everything, including your mind, was the prerequisite into alcoholism, so I thought. With the ability to create income, a roof over my head, food on my table, and a social life (powered by alcohol), I wasn’t not an alcoholic; a heavy drinker at best.
To prove this point, I have obtained periods of sobriety throughout my life. Five months, here and there, was my personal record until convincing myself I’ve earned a couple of beers. In this mindset, two beers in almost six months is success, right? Sure enough, I’d find myself banging on the back sliding glass door of a place I wasn’t supposed to be. While my liver had found peace and quiet during my abstinence, my mind would drink like I never stopped. Back in the cyclical loop like a thief in the night, I’d like to say that I enjoyed drinking but the truth is I didn’t. Drinking was my solution to living, opening the doors to other mind-altering substances, and causing my body to become dependent once again.
In August 2015, a little over a year ago, my ex-girlfriend had witnessed this spiral and brought it to my attention. I was, in every aspect, out of control once again. She didn’t tell me where to get help, how to do it, or anything like that. She made a suggestion and I had a choice.
I was drinking at 9am because it was Saturday and I didn’t have my daughters, and it helped cure me from the results of the day before. I was supplementing that with anti-anxiety pills because alcohol wasn’t helping me relax like it used to. Wet the bed a few times; blacked out for the majority of that month; tired of quitting; white-knuckling willpower that never lasted. I didn’t fear death, death didn’t scare me. But life, one worth living, that shit scared the hell out of me. A denial I’ve had for over two decades, filled to the brim with inadequacy, resentment, fear, and security.
I didn’t know I had an obsession with alcohol that was considered abnormal. If you invited me to your party, I was six drinks in upon arrival. To you, I was having my first while I was really in 7th heaven. I was saving you money as well; you’re welcome, by the way. If it was BYOB, I’d be thanked for bringing extra but it was more for me than it was for you. Never, ever was there enough, ever. Once I start, I will not stop. I do not drink like other people, come to find out. My mind had no idea that normal folks did not think nor drink like me. If someone left a half glass of wine behind because they had plenty, I thought they were the insane person. Who wastes a perfectly suitable and drinkable amount of booze like that? Crazy business. Physically addicted and mentally obsessed; it’s the best way I can explain it.
On August 25, 2016, about a month ago, I celebrated my first year of sobriety. The journey started with something I published that day, What Love Means to Me, fully aware I needed to learn to love myself but not exactly knowing how at the time. My previous and vain attempts at sobriety always left me dreadfully lonely and irritable. The relationships I had were ladened with alcohol; remove booze and we shared nothing. Furthermore, all those attempts resulted in the worst relapses ever. Always capable of getting some time in sobriety but never able to maintain it. Let’s celebrate sobriety with a drink. Insanity.
What really matters isn’t so much the time I’ve acquired in sobriety as much as I feel I’ve found a freedom from a chaotic and unmanageable lifestyle; my alcoholism. One of the most important steps I had to take, something I had never tried before, was asking for help and finding the willingness and humility to do so. I’ve always believed I was a special case with unique problems that nobody would understand; I was wrong. Come to find out there are a lot of other people that are just as crazy, with more or less sobriety, as me. These are my new friends, sharing rigorously honest details of catastrophic proportions without fear of being shamed; living proof that no matter how far down you are, there is a solution if you want it bad enough.
Things that keep me sober today are very simple tools I’ve acquired by continuing to take suggestions from a support group I’ve been actively involved in. Sharing my personal journey before, during, and after alcohol with others that have a desire to stop drinking is one of those tools. Another tool is getting outside of myself and into the habit of being of service to others without any expectation of return. I like to think of it as a positive spin on being good for nothing. After continually failing, being discontent in sobriety of the past, I feel I’ve found a solution that allows me to be free and happy, and it works for me and countless others as we trudge the road to a happier destiny. There will always be a hand ready and willing to help other alcoholics and addicts, it’s how we stay sober, together. If you ever find yourself in a situation like mine, with desire and the slightest amount of willingness, I cannot guarantee your sobriety but what I can do is offer hope at a new design for living.
My name is Jon and I am an alcoholic. Can someone please point me to the nearest rope swing?
Originally published at SobrietyClock.com