21 February 2014

"I'll Drink to That" Part 11 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent. I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer, it's the Nile. Nat, it's the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra. - From The Lost Weekend directed by Billy Wilder.

There's a point at which the alcohol starts drinking you. Forget control. Just forget it man. That's long gone. In its place you've got a sodden mind that answers only to the siren song of b-o-o-z-e. The rest of your life is secondary -- hell even subservient. It's some serious shit. I didn't get it. Not even. I didn't even have a clue when I started looking forward to the coming hangover because it meant a hair of the dog. Hair....more like the whole damn coat.

And so I devolved.

One manages. As earlier noted I positively flourished in a masters program and subsequently got my teaching credential. I managed to hold down an editing job and embarked on married life. Most people would have thought I was fine. Most people don’t see you up close. I was not unhappy mind you. I was just not at all healthy emotionally and not making life pleasant for those around me. Worst of all I was looking down a precipice I couldn’t see and about to fall in.

Then in September 1987....Admitted we were powerless over alcohol. How liberating. It is such a relief to surrender and admit to yourself that drinking liquor is not something you can be trusted with. Not something that you can do. Ever again. That option is forever off the table. It’s not even up for consideration.

If you’re smart about it you’ll see it as the most empowering thing you can do. The ultimate act of self well and self control and self possession. The most selfish act you can commit as a drunk is to give up the sauce.

Drunks relapse because they just don’t get it. They don’t see that they’ve won. That their quitting is the greatest victory. They want to be taken care of. They want mommy. They want the booze to tell them what to do how to feel how to act where to go. The responsibility of decision making is too much. They want to be in charge when in fact they are allowing the liquor run the show.

I never thought for one second during the time I was drinking that I had a problem with alcohol. Not one. I saw people who -- I at least thought -- drank way more than I did. Maybe they had a problem. But me? C’mon get serious. I was so happy with booze, it was my best best best friend. It not only got me high it was a companion a talking point a social structure a means to a world. Granted a blurry world but one I happily navigated. Sober was just the time between drunks. Necessary but basically uninteresting. I felt sorry for little kids pets and any sap who choose not to drink. Never mind that my wife was a tee totaler. That was her deal and suited her. But other non drinkers were monumental failures because they were missing out on the be all of living.

How it all changed I’ll never understand.

I woke up one early autumn Sunday morning after a full day of heavy drinking preceded by a night of heavy drinking and I just knew. With every fiber of my being. The lightening had struck.

What happened while I slept? Was there something someone said that I never consciously remembered that finally sank in? Nahhh. Did god almighty intervene? Yeah right. Did I just figure it out in my sleep?  Yeah how would that work?

But I got out of bed magically free of a hangover and walked over to the sofa where my wife had chosen to sleep to be away from my drunken self and said: “I have a problem.” Just like that. (For the record she responded by saying: “I know.")

I was somber I was sober (no pun) and I was determined. Here was a moment that I could build the rest of my life on. I was to be a new man. One who eschewed the drink. Brighter happier more fulfilled days were ahead and I’d never be a jerk again. I was such a dumb cluck that I didn’t realize two things that are oh so clear now: 1) I was so very right 2) I was so very wrong.

Life changed for sure. I was entering a whole new phase its true. I was yes yes yes free of alcohol. But I had not yet learned to live with out. That my friends is a whole other deal.

My name is mine and I’m.... Dig it.

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