My dear friends,
A year ago today, I posted this message. I was in a very scary, very dark place. My three-year relapse into alcoholism had more than taken its toll. I was losing everything, not slowly but surely, but rather faster than I could have imagined.
This is going to be a long post, but I hope that you all will be able to read it, because I need to tell you what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.
What it was like:
My health was beginning to fail – I could barely get food down, let alone keep it down. My hands, my legs, my knees – everything shook. I had lost my sharpness and my mental faculties were failing – I could barely put a sentence together unless I was drunk. I was stuck in that horrible place where I knew I had to have a drink in order to feel better, but just getting that first one down was a challenge that would involve throwing up half of it, before finally being able to say “Bottoms up!” and finish the glass. And then, once the alcohol had settled my stomach (which seems like a contradiction in terms, but that’s the way it was), I’d need a second drink to smooth over the shakes. Then a third and a fourth to start feeling good – or at least what I considered “good” back then – and then I’d be on my way to my nightly blackout.
Of course, sometimes I needed to do this “get the first drink down and you’ll be OK” ritual first thing in the morning, before work.
My surroundings were pitiful. I lived in squallor. Most of the kitchen was taken over by empty beer bottles, crusty leftovers from last week on plates (I’d try to eat sometimes but I’d never finish), and dishes from a month ago rotting in the sink. Finally, there wasn’t enough space in the kitchen for the beer bottles (always 40 ouncers of the strong stuff), so they’d spill out into the rest of the apartment, and I’d inevitably trip over them, knocking them over. I’d never set them upright again. I’d just leave them there. The carpet was stained with God knows what – spilled beer, food, vomit . . . My place smelled like a dingy bar, made worse by the fact that I smoke.
My job was in serious jeopardy. I had been warned by my manager several times that my performance and behavior were declining rapidly, and that I had to get help, because it was obvious to her something was very wrong with me. On one of these occasions, we were in a conference room in the morning (for yet another scolding after I had used a ridiculous excuse to take a Monday off), and I was already drunk, and she said she could smell it. I was the office drunk. No one spoke to me unless they absolutely had to, and that was just fine with me. I would never go to lunch with my group lest they see how badly my hands shook when I tried to eat, and how I could barely get half of my lunch down without gagging on it. Indeed, everything made me gag – a quick cough while I was out having a smoke would lead to gags, dry heaves, and sometimes I’d throw up right where I was. But I knew better than to let anyone see me, so I’d hide behind the building and sit on the curb so if needed, I could vomit between my legs.
Every workday would be the same; every workday would be this horrible. I’d come in late and leave earlier than I was allowed to, only to stop at the corner store on the way home and get more beer so that I could feel “OK” again, as I described above. And every weekend was an all-out bender – passing out in front of the TV, sometimes with food in the oven that would char and burn, or a lit cigarette in the ashtray that would fall onto the carpet and make an indelible burn mark. I’d head to my favorite little dépanneur at 8 o’clock in the morning to get more beer, because the owner didn’t seem to care – in fact he understood. I had credit there, you see. When I’d be out of money – which was every other week – I could put my daily beer and cigarettes in his book, and then settle my tab on payday. And I’d wonder why there was never any money for the “good stuff” in life – new clothes, a new TV, a computer upgrade . . .
My appearance was probably very frightening. I was gaunt, skinny, and walked with an unsteady gait, drunk or not. My lips shook when I spoke. My clothes weren’t exactly tattered, but I’d given up on doing laundry in an actual washing machine, so every so often I’d wash the essentials in the bathtub, wring them out, and hang them on the balcony to dry. Bathing was a chore I couldn’t be bothered with in the morning, especially given the way I felt when I woke up. I’d quickly use a washcloth under my arms and in my crotch, then slap on a lot of deodorant. I’d wash my hair and style it the best I could. One thing I’d always do, however, was shave, no matter how shaky I was, for I truly believed that if I showed up at work clean-shaven, no one would know how sick I truly was. My shoes had holes in them. The zipper on my black jeans – near the end, the only unripped pair I owned – was broken, so rather than buy a new pair, I’d wear long shirts that covered the open fly. And perhaps if I did wear some of my nicer clothes – especially on a Monday – they’d all think that I was OK. But I fooled no one but myself.
And every morning, I’d stand on the metro platform, reeling, and I’d think that this was it: this is the way it’s going to be. Nothing is going to change. I hate my life. I hate myself. And when the train would come, it was so tempting to jump, for I’d played the scene out in my mind many times.
But somewhere inside me, I knew there was a way out; I knew there was a solution. For I had tried it before, and it had worked. I just had to reach that point of absolute desperation – what I now call the gift of desperation.
In a blackout one Sunday night, something came over me, I picked up the phone, and called up my old AA sponsor – a wonderful, wise, older man named Lionel, a queen from Liverpool who moved to Montreal in the 70s and got sober in 1991. His partner, Mark (also in recovery) answered the phone. Lionel was visiting family in England. But Mark talked to me – well, he listened to me, because I’m sure I went on and on and on, being in my cups and all. All he wanted me to do was to get to a meeting the next day. That’s all. He couldn’t make it himself to meet me, so he told me he’d let a friend know that I’d be there, and I’d be “coming back,” as we say.
The next day, at work, I posted the thread I linked to above, after an email exchange with Eonwe and another confidante. I knew that a humble admission on the boards would be one more thing that would help me get to that meeting, and hopefully, get sober. I knew that I could count on the support of my friends here on the SDMB. So I’d have two camps rallying for me: my old friends in recovery (once they learned I’d come back), and my relatively new friends on the boards.
I made it to a meeting that night. I have to admit that I had a few drinks before going, because I had to steady myself a bit. I took what we call a Desire Chip, which is a little medallion that on one side says “One Day At A Time” and has a picture of a camel with a ‘24’ in it. They say a camel can go 24 hours without drinking (water) – so maybe we, maybe I – could go 24 hours without drinking alcohol. Just one day. On the other side of the Desire Chip, it says “Think before you drink: the time to call your sponsor is before, not after.” When you really want a drink against your better judgment, and you call someone sober, the effect is amazing: once the call is over, the urge to drink is usually gone, and you realize how silly the whole idea was in the first place.
But, you see, that day back in 1999, I didn’t make that phone call before going to the store and buying myself some beer. I wish I had, for maybe I wouldn’t have then embarked on the worst three years of my life – but I must not regret the past. It’s gone; it’s over and done with.
The next day – my first real day sober – I couldn’t make it to a meeting, because I had to work late to make up the hours I’d missed by coming in very late the day before. Everyone had left and the floor was deserted, save for me and a couple of engineers. And I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. There was no answer at Mark and Lionel’s place, and I’d long forgotten the numbers of the other friends I once had in recovery. I went into #straightdope chat, and there I found the wonderful, gentle Elenfair, and I told her how scared I was, and how I wanted to drink but knew I couldn’t, and how I didn’t know what to do because I was stuck at work, and how I was afraid to go home. She talked me down, I had a chocolate bar (because sweets can stave off a craving for alcohol), and I felt better. I was still petrified of spending the rest of the evening alone at home, but I didn’t drink, and that’s all that really mattered at that point. I made it to a meeting that Thursday, and on the Friday, Mark asked me to come straight to his and Lionel’s place after work. He made me dinner, another sober member picked us up, and we headed off to Cornerstone – my old home group, a gay and lesbian discussion meeting.
And everyone was so glad to see me back. Not one said “I told you so.”
The next day, a Saturday, I hit another discussion meeting. Sitting across the room from me was a cute guy . . . I wasn’t quite sure of his name, but I was pretty sure he said “My name is Jeremy, and I’m an alcoholic.” Jeremy? Yeah, I was pretty sure that was his name. Even though I was in a detox fog, fueled mainly by caffeine (and tranquilizers for the shakes), I remember thinking he was kind of cute. The following day, I hit two meetings. In between, I had an experience that I can only describe as being of the purest spiritual nature. I encountered a little old lady lost in the rain, trying to find her bus to get home. I helped her. I now realize that I was her angel on Earth that afternoon, but I don’t know if she realizes that she was my angel too. For I came to understand that as a sober person, I could once again be of help to others. I could be a useful part of society. When I got back to my dingy apartment (I hadn’t cleaned it yet), I fell to the floor, in tears. I was grateful for the experience in a way I can’t describe.
I went to another meeting that night, and was on such a spiritual high that I had to share it with someone. That Jeremy fellow was outside the church, having a smoke, and I elatedly told him the story. He now tells me that’s the night he fell in love with me.
And I kept on. I didn’t have that first drink, one day at a time, I kept going to meetings, I talked – and most importantly, I listened – and I got better. It took a long time to return all of those empty bottles, it took a long time to get over my fears, and it took a long time to rebuild my reputation at work.
What it’s like now:
I am happy, joyous, and free. The bills are paid on time. There’s money in the bank. There’s food in the fridge. I eat well. I go to the gym at least three times a week – and I have the energy to do so with vigor; it’s not a chore at all. I don’t shake anymore. I don’t gag while trying to eat. My complexion has returned to normal, from its grayish pallor.
I’ve let go of silly resentments I held towards just about everyone in my life. (They seem silly now, but when I was drinking, they were just the excuse I needed to go and have another one.) My mental faculties have returned. I’m back working on my musicals again – music being my one true passion. I approach each day with the true and sincere feeling that anything’s possible, and that I can achieve anything I want – as long as I stay sober. I look forward to tomorrow, and the next day, and next month, and next year - rather than dreading every next moment.
I have more than rebuilt my reputation at work, and regained the respect of both my colleagues and the engineers I work with. This was confirmed when a very high-placed engineer asked me to work with her on a new project. People aren’t afraid of me anymore; in fact, they want to talk to me, to chit-chat about this and that and the next thing. Imagine that! One thing I wanted to do before I had a year sober was make a proposal to my manager to align myself as the primary tech writer for a new product – the one I was asked to work on – that my company will be introducing next year. In other words, take initiative, take on new projects and responsibilities – and I have the confidence to do so now. My proposal was accepted, because my manager has confidence and trust in both me and my abilities.
And that Jeremy fellow? He moved in last December. I’m more and more in love with him every day – even through fights, or difficult periods when money’s tight, or the ups and downs of a relationship. This June, on my birthday, he asked me to marry him. We’ve set a wedding date (September 18, 2004), and went and set up our gift registry. (How could we not, being the two good homos we are?) He means the world to me, and I would do absolutely anything for him.
I might not be rich. My musicals are still a long way from being Broadway hits. I still live in the same apartment – but it’s spotless, redecorated (Jer has a flair for decoration, you see), and I’m not alone in it anymore. My job is still the same in that it’s often very boring. I don’t have a car. I still won’t be able to get credit until 2005. And money’s still tight sometimes, though certainly not as bad as it used to be.
But none of that matters, for I am content with myself and my life. I have been blessed with that serenity that is so sought after, yet so difficult for most to achieve. I have absolute faith that no problem is insurmountable as long as I stay true to myself, and stay sober.
I haven’t had a drink in one full year. I did it one day at a time – not on my own, but with the help of others. This includes you, my friends here on the SDMB.
I am sober today, and I thank you for helping me stay that way an entire 365 days. Tomorrow will be just another sober day – day 366. But today, I am celebrating, and I invite you to join me on my special day, because you helped me get here.