Sunday, February 19, 2006

17 Years Ago: A Mess and the Clean Up

I’ll bet everyone is wondering: Why is there a picture of a ticket stub from a 1989 Maryland basketball game on this site? It is a very significant ticket stub, not for what happened in the game but what happened to me later. I am a recovering alcoholic. February 19, 1989 was the last day I was drunk. Since I have this forum, I thought I would talk a bit about how it was pre-February 19, 1989, how it was getting sober and my life today.

First, I started drinking at an early age. My first beer was consumed sometime in April 1976. I was 14 years old and with my neighborhood friends. We all tried drinking to impress an older crowd in our neighborhood, to fit in and to try to be cool. It was easy getting beer then as several of my friends had older brothers and they would buy for us.

I developed a tolerance for it and later used drinking as an escape. It tasted good and I was more outgoing when I had a few beers under my belt. This behavior continued into high school. After graduation in the summer of 1980, I was arrested with a friend for breaking into a school gymnasium to shoot hoops. We were pretty drunk and weren’t aware of the silent alarm we triggered. The drinking escalated into my college years and while I had my share of fun, I was lucky to meet up with several friends who knew when to party and when to study. I got my degree and headed out into the working world in early 1985.

The drinking continued and several incidents and fights followed. I don’t think I was fully aware of what I was doing to myself but I know I was alienating family and friends with my behavior that resulted from drinking. But I didn’t care. As long as I had alcohol, preferably beer and lots of it, I didn’t care. There were several “incidents” that occurred, too numerous to list here, but one that always gets a laugh at AA meetings is the time I came home sloppy drunk and took the elevator to my apartment on Idaho Avenue in NW DC. I lived on the fifth floor and the elevator stopped at the forth floor for some reason. Maybe I hit the wrong button, I don’t know. I got off the elevator and went to what I thought was my apartment. I couldn’t get the key to open my door, so I start banging on the door and this old lady answered it yelling at me. I started yelling at her wondering WTF are you doing in MY apartment! She said she had lived in her apartment, #406 for the past ten years and perhaps in my condition, I was on the wrong floor and didn’t know it. I went back to my apartment (#506) and passed out. The next night before I went out I slapped a Washington Capitals bumper sticker on my door so I could tell I was in the right place when I came home hammered.

That’s pretty much how it went for the longest time, just drink, stagger, fall down, do something stupid and repeat. February 19, 1989 started with me meeting up with my neighborhood friends to go to College Park, MD to see the Terps play North Carolina. Game time was 1:00 PM. I had been hitting the sauce heavy the night before and it didn’t take long for me to get the buzz going again before the game. Once inside, Maryland was getting clobbered and a bunch of us were getting restless because the game stunk and we were out of booze. I think I got in a shouting match with an usher, I can’t remember. We ended up going to the Rendezvous for a few beers, then over to a friend’s parent’s house. His folks were away and we were shooting pool and goofing off. I do remember grabbing a bottle of vodka and mixed a blender full of Bloody Marys, which I decided I did not want to share with anyone. This was my thinking throughout my drinking days. Mine and mine only. I ended up passing out around 6:00 PM. A couple hours later I ended up at my parent’s house as my friends went to a party and just deposited me there as they didn’t want to deal with a sloppy drunk pal. That’s how bad I got. I couldn’t control myself anymore. When I awoke, I had no idea how I got to my folks as I blacked out.

Monday, February 20, 1989 was President’s Day and I didn’t have to go into work. Not that I really was in any shape to. My Mom drove me to my apartment. I don’t believe we even spoke, that’s how hung over I was and how ticked off she must have been at me. I slept my hang over off and in the middle of the afternoon, I stumbled to the mirror and took a look at the mess I had become at age 27. I decided then and there to end the nonsense. I didn’t know how I would but I remembered hearing one day at a time at some point in my life, so I decided that was how I would attempt to do this. I managed to get through the rest of the week without alcohol, skipping happy hours and coming straight home. The weekend was going to be rough. I disconnected my phone and stayed in my apartment all weekend crying, not knowing what the hell I was doing or where I was going with it.

I got through the weekend ok and decided I had to face my friends. I was too scared to tell them my decision, so I lied and said I made a hundred dollar bet with an ex girlfriend that I could stop drinking for the rest of the Capitals hockey season, which was usually in mid April as they would always lose in the first round of the playoffs. “Whatever” was the reaction and the phone calls stopped. As the days went by, I missed the camaraderie of my friends, so I tried meeting them at various bars and sip Coke or soda water. The abuse I took from them and bartenders was too much, so I stopped doing it.

I ended up consulting with a friend who had been going to AA meetings and asked if he would take me. I started to get into a routine and met some people who would later influence me as I progressed with my sobriety. I would go to meetings three, four, five times a week and just listened. I talked to people in AA over the phone. I read books. A lot of changes occurred and I started to accrue sobriety time and I started to feel good about myself. The days turned into weeks, these turned into months and finally I had my first year of sobriety in February 1990. During this time, my friends started to understand where I was going and while I didn’t meet them at bars anymore, I’d still keep in touch with them over the phone. We'd get together for an occasional round of golf. It took awhile, but friends and family could start to trust me again.

Fast forward seventeen years to today. I hold a steady job; have a nice house with a wonderful wife and newborn son that I love very much! I do a lot of the same things I used to do drunk, only sober. It’s been that way for seventeen years now. It’s nice to come from a sports event or concert with a recollection of what I just saw. It's nice to be a reliable employee, a trusted family member and a good husband and father. This is what is at stake if I ever refer back to my old ways. I think I am smart enough to realize what is at stake and what I would lose if I ever went back to that way of life, so I just keep things in my life simple and easy to manage. It's worked for a number of years and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I forgot where I heard that for the first time but it works for me.

Since Ive been sober, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad things that have happened. That’s life. I've been fortunate and blessed that I’ve had a clear head to make major life decisions, a clear head to get me through the good and bad experiences in my life, a clear head to understand drinking is NOT the answer to my problems.

I’m blessed to have several friends who have been very important in my sobriety. Their insights, advice, assistance and patience with me have been greatly appreciated over the years. You know who you are out there and you know how much I value your friendship and guidance over the years.

If there is someone out there reading this blog who struggling with addiction who wants to talk, by all means use the e-mail link in the My Profile section to drop me an e-mail. For those currently in recovery, keep going back to your meetings. It definitely works if you work it.

As for the ticket stub, it holds special significance for me as it is the one item left that I have saved from my drinking days. When I had a year of sobriety, I tore up all the photos that I had where I was drinking or drunk. I didn’t want the photographs reminding me of what a mess I was.

A few of my favorite hobbies are reading, listening to music and crossword puzzles. One piece of advice I got early in sobriety is keep your mind and yourself busy so you won’t think about that next drink. It's worked for me.

I’ll close with the Serenity Prayer as that’s how we close meetings in AA.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.


maryjanejeff said...

I offer you a heartfelt congratulations on entering your eighteenth year of sobriety. I can't imaging how much of a struggle that was and still is. More power to you for keeping with it!

UnknownColumn said...

Great post. I have nothing to add, really, other than to wish you luck in your continued success with this. Peace.