As I mentioned on Facebook, yesterday was the 19th anniversary of the day I bade adieu to booze. To cite cliché, what a long strange trip that has been.
I didn’t get sober until I was fifty-four-years-old. Prior to that time I’d made forays into, shall I say, ‘re-assessing’ my relationship with alcohol, and I did make a serious attempt to significantly reduce my intake through the second half of the 1980s, but that all went to hell in 1992 when my first marriage ended. At least that was my excuse at the time. Any old one will do if you’re not committed to really taking action.
Do I wish I had gotten sober earlier? You bet I do. You bet I do, in some respects. For I could say that possibly (just possibly) my first marriage wouldn’t have ended after so many years together. Just possibly I might have remained steadfastly faithful in that marriage. Just possibly I wouldn’t have been so pussy-tempted and afraid of being alone when I entered a probably ill-advised relationship that led to my second (very brief) marriage. Not that I didn’t love the lady. Did with all my heart, but I simply wasn’t in the right (and sober) place to assess it all sensibly. So, even if I had decided to remain with her (for many good reasons; it wasn’t all bad), if I had been sober it might have worked. I’ll never know.
If I had gotten sober earlier I might have been more ambitious and moved into more exalted and influential journalistic realms. I might have pursued my art more steadfastly. I might not have embarrassed myself and wife at social gatherings. I might not have ended up in hospital, jail, and psychiatric ward as a shell of the man I once was, had I gotten sober earlier. Also, I very likely might not be writing this book had I gotten sober earlier.
Part of my problem in carrying-on carrying-on was that it stayed fun for much too long for me. I started late as a problem drinker, as I’ve said elsewhere, and booze provided me with both balm and courage, so it was a natural that I would take to it in ever increasing amounts. I mean, alcohol made me handsome, urbane, courageous, sexually-enticing, witty, flippant, creative and almost all other positives you might be able to come up with. Oh, but what about the negatives? Surely there must have been a downside, a piper that had to be paid? Of course there was, pilgrims. There were the hangovers that grew exponentially over the years and could only be thwarted and tamed by hair-of-the-dog. There were the family rows, the shaking hands, the frightening sleep-starts, and vague generalized fears. There was the stomach distress and the vague liver pains, and the unhealthily ruddy complexion (that I can now recognize from across the room on another person). There were ultimately incidents of impotence, despite the coursing lust (realistically captured in Shakespeare’s gravedigger scene in Hamlet), nightmares, inappropriate sexual come-ons to inappropriate females (that were sometimes responded to if the female was into her cups as well), and just an absolute litany of horrors of varying potencies.
Eventually, of course, when it all went to hell in a hideous six weeks, the truth of my alcoholism had to be embraced. Not just acknowledged. That’s not strong enough. It had to be embraced with a passion and resolve that exceeded anything else I had ever attempted. I truly believe sobriety cannot happen without that colossal resolve and acceptance of reality. That was where I needed to be in the summer of 1996. I was fifty-three. It was time. Yet even with the horrifying onslaught of my six weeks of agony that year, I still was not prepared to make that complete surrender. The ignominy brought about by my increasingly bad, invariably jejune and out-of-control behavior was still not enough to slap my head completely sideways. I still wouldn’t admit and commit.
In the months that followed the horrors of the six weeks I still seethed with resentment and for reasons now inexplicable to me (and to others, no doubt) I fought against giving up completely. I still dabbled and even got drunk on a few occasions. It didn’t matter so much in terms of offending others since I was now – due to my atrocious behavior — on my own. I was also severely depressed and felt a black hole of despair embracing me almost constantly. Furthermore, and this was a compelling point that ultimately led to my surrender, alcohol was no longer a balm. Drinking sent me further into despair. I no longer got a buzz and more importantly, I no longer got the calming effect I so desperately had sought in the past. Churchill once stated that he had taken more out of drink, than drink had taken from him. Well, it didn’t work that way for me. Drink was taking it out of me. In another chapter I told of how my last drink came about in the spring of 1997, and suffice it to say that at age fifty-four I did indeed get sober and have remained so until four twenty-five this afternoon. I hope I shall be able to say the same tomorrow.
Today I have been unstintingly sober for over nineteen years (of this writing). I am neither parvenu nor dilettante about my sobriety, but take it very seriously, always. During all those years I have never wavered in my sobriety nor have I, in total honesty (because that’s what it’s all about), had the remotest craving to consume alcohol or any other intoxicant in any form.