When I turned 21, old enough to finally consume alcohol (legally) in the USA, and yes, the “legally” caveat is necessary, it was off to the races for me. That whole year, from 21 to 22, was a blackout. The year is and was, gone.
Insanity with alcohol started early with me, though. Long before my lost year. I had my first brush with death at just 17. We called it alcohol poisoning back then, but you’d do just as well to call it OD’ing. I almost choked on my first vomit of the night. The only thing that saved me was a friend recognizing that I was about to hurl, so he kicked me over on my side. Several pukes later, and a couple of dry heaves thereafter, I burst a blood vessel in my throat and damn near bled out. I was a mess when my best friend and dad carried me into my parent’s home. Head to toe, chunks and blood. According to my buddy, my mom laid into me at that point, kicking me repeatedly. She denies it to this day, but he always maintained it was brutal. I made my peace with it long ago, I just add it for “color” to the painting.
I was seated at my first AA meeting shortly after that, but it would be a mountain of trouble later that I finally went to my second. I was facing real time, too. Not just a stint in the County jail. I thank God I got what I got, and not what I deserved. It was a steady circling of the toilet bowl.
Then the medical issues started popping up. I had a bloated gut but was surprisingly skinny (6′ tall, 130-ish pounds). The doctor at an out-patient treatment center said the bloating was a product of a swollen liver. He’d run an enzyme test weeks earlier and said the results came back that I had the liver of a 60-year-old chronic alcoholic.
I never did anything I liked half-assed.
I was, eventually, sentenced to in-patient treatment after more trouble compounded on the old that I still hadn’t jumped through all of my hoops for… and that’s where I had my breakthrough. It was very sweet and exceedingly simple. Somehow, with the fog cleared after two weeks in treatment, I could see what my life had become and I wanted better.
I tried quitting dozens of times before then, but could never quite bring myself to do what it took to really stay sober. Until that moment, I didn’t want to quit, really. I wanted to “moderate”. To drink “responsibly”. To learn how to control myself once that first drop crossed my lips. It was two weeks into treatment that I could finally see the laughable folly in even attempting to control that which couldn’t be controlled.
I had reached the end of my rope and rather than trying to sew on another piece while I was dangling there (as I’d done many times before), I decided to tie a knot in it.
Once I made my decision to give recovery everything I had, there was no need to turn back. It was “work for a happy life” or “misery”. Some would say I chose the former and didn’t look in the rearview mirror. I would have said that up until a few years ago. It’s closer to the truth to say, after a year of sobriety, “there was no rearview mirror”. Once I got my stride in recovery, I knew I’d struck gold.
I knew this because I tried everything to drink like a normal person. Everything. It was easy to come to the conclusion that I had a choice once my life really started improving. And the longer I stayed sober, the better I got, and the more fun I had. Life has become so enjoyable, all I wish for is another day, week, month, year like the last. Today, it’s a choice between anguish and joy… and once you get to that point, it’s even easier to stay on the path.
It’s hard to believe, but I’ll turn 50 this year. Six years of pain and misery followed by 2 years of hard work followed by another 25 of happiness and contentment.
In the end, I managed to stay sober this long, not because life was so good, but because I remembered exactly how bad it was.
In fact, ironically, you could say that the one thing that keeps me coming back is the one thing we try to banish from our lives with the steps; fear. Of course, I’d be able to convince you, if I haven’t already, this a healthy and a welcome fear. It is a good and useful piece in my recovery.