Right about this time of the morning, 15 years ago today, I passed out and hit my head on…something. I still don’t know what, for sure. When I woke up, there was blood in a number of parts of the hotel room I was in (I found some past the bed, on the AC unit near the window), and a 3″ wide, open gash above my right eyebrow. Hurt like hell. Had a touch of vertigo that lasted for about a week afterward. Was still drunk. Went about my day, went to a party that night, and got a life-saving scowl from a friend when I headed for the beer cooler. It reached me. (Thank you, Lisa.) I didn’t have a beer. I decided to go with that moving forward.
I’ve now been sober nearly twice as long as I was an active drinker (I didn’t drink at all in 1994, and while I had done a little drinking and been drunk in 1989, I didn’t really start my career as a drinker until New Year’s Eve 1989-1990). Had I not lived through it, it’d seem like my drinking was just a life-threatening blip on the radar. I did, though.
How do I feel about it?
I’m very, very thirsty.
(That’s a joke, son.)
In all seriousness, drinking is simultaneously something that’s very remote to me and a presence in my life virtually every day. I could be living in the past, but it does come up a lot despite it being a pretty long time since I’ve had a drink.
I am still alive as a direct and absolute result of my decision to quit drinking. However, I’ve had to work hard to learn how to live rather than just existing, because I was drunk through a good portion of the time when adult people really learn how to live. That part, I still haven’t nailed by a long shot.
It was only a few years ago that I was able to process that the “I need a drink” feeling I get when I get stressed wasn’t an actual threat to my sobriety anymore, but a general instinct toward flight and avoidance brought on by that stress. The use of that phrase…”I need a drink”…it’s similar in my mind to the way I use “God”, “Jesus”, “Lord”, and so forth despite not actually believing in those entities, pretty much an old, bad linguistic habit that’s been hard to shake due to some kind of indoctrination or another.
Not drinking can unfortunately be a very socially limiting and isolating thing, even if you don’t find yourself tempted to drink when you’re around alcohol and drinkers. (That’s actually not a problem for me.) Most adult socializing is centered around drinking. If you’re the sober person in that environment, you’re alternately viewed (just to name a few) as no fun, damaged in some way, or trying to take advantage of the people who are less inhibited as a result of their drinking. If you don’t have patience for people who are drunks or regular drinkers (and I don’t, at least not for drunks, anyway; it’s something that makes me feel hypocritical at times), that cranks the social awkwardness up to 11. I find myself feeling claustrophobic in the presence of anyone who’s visibly drunk, on account of how clumsy, confrontational and reckless those people can be.
Reading back what I’ve written so far, it doesn’t sound like much of a sales pitch for sober living, but I look at it this way: if I weigh anxiety, social awkwardness and living a life that gave its problems a decade-long head start against the guarantee of not experiencing anything, good or bad, that I’ve experienced over the past 15 years or may experience in the future, I’m going to pick the option that gives me the experiences.
If considering my impending, near-immediate death an absolute if I hadn’t quit drinking seems dramatic to you, trust me when I say it isn’t. I ended my drinking after a 6 month long stretch where I was very regularly a blackout drunk. I would not have lived through 1998 at that rate, and it’s pretty much just a matter of physics that I lived through the events described in the first paragraph. If I’d hit my head a little harder or bled a little longer, there’s a very strong possibility that you’d never have heard of me, or would be posting something somewhere on the Internet today about your friend who you lost 15 years ago.