Tuesday, September 7, 2010

350,632.511 minutes

No, not 525,600 minutes. I really hate that song, but it can't be that bad if it gets stuck in your head- which is one of the marks of a good song...

I'm talking about 350,632.511 minutes, give or take. This is the number of minutes that exist in the span of 8 months, the span which, as of today, I have not put any alcohol (or any other substance) in my mind and body. I know 8 months seems like such a non-event in terms of being sober. I know people that have been sober for years, decades even. I'm only at the beginning of a path that has been well worn by others before me and will be followed by many after me. For some reason, however, something struck me about this milestone that made me want to write about it today.

It was on January 7, 2010 that I woke up feeling terrible, yet again, after another in the long line of epic drinking binges that I was simply incapable of avoiding. My problem wasn't so much that I would drink every day (although it was starting to get close to that). My problem was that once I started I couldn't stop. I am incapable of having one drink. What would begin as an innocent evening at the bar after work on a friday would lead to an out of control freight train of drunk that wouldn't end until sometimes saturday morning, sometimes hundreds of dollars later. I was overwhelmed by the guilt and shame that this weakness and its results would leave me with. My marriage was beyond repair. My mental health was shaky, at best. My physical health was visibly bad. Things were getting worse with each day, each minute that I continued to deny the fact that I was, and still am, an alcoholic.

I will never forget how I felt that morning- mentally and physically. After a few hours of restless sleep, I creaked out of bed filled with nausea; my skin feeling like taut, dry parchment over my bones; eyes hurting regardless of being opened or closed; my head feeling awkward on my spine, clearly attached, but feeling barely so. The universe tilted on its axis as I walked into the bathroom, deciding whether or not I would vomit out the remains of the previous night.

It was a walk of shame as I passed from the spare bedroom, where I had been sleeping for the previous months, to the bathroom past the main bedroom where my soon-to-be-ex wife slept. No doubt she saw the shadow passing across the doorway, shameful footsteps that I had long since tried to hide. She knew I was a failure. I knew I was a failure. It didn't even need to be said by this point. She was tired of it months earlier and had no fight left in her. In fact, I'm surprised she had kept the fight up that long. She was just another in a line of failed attempts at domesticity, one more relationship, one more love, inevitably ruined by a desire to drink and get high and have a good time that far exceeded a desire to love.

In the mirror, I saw a mess. My eyes stared back at me- puffy, red, and empty. I splashed water over my grey, bloated and ugly unshaven face in an aborted effort to keep the nausea at bay. It didn't work. I found myself, within minutes, on my knees, face in the toilet bowl, knuckles white, gripping the sides as I vomited nothing but bile. The bottle had finally let me down.

The words floated closer to the top of my head, like they had so many times before when I felt like this. This time, though, I stopped trying to drown them. I said it to myself, looking into my bloodshot eyes, "I am an alcoholic."

And I said it again, this time to my then-wife, as I curled into a fetal position and wept. It didn't change the fact that she was leaving me, but I am grateful for her comfort in that time of complete vulnerability and humility. After I told her, I called two of my closest friends who had been down this road years before, and I told them. Each time I said it, I felt the weights of guilt and shame lifted from my shoulders, my heart coming out from under what had been a long and slow grind.

I chose life.

It was awkward at first. As much as I was advised to go to "meetings" at least at the start of this journey, I resisted. The Program just wasn't for me. Instead, I chose to confide in my closest friends. Thank you to all of you, and you know who you are. Thank you for not judging me with endless "I told you so."

The changes came almost immediately. I began to dream again. I'll never forget how good it felt to wake up and just be tired- as opposed to tired and hungover. It took a lot to keep everything together when both tired and hungover. The mental and physical stress of it was taking its toll. The further I entered sobriety, the more my moods stabilized. I was nearly manic-depressive from my chemicals being out of whack for so long. This clarity was a new thing, and the more I felt of it, the more I wanted.

The physical changes came next. People told me I looked different, which I didn't notice at first. I'd look in the mirror and just see me. But sure enough, I dropped 15 pounds. Gone was the puffy gray of my face, replaced by a healthy, slim glow with eyes that actually had life and desire in them. When I told my friend that I finally noticed the color returning to my face, she said, "duh...it's because your liver is working again."

Was I really that far gone?

Yes. I was. I was just blind to it.

It was kind of ironic when people saw the post-sobriety me, having lost the weight on my body and face. If they hadn't seen me in a while they'd ask me if I was ok, if I had any health issues. I would tell them that, if anything, the weight loss was a sign of good health (there goes the universe being ironic again).

The other huge difference came in my guitar playing. I was blessed (if you want to put it that way) with the ability to consume large amounts of booze and...uh...stuff...and still play the guitar better than many (arrogant as that may sound, it's true). When I stopped, it took only weeks before I was able to execute musical ideas that had escaped me for years. I was coherent and able to string together musical thoughts from places that had long since been dulled by what I was putting in my body. When people asked what had gotten into me, I told them it was what I had gotten out of me. I was, and still am, playing with a fire and intensity I hadn't known in years. I am so blessed to have found that place of fearless expression again.

Perhaps the thing for which I am most grateful is the ability to be fully in the moment. When you're drunk, or hungover, or both, the world just passes you by. Everything is a blur. I was incapable of fully seeing and feeling the little details that life is made of. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can feel again. I sometimes stop and just take it all in. The smells. The sights. The sensations on my skin. The tastes. I can honestly say, I am happy. Whereas I had been fooling myself into believing this before. I really am now. I actually smile and laugh...and I mean it and it means so much.

How amazing it's been to do the first sober vacation, party, night at a club, wedding, gig...you get the picture. I had been doing all of these things, but not living them or fully experiencing them. I was there for all of those things in the past, but not present. How lucky am I to have a chance to do these things again with a clear head.

Some aren't so lucky.

Why write about this here?

Well, this project came out of the desire to find an expression that came out of a new presence. I certainly couldn't have done this if I was still a drunk. I'd be too caught up in the vicious cycle of substance abuse to have any time to write anything...and I wouldn't have had the ability to experience these culinary delights fully in the moment. This blog is an expression of my new, and clear, mind- one that wants to really feel new things and remember them and share them.

Being a drunk is the most selfish thing you can do. I guess, in a way, this is one tiny part of being less selfish, at least with myself. I want to give, because I didn't for so long.

So, again, thank you to (insert the names of those who know who they are). Your faith and forgiveness continues to humble and inspire me. Know that every day I relish the opportunity to be a better human being that is capable of real feelings, real love, real friendship, real life. I'm not quite there yet, but I really feel like I'm getting closer with each of those minutes that have, and will continue to pass.

But then again, it's really all about the journey, not the destination, isn't it?