This week (April 18) marks 30 years since my last drink. Thirty years ago, late at night (or early in the morning) I had an epiphany in a bar in Denver and realized I had to quit drinking or I would kill myself. Once the realization struck me there was no choice. I knew I couldn’t fool myself about it any longer. I set my unfinished beer down and headed home, confident in my new-found knowledge and determined never to drink again.
Before that night, I had spent a little over a decade pretty much in an alcoholic stupor. I drank pretty much every day and did so to excess. I could easily down a dozen and a half brandy Cokes or beers or other drinks in a night, and did so regularly. Occasionally, I drank more. Occasionally, it was less. It would have been rare to go 30 hours without a drink, let alone 30 years.
I didn’t know until many years later that I was self-medicating, that I was using the alcohol to hide from myself and an incredible amount of pain that I could not face. It was too hard. Child sex abuse has that kind of effect on a person. It fills you with shame, embarrassment, guilt, hatred, hurt, and more negative emotions than most people even realize are possible. Although it’s getting better, our society has historically been afraid to honestly talk about issues like that, so it also makes you feel utterly alone and isolated.
In all honesty, the constant drinking allowed me to be more social and less alone, at least for a time. It also allowed me not to face myself. It allowed me to ignore the harsh reality of my childhood. With a few drinks in me I could be a more sociable person than I ever could be without it. I am naturally shy and uncomfortable in groups of people, but when I was drunk I could be the life of the party–I was a fun drunk for the most part. In fact, right after I quit drinking one of my friends actually said he wished I hadn’t quit as I was so much more fun when I was drinking.
Once I quit, my life started coming into focus. I feel that I’ve accomplished a good deal in my life and none of it would have been possible if I had continued on the path I was on at the time. There are countless ways that I improved my life, including jobs, relationships, and, perhaps most significantly, I dealt with the pain of my childhood. I faced it honestly, acknowledged it, and started to move past it. It was incredibly difficult and that work still continues, but it is no longer a dark secret. It is in the open where I can face it, cry, scream out in anger, talk about it, or do whatever I need to do to continue my healing journey.
That journey and others were sidetracked for a decade while I drank myself into oblivion, and I am so thankful that I was able to see the light and quit when I did. I am as proud of myself for this as pretty much anything else in my life. On the anniversary date I will celebrate myself for a moment or two and then will continue my sober journey through this beautiful life.