The ugly truths of sobriety
It’s 6:55 on a Monday evening. The setting sun of what was a fine early May day silhouettes the surrounding rooftops, the air is warm…and I am terrified as I sit in my truck outside of this old stone church. Petrified even. It took me a week to research the location and build up the courage to even make the drive here. Now, I’m frozen in place, unable to reach for the door handle and exit. A million thoughts are jamming the signals to and from my brain. Finally, I look into my rear view mirror, lock eyes with myself and say, “Cameron — you have to do this if you ever want her back.” It’s all the motivation I need, and I am able to extricate myself from the vehicle and lumber across the street.
The church has a side entrance that leads down to a basement with a sign posted on it indicating I’m in the right place. It’s an old building, kept but dingy. Light fixtures that appear to have been hanging in their places since the time the church was built line the hallway leading to the room where the meeting is to take place. The room is quite sizable, with several small tables placed at random. It’s a scene cut straight out of Fight Club. The prerequisite coffee pot with the compliments of powdered creamer and sugar rests on a table against the back wall, and perhaps 30 or so people are in attendance. Friend’s of Bill I believe is the old secret code phrase used to identify them. I’m one of them now. It’s obvious to me that many of them have known each other for some time as they mill about making small talk. Others are obliviously engaged by their cell phones. One woman is even reading a book. Within a minute the meeting is called to order, and I find myself a place to sit that’s as isolated as I can possibly be from the others.
It is the first of many meetings I have attended since, but it is the one I remember so vividly, a feat I may not have been able to achieve a year ago. Two men lead the group, starting with a recitation of the preamble, and read from a book I find available to me at my own table. The steps are discussed, and I’m mildly surprised that in the making of my own list of things needed to be done to right my own wrongs I’ve already nailed many of the concepts, minus the whole acceptance of God thing they want to push on the crowd. Some are here because they want to be. Some have been attending for years while others are newer to the scene. Some are here because some officer of the court had the audacity to inconvenience them and order they attend. People begin to introduce themselves and tell their stories, discuss their struggles. Everyone who is here of their own volition listen intently while the ones playing games on their phones are just passing time waiting for it to be over so that they can get on with their nights. I am genuinely appalled by some of these accounts and I can’t fathom how someone would willingly reduce themselves to the rock bottom levels of inhuman existence that these tales tell. Then I remember why I am here. Not everyone speaks and I remain a silent fly on the wall throughout. Not only do I lack the fortitude to openly vocalize my reasons for attendance, but I know if I open my mouth all I am going to do is breakdown in front of a group of total strangers. I find myself willing the meeting to be over so that I can get out of there as quickly as possible. I cried the whole ride home. I wanted to stop and pick up a six pack somewhere, but I didn’t.
Am I an alcoholic? The classic line is the first sign that you are is denying the fact that you are indeed one, so I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t view myself as better than the other people who attend these meetings, just different. I mean, I have never drank mouthwash on the sly, never sold off possessions for pennies on the dollar nor have I given $10 blowjobs in a back alley just so I could go buy myself a cheap bottle at the corner store. I’ve never had to live out of my car or had to sleep under a bridge somewhere. I didn’t lose my kids or my job. Hell, I just nailed the interview for a tech job at the nuclear power plant and handed in my resignation to assume my new position, so why am I here? Oh yeah…I remember. I’m here because at the end of the day I lost as much or more than all of these people. I’ve lost my self respect, and I’ve lost the woman that I love and I am willing to do anything and everything to get them back.
I drank to erase the pain and depression. I may not be a full fledged alcoholic, but damn if I did not do a spot on impression of one. If I am an alcoholic, I am of the functional persuasion. Every day I’d get up and go to work, respected by my peers for both my knowledge and work ethic. I have always had a positive work ethic, but looking back now I know that as the wheels started to fall off and the depression settled in I pushed myself into overdrive because staying busy and engaged meant there was no time for my brain to meander. The moment I settled into my seat for the long drive home those thoughts would start creeping in, and by the time I hit my driveway and put it in park my mind was a screaming mess. You probably couldn’t tell by looking at me, but over the years I had become quite adept at hiding in plain sight. As soon as I entered my home my only mission was to silence those thoughts and push the memories away as quickly as I could, and the means I used to achieve that end was alcohol.
What started as a slow and innocent crawl exploded into a nightly ritual I couldn’t control. I had a wonderful woman, the most beautiful person I have ever known — a selfless creature who loved me with an intensity I had never felt before, and I would all but ignore her as I made my pilgrimage to the garage to settle in for the evening’s festivities. Dinner? Who needs dinner. I’ve got beer. The kids need a bath? Meh. I think you can handle it. You want to settle into bed and watch the next episode on Netflix? Alright honey, just one (or two or three) more and I’ll be right in. Every fucking night, like clockwork. Finally, when I had drank myself to a sufficient stupor that the thoughts themselves were struggling to avoid drowning in the fog I would come in, perhaps plant a sloppy reeking kiss on my sweetheart, and promptly pass out, so that I could wake up the following morning with an achy stomach, a mild headache, swimming in my own skin and start it all over again. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. The fact that she endured this cycle for as long as she did is a small miracle, but she’s gone now and I can’t blame her for leaving.
It didn’t take back alley blowjobs or living out of my car to snap me back to reality, it took her leaving me. It’s a fucking shame that I couldn’t have found my rock bottom sooner, but that’s what it took. My whole world finally collapsed in on itself when she walked out and left a vacuum in her stead. I have not bought a case since. My mind shifted gears and the thoughts that had consumed me now went all the way to the back burner. I knew I still had to deal with them, but the method of vanquishing them had to change, and I went into therapy. Now, when I came home at night I brainstormed and read. I wrote lists and made plans to turn my life back around again. This wasn’t me. Why the hell did I allow this to happen? How could I have been so god damn blind to have not seen this coming? I love this woman, I need this woman. I had effectively just thrown out the most perfect thing a man could ever ask for, and my new mission was now to reverse course and take an unblinking look at myself in hopes that I could convince her that I had changed. So I went to the internet, and looked up times and locations for AA meetings.
What no one told me about finding sobriety is the void that gets left behind when the veil is lifted and you are forced to face the consequences of your actions. Choices are sacrifices. I made a series of poor ones leading up to my rock bottom moment with her leaving me. The right choices mean giving up certain things or letting things go for something we want more — a breakthrough I wish I had had sooner. Now when look in the mirror I see myself and the ugliness I exhibited. I remember details and events where I could have made choices different from the ones I did. So many moments where if I had just stopped and thought about the path I was on and seen where it would ultimately lead I would have sat down and come clean about my struggles. As big as her heart is I know that she would have stood by me and patiently helped me get back on the right track. But I didn’t. I lacked the courage to speak to her the same way I lacked it in the first meeting I attended. I have it in me now to remember every mistake I made. I don’t blink when I look in that mirror. Sometimes I cry. The guilt and the memories are painful, but they keep me honest.
I wish that there was a happy ending to this tale of woe, but there isn’t really. I mean, things have changed. I’ve changed, so I suppose there is a silver lining. The nightly dance with my turncoat friend Bud Wiser is a thing of the past. As far as finding myself again, I have. I would even venture to say that I am more complete as a person, as a human being now. Certainly more in touch with myself and my feelings as well as the feelings of others. I have hard earned wisdom that I did not possess previously. However, when I look around me and see happy couples, whether in real life or on TV, it makes me sad. That should be me. I fucking had it man and I blew it. She held on as long as she could until she had to let go. Maybe some day she will call. Maybe some day one of these writings will be the one that tells her that I really have seen the error of my ways. It’s important to me that she knows. It’s not about getting her back anymore. It’s about forgiveness. It’s a pipe dream at this point but the sadness and loss is very real. What I will not do is pick up a beer to try to wash it away. I’ll own it as long as I have to.