At meditation class atop Church of the Holy City this week I pictured an old wooden door in an old decaying frame on top of a massive, green hill I’m climbing and when I finally reach it — once the door takes up my entire field of vision — I’ll get to walk through it to somewhere else unknown, but not until then. So my whole life is finding creative and elaborate ways to climb this hill without ever really getting any closer to the door. Just detours and side trips. An illusion of escalating.
How did I afford Absolut vodka when I was only 16? My job as a host at Bob Evans didn’t pay that much, if I was even working at Bob Evans at that point. My mom threw a garbage bag in my lap and said “I think you’ve got something in your closet to clean up” and I of course knew she meant the dozen or so empty bottles I was too nervous to smuggle out of the basement, even when nobody else was home. “We can talk about this like adults,” my 16-year-old self told her. “I’m not having parties or anything. I just drink it alone.” This is literally how I chose to try to comfort her. “Then that’s really pathetic,” is her response. “Get it out of here before your dad gets home, he’ll kill you.” Two weeks earlier I’d watched my friend Brett guide my dad into the house to his bedroom because he’d had so much to drink he couldn’t walk. “Ok.”
So today it’s been 65 days since my last drink. I’ve had two other sort-of-reprieves in the last 16 years. Once during my freshman year of college when I decided I wanted to re-embrace my Lutheran roots for whatever reason and get clean. This lasted about three weeks. Then there was a few months in my mid-20s when I was able to limit drinking to just the weekends. Mostly. I can’t really remember how I did that. The rest of it worked like I either hid booze in inventive places if I knew people would be around, or I just made sure it was always around because at some point the idea of falling asleep sober became absolutely terrifying. Getting numb was the point. And then eventually my tolerance was such that I could drink so much — most of a bottle of wine (and/or its equivalent in beer) and a pint of vodka (plus a few extra shots to sleep) every night — and that was enough to stay numb the next day until it was time to start drinking again. This was manageable, until it wasn’t.
My eight-week intensive outpatient program ends on Thursday. I’ll get a certificate and the rest of my class will applaud my progress, then I’ll walk back home up 16th Street, past the Church of the Holy City. Then I’ll… what? Water the plants. Repeat the mantra my counselor gave me. Try to patch it all back together. Stay sober, don’t drink. Stay sober as long as possible. Don’t drink. Stay busy. Don’t drink. You don’t get a pass for anything you’ve done when you were abusing. You don’t get to seek comfort from anyone you hurt drunk, or sober, or somewhere in between. You’ll take your lumps and you’ll do it sober. Don’t drink. No valium, no vicodin. Stay clean, stay sober, stay present. Keep climbing.