Pt. II of My Life Is a Gift
Collage by Beth Reese, my sister. Gift to me.
Today is my sober anniversary. Yep, I got sober on the 4th of July, 1989.
The need to drink is irrational. And the need to get sober, if one is fortunate enough to find the capability to do it, calls when it calls. One can answer the call, or one can ignore it.
I’ve had two lives in one lifetime so far.
I had a life driven by an ever-growing need to drink, get high, and smoke tobacco, and the descent that all of that entails.
And my second life has been a life of liberation. The Gates of Hell were opened, and I was let out.
In the U.S., the 4th of July is celebrated as Independence Day, and it’s one of the major national holidays when most people are off work.
Beer and hot dogs, cookouts, softball games, fireworks, flag-waving - these things are a big part of many people’s celebrations.
During my drinking/using years, the 4th of July was my worst holiday. I had terrible drunks, dangerous experiences, and a lot of miserable times.
The worst was when a stoop collapsed across the street from us in the East Village. Three young girls were playing on the stoop. My roommate and I were among the first to get over there, and I crawled down into the rubble to try to help. That’s when I saw the first dead person I’d ever seen.
On the 4th of July in 1989, that changed.
I’d been planning to not drink all summer to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. I intended to go back to drinking in September and do it “the right way.”
But a series of events led me to realize that that plan was faulty.
I was led to understand that I have alcoholism and that no amount of sober time will change my body chemistry and my way of reacting to alcohol.
So, on that day I began to work on accepting the idea that I needed to work to stay away from a drink, one day at a time.
34 x 365 is 12,410. That’s how many days I’ve had the ability to not drink or use drugs. (Leap years? Whatever. Close enough.)
Ups, downs, all that life brings, I’ve stayed sober.
34 years is a lot to encapsulate. I won’t try to do that.
Just a few things - marriage to my extraordinary wife, love, close relationships with my siblings, their spouses, my nieces, and many friends.
Buying and enjoying a beautiful home in NYC - wow!
Good work, lots of creative endeavors, and a close-knit and powerful connection with many sober friends.
On the other hand - deaths, from the early passing on of a strong and lovely man, my brother-in-law, to both of my parents.
I received a cancer diagnosis. I went through surgery, which turned out to be successful. I celebrated 5 years cancer-free last month.
I’ve gained weight. I’ve lost weight.
I lost a close friend to estrangement.
I got fired from a job. I fell down the subway stairs and hurt my back while on my way to the H.R. department to be told I was fired.
I’ve gotten hired for some great jobs.
I did a National Tour of West Side Story as Officer Krupke, and we traveled all throughout the U.S. as well as Montreal.
Ah - I said I wouldn’t try to recount 34 years, that it’s too much to cover.
The point I want to make by listing some of those things is to say that none of them led me to have a drink.
Sadness, pain, elation, celebration, health issues, success, travel, boredom, excitement - none of these were a reason to drink.
Feeling jealous, feeling proud of myself, feeling that I’m not enough, that I’m stupid, that I’m smart, that I’ll never measure up, that I’m supposed to be here just as I am, that I’ve made lots of progress, that I’m happy, unhappy, lonely, loved, close, distant - none of these feelings were a reason to drink alcohol.
To choose alcohol is to choose a road to death. It could be a slow road full of misery, or it could be the fast lane.
I’m an alcoholic/addict who knows that I have an illness that wants to kill me. I have a reprieve for today, only.
We only live today, so that’s the only day I can choose to stay sober.
Knowing that I need to make that choice daily is what makes me want to make that choice.
I’m forever grateful.