Today ends my third year without alcohol.
I remember that last day quite well. A friend asked me if I wanted to meet him for a couple of drinks and I agreed. I warned him I wouldn't be drinking much because for some time I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to cut back. But I did drink, and drink, and drink. By the time I got on the train I was drunk, but that didn't stop me from getting a 16 ounce beer for the ride home. It's a miracle I didn't kill myself or someone else on the short drive home.
For some time I had recognized I was not in control of my drinking. I saw my consumption increasing in frequency and quantity. One beer on the train ride home every Friday, became one beer a few times a week then every day of the week, then two beers every day, then a 16 ounce every day then two 16 ounces every day. Of course, if there was an invitation to drink after work with friends or colleagues or clients that was additive, not in substitution. And weekends were a free-for-all. I started at noon and ended when I went to bed.
I cut back at times. When I stepped on the scale and was shocked by my weight I would cut back. After a particularly heavy night I would cut back for the next day or two or three to recover. When I embarrassed myself in front of my wife, or kids, or neighbors I would cut back. And during those times I would try to convince myself I could drink responsibly so all I needed to do was dry out a bit and control myself better.
But I couldn't. I could never have just one. No matter how much I wanted to, or tried, one would turn to two to three to as many as were available until bedtime. I tried and tried and tried again. The night of my last drink I was trying.
On my way to the train that night I was chastising myself, "I can't do this." The next day, hungover, I told myself, "I can't do this anymore." Day 1 I didn't drink.
Day 1 became Day 2, Day 3 and so on. Early on the memory of that last day was very vivid and that was enough to keep me from drinking. But with each day I began to realize I was unable to control my drinking. So when I thought of having a drink I would remind myself that I wasn't going to have one drink. I was going to have one drink then another, then another. I would repeat my mantras, "I can't do this anymore," and, "I'm tired of going to bed drunk and waking up hungover."
At some point it stuck. Last year I was with colleagues at a St. Patrick's Day celebration. I wasn't the life of the party. Later, a good friend told me I wasn't fun anymore. I was a bit insulted, but it was good to hear. I wasn't fun and I had a few choices to make. I could be fun and drunk, no fun and sober, or figure out how to be fun with drunk people and stay sober. So far sober is winning. The fun part will happen or won't.
There were plenty of times, there are still plenty of times, I think it would be nice to have a beer, or a dirty martini, or a gin and tonic. I don't because I don't want to go to bed drunk and wake up hungover. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid I won't have just one. I'm afraid the tremendous amount of self-esteem I've gained will evaporate. I'm afraid the (still inadequate) patience, understanding and empathy I'm now able to demonstrate to my family will be drowned.
This has been an eye-opening experience for me. I've learned plenty about myself, my resiliency, strength, weakness. I've learned much about my relationship with my family, friends, colleagues. I've seen how I used alcohol to feel part of a group and avoid dealing with certain emotions, responsibilities and memories.
I don't begrudge anyone's enjoyment of alcohol. In fact I'm rather jealous. But the longer I do this the deeper is my belief that I can't enjoy alcohol. I can abuse it. And I can't do that anymore.
Three years down. A lifetime to go.