This medallion should mean a lot. This night is supposed to be celebratory. All those eager faces looking at me, it was intuitive that I should lie to them. My eyes naturally looked to the floor, as my lips said what was expected, “It wasn’t me, it was God, these 12 steps, and all of you. Thank you”. It would have been better if it hadn’t came out so smoothly. If I had choked on the words and said what was really on my mind. That isn’t what happened though. The mask slid on like a fitted glove…where had the years gone…how had I gotten to this place? Old faces and new alike, slid in and out of my vision with a variety of platitudes and congratulations. Let them celebrate, four years of sobriety was an achievement, even if I felt fake.
Sitting at the bench as everyone departed the meeting, I sat frozen with my eyes focusing on nothing at all. My mind was elsewhere, combing the past for better times. The distinctness of that first year of sobriety. When everything was a fog, and I knew next to nothing about myself or honesty. Yet even then, I was a dazed crusader looking for serenity. Wasn’t that the promise and hadn’t I tasted it? The memory of only two years before, when getting the medallion came with such relief. The feeling of hope from those days was unforgettable. When had it all changed? Why then did I feel so cold and empty…hadn’t I wanted to leave this place as soon as possible? Why was I cemented at this bench in a daze of the past.
“Yes, yes, I love AA, but it isn’t magic, I know what I need to do, still…I’ll try to squeeze a meeting in. Why do you keep asking?” was my response to my mother, the morning I decided to go rogue. Something was wrong but I had found the courage to confront it. Nobody else could help me with this. This was something that needed to be faced front-on and alone. That was when the lying began. It was for a good cause.
Plus, how would I ever explain it, what words could I use? No…grab the bull by the horns, pull up the boot-straps, that was what was needed. It worked too, every day was a new fear confronted and a new hurdle jumped. Even if things were beginning to get chaotic, at least it wasn’t the droll emptiness from before.
As boldness and a thirst for life reawakened, so did the recklessness. Every morning I put on a smile to face the challenges, but lurking ever in my shadow was that gnawing sense that this was akin to tightrope walking. Soon everything was falling apart, with nowhere to go, and no one to talk too. The world’s weight was crushing me. Visions of catastrophe filled my vision. I’d be homeless, a failure, and die alone. It all happened so subtly. Even if all the other fears were braved, those old ones came back louder than ever. Why not try a beer? This was my journey, and even if it lead to destruction wasn’t I going that way anyway?
At first, the can was heavy, but it got lighter as I drained it in haste. Quickly, the relief settled into my stomach as it spread roots of warmth. The tolerance was zero so it was like drinking for the first time, everything began to blur as a cheer settled in the room. Why hadn’t I done this sooner? Immediately I put on John Coltrane and wrote, to optimize this inebriation while it lasted. Words flowed from my fingertips like lava, casting new paths and directions on my screen before I could catch up with them. It was amazing, even if a lot of it sounded terrible the next morning.
It might be manageable, but it probably wouldn’t be, no amount of delusion would let me forget that I was an alcoholic. This might lead to death, or worse, and that didn’t bother me. A long lost friend had been found and I needed to capitalize. So the indulgence began, as it became a daily routine again. They glistened, those Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys, and four just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Why have to make the drive back here again later, I reasoned? The lady took the money with the same cheer as every other day.
This was getting exhausting, buying beer, then having to get more.Getting the harder stuff would be cheaper, I reckoned one morning. I remembered liking whiskey.
Soon a forgotten stench returned, the kind that does not go away with a shower. Luckily, I always had a buzz, to stop any contemplation. My insides were like sewer pipes, leaking a foulness that I could not escape. Yet, as long as there was alcohol to float my worries, it mattered not.
On the edge of my thoughts, I rationalized that this was under control. Perhaps in a week I could stop and rejoin AA. Deeper still was the nagging realization that I was drinking for oblivion. A shadow that haunted every can, cup or bottle.
Here and there, moments of sobriety would occur and a tremor would slide from the tip of the fingers up in to the neck, as an omen for what was to come.The rot felt like the never-ending flu, and the sweats became an annoying jacket I had to wear.
Once again, I had polished off the 1.7ml of Canadian Lake, that was meant for three nights. It was noon and it hurt to open the eyes. Before I could scorn myself, everything hurt, but most of all, I began to shake. My heart was pounding against my chest plate like a bull trying to escape its pen. Hurriedly I got up, almost falling over from dizziness. A cloud had formed in between my vision. I needed alcohol, and fast. I knew what these were, delirium tremens or to the unacquainted: alcohol withdrawals.
Thoughts were forming sluggishly in my mind and evaporating quicker than I could grab on to them. Seizure, seizure, death, heart-attack, violent shakes, was the list my mind put together of the outcomes of alcohol withdrawals. This was of a magnitude I had never experienced before.
The legs were full of jelly and my face was dripping sweat, as I stumbled out of the house to my car. This was a dire situation, so even if driving was insanity, I also knew that I would die without alcohol. Almost crawling into that same 711, I picked out a four loko and threw money at the cashier. Her face was one I can’t forget, of pity wrapped in disgust. I gulped it down in the car like a frightened animal until the tremors stopped, until the spike dislodged from the brain, and looked out to see a clear normal day. At once, I began to plan.
That was just an episode that would pass, my mind was working clearly again.
It did not, each morning was the same terror.
Soon, these episodes would come on after only an hour of drinking.
It was hell, having to drink enough to be able to drive to replenish the stores of alcohol.
To drink only enough as to keep the tremors away, but never too much. I also feared floating my brain.
Somewhere in that living nightmare, on one painful morning, came a different sort of thought. One that was clear and sound, a striking difference to the ticker-tape madness of all the other thoughts that seemed to come from nowhere. ‘I do not want to die for pride and a bottle’.
“Now I know the true meaning of humility. That my struggles must be shared. Here I am before all of you, a living testament, with 90 days of sobriety, talking about all the things that haunted me. Doing all the things that I once feared. Thank You.”
I said from the podium, looking out at all the eager faces, meaning every word. My knees shook and my eyes battled for the floor, but I looked into the face of every person who commented. Until a newcomer spoke, saying,
“Normally I don’t share, but you have given me the courage, and I too went through what you went through…I just want you to know how much you have helped me”.
Everything else from that day is a blur, as adrenaline took over. Yet I knew, without any doubt, that I had a purpose. That my story and my secrets were not a treasure to be hoarded, but tools to help others still suffering. The sky was amazingly blue that day.