34 Sober Years

Today is my 34th year of sobriety from alcohol and illegal drugs. I am grateful to reach this landmark, and I wish I felt smarter about things. There is a bit of wisdom to me, mostly realizing how much I don’t know and how how I have to be grateful for.

It was on February 12, 1986, that I entered chemical dependency treatment. My drinking hadn’t caused me to hit bottom financially or career wise. In fact I was working full time and attending law school four evenings a week. But every free second I had was spent drinking to intoxication. I was a functioning alcoholic getting drunk 5 or 6 days a week while lashing myself to a brutal work and school schedule. I was starting to feel the big fear: loss of control.

I started having blackouts. It seemed clear that sooner or later I was going to trip up and be exposed as the alcoholic I was. And that would be a fate worse than death, to my addled mind anyway. In fact what would have died would have been my pride, and the exalted ego I presented as defense to the world.

Somehow I found a book about recovery by Dennis Wholey: The Courage to Change. It was a collection of stories by people like me: alcoholics. It offered me a way out. It gave me hope I could be happy again, instead of constantly planning my next binge and how i was going to cover my tracks so no one discovered my secret life. Dennis Wholey talked about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and how it helped people like me get my life and my self-respect back. So I took a chance and contacted my employer’s health care plan. I signed up for outpatient treatment.

I was brutally honest about myself at the intake meeting. I qualified for treatment, to put it mildly. My heart was pointing at treatment and I was feeling hope things could get better for me. And they did. Not right away, but gradually, steadily, one day at a time, I started recovering from what I was doing to my body, my mind, my spirit. In 1986 I buckled down and got serious about having a new life.

Now it is 34 years later. Still no drugs, no alcohol, and very little temptation to do either. Instead, I work with people who are trying to be clean and sober, trying to get their lives together. It is a vocation with me now. And I’m good with that. Its a way to give back to all the people who helped me along the way. Now I know that I need people, and it is okay. Some wonderful things have happened to me in my sobriety. There have been some terrible events as well. Sobriety is not proof against tragedy and hardship. We all suffer. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. The difference now is that I can control my response to grief and sorrow, and I often do it with these famous words:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, grant me courage to change what I can, and grant me wisdom to know the difference.”

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