My drinking career started when I was in high school, getting wasted with friends every weekend. The training wheels came off in college. My first year in college, I lived on campus and found kindred spirits there to join me in what became nightly drinking sessions at the bars.
My second year in college, I transferred to a fine arts school in the city of Chicago. I commuted by train from the suburbs. Conveniently, there was a bar in the train station. Every night after getting done with classes, I would sit in the bar getting smashed before getting on the train for home. Not only was there a bar in the train station, that bar also sold drinks to go. They truly catered to the functional alcoholic crowd. Although I was already three sheets to the wind, I would always grab a few road beers for the ride home.
By taking heavy course loads I earned my bachelor’s degree in three years, graduating at the age of 20. Isn’t it interesting that I was already clearly a full-blown alcoholic, and I hadn’t even reached the legal drinking age yet?
In my third and final year of school I was living in a little apartment right by the lake front in Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood. You can always tell the economic clout of a neighborhood by the number of liquor stores. The neighborhood I lived in had a lot of liquor stores – several on each block. You can also tell a lot by the type of wine the stores sell. I had never seen a bottle of MD 20/20 before. Known by slang as Mad Dog 20/20, this 18% alcohol wine is practically syrup. In fact, I took to making snow cones with Mad Dog in the summer.
In addition to there being a lot of liquor stores where I lived, there were a lot of bars as well. I had my favorites. You might wonder how a kid like me who didn’t look 21 until he turned 40, was able to acquire this steady stream of alcohol. I had what was arguably the worst fake ID in history. It was a real driver’s license I had found. It was from another state and five years expired. But that’s not the worst of it. I’m 5’11, the guy in the ID was 5’8. I was 145 pounds, the guy in the ID was 200 pounds. I have an angular face, the guy in the ID had a round face. I had blond hair at the time, he had brown hair. I have blue eyes, he had brown eyes. There was nothing remotely similar about us in the least.
So, if my ID was so bad, why did it work? It was my own application of The Big Lie – telling a lie so unbelievable that people think nobody would make such a thing up. My fake ID was so unfathomably bad, people believed nobody would be dumb enough to try to pass such an ID off unless it really was authentic. Somehow it worked. My other trick, before I found what my beloved grandmother took to calling my “special license”, was to dress up in a suit and tie to buy booze. If you’re in a suit and tie, they never card you – no matter how young your face.
There’s a span of years as a young adult that drinking seems cool. Practically everyone in that age range has a wallet full of “I was so drunk” stories and nobody gives it much thought. I was no different, except that for me the fun never stopped.
It would take years, but alcohol would eventually take over my life. It got to the point that I would drink upon waking, drink before and at work, and finish each day drinking myself into oblivion.
Seven years ago, I finally hit bottom and I checked into a rehab, and with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, I started my journey towards permanent sobriety. I know what it took to quit drinking. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t think I could do it again. So, I can’t ever risk having another drink. It never is even a consideration, because I can’t live like that again. I can’t hurt my family like that again. I can’t destroy my health like that again. I can’t waste my potential like that again.
For most people, alcohol is no big deal. You can party and have a good time and still wake up and go to church on Sunday morning. That’s not how the brain of an alcoholic works. For us there is not a state of drunkenness that is ever enough. We will drink until it kills us.
There is no special reason why I chose to write about my personal sobriety story today. It’s not the anniversary of my first or last drink. It’s just another day that I don’t drink. To be honest, I rarely even think about it. But, when I do think about it, I feel blessed. I feel blessed that I have my life back. It’s not the best life in the world. I’m not rich. I haven’t met that special someone yet to share my life with. But I have my friends. I have my creativity. I have my passion to never settle, and yes, I have my sobriety, and that’s a lot to be thankful for.
The reason I chose to write about my sobriety today is that I feel it’s important in all things in life to lead by example. There are people out there right now who were in my shoes. That’s who I am hoping to reach.
If you know you have a problem, that’s the first step to quitting. But statistics show you can’t do it alone. You need an organization of peers like A.A. to get through those first days, weeks, months, and years. I am proof positive that a fall down, lying in the gutter drunk can do it – so can you.
I’m not preaching about the evils of alcohol relating to the general public. Most people aren’t problem drinkers. I am and always will be an alcoholic. And because I am at peace with that, I don’t drink. If you don’t have a problem, by all means enjoy the virtues of imbibing. But if you’re like me and can’t control it, then be like me and stop.
If your insurance will cover it, check into a rehab. If not, find an A.A. meeting in your area and go. They will welcome you in and walk with you on your journey to reclaiming your life. Visit: www.AA.org.
Peace. Love. Trust
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