25 Years Sober And I Don’t Feel Anything
I remember my first meeting. It was not by choice (shock) and I showed up a little inebriated. I say a little, but it was more than a little. It was nevertheless sobering as I had to sit in the back downing the shitty, get-the-grounds-in-your-gums coffee, hoping it’d mask the fact that I’d been drinking not even an hour before. You’d think the coffee would mask the smell or at least the my “awareness” that I smelled, but I kept burping and – unlike a fart in a cramped elevator – every head that turned round knew exactly where that familiar smell was coming from. But I digress. Let me back up a little ways.
Caution: Men Drinking at Work
By this point in my life, my friends and family knew I had a drinking problem. I wasn’t showering; I wasn’t cleaning; and I was drinking, a lot, all day, all night. I’d – and I kid you not – pass out on the couch in the living room with a 12 oz can in my hand. Passed out. Immovable. And my hand was holding the beer upright. My roommates would always be on high alert, trying to jostle me awake, but to their surprise, I never spilled on the couch or even the carpet. On rare occasions, I’d wake, and in recognizing where I was I’d unknowingly move my hand and spill, but it was a sight to see. Easily earned me the right to be Alcohol Use Disorder’s poster child – I can still imagine what the big, red letters on my mug would’ve been: red flags of an alcoholic… as opposed to what we treated it as: a funny anecdote the next morning.
Anyway, my car was broken. At some point, a rock shot through the oil tank (I think that’s what the mechanic said). Said it wasn’t my fault, but I could spend a couple grand to get it fixed (which I didn’t have) or sell it for parts, so I did. Fun fact, selling it for what I did, I would’ve have been able to fix it.
So, with no car and no immediate means of getting a new one (and no one to carpool with because I lived in the middle of nowhere), I had one other option: public transit. Now public transit in southern California isn’t great. To get to my job on time, I had to take 3 different buses with inconvenient layovers, meaning, I needed to wake up and be at the bus stop 3 hours early to my shift. At the time, my time wasn’t worth much and I figured I’d be spending less money if I wasn’t able to shop online or the grocery store. Plus, I like books, I’ll sit and read, this will be great.
But it was my third 6am trip that I had the sudden and severe realization that I wasn’t driving. Moreover, I was going to be indisposed for 3 hours. This thought hit me as I was leaving the apartment. I went to the fridge and found two unopened beers. I grabbed a plastic bag – because what would the bus driver care, really? – and went out the door. I drank the first one at the bus stop, waiting for a very late ride, and a little paranoid I wasn’t going to get away with drinking. But when the bus arrived and I was frustrated as all hell and everyone looked hot and miserable, I drank the second one (not indiscreetly) and suddenly my frustration and grief melted away. I was fearless.
Needless to say, by day 5, I had a thermos filled with whiskey. Of course, I hung a tea-bag tag off the outside to ward off suspicion. And thus began my ever obvious and obnoxious descent into drinking nonstop. It wasn’t long before I lost the job (missed enough shifts from missing the bus, sometimes for waking up late, but more often than not for running to the liquor store to stock up beforehand) and by Thanksgiving, there was an intervention of sorts.
Drunknapped to AA
I was a few beers in when people repeatedly told me to get help. I wasn’t drunk yet, so I brushed them off. But one of my friends (sincerely, a true friend), basically wrestled me to the ground and threw me in his car. I was very pissed off, but a little nonplussed. He said he was taking me to a meeting, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he was actually doing it. I called him some names. I kicked his windshield a few times, but I didn’t want to break it, I just wanted to annoy him out of doing this – I couldn’t believe he’d care enough, but he did. My roommates aren’t bad guys, but they took photos of me passed out with a beer in my hand. This friend though, he wasn’t ignoring the problem. He spoke so calmly and deliberately despite the tears on his cheeks. He told me he couldn’t sleep knowing I lived in an apartment with a balcony with a good four story drop, and I had made numerous comments about how I was willing to throw myself over the edge. He couldn’t continue to have these nightmares that I’d blown my head off knowing he could’ve done something to help.
He walked with me to the front door and said he’d be right outside when it was done. When I stepped inside, it was empty with some banter downstairs. I considered just staying upstairs and pretending I went, but I waited upstairs for 10 minutes before I got bored and followed a friendly couple downstairs. When I found the coffee, I scoffed thinking “this is what AA is really about, selling shitty coffee,” but when I found out it was free, I happily indulged thinking I was taking advantage of the system. It seemed the banter I heard was pre-meeting hubbub. I moseyed in and sat at the back. In 5 minutes, the room was flooded with people. With a solid 40 or so, lining the back wall, standing.
Six guests sat in the front of the class. They were easily the most diverse group of people I’ve ever seen in row, not just in ethnicity and size, but age and fashion sense. I felt like I was looking at the politically-correct police’s version of a sitcom cast. I quickly learned, each of these people would be giving a speech about their sober anniversary. Three of them hit their one year, one of them was hitting their second one year, another was celebrating his second year, and the last was celebrating his 25th year sober.
25 years without a drink? Not a sip? And he’s still attending meetings? Why not write a book at this point?! But my thoughts were quieted when they started their stories.
I don’t know how long this meeting was. I didn’t track when I was dropped off, nor when I left – nor was I in a rush – but these stories were long and so strangely unique and familiar. It felt like each person talked for hours, unrehearsed, unscripted, but nevertheless, clear and concise. The 25 year, old timer was 4th and I waited with baited breath.
To my surprise, he spoke for all of 3 minutes – if that. He held up his chip, said he was thankful for the community and happy to continue helping others. He looked like he was done speaking then, but he must’ve read the room because he reluctantly added, “You know, a lot friends have told me, ‘wow, 25 years, that’s a quarter of a century, how’s it feel?’ but I don’t feel anything about 25 years.” If I was less taken aback by the amount of time this guy’s been sober, I would’ve scoffed at him treating 25 as no big deal, but then he continued, “See, last year was my 24th year and that one meant something. For me 24 has always been the big number because it’s a 24 hour struggle. 25 years sounds like a long time, but it could disappear in a second. So I’m thankful to be another year sober, but my focus is staying sober today.”
My jaw dropped.
25 Years Sober Doesn’t Matter, Today Matters
When the meeting ended, I helped put away the foldup chairs and I wanted to talk about what just happened, but people quickly circled up in their respective groups. I felt a kinship, but my anxiety told me I didn’t belong. I felt a divide. I felt fear. I wanted to go outside and tell my friend about the hilarious anecdotes, but I also wanted to hug him, cry and apologize… but then I also wanted to hide in the bushes in the cold, like it’d hide my shame. And I couldn’t display a sincere hug because what would it matter if he didn’t believe me. I couldn’t declare myself so much as an hour sober, I was still lit. I couldn’t believe I’d hit this point; that it’d come to this.
When I did head outside, I gave him a hug anyway. I said “thank you” although I think I sounded a little too formal. I promised I’d return. I kept that promise. I kept that promise a hundred times over.
When alls said and done. I’m not – and I know that old bastard’s not – saying 25 years isn’t a feat. It is. But what makes 25 years phenomenal is that there are 9,125 consecutive days that go into it; 219,000 hours in a row. And for reference, I couldn’t make it through a two hour movie sober.
I look forward to the day when I’m 25 years sober and I can remind a captive audience it doesn’t mean anything if I were to drink today. Course, if I’m ever to get there, I need to focus on right here and now.