It’s December 4th again. For me that makes five years since I stopped drinking (and smoking, incidentally).
It’s a day worth celebrating for me. It was hard to stop drinking. I tried to stop repeatedly, only to find myself at the bar a week later. I craved alcohol. I still crave it every once and a while.
Surprisingly, I found it easy to stop smoking – an after thought. I only smoked when I drank, and so when I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking. I didn’t even notice that I’d quit until months later.
Five Years Sober
Five years ago I was struggling. After being homeless for several months I had finally got a bachelor’s apartment that I could just barely afford. It made a huge difference. Still, even after I moved in, my life revolved around survival: finding ways to cope with the anxiety, fear, and self-loathing that weighed me down, mentally and emotionally; making sure I had enough food – I had to shoplift to make ends meet. I was focused on staying alive, and healing. Healing and surviving, that was the long and short of my life at the time.
I don’t remember what I was doing on December 3. I do remember having a hangover the next day, at my birthday party on December 4, 2013. It was in a small Mexican restaurant. There was a dozen or so people. Sitting there, surrounded by people – most of whom I don’t talk to anymore – I decided to try to get sober one more time.
I’d been trying to stop boozing for months. I’d usually last a week or two. Then I’d give in and get really, really loaded. I was getting drunker than I had in the past. Six pints wasn’t enough: I had to drink ten. I wanted to get completely numb because then I didn’t have any feelings.
By this time in my life I’d been in counselling for close to two years, and my heart was coming back to life. I was beginning to have more and stronger emotions, and having a couple of beers simply didn’t quiet my feelings anymore. So I would drink more until I felt nothing but drunk.
I couldn’t tell you how I finally succeeded in staying sober. Nothing stands out. I didn’t do anything differently. I went to counselling. I went to the Kumik Elder’s lodge. Maybe it was stubbornness. Maybe it was just that after trying to stop thirty times I finally did it. Repetition resulting in success.
Sobriety and Perseverance
I guess my perseverance paid off: even though I’d failed thirty times or more, I kept trying to put down the bottle. And in the end, I succeeded.
Sobriety has completely changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I was getting better through counselling and spirituality, but it was a matter of two steps forward, one step back much of the time. Since I put the booze down I’ve put one foot in front of the other day after day.
Five years ago I had just gotten an apartment, sometimes suicidal, desperate, and I had no clear future.
Today I’m writing (and sometimes getting paid for it), organizing, making radio, learning to make art and take photographs. It’s not only because I stopped drinking, but being sober is a part of the foundation that holds up my other efforts. I’m still not where I want to be as a journalist and artist, but I’m trying to accomplish my goals, and I’m happier and healthier than ever.
I write about these anniversaries because I’m proud of staying sober. I drank heavily from 18 to 36. 18 years. I wasted so much of my life that way, time I’ll never get back. And yes, I had some good times. And I also learned some things. But I have no doubt that drinking cost me much more than I got back.
I have a good idea exactly how hard it can be to get sober. But I also know that it’s possible. For me, it was a matter of consistent effort for close to a year that finally did it. At first it was one day at a time, then one week at a time. Then one month. After the first year it got easier. At least it did for me.