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Speaking of Birthdays (we were, right?)
by Richard Wallace
I have two birthdays, although I get a lot more stuff for one than the other. It isn't one of those situations where my birthday is really close to XMAS so my family gave me a different birthday celebration in the Summer, although that would have been sweet; mid-November birthdays makes for weak holiday offerings. My extra birthday comes from that 'first day of the rest of my life' when I stopped drinking. Or maybe it is the last day I had a drink, A.A. is a bureaucratic organization with a lot of complicated rules. Whichever the rule is, I consider January 9, 1999 my sobriety date. It kinda sorta counts either way, because I was up past midnight drinking on the 8th, so like, whatever. I know I reported to my probation officer's office the morning of the 9th to be bussed to a 30 day re-education center upstate somewhere, and the rest is history. Well, not historical, but my history at any rate.
I'm not one of those people that had to go to rehab to realize a bunch of life-changing things and then lived happily, soberly ever after because of the fine learnings I got done to me there. Neither do I want to detract from the experience, I'm pretty sure that I needed the head start that only a 30-day lock-down could provide. Not to be confused with the 33-day lock-down from 5 years earlier that didn't take. It was a combination of the sequestering and my interest in change that made my last stint in recovery camp the one that worked. So far. I knew that I wanted to stopbefore I went, so I think that had more to do with what happened than any of the State-approved psychobabble that went on there.
My drinking was only problematic sporadically on the outside, but internally, psychologically; I hadn't enjoyed it for many years. Drinking was a character trait, a hobby, it was something that I did. I was an automaton, a drinking machine, drunk, on my way towards drunk, or thinking about when I would next be able to do so. At the end of the day, a reward for a job well-endured, and on weekends, well, how else do you celebrate another work-week survived? I would have lucid moments when I would contemplate what I was doing to myself for a moment before chugalugging my way to relief. I would say to myself, "Self, what do you hope to achieve in life if you continue slowly killing yourself with this shit? You're not wealthy or famous, you can't buy a new liver when the time comes that you realize how much life has to offer but you've trashed your earthly vessel beyond repair." And then the moment would be gone, and I would be on my way to the warmth of Fuzzytown.
As I mentioned, outwardly I wasn't too bad off, but people that were around me would pick up on things. I was never this bad or that bad or however bad in whatever way would have convinced me, but in the time I've been sober I've seen people like I was. Not exactly a flashing neon sign floating above their heads, but easy enough to see if you know what you're looking for, if you've seen it before. I always shaved and primped and suited up, but there were some things that even the emotionally stunted drunkard that was me knew others could see. Bleary eyes that squinted at bright lights might have been the most obvious, but, well, have you ever seen "Fried Green Tomatoes"? There is a scene where she serves the one old drunk a plate of food, and he can't stop shaking long enough to raise a fork to his face, and she takes him out back, and she gives him a pint of liquor, and he gives her a beaten dog look and takes it, slugs down a gulp. That's the stage of physical dependence most people don't get near, but I got there. I would sometimes go all day without eating because I either couldn't keep anything down, or there were too many people around that might see me shaking when I tried to eat. Once safely concealed in my home, I would tip back 24-36 ounces and normal hunger and hand-control would return. It's okay for you to think that's really sad, I had to be convinced of that before I could move on.
In the years that I spent going to A.A. meetings, I would learn a lot of well-worn sayings to describe why I had continued to drink myself unconscious on a daily basis. Some of them were even true of me, although you're discouraged from noting flaws in the 'one-plight-fits-all' theory, your results may vary. I never set out to quit A.A., I just took a job that started way too early to be up that late listening to the same stories coming out of different faces. It was only after a few months of not thinking about drinking - on purpose for an hour or two every week - that I realized that I was a much happier sober person without going to meetings, your results may vary. Much the same as the easy sobriety of being locked up for 30 days gave me a much needed head start on living in the real world without drinking; I really needed the camaraderie of A.A. those first three years, and I don't think I would have lasted without it. But there is a time and a place for everything, and once I realized that; I stopped feeling guilty about not attending meetings anymore. Not that I've sworn it off, I would like to give back to the community, but not right now. Right now life is pretty good the way it is.
In closing, Happy Birthday FTTW!!