Briefly, on Sobriety
Last night, a friend of mine did a very kind thing for my mother, and today, I rewarded that bit of generosity with a four-pack of Red Stripe. I’ve now spent the rest of my day thinking about how delicious that four-pack of Red Stripe looked.
I haven’t had a drink in more than six-and-a-half years, and yet even now, even more than two thousand days removed from my last drink, the simple act of buying beer can have me thinking, “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I gave this another spin.” I’ll think that way for the rest of the day at least. It’s a thought that won’t win the day; I’ve been battling that thought for those aforementioned six-and-a-half years.
At the outset, I think I imagined that I’d reach a day where this sort of thing didn’t happen. I imagined six months of difficulty followed by a thorough adjustment to the newer sober me. And after those six months passed, I drank a case of beer after a particularly bad day and woke up with only a vague recollection of the previous 12 hours.
Sobriety requires attention. Unless I’m vigilant – unless I generally avoid bars, unless I hustle past the beer aisle at the grocery store, unless I very carefully choose my social situations – I can throw myself into days of an unhealthy dialogue in which I find myself seriously thinking about getting back on the horse. Or maybe it’s getting off the horse? All I know is that there’s a horse involved, somehow, and that horse has something to do with beer.
Last week, Cory Monteith died. He’s an actor from the (once) very popular show Glee and what got him was a mix of alcohol and heroin. This is a terrible thing and I mourn for his those who loved him and the ones he loved.
Rob Delaney, a stand-up comic with his own history of substance abuse, noted Monteith’s death on his Twitter feed, and then wrote compellingly about Monteith’s death at his website:
So when someone ODs or kills themselves or crashes a car and dies due to their alcohol/drug use, I don’t say “C’est la vie…,” I say “Fuck that shit,” and I circle the wagons with my other survivor friends and we go over the battle plans a FIVE-HUNDREDTH time, figure out where our dead friend that we love and mourn deviated, and we prepare to greet the coming day in a manner that will give something other than our addictions a fair shot at killing us.
I find myself thinking the same things that Delaney’s describing: what happened and how do I incorporate that knowledge into my own work?
That concept there – sobriety as work – is an important one to me, because work is what it takes to stay sober. There’s no other way to describe it. No matter how many get sober quick schemes exist, there’s little to be done about the fact that today is another day with its own set of often unanticipated challenges. Like buying a gift for a generous friend for example. That’s not to say that I’ll drink tonight. I definitely won’t. But I’ll still be thinking about it.
Delaney’s piece served one other purpose worth noting: it put his own battle out there, something he has willingly done everywhere. Without him explicitly saying so, it communicates to the broader world that this work of sobriety doesn’t have to always be such a lonely experience. There are other people fighting the same incessant battles. There are other people thinking the same thoughts. There are other people battling the same monsters. That alone can make the work easier. Not easy. But easier.