My Old Enemy Returns
Back in February 2012, I had one of those “life defining” moments. After sitting with a faithful friend and having an honest talk about my drinking, I came to the realization that I had a problem. A big problem. A problem that had lasted for almost 20 years, and yet that I had somehow been almost completely self-deceived about. I wrote more about it here.
The decision was hard, but total abstinence from alcohol was the only option that I had in front of me. My life was crumbling all around me. My marriage was in shambles, I had to step down from any leadership roles at our church, we were in some very deep financial trouble, and there was literally nowhere to turn. So, I turned to God. It wasn’t the first time. It certainly has not been the last.
I prayed for the strength to do what needed to be done. And God answered. No surprise. We embarked on a journey of sobriety, and God was faithful. My wife was by my side, every step of the way. Our family, church, friends–everyone–rallied around us to help and support. And by God’s grace, I set the bottle down.
Healing came. Slowly. But steadily. My wife and I began to handle things together and talk things through. We worked together. We often went to sleep at the same time. We began to unpack a lot of the damage and baggage that had built up over the course of my drinking days. And, over time, we settled into the idea of not having alcohol in the house. We got used to alcohol not playing a central part in my life. It was hard, but we adjusted to our “new normal”.
I had, after 2 years, earned back the trust of my family and friends. And my wife. Things were good, and getting better all the time. But we soon found out that we were ill equipped to understand and to properly deal with true alcoholism.
In 2012 I was “pretty sure” that I was an alcoholic. I had gone through a lot of introspection and had done a lot of soul-searching. I knew I had a “problem”, and I would have admitted to being an alcoholic, but if I’m honest I didn’t really understand what that meant. I just knew I drank too much–more than most. A lot more. Than everyone. But still–an alcoholic? Me?
And so, around 2014 (not really sure when), I started drinking again. My wife and I had talked, and after months of conversation about “controlled drinking”, “drinking in moderation”, etc. we decided to give it a try. We set boundaries. We laid out rules. I set up an accountability structure. I gave her the ability to speak into my life if she felt like things were getting out of control. And it worked! For about 2 seconds.
What I didn’t understand, and what most alcoholics know all too well, is that there is no “starting over”. There is no such thing as “just having 1 or 2”. It would have been a great idea–if I had not been a full blown alcoholic whose disease and addiction was just sitting and waiting for the opportunity to take hold again.
I didn’t stay at 1 or 2 for long. It wasn’t but a matter of weeks until I was right back at my old game. I found myself lying about how much I was drinking. I was sneaking, deceiving, and doing whatever I could to drink whenever and wherever I could.
My wife and I both realized before long that it was out of control again. I admit that many of our conversations we frustrating. I began getting defensive again. I had somehow convinced myself that it wasn’t as bad this time. That I could do it. But I couldn’t. It got the best of me. Every time.
Around this time I meandered into a local AA meeting. I had been to a few here and there, but never on my own accord. Never for me. I had gone because so-and-so thought I should check it out or because it was part of a court appointed “suggestion”. But not because I thought I needed to be there.
So in I walked. There were men and women of all ages and backgrounds. I don’t remember what they were talking about, but I remember thinking that these were not my people. This isn’t me. Not my thing. When the meeting was over I talked to a few people and then promptly went and got wasted.
But I couldn’t shake it off. There was something about the transparency of these people. There was something about the brokenness. I couldn’t have explained it then, but I was starting to wonder if maybe these were my people. These rooms full of complete strangers confessing their weaknesses and flaws to one another. The stories of lives that were unraveling or that had been ravaged by the affects of alcohol. They sounded a lot like my own story. Their struggles with addiction sounded a lot like my struggles.
I heard about things like “steps” and a “Big Book”. I heard that alcohol is an allergy of the body, a disease of the mind, and a spiritual malady. I started to look at the true nature of alcoholism, and what I was hearing had been my experience for almost 25 years.
And so, once again, I laid aside alcohol. I started to understand that alcoholism is not just a disease. It’s my disease. It’s not just a problem. It’s my problem. I came to realize that there is no such thing as moderate drinking for me. If I’m honest, despite all of my best attempts, there has never been anything moderate about my drinking.
So where do I go from here? I’m not really sure. May 12th, 2017 I picked up my one year chip. With the help of family and friends, and this time with the support of a solid AA home group, I walk a journey of sobriety. It has not been easy–a year of “one day at a time”s. But I would not go back.
I pray that with God’s help, this will be the last time I have to start this journey over. Time and experience have proven that there is no other option for me. I am an alcoholic. I have a long way to go. But, perhaps for the first time, I am getting the tools that I need to deal with alcoholism and addiction. And that fills me with hope.