It was hard to stop drinking. Very hard. It’s not something that I think about often, but I have very vivid memories of my struggle to quit. I remember being keenly aware of how much whiskey I had and whether or not I’d need more for the next drunk. I remember making liquor runs on my lunch breaks so that I could get a bottle before the shop closed for the day. I remember rotating liquor stores to try and hide my addiction even from people I didn’t know because of how much shame I felt. I remember drinking as soon as I knew I could, even when all that I wanted in the world was to not have to. I remember each of my previous attempts to quit and the exact moments I decided that it wasn’t going to work that time. I remember the anguish of being aware of my problem but not being able to control it. And… I remember so much more.
I remember my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and how uncomfortable, lost, and confused I felt. But I remember knowing that as long as I was there and not at home, that I was safe. I remember the sunset that day and how the orange light blinded me as I sat outside in between meetings, scared to go home because I knew what would happen if I did. I remember the first guy who talked to me and how he told me that he could see my pain and I remember when he let me know that he, too, felt the same pain at one point. I remember thinking how I had absolutely nothing in common with this man aside from alcoholism, but he knew exactly how I was feeling in the deepest way possible. I remember how I couldn’t fathom going more than one day without drinking, let alone NEVER drinking again. I remember looking at these people who raised their hands at AA meetings for having 10 years of sobriety and thinking that it was impossible for me. I so badly wanted what they had: control over their addiction, serenity, acceptance – a new life.
A lot of people talk about how hard it is for alcoholics to stop drinking, but no one talks about how hard it is for some alcoholics to continue to drink. Yes there’s struggle in quitting but there’s also struggle in carrying on. At least with quitting you’re actively fighting against something rather than feeling utterly defeated, ashamed, and guilty. It’s hard to not pick up the bottle but it’s even harder waking up the next day and looking for a drink the second your eyes open. It’s hard to deal with how much it hurts to drink even when you don’t want to. It’s hard feeling like you have no control.
I remember when I put the bottle down for the last time. It took me a while to make that decision. I stared at it and resented it for the control that it had over me, yet I was afraid of not having it anymore. I was scared of how my body would react, how I would fill my time, and how I would fill my mind. But I knew that I had to because every time I drank things got worse. Above knowing how I was hurting other people, how I was destroying my body, and how I spent nearly every waking moment thinking about drinking, knowing what “worse” meant was ultimately what gave me the strength to quit. Worse meant injuring myself or someone else. Worse meant losing my job, my house, my son. Worse meant everything falling apart.
I didn’t hit the rock bottom that a lot of people hit and I’m grateful for that. But bottoms are bottoms and the more you dig, the deeper you get, the lonelier and darker it is, and the harder it is to crawl out. Everyone reaches their bottom when they stop digging. When I poured that last bottle of whiskey down the drain I felt a release – a release that I hadn’t felt all of the other times I did so. I knew that if I made it through the night without drinking then it was a success and I would just have to make the same decision the next day. And then the next day. And then again the day after that. That’s what is meant by “one day at a time”. All we ever have is today and every day I can make the decision to drink. I just don’t. And I’ll do the same thing again tomorrow. Hopefully.
Eventually all of those days add up without even thinking about it. And now when I go to an AA meeting I get to join those people in raising my hand for 10 years of sobriety and I’m grateful for that.
I don’t write this for pats on the back or accolades. I write this because I need to. I write this in the hopes that if there’s someone out there reading this who’s struggling that maybe they can relate to the things I wrote. Maybe they look at those people with 10 years of sobriety the same way I did and maybe hearing my story will help them believe that they can be one of those people someday.
Because you're worth it. We all are.
Photo © copyright by TJ Thorne.