I am not given to spending a lot of time looking into my rear view mirror as I drive down the road of existence. I was inspired a couple of weeks ago, however, to pause and write down every major mistake I have made in my life to date. I limited the itemization to “domino” mistakes, those being the initial errors that led to others with adverse life-changing consequences. My list had thirteen items when I finished. I’m not going to share all of them with you, but I will reveal the one at the top of the list: I started drinking heavily.
I mention this because we are approaching April 1, which, God willing, will mark the completion of my twenty-fourth year of sobriety. Speaking only for myself, sobriety works. Alcoholism doesn’t. I was what one calls a “functioning” alcoholic, which means that I could fool some of the people, including myself, all of the time. That of course did not stop me from doing stupid and terrible things, some of which I have regretted every single subsequent day of my life right up to this moment. On the other hand, every good thing that is presently in my life has occurred as the result of sobriety. It’s second nature to me now, which doesn’t mean that it’s always easy; it just means that 1) many days are much, much easier than some, and 2) every day of sobriety is much, much easier than having that first drink and going back to what I was.
I am aware that many people drink modestly, even on a daily basis, without adverse consequence (other than for, perhaps, a regrettable Facebook posting). I am much given to self-deceit and numbered myself among those for over a decade. My initial epiphany took place when I met a gentleman, now deceased, in 1989 who became my best friend. He told me that he was an alcoholic, and that he had been sober for nine years. I thought, “Nine years?! Without a drink?! Wow! I can’t even go nine days without a drink! It’s a good thing I don’t have a problem!” I confess that I found absolutely nothing ironic about that thought until I had been sober for three weeks near the end of April 1991 and the scales began falling from my eyes.
I mention this because alcohol and writing and publishing and the like all seem to go together. Many of the great authors of the past drank, and famously so, to varying degrees, from Hemingway to Faulkner to Mailer. Many of the authors of the present, famous and otherwise — and even some reading these words — do as well. Sometimes it can be a problem, one that keeps you from getting where you want to be and becoming who you want to be. My problem was nothing more or less than that punch list of things to do that was so critical at the beginning of the day became much less so when Captain Morgan showed up, sometimes around lunch.” Must do” can quickly become “so what.” You can’t get published that way, or maintain relationships, or handle finances. You can’t really live.
That you might enjoy a drink or two on a regular basis doesn’t mean you have a problem. If, however, you think you might have a problem, or you have people in your life who are telling you that you might or do, there is a very insightful twenty question quiz developed by the fine folks at The John Hopkins Hospital and used by The Betty Ford Clinic, among many others, that will give you an idea of where you stand. Answer the questions honestly; what you do with the knowledge is up to you (just so you know, I scored fifteen “yes” answers out of twenty and it still took me two years to get a handle on things). If your honest answers indicate that you have a problem and you want to do something about it without the world knowing about it, talk with your doctor. If you’re not ready for that, the Alcoholics Anonymous website will link you to information about meetings in your area. You might be surprised as to the frequency and number of locations within a few miles of you. Each meeting has its own personality; a meeting held in a downtown church on a Sunday night will be much different from one held in a suburb on a Wednesday morning. If you attend a meeting and you don’t seem to fit, keep trying. And if you want to talk, email me. We’ll set it up. If one person with a drinking problem reads these words and begins to turn their life around, then my job is done. And whether I hear about it or not, you’ve made my day. Thank you.