When I was newly sober and trying desperately to stop drinking and using drugs I had what I liked to call my "get out of jail free" thoughts. It’s ridiculous to think about it now but they went something like this: "If I lose my job I can try crack (a drug I had never done and hopefully never will do).” "If I go blind I can start drinking again." (There was never any reason to think that I would go blind, just my mind having a good ol’ time with me.) "If I get leprosy or rabies or mad cow disease I can drink 24/7." I had all these scenarios in which I’d be able to drink and drug once more and no one could be mad at me. Not even me. "Of course she started drinking again," they would say, "wouldn't you?"
Unfortunately I still have these intrusive thoughts, years after putting the bottle down for good. They attack much less often than they used to but they still pop up from time to time. Out of the blue when I least expect it they tap me on the shoulder and just start in. "If you get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer you can drink. If someone close to you dies a horrible tragic death you can drink. If aliens touch down and force-feed you vodka 24/7 you can drink, in fact you will have to." "The aliens made me!" I'll cry, "blame them." What’s so crazy about these get out of jail free thoughts is that if I were to pick up any substance I would immediately be putting myself BACK in jail. A jail whose bars are made not from iron but from the members of my own personal alcoholic committee. The committee that resides inside of my head. The committee that wants to convince me that I "deserve" to drink once more.
Thank God I don't seem to be alone with this. I have many friends in recovery who have that sort of thinking. When I have those thoughts and I hear those same thoughts from my friends I remember someone I met very early on in my sobriety, a handsome young man named Damian who taught me a lesson I will hopefully never forget.
I had been in meetings with Damian several times. He was always neat and put together with a nice sense of style but he seemed to have a lot of medical issues. Sometimes he even walked with a cane which was odd as I judged him to be about thirty years old. He talked a lot about God and how beautiful the world was. How life is a gift and a privilege to be enjoyed not endured. "Love it all" he would say. "The good, the bad, the ugly and the brutal." He was radiant in his faith. I sort of thought he had spent one year too many cheering on the God squad. One day he shared during a meeting and what he said floored me. Damian was dying. Of AIDS. This was 1999, way before the life-saving medical cocktails that today can give most AIDS patients hope. But in 1999 AIDS was a death sentence and Damian had, according to his doctors, "maybe" a year left. I was so new in the program, so naive and unthinking that I asked that terrible question. I asked him why, if he knew he was going to die soon anyway, didn't he just go back to heroin, which was his drug of choice (and most likely the cause of his AIDS, contracted from a dirty needle). Why not just go out in a blaze of glorious stoned splendor? "That’s what I would do." I said. "If something really terrible happens to me I'll drink for sure." And he looked at me. He seemed so much older than me. So much calmer, so much wiser. But I think we were about the same age, "No you wouldn't" he said. "I know you wouldn't. Because you are here. Here in A.A. trying to save your life. You know that life is worth living. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation. Wait and see. Just stick around. Life gets better. And if someone gives you a year to live you will take that time and savor it. You will want to be wide awake and crystal clear for every minute of it. Not dulled and numbed out.” Then he summed it up. "So help me God, I am going to be clean for every day I have left. I will enjoy my remaining time here sober so much more than I would have high and checked out. I can promise you that."
Damian did pass away within that year but his legacy lives on. I'll never forget his words. So when the committee in my head says "you know you can drink again if...." I can thank it for sharing and know that Damian was 100 percent right. Life is a gift. And the only way for me to enjoy it is to be fully present, crystal clear, and wide awake. For all of it.