Ever since high school I’ve kept a journal. A diary of sorts. Things I’ve experienced. Places I’ve been. Thoughts I have been jotting down on scraps of papers or in notebooks since I was 15. The other day I came across one of these journals from when I was in my late 20s. At the time I was considering giving up drugs and alcohol because it was clear that they were killing me. I also felt that I was losing my mind and was destined for a straight jacket and a padded room in Bellevue (aka the loony bin). But I was absolutely terrified to stop drinking. It was my whole life. It helped me do everything. In A.A. we have a saying that once a cucumber has turned into a pickle it can never be a cucumber again. And that is us alcoholics. Once we turn that corner into alcoholism we will never be a "normal drinker" again. So there I was, a pickled pickle, knowing that the jig was up. I, like both of my parents before me, had somehow become an alcoholic. This was not in my plans and I was outraged.
I had pages chronicling the pros and cons of my drinking life. But the one thing that surprised me the most, looking back at my journals from that time are the lists. I made lists upon lists of things I just knew I would NEVER be able to do or enjoy again without drugs and alcohol. Without alcohol I'll never be able to.... attend a wedding, enjoy the holidays, go to a concert. The things you’d expect. My lists included those, but the deeper I fell into the alcoholism the harder it became to do anything without a few drinks beforehand. Often written when drunk, in scrawled frantic handwriting, there they all are, the reasons I had to keep drinking. I was trying desperately to convince myself to keep on abusing alcohol because if I stopped I'd never again be able to.....be creative, be bored, be intimate (on any level, physical, emotional, spiritual), dance, relax, go to a bar, make friends, and on and on.
That’s just a fraction of the things I knew I would never be able to do again without alcohol or drugs. A fraction. According to my journal there were other things that would be "Mission Impossible" if I stopped abusing alcohol. Under Mission Impossible status were cooking, being on a beach at sunset, client dinners, even bowling. Actually, I don't like bowling but it's there, on the list, one of the many reasons I needed to keep on drinking. I also would not be able to travel, be alone in a hotel room, be alone with myself. So what's left? Nothing. I think that is why so many end-of-the-road drunks consider suicide. Why so many end-of-the-road drunks kill themselves before giving sobriety a chance. That overwhelming idea that life will just be too painful without the constantly offered and socially accepted anesthesia of alcohol.
I believed it. I still have the proof. Pages upon pages of all the things that alcohol enabled me to do. How it helped me live my life. Booze, my hero. My backbone. My best friend.
I really wanted to keep drinking but I knew that would end in one of two places: insanity or death. So I thought before those two inevitabilities I'd try A.A. Sadly, my early months of sobriety were not happy, joyous or free. They were painful. I still believed my own bullshit about all these things I could never do again without alcohol. So I was subdued, quiet, introverted. I avoided people and parties as best I could. I never danced or sang or even made much of an effort to connect with the other members of my home group. I would see them at daily meetings and that was that. I was sober but unhappy.
I had fooled myself into believing that without alcohol and drugs I would be a drag, boring, a burden on my family and friends. That somehow all my friendships and success at work had been achieved because I drank. That’s why people liked me. I was a better person drunk. A more charming, intelligent, witty version of myself. Those were just a few of the imagined gifts that I got from alcohol. My career, my personality, my confidence, my joy.
What I‘ve realized is that alcohol did not give me any of those things. Possibly alcohol helped to unearth them but it did not create them. They have always been there. They will always be there. In fact, toward the end of my drinking career, alcohol had robbed me of any natural gifts I had received at birth. It especially crushed my confidence and my joy.
That’s the miracle of A.A. for me. I now realize that I can do all of those things from my lists that I believed I couldn't do sober. Travel, be alone, go to a wedding, dance, even drive. Yes, drive. Because as awful as it is I used to like driving with a buzz on. If you are unaware of this I'll let you in on a secret. Addiction is the most selfish disease that there is. When trapped it in we care little about ourselves or others. We just want relief. Laws and rules and the safety of ourselves and others be damned.
The other day I was driving down a parkway blasting music and feeling wildly happy. Connected. I felt amazed by life and lucky to be alive. Watching the end of day golden summer light flicker through the luxuriant trees and onto the parkway, listening to music I love, I felt high. And I felt that way without anything in my system but my own blood. I am amazed that I can feel this way without danger, without shame, without regret. When I was drinking I thought that any feelings of joy always came with a price tag attached. That’s just another lie my addicted mind wanted me to believe. After years of sobriety I see that joy can be had without misery attached. Without some existential "price to be paid" in exchange for happiness. The fact is that now I somehow seem to be able to get high on life. And yes, that’s a cliché, but I'm fine with that.
So, is living a happy life without drugs and alcohol still Mission Impossible for me? Honestly...not at all.