Independence is a myth. The question is, what do we choose to depend on?
For 25 years, I grew increasingly dependent on my beloved drink. The physical dependence was frankly not that strong or hard to reverse. The psychological dependence, however, had a seemingly unbreakable hold on my thoughts and patterns. Never was this hold stronger than on the holidays – especially warm and sunny summer holidays like the one that falls annually on the fourth day of July.
Independence Day is about liberty and freedom from oppression. For two and a half decades, I treated July fourth like my own personal excuse to drink without limits. Even in my respectable social circles, I never experienced much in the way of cultural limits on July fourth drinking. It seems most Americans see it as an open invitation to drink as much as we like in celebration of our freedom. I extolled the glories of our independence by fully succumbing to my dependence on alcohol. I couldn’t appreciate the irony because I was too busy glorifying booze to understand I was alcohol’s prisoner.
The chains are now broken and the prisoner is set free. I have been sober for a year and a half. On a daily and weekly basis, I rarely feel temptation to drink. But holidays that only come around once a year are a different story entirely. The story is particularly suspenseful when the holiday is alcohol-centric in the way Independence Day has become.
I’ve been through many, many Saturday nights without drinking. My pattern has changed and abstinence now feels normal. I have only been through one – now two – Independence Days sober. My subconscious is still thirsty and has 25 years of learned triggers that make July fourth a day spent looking for the cooler. It is uncomfortable without a beer in my hand, like a part of me is missing and I don’t know how to act or what to say. It feels like sitting naked in the middle of a room full of fully clothed strangers.
The awkwardness and longing will fade as the years pass. I am sure of it. But July fourth will never be about independence for me. This celebratory holiday has nothing to do with solitude or isolation. Rather, my dependence is shifting over time from a psychological longing for alcohol to a reliance on my faith in God and a need for connectedness.
I don’t need to drink beer all afternoon on the fourth day of July. But I do need to pray for strength and spend time enjoying relationships with family and friends. I depend on my faith. I depend on my family. I depend on my true friends. My new dependence is slowly making my old dependence on alcohol fade into the dark and distant corners of my memory.
On this morning of the fifth day of July, I feel good. I am still a long way from where I am headed, but I am confident I am on the correct path and my progress is steady. I woke this morning without regrets or foggy memories. The cold beer sure looked appealing more than once yesterday afternoon, but I sacrificed alcohol-induced fun for avoiding alcohol-induced depression. I am pleased with that decision.
My sobriety is still weak and fragile. I feel no sense of superiority over the millions of Americans who drank without limits yesterday. I wonder how they feel about me? Yesterday, I am confident they didn’t think about me at all. But now, as they deal with dehydration, blacked-out memories and words they regret having said, does anyone wish they were waking-up like me? Will our culture ever relinquish its dependence on alcohol especially at holiday times? Will we ever trade the feelings of numbed emotions for the feeling of connectedness that we drown out of our relationships?
I don’t know any of the answers. There is no question, however, that I would rather be pondering the big questions about our society’s dependence on alcohol than dealing with my own mess that my Independence Day drinking left in its wake.
That is a truth you can depend on.