Grief. Mourning. Dealing with a profound and significant loss. Processing all the feelings that accompanied the death of the love of my life was the single most critical necessity to my permanent sobriety.
I am often asked by devastated and hopeless readers who suffer in the pit of alcoholic despair how I quit drinking. The how is very complicated, but this is the most imperative piece of the answer.
I loved to drink. Alcohol delivered a feeling of invincibility combined with peaceful contentment wrapped in a blanket of joy and a promise of perfection. My wife, Sheri, doesn’t understand this feeling. Even the best boozy buzz leaves her feeling light hearted, chatty, a little woozy and a bit sleepy. Alcohol has never had the same blissful effect on Sheri, and I would bet most rare or non-drinkers, that it has on me. For me, alcohol is euphoria.
In sobriety, euphoria is dead. I have to deal with the loss. I have to breath and feel and absorb and embrace the death of the love of my life. If I don’t, I’ll drink.
One of the reasons Alcoholics Anonymous is not a good fit for me is their mantra, “One day at a time.” Just don’t drink today. Get through this day sober and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. That doesn’t work for me.
Drinking alcohol – my passion, my love – is dead. It is dead today. It is dead tomorrow. It is dead forever. And if I don’t understand that – if I let a sliver of hope for euphoria slip into my consciousness – I’ll drink.
This past weekend I attended the Indianapolis 500 with my family and friends. As a drinker, the Indy 500 was the pinnacle of my euphoria. Your understanding of open-wheel auto racing should have nothing to do with your understanding of my rapture. Replace Indy 500 with your very favorite drinking event, and you should understand.
For the past two years, I have attended the race sober. As in my drinking years, I have been with the same wonderful group of people. The event has always been patriotic, and the atmosphere never lacks for festivity. The racing is always fierce and competitive, and the victory celebration encapsulates a century of tradition.
But it is not euphoric anymore. Euphoria is dead.
If I dig past the euphoric legacy, I can recall memories of drunken debauchery on Indy weekends as well. I can remember standing-up through an open SUV sunroof and shouting at police officers as we inched through a congested intersection leaving the race. I can remember jumping from our crawling car to use a construction porta-potty while my wife urged our sober driver to leave me behind because I was acting like an idiot. I can remember pressing the sandwich I was eating against the men’s room wall above the urinal trough I shared with thousands of other drunk race fans only to continue eating it while my friends pointed and laughed. I can remember turning belligerent when we ran out of beer because an extended rain delay added hours to our time at the track.
I can remember two years ago – my last race as a drinker. I remember starting the morning with a screwdriver that was almost entirely vodka. The plan was to hit it hard early and sip beers through the afternoon. As was often the case, I took the plan too far and passed out briefly laying in the grass in the sun before the race began. I was an argumentative husband, an impatient father and a word-slurring know-it-all to my friends for all 500 miles.
If I push back the euphoria, I can remember all of that.
Defeating alcoholism is like sandpaper rounding the corners of my life. Drinking was a sharp edge with a euphoric side. But the sharp edge of drinking often left me cut and bleeding and filled with remorse. Sobriety sands down the sharp edge and leaves me peacefully smooth and comfortable.
Last week, as we left Kansas and continued east through Missouri, my anticipation of euphoria to come was replaced by contentment in the moment. The oldest of my four children will be a high school junior in the fall. I only have a few more of these treks across the plains with my whole family left, and I want to be present for every moment.
As we made the return trip west after the race weekend was over, my years of remorse for drunken calamity, and my despair that my next pinnacle of euphoria was a whole year in the future, were replaced with pride. I was proud of my nurturing and patience as a father. I was proud of my loving partnership as a husband. I was proud of my coherent listening as a friend.
Sobriety has rounded the corners of my life. I mourn the loss of euphoric bliss but I savor the contentment of pride in my efforts. I grieve knowing I will never again feel weightless ecstasy, but I am relieved to know I will never again wake in the terror of my chaos from the night before.
At the Indy 500, most of the passing takes place in the turns. You can’t move to the front unless you are smooth in the corners. There are no shortcuts and there is no place for chaos. At Indy, 500 miles is 200 laps and 800 corners. I want to be present – I want to be well rounded – for every single one of them.