Saint Patrick’s Empty Promise

My Youngest Son Sleeping on My Chest

Saint Patrick’s weekend started early for me. At 5:15am Friday I was opening cans and bottles from a couple of cases of beer and dumping them all into a bucket. We were making our huge annual batch of pale ale and cheddar bread at the bakery my wife and I own, and we needed the warm foamy beer to settle and flatten a bit before we could pour it into the mixing bowl.

I didn’t expect the reaction I had to the sounds of the cans popping open with a carbonated hiss. I was surprised by the wave of emotions that washed over me as I breathed in the aroma. I have been sober for fourteen months. We have beer, wine and booze in our house for guests or on the rare occasion Sheri has a drink, and it doesn’t bother me at all.

But the sounds of cracking cans and the sweet and bitter smell of my beloved hops and barley stirred something deep within me. It was unexpected. It was unwelcomed. The Irish band Blackthorn played drinking songs from the bakery speakers reminding me it was one of my very favorite holidays. At that moment, all I wanted to do was go back to bed.

I didn’t want to drink. In fact, I felt no cravings all weekend. It has taken a lot of time and effort, but I have thoroughly convinced myself that alcohol is a poison, and my life is so much better without it. But there was something there. Something just out of the reach of my comprehension. The beer and the music and the holiday combined to drown me in sudden and unanticipated sadness. It was not anger nor longing nor regret. I just didn’t want to be me living my life on this day – this holiday of celebration and tradition. I just wanted to fast forward to Monday. Nobody ever wants that.

I am 12.5% Irish. People always chuckle at my precision when I tell them that, but it really is simple math. I have one Irish great grandmother. I joke that it is her genetic contribution to which I attribute my love of Saint Patrick’s Day, but I know the real truth. I loved alcohol, and Saint Patrick’s Day provided social justification for uninhibited public drunkenness. Now the holiday serves no purpose for me. I still anticipated the promise of festivity that the days leading up to March 17th brought, but the promise was empty and Saint Patrick’s weekend conjured memories and reflections that made me numb and lifeless.

After pouring cases of beer into buckets, I returned home Friday morning to get my kids off to school. While making their breakfast, I watched a local TV weatherman drink his 7:30am beer in promotion of some alcohol-centric Saint Patrick’s event his channel would be covering that morning. Watching him drink his holiday morning beer (the morning before the actual holiday) further deflated my spirits. I did not feel jealous, nor did I feel enlightened to have left holiday morning drinking behind. I just felt sad. Sad that the holiday I so loved held nothing for me.

I became increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that this weekend to which I had looked forward with eager anticipation was going to suck. It would be a series of depressing reminders that I didn’t just consume alcohol to enhance celebrations, but that really, for a day in mid March each year, I worshiped beer and whiskey.

As the feeling of depressed antipathy overtook me, I remembered feeling this same way last halloween. Halloween is the holiday that is supposed to be focused on kids and costumes and candy and spooky creatures. For me, halloween was focused for a couple of decades on midweek drinking-fests with friends as we walked our neighborhood while our children collected candy and we consumed beer after beer from travel coffee mugs. That holiday held nothing for me last October. I’d like to report that I replaced my enthusiasm for drinking with enthusiasm for the cuteness of kids in costumes, but that would be a lie. Nothing replaced my booze-thusiasm. Halloween 2017 was as empty for me as Saint Patrick’s 2018 was shaping up to be.

On Saturday morning, our first customer at the bakery was a cheery woman in her 60’s with a green, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirt and rosie-red cheeks that accentuated her jolly-plump face. She bought several loaves of Irish soda bread which featured currants (small, sour, raisin-like fruit) soaked in Irish whiskey. She beamed a joyous smile as she boasted about the Guinness-braised lamb stew she would serve with her Irish soda bread. “Fuck you, lady!” I wanted to scream at her. “What do you know about Guinness or Saint Patrick’s Day? I’ve drank more beer than you can ever imagine. I’ve double-fisted beer and whiskey at the Dingle Pub on the west coast of Ireland. I’ve marched with the drunken Irishmen in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’ve lived in Chicago on several March 17th’s and drank beer next to the river dyed green. I’ve drank beer at our Denver Saint Patrick’s parade with a baby strapped to my chest. I’ve hosted company Saint Patrick’s parties that went well into the next morning and resulted in employees passed-out on our family room floor in the morning. I’ve wrung every 80 proof drop of Saint Patrick’s Day boozy celebration out of my 12.5% of authenticity. So fuck you and your Guinness-braised lamb stew!”

I wanted to scream all of that and more at this lady who thought Saint Patrick’s Day was about her damned stew. It wasn’t. Saint Patrick’s Day is about drinking without consequences or socially acceptable limitations. Now that I’m sober, Saint Patrick’s Day is about nothing for me. And that’s how this weekend made me feel. Like I was nothing.

I’m still 100% committed to my sobriety. I am totally convinced of how much better my life is without alcohol. One of my heros, Laura McKowen, just wrote this past week about how we are the luckiest. We have been forced through necessity to understand how much more robust and unconstrained our lives are without the shackles of addiction.

I don’t need anyone to tell me how proud they are of me. I don’t need anyone to encourage me to keep going. I don’t need to hear about taking it one day at a time or letting go and letting God. I don’t need to hear how strong and brave I am for sharing my story. I’m not strong. I’m weak and scared just like everyone else. I’m just doing what God is nudging me to do, and for some Heavenly reason that I do not begin to understand, I don’t seem to give a shit who knows my whole and wretched truth.

On Saint Patrick’s night, my youngest son, Andrew was crying when I kissed him goodnight. He said he was scared and asked if he could sleep with me. I cannot remember Andrew ever being scared at night. He almost always falls asleep reading in his bed. But this one night – this one Saint Patrick’s night – he snuggled under the covers with me and slept on my chest. On past Saint Patrick’s nights, I was too passed-out or too focused on my own drinking to heed such a request. This one Saint Patrick’s night, I was present and compassionate and loving and nurturing for Andrew when he needed me.

I wonder if he knew how much I needed him?

Evolving into Sobriety
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  • Reply
    Mike Young
    March 19, 2018 at 6:36 am

    Your last sentence is powerful. So glad you were able to there for him.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Your use of the word “poison” is very apropos. I, too, use that word for high sugar, high fat, and processed foods. They are poisonous to my body. So I stick with Whole Foods… beans, legumes, lentils, fruits & veggies, nuts and seeds. I feel so much better eating plant based foods. And perhaps sadness is a part of grieving that which we no longer engage in.

  • Reply
    Ainley Doyle-Jewell
    March 19, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Matt, it is a journey. There will me many ‘triggers’ along they way that will bring up unexpected feelings. Those can cause a relapse for many. I am sure you have fond memories of St Patrick’s Days of the past. You will find a way to celebrate again as you find new ways to do it. I have to believe the sadness was part of a mourning process. I am happy that you are finding your way! If it makes you feel any better, I am a significant amount of Irish and didn’t celebrate at all and rarely do anything significant. I do wear green so I don’t get pinched! I feast on Irish Soda Bread, Irish Baked Potato Bread, and Reubens all month which is celebration enough for me! Keep strong my friend!

  • Reply
    Holidays - Best Time to Quit Drinking | Sober and Unashamed
    November 29, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    […] the strength of your holiday accomplishments. You can make it sober all the way to the doorstep of Saint Patrick’s Day with a little planning, lying and running during the most wonderful time of the […]

  • Reply
    Anne K. Scott
    March 15, 2023 at 10:23 am

    Here is to your realness and vulnerability Matt. Thank you

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      March 15, 2023 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks Anne!

  • Reply
    Mike Kreiser
    March 17, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    Matt, powerful ending to this short story. I appreciate it! I can relate so much, in trying to figure out my sobriety! I don’t understand it much, it pisses me off somedays, it makes me question – if anything is any better in my sobriety? My love and bond with my 2 boys has dramatically improved and become so much more healthy in my sobriety. So, as I still try to understand my new sober life, maybe I don’t need to understand much more than – I’m a better father now. Loved your line “God is nudging” me.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      March 17, 2023 at 3:14 pm

      I think you are exactly right, Mike. If the only thing our sobriety accomplishes is giving our kids an example of what life without alcohol can look like, that is more than enough. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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