I didn’t think I’d ever drink alcohol again. I couldn’t be sure, but my resolve was strong. Just when I was feeling confident about my sobriety, a day like this happened.
I had a couple of things to get done before work on Saturday morning. My printer was uncooperative wasting 45 minutes in a day packed with deadlines. On my way to work, I stopped at the post office to mail a package using their automated after-hours system. The post office computer was in the same mood as my printer. The, “Temporarily Unavailable,” notification on the screen meant I was 0 for 2 in my pre-work tasks.
After work, I rushed home to get ready for a surprise birthday party. I found my wife still in the shower and one of “the littles” (our two youngest children) still roaming the neighborhood with his friend. We needed to go – it is poor form to arrive late to a surprise party – and my wife had shampoo in her hair while we had a missing child to find before we could leave. The frustrations of the day were mounting.
The party featured beer and sangria and food and laughter. We only knew a handful of the party’s attendees, but the people we knew were well aware of my recovery from alcoholism. In fact, the guest of honor was in addiction recovery as well. I couldn’t drink at this party even if I wanted to, so the beer at the party was not a temptation. The event served as a respite in a busy and frustrating day.
As we headed home from the festivities, stress overwhelmed my relaxed party attitude. The sun was setting on a day full of unachieved goals. During my two-and-a-half decades of drinking, I would have gone home and cracked a beer followed by many more after an evening party like the one we had just attended. 100% of the time. Now, sober, I had no reason not to try to get things accomplished.
I dropped my wife off at home and picked-up the package I failed to mail that morning. I returned to the same post office in Glendale. They had been open for, like, five hours that Saturday. Surely someone rebooted the self-serve shipping computer in that time. Nope. I drove to the post office in Cherry Creek North. Gone. It had been replaced by a restaurant or fur shop or massage parlor or some other business that couldn’t help me with my package. I tried the post office on South Broadway. It did not have an after-hours kiosk in the lobby for self-service mailing.
Three strikes. I had wasted another hour-and-a-half in an unproductive day. I was sober. I was trying to lead a better life. I was trying to do the right thing. Yet, I was no better off than I would have been if I was drinking beer in my basement and watching movies until I passed out. It was getting late, but I had more to do. My frustration had depleted my energy and was winning the battle against my stubborn determination. I felt like shit – about myself and about my situation.
As I stopped at a red light on South Broadway, the crowd of Saturday night revelers at Gary Lee’s Motor Club and Grub filled my senses. The front wall of the bar was open allowing patrons to pass in and out onto the expansive patio. The strands of overhead bulbs twinkled off the glassware, and the customers seemed to sway in synchronization to the rhythm of the music. There was laughter. There was conversation. There was dancing.
And there were clinking glasses of golden-amber beer. I could see the flames from the firepit flickering off the glasses of IPA like the devil’s tongue reaching up for his fair share. I swear I could smell the hoppy-bitter bubbles rising up through the freshly-poured pints and settling into the perfect frothy heads.
It looked like heaven on earth.
I don’t face cravings to drink often anymore, but on this night, at this intersection, staring at this lively and carefree atmosphere, I wanted to drink more than anything I could imagine. I wanted to park my Jeep in the middle of South Broadway and leave that fucking package to be stolen from the open back seat. I wanted to drink until the frustration drained out of me.
I didn’t want to have one or two. I’ve never been the kind of alcoholic in recovery who wishes against hope that he could just drink one or two. What a waste of the start of a perfectly good buzz. I have always wished I could start with six and see where we go from there. And I wished that above all else on this night. I knew that within five minutes I could join a conversation and have my first beer down and be started on my second pint. I knew that the release of my stress and disappointment was right there. Right across the street. Socially acceptable. Culturally encouraged. No one would stop me. My new friends would welcome me.
My pain – gone.
My anxiety – gone.
My frustration – gone.
My lack of self esteem – all gone.
At the end of a day full of effort and devoid of accomplishments, I could have relief from every single one of my burdens, and it was just a few minutes, a few steps and a few bucks away. The promise of peace and serenity was right in front of me begging for me to reach out and take what I deserved.
I am always hesitant to write about the forces of the divine that flow through our lives. I am hesitant because I don’t want to lose a connection to readers who have a different spiritual system, or reader who don’t have spiritual beliefs at all. I am hesitant, because calling God a “higher power” feels like an insult to God, so I often avoid the subject altogether. I am hesitant because I don’t want to sound like a prohibitionist from 1919. I am hesitant because I don’t want to sound like a TV evangelist preaching that if your partake in satan’s elixir you will go straight to hell. For all these reasons, I hesitate to write about the battle for my soul that I often feel raging within me.
But in this setting and on this night, the forces of evil were undeniable. The prince of darkness was throwing haymakers, and I was sticking my chin out.
As a recovering alcoholic, I have the resources and experiences to defend myself from the cravings for alcohol when someone dies or I have to attend a booze-fest or I have a huge victory to celebrate. Been there, done that. I just don’t drink, and frankly, it is not that hard anymore.
But I have no way to prepare for an uncooperative printer, an inconvenient postal service and a family with their own lives to live. When life’s seemingly minor frustrations come together, the temptation to drink is as unexpected as it is a promise of relief and serenity.
And the idea that these minor defeats are lined-up in synchronization by the counter-divine just before I am placed steps away from the beer garden of utopia is a real idea. I accept it and fear it and loath it just as easily as I welcome God into my life. I believe my time on earth is just one big final exam to determine worthiness for entrance into the Heavenly afterlife, and Satan has his welcome mat sprawled out before me with a glass of whiskey in one hand and pint of ale in the other. And all of that sucks. It is also my reality. And it will be with me for the rest of my life.
I haven’t had a drink in over a-year-and-a-half. While my commitment to sobriety is stronger than it’s ever been, it’s still weak and fragile and vulnerable. It is also under constant attack. Not just in big ways. Not just in major celebration or devastating tragedy. My sobriety is under attack from hellish orchestration of the mundane and ordinary irritations.
And God is my only hope.
I didn’t drink that night. I went home. I took my package from the back of my Jeep and went inside. I didn’t have the strength or awareness to pray or to thank God. I sulked and I ate as many potato chips as I could fit in my body and I went to bed angry.
But maybe how I felt that night isn’t really all that important. My human weakness is not the point. As I sulked and ate, the battle for my soul raged on.
Final score that Saturday night: God 1, Lucifer 0.