The two-headed monster of shame that I was battling – shame from my behavior and lack of control when drinking, and shame from being the only non-drinker at most social occasions when I wasn’t – was fierce and daunting. By my fourth, fifth and sixth attempts to slay the beast, my resolve was strong and my attempts at sobriety lasted not just a few weeks, but four to six months each. I knew what to expect and was prepared for the unanticipated. It was the anticipated that tripped me up and sent me back to the drink.
My drinking was not all about bad behavior and regrets. I saved almost all of that for drinking alone at home where only my wife and, to a much lesser extent, my kids witnessed my snarled lips and depressed slouching. In social settings, I was the life of the party (at least it seemed so in my own booze-soaked head). Social drinking, while heavy most times, was full of laughs and story-telling and good food and great friends. Social occasions were something to anticipate with great joy – except, of course, when I was anticipating a social occasion while I was trying to quit drinking.
The Fourth Time I Quit Drinking Alcohol
My fourth attempt at permanent sobriety was thwarted while snow sledding with another family. Mark and Mallory had two boys in the age range of our kids. Both had very impressive jobs, were great parents and fun, responsible drinkers. Mallory would encourage us all to, “drink early and often,” when we had family dinners together – the implication being that we would enjoy and early buzz, drink coffee with desert and be sober in time to drive home. They had a beautiful house and a manicured lawn and a kitchen with a huge island surrounded by stools for entertaining.
As the trudges back-up the hill became slower and more labored, it was clear that the sledding adventure was ending and we would soon be home drinking and preparing dinner. I had been sober for five months at the time, but Mark and Mallory didn’t know that. The thought of admitting my brokenness, my problem, to such a well-put-together set of friends filled me with more shame than I could handle. While we shook the snow off of our sledding gear, Mallory suggested we start the evening with hot toddies. I gave Sheri a look of reluctant humiliation and reached for the whiskey.
The Fifth Time I Quit Drinking Alcohol
The fifth time I quit drinking, my resolve lasted four months and came to an abrupt end in the middle of Kansas. Anticipation of our Indy 500 weekend with a dozen friends and 300,000 friendly, and beer guzzling, race fans was an insurmountable obstacle to my sobriety. I had attended the race many, many times. On most race weekends I was drinking, and a few I was not. Drinking beer with all the beer drinkers was simply way more fun than drinking water and listening to slurred cheers of sun-soaked inebriant-swilling suds enthusiasts. I had proved I could sit through the afternoon sober. I had done it on several occasions. This time, however, I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be left out. I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want to miss the fun. I wanted to drink at the race. So, as miles of Kansas prairie disappeared into the rearview mirror, so too did my commitment to permanent sobriety.
The Sixth Time I Quit Drinking Alcohol
My sixth attempt to quit drinking ended at a funeral. It was not grief or loss that sent me back to the bottle, but rather anticipation of missing out on a raucous great drunken time at an industry convention Sheri and I would attend the following week. This was an annual event that we never missed and enjoyed thoroughly. Some of the attendees were at the convention to pick-up tips and ideas to improve their businesses. Most of us were there to drink and laugh and drink and eat and drink and sit by the pool and drink and dance and drink some more. For a heavy drinker like me, this event was nirvana. The convention was hosted at a beautiful property full of amenities including pools, an ocean front beach, lots of bars and a look-the-other-way attitude of the staff about beverages poured into plastic Solo cups from beach-bags dripping with melting ice. There was no driving, no kids and no curfew. It was a three-day booze-fest where my drinking was less shameful and more expected.
As I sat at the funeral and listened to loving family members cry and share fond memories of the deceased, my mind was fixated on the shame of attending the convention sober. In this case, my dread about explaining my abstinence was matched by my horror of missing the drunken debauchery that would happen after midnight when the lightweights and eager-to-learn-stuff-in-the-morning crowd had long since retired for the night. Some of my fondest drinking memories – littered with blackout-caused time lapses – were made at this convention. Instead of showing respect for, and honoring the life of, the person we were there to mourn, I bowed my head and sat quietly in the church pew and succumbed to the powerful beast of shame. It had been six months since my last drink. At the convention the next week, I would definitely drink, and drink hard. And that is exactly what I did.