A good friend told me she was participating in a sober October program. I told her that would have been terrifying to me when I was still drinking because of how much I used to love, LOVE, to drink on Halloween. She told me she cheated. She started her sober October on September 30th so she could drink on Halloween. That kind of defeats the purpose of exploring sobriety across the various aspects of your life, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that make the entire last week of the sober challenge useless as anticipation builds toward a night of costumes and parties and drinking?
I don’t think she has a drinking problem. I know she wishes wine wasn’t so inextricably linked to all facets of our culture, and she’s probably curious about how she will feel after a month of abstinence. Probably. But then again, no one knew I was an alcoholic before I quit drinking and told them about my disease. I sure was good about manipulating the rules I established to control my drinking. Isn’t drinking on Halloween just a sober October rule manipulation?
The point is, drinking on Halloween is important to drinkers. All drinkers. Active alcoholics wouldn’t even consider abstaining on Halloween, the sober curious manipulate the rules to make drinking feasible, and the blissfully ignorant 20-somethings treat Halloween like a free pass to intoxicated sexual recklessness and debauchery behind a scary mask. I remember it. I remember all of it (except the many parts when I was blackout drunk).
Halloween remains scary in sobriety. This is my third consecutive sober Halloween, and I’m still distraught. I’m not worried that I’ll drink, but I can’t quite figure out how to enjoy myself, either. That’s the problem with traditions. We get locked-in on the way we traditionally celebrate holidays, and figuring out alternatives is hard. And scary.
Think about it for a minute. My weekend tradition for 25 years was to drink lots of beer. On the third weekend of sobriety, I was far from figuring out a comfortable alternative. Why would I expect my third Halloween to be any easier to navigate than my third weekend of sobriety? I’ve had almost 150 weekends since I quit drinking. Weekends are easy now. Halloween continues to haunt me.
There are lots of insidious ghouls lurking in an alcoholic brain. One of the most diabolical is the we way push the bad memories down and out of sight, leaving the good memories to shimmer and glisten. When Halloween rolls around, we can’t easily access the memories that bring shame as we recall Halloweens of clinking glasses with friends and laughing our way down the street following costumed children with beer in our travel coffee cups. So in our third Halloween of sobriety (or first or second or fourth or fifth), we’ve got to dig deep in the memory banks, unlock the shameful past and protect our precious sobriety from threats of carefree inebriation.
In much the same way alcoholism is a progressive disease, in my last few Halloweens as a drinker, my behavior declined steadily. There was the year Halloween fell on a Saturday, and I drank IPAs all day with a neighbor. By the time evening rolled around, I was so drunk that I was useless to my wife in managing our four children. We fought embarrassingly in public, then viciously in private when we returned home.
Then there was the time that I held it together pretty well through trick-or-treating. Our last stop of the night was at a party hosted by neighbors. I drank so much at their house that I fell on the sidewalk in front while carrying one of our children. I ripped my jeans and earned a nice bloody gash, but I didn’t drop my child, so I considered it a raving success.
But my last Halloween as a drinker is the spirit I need to conjure if ever I’m considering drinking again. My wife, Sheri, and I fought the night before Halloween. I woke in a sour mood and drank vodka all day on the 31st. I drank clandestinely at work, first vodka mixed into my coffee, then I sipped vodka from my water bottle in the afternoon. By the time school was out, I was very drunk as I drove my kids and one of their friends home. Driving my own kids in that state was reprehensible, but taking the life of another innocent child in my alcoholic hands was something for which I’ll never forgive myself.
I saw the kid’s mother later Halloween night out on the street. I tried to avoid her because I didn’t want her to know how drunk I was. I had the briefest of conversations, then told her I was sick and excused myself. To this day, I have no idea if she knows the condition I was in that evening. She’ll probably read this post, and even though it was four years ago, she might figure out it was her son that I endangered that afternoon. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
I receive dozens of emails every week from people who thank me for recovering out loud and sharing my story for the benefit of others. But I still have my secrets. Until now, this was one of them. I’ve never lied in any of my writing, but there are truths as of yet untold. I’m writing a book now that details the secrets of my intimate relationship with my wife. I’m not doing it to release some inner demons, and I’m not doing it to embarrass my wife (though both of those outcomes will surely result).
I’m doing it for the same reason I am always vulnerable in my writing. I’m doing it because the horrific drunken punishments I inflicted on my wife are the same transgressions millions of men make quietly while couples suffer in silence. I’m doing it for the same reason I just shared the story of my intoxicated driving of someone else’s innocent child on my last drunken Halloween.
I tell these stories because they’re true. I tell these stories because I’m not alone.
Healing lives in honesty. But the first step to healing is to stop inflicting new wounds. With that in mind, I tell these stories because I need to remember them. The memories of horror of Halloweens past – the ones we push down inside – keeping those memories fresh is a requirement for my sobriety. It is ultra-important on this, my third Halloween, and it will be just as important next year, too. Holiday temptation is relentless, so I’ve got to be resilient. Telling shameful stories of the ghosts of the past is my new Halloween tradition.
What ghost stories do you have to share? You can post them in the comments, or email them to me if you are not yet ready to scare others with your terror. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are dead and buried. History ignored is history repeated, and you’ve got to face your demons in order to render them powerless.
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