Another night of overindulgence? Another mood turned sour? Another blackout? I don’t remember the specific set of circumstances that convinced me to stop drinking the second time, but it was probably a combination of these factors and you can be sure that my lack of control over my drinking filled me with shame. Unlike the first time I quit drinking alcohol, this time, at least I had a feeble plan to avoid the soul wrenching embarrassment that came with not drinking when everyone else was enjoying their alcohol of choice. I decided to become a connoisseur of fine non-alcoholic beers. I wanted to hide my abstinence from friends and neighbors by drinking a carbonated golden-amber liquid from a clear pint glass. I was warned that drinking N.A. beers was a bad idea because the taste so resembled real beer that it would trigger some subconscious response in my brain that would make me desire alcohol even more. This trigger never materialized primarily because non-alcoholic beer made me think about what camel urine might taste like. The only thing it triggered was a desire for a mint. Non-alcoholic beers are not meant to be enjoyed. They exist for a few sad-sacks to sip on in order to look a little less sad.
Our next-door neighbor’s Independence Day celebration made carrying out my charade easy. I arrived at the party with my pint glass already filled to the brim with bubbly amber refreshment. When my glass was empty, I simply declined our host’s offer of a refill explaining that I need to check on something or use the bathroom first. I would slip around the fence, refill my glass with camel pee and return to the festivities with my hiatus unnoticed. No one asked why I wasn’t drinking because they thought I was. No one looked at me quizzically – like the servers did in a bar or restaurant – when I ordered St. Pauli Girl N.A. – Uh, um…poured in a glass and don’t serve it with the bottle, please – because I never placed an order. Free from strange looks and embarrassing questions, I enjoyed myself quite a bit that night. None the less, this was a Band-aid on a huge gashing laceration. Not every social event would take place steps from my house. The cover for my disease and my attempt to recover from it would seldom be so easy.
Rather than face the monster of shame that my abstinence created in my alcohol warped brain, I wanted to hide from it – hide my sobriety. I wanted to look and feel normal. In our society, normal people drink with zest and frequency. By drinking beer – even though my beer contained no alcohol – I still celebrated and glorified this nectar of shame that I most desperately needed to vilify and reject. While this attempt to quit drinking was doomed to failure from the start because I was still dancing with the devil, looking back I can see that it was another step toward my understanding of the embarrassment of recovering from alcoholism. I was starting to understand the demon. Conquering it was still years of realization in my future. In mid August of that year, right around my wife’s birthday and three months after I quit, I started drinking again. Happy Birthday, Sheri…your husband’s drunk again.