One Year Sober or How To Face Your Fears Without a Crutch

So today marks the one year anniversary of the last time I took a drink. Many people have asked me why and I think there are a lot of assumptions out there. My hope is that this little drop of virtual ink can clarify things.

First, a little history. I started drinking when I was 13 or 14-years-old. Not sure. Might’ve been earlier, might of been later. Again, not sure. Needless to say, I was young. I still remember it vividly. I was surrounded by all my good friends. I scraped up a little money and some (not all) agreed to get me a forty. All 100 lbs of me drank that bad boy up. Needless to say, I spent the night passed out, throwing up my guts. But it felt good so I persevered.

All though drinking may have been peer pressure for some, it was not for me. I drank because I wanted to. I drank, got wasted. Had good times, some bad, but mostly good.

My teens turned into my twenties and I kept on. And then I got something that everyone in Arizona seems to get. I got a DUI. The process literally took years. Took forever to get sentenced, then go to jail, then all the stuff afterword.

Luckily I never hurt anyone or myself. But it was one of the more stressful times in my life. Which, funny enough, led to more drinking.

I cannot tell you when but the drinking went from just something to do and morphed into a form of escape. I looked forward to getting hammered on the weekend. Not because I was some alcoholic who needed to get his fix but because I was so upset with the realities of life. The weekends were a time to check out from the real world.

What I didn’t realize at the time was, I was slowly reinforcing to myself that life was horrible. My self dialogue was nothing but negativity. I was overwhelmed, over-worked, and stressed. The booze gave me a time out. It also, however, led to compounding those negative feelings. I was overwhelmed, over-worked, and stressed because I was tired, unfocused, and emotionally drained from the drinking. How’s that for irony?

Did I realize this? Heck no. I was in such self denial, it wasn’t even funny. In fact, I told myself I just needed to drink more and take a little steam off. I justified it to myself like a master, when in fact I was making myself a slave to a brown bottle. My libationary liberator had become my captor.

Now let’s move on to the meat and potatoes of this here thing; why? Why did I stop drinking? Was it religious? My health? Something that happened? The short answer is yes to all.

We’re going to move to my health for a few moments. As you know, I have the 3 H’s; hemophilia, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Now, if I were to tell you to list the things you’d want the least of, most people would probably say 1. HIV 2. hemophilia, and then coming up at the end would be 3. Hep C. Au contraire, mon frère. The thing you should want most is HIV. My t-cells are high and my viral load is undetectable. Yes, undetectable. HIV has a horrible stigma but the realities are with today’s medications (for me a single pill!), HIV is no longer as lethal as it once was. Tops on your I-don’t-want list should be Hep C. It attacks your liver and causes a painful death. No fun. The good news is, God has also granted me good health on that front too. I am a healthy boy. Sorry to those wishing me my death.

In fact, in about three years there should be new medication to eradicate Hep C. No viral load with the prospect of being Hep free. Wow. I’m a few years away from being able to have children “the ol’ fashion way” without harming my spouse or children. Amazing huh?

But I wouldn’t get there if I kept drinking.

I remember talking to a doctor once about my drinking. I’ll paraphrase.

Me: “So how much can I drink?”
Doctor: “Nothing. You can’t have anything to drink.”
Me: “So you mean like only on weekends?”
Dr: “No. Nothing.”
Me: “By nothing you mean just on holidays, right?”
Dr: “No. By nothing I mean just that. Not a drop. Ever.”
Me: “So what you’re trying to say is, how many beers exactly can I have in a month?”
Dr: … [slams head into clipboard]

You get the idea. For my health, I’ve known that I should not be drinking. But I just kept going and going.

Have I done embarrassing stuff while drunk? Yeah. Should I have stopped for my health? Yeah. But these two things wouldn’t change my course. Heck, I’d still be drinking, regardless of the risks to my reputation, health, and general safety.

So that’s when God intervened.

I remember when I first started drinking. It went from Thursday through Sunday. And not drinking drinking. But getting to’ up from the flo’ up drinking. But then, like everyone else, age kicked in. Four days turned to three, three turned into two. I finally cut my drinking in half to just getting totally hammered on Fridays and Saturdays. What progress!

Eventually, it became once a week but even then it was too much. The hangovers became multi day events. One night of drinking made me feel crummy for days, not hours.

And then it happened, I had my first panic attack.

I didn’t know what it was or what was happening. The world became a very scary place. Trivial things like driving became nearly impossible. I could barely make it to a friend’s house to get to the evenings drinking. As soon as I got there I took the anxiety away… by drinking. Like Fat Bastard said, “it’s a vicious cycle!” I was anxious because I drank, I drank to escape from the anxiety.

I’ll spare you the long winded details, but needless to say that for over five years my emotional health was down the drains. Busting my butt at work then drinking on the weekends, just running on fumes. The anxiety was, and is, one of the worse things to ever happen to me. Thoughts of suicide were not uncommon but mostly I led a sad and dreary life. One that I was totally responsible for!

Everyone knows that I’ve always been a big reader. I started reading stuff to get my life in order from the unmanageable mess that it was. I kept coming across a subject time and again. Energy. And I had none. Zero. I looked into how to better my energy and found that I was taking one of thee worse drugs ever: caffeine.

I can cure 95% of all insomnia, right here, right now. Ready? Stop drinking caffeine. There. Now go to sleep. Seriously, I was taking every sleep aid I could. But I was so jacked up on uppers (caffeine and sugar) and downers (beer and beer) there was no way I could get sleep. So if you “suffer” from insomnia yet drink soda or coffee; congrats! You actually suffer from stupidity and self-denial. Dr. Hernandez in da house! (That’ll be 200 dollars please.)

Candy, soda, tea, iced coffee. These were all the bad guys I was putting into my body. As soon as I stopped, voilà!, I could sleep (that’s twice I’ve written in French in this post. Pardonne moi. Dang it!) Plus, my anxiety got better. Hmmm… maybe other things I’m putting into my body are hurting me too.

I read more. I took Lucinda Bassett’s from Panic to Power program. Read me some more, kept drinking, but I was reading. Finally, enough was enough and I just had to cut back.

I went two weeks without drinking and I remember how great I felt. I hadn’t felt that good since I was a child. I still had my panic attacks, sure, but knew that the booze was causing this too. A party or some event would come up and I’d drink again. Feel like garbage for days again. Then I would drink after a few weeks. Sound stupid? Yeah, it was.

After a while, I gave in to God’s will and took the hint: stop drinking.

It had been about two months without drinking and that’s when I found out my friend Jessie Grossman had passed away. On the 15th of October, we buried her. The next day we were to have a small family gathering. I told my buddy Barry, her husband, that if I drank that night, I wouldn’t be able to make it the next day because of the anxiety. He understood and told me, “do whatever you have to do to get through today.” So I did. I drank. We laughed and we cried as we remembered. And I of course stayed home the next day.

And now, here we are. One year later. Feeling better than I have in a long time.

I don’t even crave it. When I see it in the supermarket I just think of what a waste of money it was. When I see other people boozed up, laughing at things that aren’t funny, I can’t believe I was once that guy.

Now, I’m no snob on his high horse. I think people who drink are perfectly fine. If you can do it responsibly, by all means, knock yourself out. Been there. Done that. Moving on. Like Cedric The Entertainer says, “I’m a grown ass man dog!” I need to act like it. And for me, that means no booze at this time.

Will I ever drink again? Probably not. Funny, life is so good now, drinking will interrupt the buzz I’m on now. Cliche, I know.

So I’m grateful God has given me this lesson for a myriad of reasons.

It has made me braver.
Having to feel fear like someone is trying to kill you when all your doing is flying in a plane is fortifying me, making me stronger. God wants only strong men in heaven so He is putting me through the coals now.

I can fight temptation better than most.
While you look at that cookie or that bag of chips and dread, I smile. I know that that’s just the devil and his little tricks. And I’m not falling for it like I used to anymore.

It has made me more independent.
No longer do I need alcohol or any other mind altering agent to find happiness and cower in refuge. Not only can I not use it to hide from my fear, it forces me to face the day and enjoy it. If I see a cute girl I want to talk to, no more liquid courage. Just me and my wits. My true self. As it should be.

So God did all this while saving my life. Had it not been for the anxiety, I’d be drinking right now instead of writing this. And I’d be dead in less than ten years.

But instead God saved my life and made me a better person, all while remembering a friend.

Hard not to believe in God.

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“Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value.”

St. Teresa of Avila
(1515-1582)

Her feast day on the calendar of saints is today, October 15th.

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