Nineteen years ago today, I was stoned and drunk. I was chatting on AOL. I was sort of house sitting, but really I was crashing at my parents’ friends’ home in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was hot. No air conditioning. I’d gone to a St. Paul Saints game with a guy I met in a chat room earlier in the day. He was nice, as I recall. I was arranging to have another AOL guy come over later that night.
The night before, I’d celebrated being not an alcoholic at a bar in Uptown by drinking vodka lemonades. I’d stopped drinking—easily it felt—for three months. It didn’t feel difficult to quit, so I must not be an alcoholic, right? What better way to celebrate than getting hammered?
I’ve written about my experience as an alcoholic, a person in long-term recovery, many times. Here, here, or here, for example. In fact, I see now that I certainly repeat myself (the AOL guy and the baseball game shows up at least twice).
One of the reasons I find it so important that I continue talking with other recovering alcoholics about being recovered, or recovering, is that I’ve forgotten what it was like before the desire to drink was lifted. I don’t remember what it’s like to live without hope. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up in the morning wondering how in the heck I got where I was or what did I do last night?
If I don’t actively talk about my recovery and do some other key things that I’ve learned over the years, my disease—and if that term needs to be defined loosely, that’s fine, it works for me—will use the faded quality of my memories to sneak in and make me think maybe I can drink normally.
There’s an interesting piece in The Atlantic (h/t to my Bangor Daily News editor, Matt Stone) debunking 12-step programs as irrational. It’s funny, because irrationality doesn’t bother me. I think it’s over-rated. The article has some great points and some misguided ideas. What I like, though, is that it’s being discussed in public.
When I got sober (entered recovery, I guess is the best way to describe it these days) in Minneapolis, everyone I knew was sober. Everywhere I went, people were in recovery. It was almost a badge of honor to be in recovery, really. They call it “land of 10,000 treatment centers,” don’t they? (They do.)
After moving to Houston, and then to Maine, I regularly forgot that not everyone finds it completely no big deal to be in recovery. It’s such a natural part of my life, it feels not at all controversial. When I watched Anonymous People—I highly recommend it, especially if you are in recovery—I realized that my casual attitude was sort of radical.
As I think about where I’m going with this blog post, I’m reminded of the amazing lesson I learned in recovery: my foibles can benefit others. I can be “all over the place” with an imperfectly formed essay that rambles around and touches on some points but doesn’t really make one major point and it’s okay. My life is and will be—if I keep doing the things I’ve learned are most helpful for me—all about “progress, not perfection.”
(edited to add: 19 years ago tomorrow, I hadn’t had a drink or drug for 24 hours and haven’t found it necessary to drink or drug since then…)