Six years and one day ago I met up with some friends in Philadelphia. We chatted amiably; I met my friend Terry's daughter who just turned one; we walked through Fairmount Park and had an otherwise lovely day. I felt great.
I thought to myself on my way home how good the day was and how well I felt, all things considered.
I went back to the two-room apartment I was living in that was appointed with a TV, a side table and a beaten-up chair (a bed with an end-table and an alarm clock in the other room rounded out the decor--the entirety of the decor).
I sat down in the chair, adjusted the hole in the slipcover, called my wife at her parents house where she was living with our dog, told her how well the day went, made some false promises and got off the phone.
Then I drank about 60 ounces of Steel Reserve malt liquor and passed out. I was never able to finish the second forty.
A few hours passed and my wife was standing next to me. Looking sad and sickened and familiar to me. I had, in the past two years or so, gotten used to seeing her this way.
I apologized, again. Like I had apologized after I had to explain the real reason why I had "resigned" my previous job; like I had apologized after we had to sell our house and move in with her parents; like I apologized after her parents asked me to leave; like I had apologized so many, many times before for lying and breaking promises.
"I'm done," I said. "I don't want to do this anymore."
I don't know what she said back. It would be some variation of "why should I believe you" or "you've said this before" to "I hope so."
She shouldn't have believed me (I don't think she did); I had said all of this before and I knew she hoped so. And in some way, so did I. But I had hoped before. I didn't want to drink that day. There were many times when I had no conscious desire to drink and yet I found myself strolling into some dive bar that sells take-out malt liquor at odd hours, driving into Trenton to buy MD 20/20 because they're open on Sundays or leaving my job at 8:52am due to some contrived illness so I could be at the state store at 9:00am when it opened.
I didn't want to drink as much as I did. But I drank anyway.
We talked a bit more, I didn't move from my seat. I just watched as she dumped the remainder down the drain, again. She seemed more sad than angry. But nothing, to me, seemed out of the ordinary.
Either she called me or I called her later on. This was our routine. Just about every night we would talk on the phone until 10 or 11pm. Usually I would try to blow her off so I could finish drinking what I had or run to the bar and buy something else to drink. I hadn't, after she left earlier, gone out and bought anything more. That was different. And so I was sober when we spoke that night. She could tell. She still sounded beaten.
I apologized. Again.
I didn't go out and buy anything else. I stayed up a little while longer and then went to bed and fell asleep.
The next day was Monday, 22 July 2002 and was unremarkable in almost every way. I took the train into the city and went to work at my part-time job with my mother at a title insurance agency (I barely held onto a full-time job at a diagnostic laboratory from Tuesday to Saturday and had to be in work at 6:00am, hence leaving early to get to the liquor store before all of the other miscreants--only legitimate bar owners and alcoholics are in a Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Shoppe at 9:00am).
The only thing I remember for certain from that day was that my mom took me to lunch with a colleague of hers to a Chinese restaurant on Walnut Street. It had been about 22 hours since I had anything to drink and I hadn't eaten anything since then, either. I don't know if I was suffering from delirium tremens or some other fringe benefit of alcohol abuse, but it was everything I could do to get the fork from the plate to my mouth.
I also had an incredible urge to vomit. How I didn't I don't know. I had to eat some of the food, so as not to appear rude, but it was tough going.
The workday ended and I walked back to the train station to make my way home. I called my wife while waiting for the train. I told her I'd call her when I got home.
I don't remember much at all from the rest of that night. Other than the horrific experience at the restaurant, the day was wholly unremarkable. I did speak with my wife again later that night and she could tell I hadn't been drinking. I think she was happy.
I didn't drink on Monday, 22 July 2002.
This is not necessarily remarkable, either. I had gone nineteen days without drinking in April of that year--but it was only nineteen days and not the thirty I claimed when I accepted the thirty-day coin from the AA clubhouse I attended in body but not spirit. And though an alcoholic, I didn't drink every day. Just most of them. To excess. To the extent that I didn't ordinarily "go to bed" at night, I passed out in my ratty chair in front of the television. I would come to in the middle of the night, drink some of whatever was left in whatever bottle was next to me--the bottle in the same place, every time--and then go to bed.
The sort-of remarkable thing was that I didn't drink on Tuesday, 23 July 2002, either. I don't know if I wanted to or not. I don't remember. I probably did. But I didn't. Nor did I the next day.
The really remarkable thing is that I haven't since.
And so today, after a terrible night's sleep (my otherwise wonderful, fitful-sleeping, four-month old couldn't get settled last night) I was in the kitchen and my older daughter came in and, prompted by mommy, said "Happy Six Years Daddy!"
She has no idea what that means, but we do. My wife, against my best efforts, stayed with me. How much longer I had, either with her or on this earth, I don't know. But I'm glad I didn't find out.
In the copy of Alcoholics Anonymous that a wonderful man gave me in my first, failed attempt to get sober I keep a piece of paper that has written on it, "Be Strong! You can do this! Love you, Heather...and Love yourself." This and the undeserved thirty-day coin that I still have are among my most prized possessions. They show more than anything what is possible for me. The coin represents all of the most terrible things I can do. A man that misrepresents himself, to his family, his friends, his co-workers and to a group of people whose sole collective purpose is to help others get and remain sober is no man--I have a very difficult time tolerating lying and this comes from all of the lying I've done myself, to myself. The coin stands for all of the lying, stealing, duplicity; all of the horrible things I am capable of when I drink. The note stands for all of the opposite. That this woman was kind enough to stay with me. To care when just about everyone else who knew anything about me had stopped still amazes me. Not everyone stopped caring and few stopped entirely. But with my sickness I created a particularly dreadful form of hell for this woman. And she stayed. The note shows that there is hope and love. No one, not even me, the guy in the coin, is irredeemable.
Certainly I can still be a jerk and life is not without it problems. But today we face them together, with our small family and meager circumstances. And I know we can handle anything. So long as I don't drink.
Which I don't.
Since 22 July 2002.
One day at a time.
Thank you Heather.
And God Bless Peter Gabriel.