Just over a year ago, I flew back home to Halifax for my brother's wedding. I was still drinking, and if you had told me that in less than a week I would begin my longest period of sobriety in my adult life, I would have been extremely skeptical. I'd been thinking about my drinking a lot, but not in any specific way. I was coming off of a very difficult summer where all of the high points had turned out to be low points, and I was not very happy.
Despite the fact that no one involved in the wedding had any idea what was going on until the very last minute, it was a beautiful day in the end. The bride was 25 minutes late, as is her right, and she was beautiful. My brother looked like my brother, a bit of a cad, but one in a tux at least, and a gentle and caring and funny guy, like he's been his whole life. My mom, who is a minister, officiated the ceremony, I read a poem, they said their vows, we took pictures all over the church and then us wedding party people went off to take more pictures before the reception, and everybody had a good time.
Afterwards, us guys went back to my brother's place to chill for an hour (turned out to be three hours) while the bride, my new sister-in-law, got ready with the maids of honour. Us guys shared some pot, had a beer or two, and toasted my brother and shook our heads, amazed at what he'd gotten himself into. When the bride was ready, we regrouped, took more pictures, and then it was reception time.
And then, for me, the whole day went downhill. First, I had to moderate my drinking, because I had to give a speech for my side of the family, and I wanted it to be a good one (and I hadn't written it yet!). I watched as everyone got tipsier and tipsier, and I just nursed my drinks, getting drunk, but not as drunk as I wanted to be. Not even close to that drunk I wanted to be.
I gave my speech, and it was good, and then, suddenly, I felt stuck. I was anxious. I was hyper-aware of myself. I had to represent the family. I couldn't get loaded, what if I did or something awful? But I wanted to drink. I wanted to drink so badly. The whole evening, the only thing, the ONLY thing I could think about was how much I wanted to get drunk, to just leave that party, go someplace private, and drink until I got where I wanted to be. I hated everyone who was drinking. I hated everyone who wasn't drinking. Every thought I had was twisted by wanting a drink. I was miserable.
Eventually, my boyfriend and I went back to our hotel room, and the next day we flew back home to Toronto. I felt awful and guilty and horrible. What had just happened? My little brother had just gotten married to a truly wonderful woman (I love my brother, but there is a very convincing argument for the idea that she is a little bit better than he might deserve), I'd had a chance to connect with family I hadn't seen in years, everything about the day had been perfect....and I had felt miserable. What was wrong with me?
I knew it was the drinking. Weddings are crazy, stressful, emotionally charged events, but I knew deep down that none of that mattered. What mattered was that I was miserable only because I had felt like I couldn't pour enough booze down my throat. What mattered was that if given a choice between that wedding or staying at home getting drunk, I knew which I would truly prefer. I vowed that day, my first day back, a Sunday, to moderate my drinking and get it under control.
But then, three days later, Wednesday night, the night I liked to watch Survivor on TV, I bought a 12-pack of beer and was getting drunk by myself again, as if I'd learned nothing at all. I don't even remember how I made the decision, but at some point that evening, I stood up, walked to the calendar in the kitchen and wrote "last drink" on it. It was October 5th.
Since then, I've had to face the truth. There is no "moderation" for me. There is no "getting this under control." If I drink, I lose control. that's a fact. It's a hard fact, but I can't change it.
On the surface, I don't know how much has changed. I'm not suddenly living in a mansion or getting promotions left and right. I'm actually unemployed, so, maybe there's a cautionary tale somewhere in this, ha ha. But I do feel better. Overall, averaged over the year, I'm better. My first entry I said I wanted to be a better person, to be smarter and more caring, to be successful in my career and my relationships. I left my job, but that was to pursue my education, and I think that was a good choice. I think I'm meeting those goals. I think I am smarter, more caring, and I think my relationships are stronger, too.
I am better.
This morning, my boyfriend left a note on my computer's keyboard. It says, in part:
CHEERS to a full year of sobriety! I am so impressed with your control, discipline, and self-care. I am glad you've found the love for yourself required to stay strong for a full year.I am caring for myself. I am learning to love myself. I am discovering strength and discipline within myself.
This is what a year of sobriety feels like. It wasn't as bad as I was afraid it would be. There were pleasures and surprises I never expected to find. I am learning what living really means, and how precious my life really is, and I'm learning to savour and respect the moments I have, because each one is unique and special and will never come again. I am learning to see and feel beyond the superficial, to not be as afraid of the depths. I am learning wisdom.
Looking back, one year seems like such a short time, and the year ahead feels like it could last forever. I'm eager to learn what a second year of sobriety is like, what surprises and lessons the universe has in store. What will I learn, about myself, about the world? What next?
My name is Marc, and I am still Dry.