When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.
But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.
The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.
On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.
On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.
I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?
I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.” But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”
Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.
Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.
On the day of my revelation, I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.
I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.
And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.
This is the definition of alcoholism.
You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.
The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.
Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.
Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.
Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.
Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.
But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:
“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”