SOBRIETY: EIGHT YEARS ON.
Eight years ago today, I woke from fitful, nightmarish sleep, completely poisoned by alcohol. The darkened room stank of vomit, alcohol, and a sweat so pungent—caustic, almost—it would make your throat gag and your eyes water. It was noon. I'd put away 15 litres (32 pints) of beer in the previous 24 hours and I was disoriented on a scale I'd never, ever been before. I reached for the plastic bag—already a third full with vomit—on the floor beside my bed and wretched up bile that burned my oesophagus like acid. Then my six-year-old son walked in the door and tearily uttered, "Please stop drinking Papa, I don't want you to die."
That was the day I miraculously walked away from over fifteen years of life-threatening alcoholism and heavy drug abuse. I took my first drink when I was eleven years old and smoked my first cigarette at twelve. From my late teens to my early thirties, I took LSD, magic mushrooms, cocaine, ecstasy, crack cocaine, MDMA, smoked weed and hashish, and drank either wine, beer, gin, vodka, whiskey or whatever I could get my hands on pretty much every day. When the alcoholism really took over in my early- to mid-twenties, I thought I'd never escape its clutches. For so many years it held me captive and bound. I'd tried suicide and somehow walked away from that but I kept on drinking in what I'd dubbed my "suicide-by-instalment-plan," aka the "drink-yourself-to-death-plan." The past eight years have brought different emotions and each year I have written about both the struggle and revelation of each milestone.
One recurring theme over the years was the congratulatory pat on the back I've always given myself. Not arrogantly, but just a personal pep talk that said, "you got this, Mally." It also became easier each year, like a complacency had set in. This year I learned the legitimate danger in not being alert all the time against the dangers of being an addict.
In early December of last year, just before my 7th sobriety anniversary, I got some news that almost destroyed me. I'd been in a position where I thought I was going to receive an offer based on a lot of hard work I'd done. I had been diligent in so many ways and when a decision made by someone else favoured another person I knew over me, I broke down and wept in my living room. I sobbed like I'd been told someone close to me had just died. The sadness very quickly turned to rage and I was cursing the people involved. "How could they overlook me?! Don't they know that I deserve this?!" It wasn't so much the decision that was made or the people who made it, the deeper issue was my own security in who I was at that time. After ranting to my wife about the injustice of it all, I took off from our apartment and went on a walk. It was a crisp, clear evening as I roamed the streets of Versailles, my indignation intensifying with each stride. I came to a cathedral and stared up at it's magnificent, limestone edifice, the Christmas lights adorning its spire swaying in the chilly breeze. When I turned away to walk home, I was staring in the window of a bar. The silver beer taps beckoning me into the cosy atmosphere like an old friend. I thought you know what, screw it, I'm going to get wasted! Then I realised that in my haste to leave my apartment, I'd forgotten both my wallet and my phone. To this day, I replay that moment over and over again and how different it could have been if I'd had some money in my pocket. I cannot say how thankful I am that I didn't lose my sobriety because something didn't go my way.
I was angry that day because I felt I deserved something. I almost wrecked my sobriety because I needed affirmation and validation from someone else. I momentarily lost sight of who I was and what my purpose was. The easiest way for this to happen to me is when I venture down the futile avenue— usually through the screen of my phone—of comparing myself to others. My stature, position or outside influence do not determine or define who I am. I have to keep doing the internal work and stay focussed on my calling, otherwise I am building my life on a foundation of sand!
The biggest lesson of year eight is this: my addiction is like a roaring lion who is prowling around waiting to devour me. I must always be alert and never complacent. It has been through this experience of weakness that I have grown stronger and more resilient.
Thanks for being on this journey with me. Onward!