I usually ponder this day on the run up to it each year, and then think about it first thing when I wake up on the day itself. This year was different. I thought about it a few days ago, but when I laced up my shoes at 5:50 this morning for my daily run, my mind was empty. I headed towards Versailles in the biting wind and misty rain, focussing on the moment, one purposeful, measured step in front of the other. The path was eerily quiet, save for a few people heading to work. And then it hit me. A guy just ahead stepping into his car, my headwind blowing his scent straight up my nostrils. Jean-Paul Gaultier, Le Male. Suddenly I was in my bathroom in London some ten years ago, wiping condensation off the mirror after my shower, staring at the face I had come to loathe, its desperate, hopeless reflection staring back at me. I'd tried to reason with that face as I sprayed on that same fragrance that had now just stopped me in my tracks. Not if the guy getting into his car had've poured a Heineken over me, could the memories of my past life have been more vivid. I ran along for another half an hour and sobbed the whole way home.
My tears over addiction have been many. I have cried over the hurt I caused others. I have cried out of frustration and hatred at myself. I have cried out of desperation to be saved. I have cried because I cannot fathom how much people love me and encourage me. This morning it was out of gratitude. I cannot put on paper how I really feel about where my life has taken me. That's the stuff I talk to God about, and I can't even express it to Him, either. It comes from a deeper well in my heart that regular forms of communication can't really tap into. When you have stared at death and felt it's cold hand work its way towards your throat to squeeze that last breath of air out of you, you tend to see things differently. I remember a conversation I had with my buddy, Tim, in Colorado this summer. He'd had a crazy busy week and he wanted to drink a cold one and watch some baseball on a Friday night. We hopped in his car and drove to a liquor store and the topic led to drinking. He wondered was it ok for him to have a beer whilst I drank apple juice. “Sure it is,” was my reply. It's like I always tell people, if you abstain just to be sensitive to me then I feel even worse. The world didn't stop drinking, I did. After he picked up a few beers we rode home, and he asked me about my old daily drinking habits. I told him about needing to get some beer into me within the first hour of waking up, and then told him quantities. He was stunned! I remember him pulling into his garage and just sitting there, hands still on the wheel, shaking his head and saying, “How are you still alive, but seriously?!” I am alive because it's a miracle. Really. I should be dead. My body, or any body for that matter, cannot take that kind of abuse for a decade and a half and then suddenly stop and become an ultra-runner. There are many complications that could have arisen from this kind of systematic, obsessive abuse. So you see, when I am out for a run and I go deep into my mind and reflect on how I could have left two amazing kids fatherless, or skipped out on friends who mean the world to me, you see where the tears come from. It's gratitude.
Now, because of these long-winded thoughts and moments of deep introspection on my part, don't go thinking I regret my past. I do not. I love my past. I love the people I've met, the mistakes I've made, the good decisions I've made. I wouldn't be me without them. The journey has been filled with colourful characters who have been inexplicably generous to me in many ways. I do, however, treat my addiction with absolute contempt. It is the enemy and it wants to hurt me. It goes far beyond being my Achilles heel, it is pure poison and represents the darkest side of my life. I have been to emotional places that no one should ever have to go to, and my eyes have seen things that most of you reading this can't even dream of. I absolutely love being sober and it pains me to say this, but, not everybody loves the sober me. Why? Because it alters the balance in relationships. The more comfortable I get with my sobriety and who I really am inside, the more it leads to making better decisions. When you're a using addict, people tend to be able to manipulate you a lot easier. You don't care about much other than where the next beer is coming from. It may not be intentional on their part, but you are more likely to be swayed because your lack of self esteem and ability to make a judgement call is somewhat impaired. Sobriety taught me a wonderful word that I didn't use very often, no! If a person you love, I mean really love, stops hurting themselves and choses to get busy living instead of dying, then that is all that matters. I make choices these days that positively affect my family and loved ones, I make them in the best faith I can muster and hope to continue to be able to give a leg up to other addicts who wrestle with those early days of addiction. If you are struggling with an addiction or are just lost in your life, it never stays that way. Seasons come and go. This day four years ago, as I went cold turkey, I thought I would never sleep properly again. That in the horrendous days that followed, as demons climbed the walls and mocked me, I never actually believed I would find peace. I was convinced that the stain on my soul would haunt me at every turn and that my nightmares would make me crazy. That didn't happen, and now I find myself in a season of profound joy and curiosity for the journey ahead.
I really want to say thanks to all those who remembered today and sent well wishes. We really do this together. Your encouragement and support keeps me between the ditches. May you know the joy and warmth it brings me. Happy Christmas.