Technically, I will not have an official decade of uninterrupted sobriety until Saturday, March 10th. However, I think I can confidently say that I am unlikely to start drinking again over the next three days, and at this point in my life I don’t have a great deal of free time to sit down and write. I originally started this blog to share my past experience with substance abuse, and from there it has sort of bounced around. But it seems fitting to take a look at the past decade in a brief summary. Hopefully something I share here will help someone find a solution that has been eluding them.
My own journey toward real sobriety started with an interview I read in an online magazine in 2008. I had previously been able to abstain from alcohol and drugs intermittently, but inevitably I would succumb to the notion that I was probably just going through a phase. That never ended well…a fact that I seemed to forget every time I started up again.
The above picture is a cast photo from the play, “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” circa 2004. It is the story about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had a small part as an alcoholic lawyer who was on his last legs. It was an easy role, because my own life was also falling apart. I was extremely drunk during every performance. Someone from the cast would invariably have to wake me up during the intermission. That’s me on the far left, intoxicated. I don’t recall taking this photo. I couldn’t even recall taking it when it was emailed to me 14 years ago. When I managed to stay sober for subsequent acting jobs, it became clear that I was actually a barely mediocre actor. Probably because I rarely did any of the work required to become a decent one.
I was a functional alcoholic. Generally I was able to hold down a job, participate in creative ventures, and maintain relationships (for the most part). But I took a lot of risks. I am not an intrepid person by nature. Under the influence of alcohol, however, I was extremely reckless. It is hard for me to understand why I was never arrested for DUI, public intoxication, or worse. I was lucky to some degree, but since I never suffered any legal consequences, the avalanche kept growing. There was nothing to stop me. I fell asleep at the wheel…got lost on foot at night in a dangerous neighborhood…was threatened by a drug dealer…nearly ruined a short film that the director had poured his life savings into. I was an “edu-tainer” for elementary school programs that featured drug and alcohol prevention strategies. During the vast majority of those presentations, I was either hungover or still intoxicated from the night before.
As my alcoholism deteriorated, the material aspects of my life somehow managed to improve. I paid off debts, secured more interesting and better-paying jobs, met my future wife, and moved into a comfortable apartment. But, internally, I was falling into a black chasm. An eternal fall. That feeling you have during a dream in which you have lost your balance on the edge of a cliff, and your mind is trying to decide whether or not you’re dreaming. That feeling generally became the only “emotion” I was capable of experiencing.
As I sat in the little office room of our apartment on March 9, 2008, something happened. It was a beautiful southern California day. I was finishing up some music composition for a show that seemed to be gathering momentum. It was the first genuinely good day I could recall having in a while. Why not have a couple of beers to celebrate? Surely most of my previous problems with alcohol had been merely situational. Things were really looking up now. I could enjoy a nice cold one like a regular grown-up, right?
By the 3rd bottle, a heavy darkness began to settle over the room. The sunshine became dull. The work I had been doing all morning ceased to be important. The falling sensation began to gain speed. “This is never going to get better.”
I do not know exactly what motivated me to take the following step. I am a natural isolator. Especially with a few drinks in me. But I was overcome with a compulsion to reach out to someone whom I had never met. We would be doing some work together in a few days, and I had no way of knowing how he might react. Here is the text of the email I sent to him, edited to protect anonymity:
“This email is unrelated to the upcoming (music) show. It may even seem too personal or just generally strange, and for that I apologize in advance. I don’t know if there is a God or just random chance, but I’m going to go out on a limb.
I understand that you had some problems with alcohol while you were with (a band). And I read an interview in which you stated that you had been clean and sober for 15 years.
I have struggled with alcohol for most of my adult life. I have tried everything to stop. I spent some time in AA, worked most of the steps, and I guess I just gave up. I don’t know. I guess the only reason I am writing you is because I have been praying to whatever figment of the imagination of whatever God there may or may not be for some kind of solution. And the only thing that keeps coming into my brain is, “Maybe you should tell (this person) what’s going on.” That seemed ridiculous to me, because you and I have never met, and I didn’t want to seem like some nobody musician who is just trying to get chummy with someone who was in a legendary band.
But the same thought keeps coming to mind. I know where AA meetings are. I can’t seem to go. People I knew in AA call me. I don’t call them back. I isolate. I hide. I pretend that everything is just fine.
Again, I really have to say that I’m sorry if this seems nuts and it makes you feel weird being in the band this month. I just don’t know what else to do right now.
Frankly, it just doesn’t matter that you were in (a band) in regards to this email. I just keep hearing the same voice that tells me to tell you what’s going on. If it was a voice that was telling me to tell the bum at our dumpster, or the minister at the church down
the street, then I would do that. But I’m not hearing that advice.
The writing is on the wall. I’m perfectly functional. I run 20 miles per week. I have a beautiful girlfriend, whom you will meet at rehearsal. I have a great family. I have every opportunity in Los Angeles just waiting for me to grab it. Friends. Love from
others. An audience. Employment. Enough money to pay the bills.
And for the past week, every day, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about why it would just be better to be dead. And whether or not I should bother to write a note. To be clear, I wouldn’t be writing you if I was actively planning suicide, because I would be busy planning suicide. I’m too much of a pussy to take my own life. So I hang out in some sort of limbo. Drinking just enough to try to shut out the resentments and fear, but not enough to get caught by people who are checking up on me. And I keep praying.
And hoping that one day actual sobriety will be appealing to me. Because now I can’t stand drunkenness or sobriety. And I hang out somewhere in between.
I’m going to send this now. I may regret it. But I know that if something doesn’t change I will end up like my grandfather — dead in his mid-50s. From the same thing — a total inability to admit that we are completely powerless over alcohol.
Almost immediately, this person responded with a willingness, if not eagerness, to help me. A total stranger. For the first time in my life, I decided to let someone else do the driving. I couldn’t drive anymore. Whatever he told me to do, I did. I didn’t question it. I didn’t modify it. As a result, I never picked up another drink.
Things are very different now. Sobriety doesn’t necessarily make life easier. There have been moments during which the situational aspects of my life became dramatically worse than at any point in my drinking career. Life is hard. But I have a toolbox that I use to solve problems now. A toolbox that was passed down to me, and that I pass down to others. My wife and I address difficulties together, as a team. I am able to be present for my young children. I very rarely worry about what happened yesterday. I don’t get everything that I want, and that’s okay. I have learned to let go of things I can’t control (most of the time).
I am not going to live forever, but I am probably not going to die from alcoholism. There is a solution…