I tried unsuccessfully to quit drinking many times before I finally did it for good in 2002. There were a bunch of reasons; chief being that I knew what I was doing was dangerous to myself and others. When I finally wound up in a Los Angeles emergency room surrounded by cops and doctors, strapped to a gurney by every appendage including my head, I knew it was time to wrap it up for real. The good people flanking my broken body knew it too.
At that moment, the feeling that overrode all others was relief. I was alive. Miraculously, I hadn’t killed or hurt anyone driving into a building in a blackout earlier that morning. That wasn’t where the relief came from though; the relief came from the fact that I knew I wouldn’t have to lie to anyone anymore.
To drink the way that I did required dishonesty. I lied about where I was going. Who I was with. Why I wasn’t coming in for work. Whether or not I was hung over. Whether I was drunk at any given moment. I lied to myself about my fitness for getting behind the wheel of a car. Individual friends, family members and acquaintances knew pieces of the picture, but never the whole picture. If they had, they’d have known I was in real trouble. So I told one thing to one audience and another to another audience. I’d recalibrate depending on where I was or who I was with. It was selfish. It was lying. So when I lay on the hospital gurney with two broken arms, looking down the barrel of a court date, jail time, surgeries without health insurance, rehab, fines and fees into the tens of thousands, and a reckoning with those who cared about me and those who didn’t, I felt RELIEF. I could tell them the truth: I’m a drunk, I’m responsible for all of this, and I don’t want to do it anymore. It felt really good, like sunlight.
I was reminded of all of this today when a political candidate had a speech he’d meant for a small, select audience get heard by a much larger audience. It made my stomach turn. I remember that behavior well. It didn’t get me anywhere that I wanted to go.