Life changes, one day at a time
I don’t drink alcohol. More precisely, I don’t drink anymore.
For some people, this is not the kind of thing that would be worth mentioning publicly. But for me, quitting is a relatively recent development, a revelation, and — quite possibly — a lifesaver.
I stopped drinking a little over a year ago. That was years after I noticed that I drank a lot more than I used to, and well after “I’m going to stop” had taken its place as the annual New Year’s resolution I knew I had no intention of keeping.
But if the road to sobriety was a winding one, so was my path to becoming an alcoholic.
I’ve learned over the past year that alcoholism often runs in families, and that many drinkers start in their teens, or even earlier. None of that is true of me. My parents barely drank at all, and into my 20s I was a very light drinker, too.
That changed when I fell in love with journalism, around my junior year of college. Many of my journalism classes started in the classroom, with the discussions of our newfound craft continuing at the bar across the street from campus. We’d talk about stories all night long — good stories, bad stories, what extra steps might have made a lousy story less terrible. My journalism education was conducted over 500 Heinekens, and it was fabulous.
Eventually, I moved into my first real journalism job, at my hometown Miami News. The post-deadline drink was a daily staple among the newsroom’s young reporters. The notion that beers, or margaritas, could be a problem would have been greeted with snickers.
After The News broke my heart by folding in 1988, I moved to Boston to work for the Globe. In the move to a city where I knew no one, bars furnished a ready-made social life. I settled in, for what became a long stay.
It’s hard to say, in retrospect, when the party becomes something darker and more difficult. One clue is when your drinking buddies disappear every few years — lost to more rewarding pursuits like marriage and families, or to sheer fatigue — but you can’t seem to leave the bar stool behind.
I thought of drinking as a reward at the end of a day’s work, not an obstacle to getting the job done. I quit alcohol, in part, because that distinction had become harder to maintain.
One frigid night last February, walking home from yet another bar, I knew I was done. I called a friend in Alcoholics Anonymous who offered to take me to a meeting at 7:30 a.m on a Saturday. My first thought: “Don’t they have any later meetings?”
I started getting sober in a church basement in South Boston. I was embarrassed to be there — until I realized we were all there for the same reason. Beginning to address my disease was a relief, not a burden. Being a drunk had been the burden. Quitting, on the other hand, has been liberating.
Chaos has been replaced by improved focus. Frequent fatigue has given way to more energy. The discipline sobriety requires has made me better at sticking with other things, like spin class. I didn’t realize how many things drinking had pushed out of my life, until I began to get them back. Without question, this is a better version of me.
I tell this story mainly because I’ve come to appreciate that there are a lot of people like me — people who know they’ve lost control of their lives, but who can’t picture what nights and weekends without alcohol could look like. After all, booze makes you more popular, and funnier, and more attractive. Who would give all that up?
Except that it never really did any of that for me. (Mostly it made me moody and argumentative.) Sobriety doesn’t cure every ill, but it’s given me the return of my true self.
Thirteen months ago I worried that I was witnessing the loss of all my fun.
Now I think the good times have barely begun.