Cleaning Up

I recall just how difficult it was. Every episode, battle to rationalize, reason to do the things I did, for myself and no one else. I remember weeks of justifying why, or who, or what need I was trying to fill. Driving through my neighborhood one night, just trying to avoid the lawns, staying in the middle of a fortunately quiet residential street. I kept wondering if everyone in the neighborhood knew I had them all fooled. Knew that I was a hard liquor guy that nobody knew. I remember wishing I could answer my own questions, but every time I tried, I needed to find another way to bury my emotions. I remember the day I decided to finally clean up my act.

I had been down this road before, that path of being completely detached from what is real, and only concerned with my next drink, the next card game, anything to keep the machine rolling, spiraling more than I wanted to imagine. I couldn’t, it was far too important to get my fix. In society we crucify the junkie for being such a mess, but the alcoholic, we call it a social disorder, that even though he made it to work everyday, he could still hold his liquor. I never knew of a heroin addict that could hold their high. Truth is I never actually knew a junkie that could fool the world as well as me.

For many years I blamed everything around me, rather than looking directly at myself. i would make a plan, this weekend I’m not having a Bloody Mary, and I would be drinking one an hour later. The socialization was attractive, I always figured that was my motivator, but in the end I came to terms with the idea, that chasing women was only caveat, the real pleasure was getting trashed and forgetting how miserable a human being I had become. See, the vicious cycle allows us to judge ourselves with extreme scrutiny while at the same time freeing our mind of any responsibility. I could always hide behind addiction.

My kids were young, and my wife was helpless to my controlling personality. She didn’t enable me, she feared for my life. She actually knew the harm I was causing to our family. I have often said I am glad my kids never saw me drunk, but that was an allusion. They may not have actually seen me or been too young to realize, but they always heard me in the middle of the night, and wondered why their Dad was never home. I lost a lot of years with my children and my wife due to my drinking and gambling.

I have been sober for 30 of the last 35 years, and I often speak to that five year window that was so indicative of my alcoholism. I couldn’t stop once I got started, and if not for some mild consequence, I would continue drinking until I killed myself or did something impulsive to ruin my life. If not for opening my checking account to my wife, I would have used gambling as an excuse to take my own life. I couldn’t find any solace anywhere, and I always had to bury the loneliness, of not being able to talk to anyone about my problem. The reality was, that anyone I spoke to would approach the subject with trepidation. I remember so many friends being relieved about my sobriety, shaking my hand, giving me a smile. This was so much more appealing than the serious expressions, the patronage a close friend gave me when I justified my drinking. The gambling was different. I could walk around and just look tired, without the stumbling slur of alcohol. The loneliness was excruciating. There was no-one at all whom I could reveal my gambling. If I told anyone that I was spending six to eight hours a night online playing poker, they would have no respect for me.

People say we don’t choose to get ourselves cleaned up. We get caught and we are forced to fix ourselves. There are some, that when deep in the mire their conscience just eats them alive. I’m pretty convinced that was my saving grace. If I didn’t feel the destruction I was actually creating, I would have kept on going. If I didn’t a loving wife that stood by my side despite the ass hat I was, I would have lost everything. I did get caught, but I am so happy, so delighted to have an opportunity to live a good life, and know the people around me are breathing a little easier.

I’ve been sober now for a decade, and the gambling ended eight years ago. I don’t judge people for their choice to drink or gamble for that matter. It is their choice, but I do suggest I will be there when the conversation merits a decision to look addiction in the eye. I still have my skeletons, but they’re a bit easier to manage with a clear head, one that is forced to constantly scrutinize the choices I make every day of my life.

To me, cleaning up means acceptance of my vulnerability as a human being. My actions were not caused by alcohol or addiction in any manner, those were my own. Alcoholism or addiction gave me an out. Today, I’d prefer internal peace.

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