…and odd months

simpson_alcohol

Last year I went to see my older daughter onstage in Romeo and Juliet. I was taken in by the story, in a way that I never had been before. There are so many phrases and expressions that we use every day, and yet Shakespeare first put the words together, in a way that sounds good to this day.

A phrase that stuck with me–and it’s far from a well-known one–occurs in Act one, scene three. There is a question of how long it will be until a festival called Lammas-tide, at which point Juliet will be 14 years old and presumably old enough to be married. The answer to the question is “a fortnight and odd days.” I don’t know why it stuck with me, but for some reason it did.

I particularly like the “and odd days” part, because it’s not important how many of them there are. The fortnight–two weeks’ time–is the main thing, and everything else is not so very important.

The thought came to me today as I was walking home. It was a longer walk than I’m used to taking, and at some point I thought about having a beer when I got home. There are a couple of beers in the refrigerator downstairs, for the purpose of offering them to guests.

Here’s where the “odd days” part comes in. It’s been more than two years since I stopped drinking, after many, many years and many, many drinks. I was surprised by the beer thought during my walk, because I have found that not thinking about drinking leads to not wanting to drink. It’s pretty simple, really.

To offset this thought, I started thinking about how long it’s been since I had anything to drink, of an alcoholic nature. I came up with an answer that Shakespeare himself could have written: Fifty two fortnights and odd months. I never thought I could go so long without it, and putting it into terms like that made it seem like a real accomplishment.

For hundreds of fortnights, literally, beer was my friend. And margaritas were my friend. And gimlets, too. It didn’t really matter what I drank, so long as I drank something. Our society approves of this, and encourages it at every step. Turn on a football game and see how long it takes for a beer commercial to come on, if you don’t believe me.

I happily followed this path from the mid-eighties until the summer of 2011. And since then, I’ve gone a different direction. My liver is happier, I hope, and I feel as if I’ve managed to tame something inside.

This is not to say that those who drink are doing a bad thing. People can make these choices for themselves. But as for me, I made the wrong choice for a very long time. And in the years and odd months since realizing that, I’ve been much happier with myself. That’s something I never found inside any bottle.

CYW/OB Accomplished

Homer

Last summer, I wrote a piece about being by myself in a house on Cape Cod. At one point in my life, that would also have meant consuming alcoholic beverages throughout the evening. I never considered myself to be an alcoholic, but I never passed up the chance to have a drink, either. Alcohol was a part of my life, and I thought that was never going to change.

And then, beginning in late 2010, it did change. I gave up drinking for good in the summer of 2011, and passed the one year point without any alcohol sometime last summer. I wish I had done it a decade or two earlier, but what’s done is done. May my liver not take it out on me at some point in the future.

Now that 2012 is over, I’ve just completed my first calendar year without booze (or CYW/OB, as I’m calling it), since either 1982 or 1983. That’s nearly 30 years which–I don’t think I have to tell anyone–is an awfully long time.

My goal at one point in life was to live somewhere–anywhere–longer than I had lived in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois. I passed that goal a few years ago, and I haven’t had a similar one since, until now. Since I once drank for almost 30 years, and now I don’t do it any more, I’d like to go at least 30 years without having a drink. That’s something that could very well take me to the end of my life, and I’m willing to commit to that if that turns out to be the case.

Going through a calendar year without having a drink isn’t such a big deal, when viewed through this lens. But I’m going to mark it anyway, in the hope that there are more years just like it in my future. And there certainly were enough years that went the other way for me.

A change for the better

Friday night in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The local drive-in theater had switched its weekly double feature to two movies that I had no interest in seeing. That’s really not so hard to do, anymore. I begged off from the drive-in outing that my wife and other relations were planning, and, as a result, I had the summer cabin all to myself. There were two dogs around to keep me company, at least.

Two years ago, the last time I was here on Cape Cod–and every other time that I’ve ever been here in my life–I know exactly what that would have meant. There would have been a trip to the local liquor store to pick up a 12-pack of Corona and a lime. And I would have spent the evening working through as many of those 12 bottles as I could.

My guess–one based on decades of experience–would be that two (or maybe three) bottles would have made it to the morning unopened. Finishing off all 12 would have been a distinct possibility, too. I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing this, either, because I wasn’t getting behind the wheel of a car. With my apologies for the golf analogy, knocking back the better part of a 12-pack over the course of four or five hours was about par for the course.

But over the past two years, things have been different. I decided that drinking for more than a quarter of a century was finally enough, and that cutting alcohol out of my life was the right thing to do. And, other than a couple of incidents in 2011, I’ve held to that. By the time I leave Cape Cod next weekend, it will be a full year for me without any alcohol. I’m already thinking of it as Y W/O B (or Year Without Booze), part 1. Last night, if not exactly the one year anniversary of my last drink, was certainly the emotional climax of this process.

The last time I went a full twelve months without introducing any booze into my system would have been in the early 1980s. It’s not quite 30 years, but just about that long. I was probably not even seventeen before going out on the weekend meant obtaining, and consuming, any form of alcohol that I could find.

The hard truth is that I never missed a chance to have a drink, all throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of this century. Did it affect my life? I can’t think of anyway to suggest that it didn’t. How could anything that’s done over the course of so many years not have an impact?

A year after giving up drinking, I don’t feel too much different, physically. I don’t even think of this as “sobriety,” to be truthful about it. But psychologically, I feel so much better than I ever have. I’m also setting a positive example, I hope, for my children to follow as they get older.

I’m happier not knowing exactly how much money that I’ve given to various brewers, distillers, bars, restaurants, package good stores, and other social and business organizations for my fleeting bursts of intoxication over the years. Now I’m doing other things with that money, instead. Even if I’m just putting it all into the gas tank, it’s a financial boost, just the same.

This is not, in any way, meant to disparage anyone who decides that drinking is the right thing for them. I’m not a sermonizing dry-drunk, and I don’t want my motivations misunderstood. I loved drinking, for reasons I can’t understand and won’t even begin to explain, but I eventually changed my position on it. I adapted, or evolved, or let the winds of changes blow until they knocked me off my long-established course. It happened, and I’m willing to share that with anyone who happens along into this space.

As for how long this will last, I don’t have any idea. Maybe I’ll start drinking in a responsible manner someday, and maybe my last drink is now behind me. But last night’s absence of drinking–which once would have been unimaginable for me–certainly feels like a move in the right direction.

A big change over the past year

Last fall I went out of town for a few days on a business trip. And one of the things I typically do on the road is go to dinner with some colleagues. For the last night of the trip, I hit Yelp! and started looking for a brewpub. For me, the actual food type was less important than the beverages that came with it. And when I found a place with 23 beers on tap that also happened to serve barbecue, I knew where I was going to dinner.

I bring this story up because it preceded, by a couple of months, my decision to stop drinking alcohol. This led to several months without a drink, and then a couple of relapses for good cause (as I saw it) and then one final relapse earlier in the summer. I won’t go over that again here, but it was the final straw (no pun intended) in my determination that alcohol and I were finished.

My sweetheart of over twenty-five years hadn’t changed her ways since she first seduced me with wine coolers and Budweiser in cans and strawberry schnapps (and not all at the same time). No, she keeps doing what she’s always done. And I went along with with more intensity than I probably should have. Weekends were made for whatever beer happened to be on tap. In college, the weekends all started to run together, and some weekends never ended before the next weekend got started up.

All the while, I told people that I didn’t have a problem with drinking. But every time I told anyone a story about something that had happened to me, there was always drinking involved. If there was a way to have fun without alcohol being involved, I never tried very hard to find it.

Until one day last fall, on the heels of a drinking bender at a football game, I came to the realization that I had lost a large chunk of my life–and probably some part of my liver function–and I didn’t have anything to show for it. I never got convicted of anything I did when I was drunk, never got into a physical altercation when I was drunk, and–most importantly–never caused physical damage to myself or others as a result of my drinking. I spent untold thousands of dollars on alcohol, and probably acted in ways that I wouldn’t have if I had something healthier than booze in my system. But I challenged myself at that moment to make a change for the better, and right now I seem to have done it.

Word has come down that I will likely be going back to the same city this fall. My restaurant choices won’t be shaped by my drinking habits this time around. Some of my colleagues may want to return to the brewpub, since I was quite vocal in praising the beer selection and/or the food. And if asked to go along, I may join them. Or I may not. It’s too premature to speculate just yet. But a change has certainly come to my life in the past 12 months and, other than the birth of my children, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s certainly worth devoting a few hundred words to here.