October 15 is my sober birthday. I turn 18. My sobriety is now old enough to vote. Yesterday, a friend who was quitting drinking asked me for advice about stopping. She asked me if I had a moment where I knew I had to stop. I wrote her a little letter about my moment of clarity. I hope she doesn’t mind me reprinting the parts of that letter that were only about me.
My moment was in October 1997. We had just moved to California in March of that year. I’d become a drinker during my band days back in Toronto. Back there, I lived pretty close to all the bars and I could walk everywhere. My drinking had progressed because I was heavily invested in a music scene with a lot of bands and when I wasn’t drinking at my own gigs, I was drinking at other people’s gigs.
Then we moved to California where I had no real friends, at the time. Now I found myself “social drinking” in a room full of strangers, and experimenting with drinking and driving, which horrified me and made me feel guilt and shame. I mean I would never have more than 2 pints if I had the car, that’s technically drinking and driving and it’s a blessing that I never killed anyone, or myself, or that I never got pulled over. The anxiety about whether to drink or not became a terrible burden.
In point of fact, I had already started to feel ashamed of my drinking when we still lived in Toronto. Liza doesn’t drink all that much, and her relative abstinence probably helped me in the long run. I was no fun to be around when I’d had a lot to drink and I am ashamed to admit that on occasion, I got verbally abusive with her. So when Liza, God bless her, spoke up about it, I was horrified at what I might be becoming. She knew my heart, so she knew that I wasn’t really like that, but she is a strong, beautiful independent woman who wasn’t going to take any shit from me. And Liza was also very smart in another way. She never made it about her by *telling* me not to drink - she merely kept asking me if I still enjoyed it. And increasingly my answer was no, not so much. I started to play that game of having nights when I wouldn’t drink and nights where I drank. The maintenance was starting to become a problem. I realized that that, for me, it was easier to not drink it all than to stop at two drinks.
One night Liza asked me if I’d be sad if I had to quit drinking. I started crying, realizing that I would miss it, that it would be like saying goodbye to an old friend, or a family pet. But when I saw myself crying, I started laughing at myself. It was a dark kind of humor. And in that powerful moment, I knew it would be meaningful for me to never drink again. All I had to do was go through the next Friday, the next weekend, the next birthday, the next Christmas and New Years Eve, without drinking.
It got easier.
In time, I changed my focus from “I’m NOT drinking” to “I’m preserving my clarity of mind.” Now I could be a designated driver, I could drive home at three in the morning without being paranoid. And get this, I started to like myself. I had more hours in a day.
Today, my sobriety represents a kind of a magic amulet, something that I hold dear inside myself.
It’s my super power, and the place where my self-esteem begins.
So happy sober birthday to me.
Paul’s the best. Happy sober bday, Paul!