Are you there, reader? It's me, Laura. It's been a while since I had a guest blogger and/or featured a recovery story. Well, look no further. Timothy Gager does both. Take it away, sir!
NOVEMBER 6, 2010
I’m coming out of a blackout at The People’s Republik in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I’m in mid-sentence. I know where I am because I remember coming in with some friends earlier. I can never leave early enough. I confused where this sentence is going to or even what I am talking about. I don’t know where my friends I came with are? Did they leave me here? Why? Stupid question because I know even if I wasn’t remembering specifics of this night. Bad behavior leads to lost friendships.
How do I get home? Oh, that’s right, I remember I drove here. How did they get home? I’m sure they did. They’re able to as most people are when they go out. Shit, where is my car? I walk out of the bar. Damn I don’t know the answer to that car question. I’m on Massachusetts Avenue and there are various public parking lots nearby. I’ll go to each one. My car is a blue Dodge Caliber. Easy enough. I go to each lot and it takes over an hour, mostly because I’m running from one lot to another. I find the car of my friends. They are still in Central Square somewhere. I feel panicked until I find my own car, then I feel like finding my vehicle is some sort of miracle. I start the car, poke my face with the ends of my fingers for sore spots. None. No one has hit me tonight. I turn the key.
I’ve driven drunk too many times. At least four times per week. I’ve driven drunk with my children in the car. I’ve drank beer out of a cooler with my children in the car. I’ve driven blacked out and greyed out. I’m eventually going to kill myself doing this. I get home I think I do want to kill myself but I want to live. I just don’t want the pain. I go through the mental checklist: gunshot, pills, cutting my wrists, jumping off a building. It is how I got to sleep every night, meditating on this list, except tonight I don’t sleep. I run the list in my head over and over again without passing out. I’m tired of not wanting to live. At 6 AM, I move to the sofa in fetal position under a comforter.
The position of a fetus strikes me as being pretty claustrophobic. I’m feeling that fear. My temples pound, my vision is pixelated when I try to focus on anything. I do not want to move. My friends hate me. Bad behavior leads to lost friendships and lost relationships. I know this. My last relationship was with a woman with six years sobriety. I told her that I was a social drinker. When we started sleeping together it was the three of us: Me, her and a bottle of Johnny Walker. She broke up with me. I remember she went to meetings. She used to leave my house for a few hours to attend and then come back later.
I tried attending meetings once years ago. Maybe, I didn’t but here’s the story: I called a hotline for help and they didn’t help me on the spot. I went to a bar and got home and my roommate told me that there was a call from them and I told him that it was a wrong number. That about summed up previous ability to surrender.
So at 7 AM, I suddenly remembered that this woman had gone to meetings on Saturday in Needham, the next town. I dragged myself to my computer, did a search and I found it. I envisioned her being there and somehow nursing me back to health—a sober, in recovery, Florence Nightingale. It was in nine hours till the meeting, if only I could hold on.
HOW IT USED TO WORK
Drinking was great and I was good at it. I was attracted to it as early as age seven when I tried to drink vanilla extract. In high school, it helped me to invent myself as something I was not because I was an awkward, uncomfortable, unconfident, picked on and extremely “uncool” person. So I became this person that partied a lot and stood out as someone that didn’t do things in a conventional way. I played in a band, which fueled my drinking, drug taking and womanizing fire. When people guessed I may have a drinking or drug problem and they had the courage to tell me, I was more likely to celebrate that fact than to try to fix it. At least, I was getting noticed. My parents even bought me A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t pro-drinking. That’s how I identified with alcohol as a solution.
I wrote my first collection of stories, Twenty-Six Pack, in 1999, which I felt was celebrating those certain aspects of my life, but when I look back on it, it reads like a dark drunk-a-log. It turned out to be more of a message about the bad spaces you end up in when using, then anything else.
Then things started going worse. Normal people were settling down and I was still out there. When you hit early to mid-thirties you should no longer act and get wasted like you were ten years younger. It’s the difference between college binge alcoholism which I could get away with and the adult progressive disease which was taking over and taking full power over me for another fifteen years. I had no control over it and the moments which I did, I chose it.
Month one was punishment. I punished myself for the sins of my past. I attended a five-seven meetings a week. I missed alcohol and ran to a meeting instead of a bar. I hated every minute of it and I was out of my head crazy. I hadn’t killed anyone. I hadn’t been fired. I hadn’t gone to jail or rehab. I was divorced but drinking of course, wasn’t the cause but it presented an excuse to drink more. All I knew was that in the winter of 2010, I didn’t want to drink anymore, so I accepted my punishment and began attending AA regularly. When I received my one month chip, I whispered to the presenter, “I don’t think I can do this,” to which she said, “I think you can.”
The second month was bad but better than the first. My head started to clear and the purpose of me staying sober became stronger. I was still in mourning for my “loss” but the days were just better enough for me to understand why I was doing what I was doing. At the three month mark, it was like a switch had been turned on and I was felt lighter. It was only ninety days, many of them bad, but one at a time. I could do that. I was happy about my decision and by month four, I was all in.
Along with my new purpose being strong, memories and emotions started to flood back. They told me that I was indeed like others in the rooms. I had been fired from jobs. My music career basically ended when two very popular bands had given up on me because of how I drank and used. I had spent a few nights in jail because of fighting while being under the influence. I had a car scrapped up my car a few times against guardrails and curbs. Somehow I compartmentalized that those incidents hadn’t count. I now realized how I justified a lack of responsibility and accountability during that those times.
I continued to comfortable and happy with what I was doing to stay sober. I set up chairs for a 5 PM meeting nearly every Tuesday and Thursday. The meeting couldn’t exist without me. I became known and acquainted with people with long time sobriety. I also ran with a pack of four people who were all new and were willing to support each other. All of us successfully received our medallions after one year of sobriety.
LIFE UP TO NOW
It is better. I accept myself. I am there for others. I am there for myself. Meetings are necessary but not desperately so as there are enough tools I’ve picked up that I can live life on life’s terms. I keep it simple, but incidentally, as simplicity now happens as a norm. My life IS simple and I realize that events happen regardless, whether good or bad and I can handle them without turning to outside substances. I have fought and continue to fight a disease. I’ve written a book of poetry about recovery. I finished a novel. My children are no longer scared of me. I’m in a relationship with another sober person. I use the steps as a solution and I will continue to work at these. People say they are inspired by me when they decide to start their own journeys. I had my last drink November 6, 2010, my name is Tim and I am sober today.
Timothy Gager is the author of eleven books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan, (Big Table Publishing) is his first novel. He hosts the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts for over thirteen years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival. His work appears in over 300 journals, of which ten have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio.