It has been over a year since I had a drink.
Now, I am sure that for many people that wouldn’t mean much. But for me it is pretty amazing. I have been drinking since I was in high school. When I was younger it was more of a party thing. As I grew older it became more of a steady thing. When I turned 50 years old it became more of a burden thing. If you had requested that the local odds-makers put a line on my not having a drink for a year you wouldn’t have had many takers. The over-under number in terms of days would have been in the single digits.
As I look back over the past year, the first year since I was fourteen that has passed without my having a drink, some things have become clear to me.
The most important thing that I now realize is that I can do it. I can live a full life (or a year anyway) without alcohol. And have fun. I have always admired Karl Siegel, a friend from Snowmass, Colorado. Karl has followed a fairly simple set of rules in his life and they begin with a single purpose. If it isn’t fun, Karl’s not interested. I enjoy a little fun myself and it was important for me to know that fun can be had without alcohol.
Anyone can tell you that as you grow older time passes more quickly. I’ll never have the time to do everything I want to do and after 50 years it has become clear to me how precious time is. I’d like to live life on life’s terms and at life’s normal pace. It doesn’t make much sense to take anything to artificially slow life down, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to do anything to speed the process up.
In the past year the things that tend to occur annually have all happened. But this past year they have happened with me in a different state of mind than usual. I can’t remember ever going to New Orleans without drinking. I can’t remember an employee Christmas party that ever occurred without lots of drinks. I never went to my hometown buddies’ Christmas shopping reunion at Lenox Square in Atlanta without the partying over-shadowing the shopping. I’ve hung out with Larry Littleton and Bill Norman with a clear mind. I haven’t been to the Bahamas too many times without a Wally’s Special. I fished an entire cobia season without a cold beer on the way in. I’ve been to Crab Island and Disney World, a Braves game, an Alabama football game, and an Edwin McCain show without a drink. (Disney World was tough.)
I have always been in the restaurant and bar business. If you think alcohol is an occupational hazard for house painters, construction workers, and commercial fishermen, check out the consumption of alcohol and mind altering substances in the bar business. In addition to avoiding drinks for the past year I’ve stayed away from all mood-changing drugs. Let me be honest in saying that in the past, I have inhaled.
But throughout the past year, I have never been angry at alcohol or drugs. I’ve only been mad at myself for the hold that I let them have over my life. How does it feel to go a whole year without a drink? It feels pretty good. People will tell you that when you give up drinking things keep getting better. I pretty much assumed that. I have been fairly successful and motivated throughout my life. It only made sense to me that by eliminating the distractions brought on by alcohol my life would get better. I would think more clearly, feel better physically, and get more accomplished. That has happened.
I still face many of the same day-to-day problems that we all face. But dodging bullets is much easier in the light of day with a clear mind than it is at 4 AM while inebriated. Interactions with people are a bit more solid and rewarding when you are sober than they are when you’re not. Mornings are much more attractive from my current perspective than from the way I often wandered into the day through the back door of a long night of revelry.
A Catholic monsignor recently asked me about my religious beliefs. I was raised in the Episcopal Church but I haven’t spent many Sundays at church. I told Father Beshara that I had never gotten a firm grip on the God thing. He said he wasn’t interested in the “God thing” but he wanted to ask me about my spirituality. Could I look outside at the natural world around me and admit that there was something out there that was bigger than me.
After a moment’s reflection I realized that was something I could agree to.
He told me the story of the aged Indian warrior, sitting around a campfire with his grandchildren. He told the children of the two wolves that lived within each of them. In each of us there is a good wolf and a bad wolf. The good wolf, he said, was full of life and love and peace and everything that was beautiful and natural in the world. The bad wolf was full of hatred and fear and violence.
“How will we know which wolf to follow?” one of the children asked.
“You’ll follow whichever wolf you feed,” he told him.
These are complicated times. There is very little that is certain in life and I think I like it that way. Life can be mysterious and that is good. Otherwise things might get a bit boring.
I realized some time ago that I needed to make changes in my behavior and my approach to living. I am doing that. I’m trying to feed the good wolf.
So cheers. A round of drinks for the house. Hats off. A thumbs up. A big pat on the back. And maybe some light, scattered applause. I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done, and haven’t done, for the past year and I can promise you that is a good feeling.