"I can't quit for you, Mom. I have to quit for me."
My mother was going in for surgery--surgery we thought would save her--and she told me how proud she was of me for all my accomplishments in almost every field of my life. She meant it, and I knew it. My mother was generous with her praise, but that didn't diminish the worth of even one word of it.
She said she was as proud of me as any mother could hope to be. How I was kind, loving, funny, hardworking, responsible (to a degree), and trustworthy. But she said that the one thing she wished the most for--the thing she knew even I wanted for myself someday--was to see me as a sober man. Because she hadn't seen me like that since I started becoming a man in my teens, and then abruptly stopped.
On the surface it may seem unforgivably selfish. It may seem like a total copout. It may seem horrifically repugnant, worthy of a severe thrashing or worse, but it was the truth.
I knew it, and my mother, in all her grace, understanding and infinite wisdom knew it too.
This part of the story would seem tragic, even reprehensible, had it not turned out the way it did. But as I sit here at my laptop writing--a mere six days away from sixteen months of alcohol abstinence--I know that it couldn't have happened any other way.
I know, in whatever symbolic or spiritual way, that she can see me when she chooses. And when she does, I believe that she sometimes cries mammoth waves of salt water tears in joyful observance of her boy ... her son, becoming a full and total person and not just a bloated, friendly, class clown with some talent left anonymously on his doorstep.
But when I said I couldn't do it for her I wasn't just buying some time. Regardless of how much I abused myself that year and the next, as I look back on it now, that was the first powerful piece of insight added to my cache of mental weapons--emotional and logical tools eventually put to use fighting what was slowly and systematically killing me.
I knew that if I were to fight this enemy on its own terms I wasn't going to do it overnight. I wasn't going to just up and say, "from this point till the end of time I promise to never drink again. Game over!" No. Of course not. Because I didn't get myself into this situation overnight. I did it over years and years of precious and irreplaceable life. I took my time.
It is said that when you walk into the forest--however far and deep--and you decide you want to go home, it will take you at least as long to get back out as it did to get where you stopped. That understood, I knew that--if done properly--it was going to take the rest of my life to succeed. It was, if you will, a prospect of acquiring power over an ever increasing reign. The more I gained, the longer I lived, or so it would seem.
And this is where I break paths with AA. Because I relinquish nothing. I turn my will over to no one. I refuse to submit. Instead, I become the power. Every sober breath I draw and release brings me closer to triumph over my invited captor. In doing this I defeat him with his most debilitating weapon: disinterest. Because a vice unchecked doesn't always come back to get you in your sleep; sometimes it just gets bored and leaves for good. And as I complete this process I do not consider what I have attained a "recovery" of even one molecule of healed tissue or emotional strength. Because it was always inside me. It never left me. It was not taken like a new bicycle by the bully down the street. It was not lifted from my back pocket like a ghetto thief. It was simply, voluntarily covered with rags--fetid, torn, frayed and soaked with my own degenerative pestilence--but covered and protected nonetheless. And when I decided, voluntarily, that it was time to pull the layers back and dust off what I had put away so many years ago, it was right where I left it.
I couldn't do it for her. I couldn't do it for my band. I couldn't do it for the courts, even.
I had to do it for me.
Because if I did it for anyone else but me, and the fates took them from this world first, then who would I have to hold me accountable? I can't tell you the number of people who pleaded with me to clean up. It all sounded like the same old noise--a garbage disposal, perhaps, activated with a piece of errant silverware stuck inside: unpleasant, severe, and annoyingly familiar.
I have a friend who was concerned with temptations recently because his daughter was away on a trip. He was worried that her absence (among other things) would allow him a dalliance with the enemy. I didn't say anything because it wasn't my place. But, just to expand on that idea for a moment, I feel that to remain sober is to become completely and bullheadedly selfish. And taken out of context that may sound disconcerting. But I firmly believe that in the context of staying sober I am the only person who matters in my world. That's it. Me. Just me. And nobody is going to be able to save me if I want to jump overboard. They may try to throw a life preserver but I have to grasp it with my own two hands. I have to want to live before I can save myself.
I don't have any children. I don't have a hectic job where people rely on me 40 hours a week. I don't have insurmountable debt that keeps accruing interest. I do, however, have a woman in my life whom I love more than I ever thought possible. But even she can't save me if I want to drown. She is an inspiration for me to continue on as I have, for a year and four months, but when I step back and ask myself why I am sober--or better yet, why I am not still a capricious and hopeless drunk anymore--I can only come to the conclusion that in December of 2008--even before the shit really hit the fan--I finally came to believe in myself. Today I actually can't wait to see what happens in my life every time I walk out the door. I stay up way too late most nights because more often than not, my dreams can't even come close to being as amazing as real life. The guy who was using my identity for the last 20 years would rather just pull up the covers and hope the phone stops ringing.
Dependency sometimes is like a cut you haven't seen bleeding yet. You may feel something odd or foreign; a friend might see you first and say, "Hey, dude! You're bleeding!", and you still might not feel it. You might even think they are kidding. But until you either see it for yourself--be it in the mirror, or in front of your face--you don't really feel it.
And then it hurts like hell.
And that's why I couldn't do it for my own mother. That's why I couldn't do it for my friends. That's why I certainly couldn't do it for the courts.
I didn't really believe I was injured until I saw the cut for myself.
It's been a while since I've seen my own blood. Here's to hoping it stays that way.
Thanks for reading,