Friday, May 16, 2008

Day one hundred and thirty eight ... Take a deep breath for me.

It's been over four months now.

Clean and sober.

No cheating.

I can't believe it myself, except I keep this damn journal, and the number of days is the first thing that gets written in every entry.

Way back on day one, I wrote how I had put up a fresh calendar. I wrote how my many previous attempts of achieving a semblance of sobriety involved drawing an X through each day in which I remained sober.

I also wrote how I wasn't going to do that anymore, as it was an inherently flawed system.

From 'Day one':

" ... this calendar, as I have said, is new. It is a virginal template. Nary a speck of ink has made it's way to the pages good, or bad. As I approach this new year, I have a plan. No more X's. Because putting an X through a day in which I have achieved my goal, allows for the idea that somewhere ... there is, or will be a break, an impasse, a mistake. I have no more room for mistakes ... "

That was way back on January 1st, 2008. It was snowing out and I was petrified of what my future had in store.

My, how a third of a year can change things.

So, today, as I face a new set of challenges which I am not at liberty to discuss yet, I decided to look back at last year's calendar to see what it was like from the beginning of the year, up until May of 2007. May is a big month for me. My birthday, Mother's day, and my mother's birthday all fall within it's digits, and I remember it shook me up quite a bit--damn near did me in.

I had taken my first serious crack at abstinence (from alcohol, at least) at the end of that winter. My mom had died in January, and I took that month and most of the next one to drown in cheap vodka, weed, coke, and pills. All I know is it's a damn good thing I live nowhere near a swimming pool.

At the middle of February, I had adopted my mother's cat, aptly named Meow, and a certain finality had come along with it.

I had made the last-straw call to my maniacal boss (who will get her time in the spotlight, most assuredly) and been subsequently fired. I even had to pay back some sick days I had used in order to quit, that's how bad it had gotten.

And I was obsessed with my X's.

Its funny to see them on the little calendars I use. Some are drawn in marker, some in pen, some even in pencil, which makes it seem as if I had made the marks before the end of a particularly trying day. And there are the days I had crossed out at the start of the day, with the best desperate intentions after a bender, only to be scribbled through with a hand being driven by my many poisons. Then again, three X's in succession has always been the mark of poison, whatever that may connote.

I remember how I would look ahead to see when my next doctor's visit was. As the appointment day approached I'd always put on a good effort to hopefully lessen the numbers on my liver tests. It didn't always work.

As I'd sit in the waiting room, I'd scan my calendar to assess what my rhythm of days on/off had been. I'd mull it over and try to configure an average from how bad I felt, related to how bad I had been.

The results, which, for 9 years had been "fine," started to show the inevitable warning signs.

Dated 1/08/07:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Your liver tests were high in a pattern that reflects alcohol abuse. I reviewed your records and saw that this is the first time since 1998 that these have been elevated and this represents significant injury from alcohol. I hope you take this as a wake up call to stop alcohol completely this year before this progresses to be a permanent problem with cirrhosis!

With a fresh, generous glass of Smirnoff on the rocks in one hand, and my test results in the other, I read these words. I read them, and read them, and read them again. What did I finally interpret from this letter? What did these outrageously foreboding words tell me?

I inexplicably focused on the fact that I didn't have cirrhosis and that whatever I did have wasn't a permanent problem yet.


So, what better way to enjoy the freedom of not yet having cirrhosis? Another couple months of madness.

Dated 3/07/07:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

As you can see, your liver tests are even worse.

And that letter gave me the jolt I needed.

After years and years of recoiling from the fear of what I may find out when I began to let someone look into my brain, I made the big decision to start seeing a therapist--perhaps one of the most important moves I have ever made.

I took a solid month off from drinking. I went back to my doctor and had my blood tested again.

Dated 3/27/07:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I was delighted to see that your liver tests had improved considerably.

I read that sentence like an 18 year old reads a letter from a university they desperately want to be accepted to. And I remember seeing the word delighted, and it was as if it had read congratulations, welcome to Harvard.

I jumped up and down and called my aunt to tell her the good news.

And I stayed sober sixty nine out of seventy two days.

That, to me, was a miracle. That, to me, was my personal best.

That, to me, was cause to celebrate. Vodka, anyone?

My, how sick and twisted this lie of a lifestyle is--more like a deathstyle, really.

And that brings us up to May, 2007.

I didn't really do too much damage that month, but I did enough. I did enough to make June even worse, and July worse than that and the rest of the summer a struggle in the most desperate race to the finish line, until, in September, I broke four ribs and didn't know it for nine days, until even a quart of vodka a day couldn't stop the pain and I went to my first AA meeting followed by trip to the emergency room.

But that's a story for another day.

The absence of X's on my new calendar is quite a liberating experience, and not just because it means I'm getting healthier. Much like the way substance abuse lures us into an obsessive cycle of actions, marking my log with two swipes of a marker did the same thing. It locked me into a pattern, a habit, a chart not unlike sheet music. The notation on the staff tells us when to play, when to rest, what pitch to employ, and what feeling and rhythm to use.

With the dearth of notation, I am free to enjoy whatever is in my periphery and to expect nothing. My song is constantly changing key, feel, tempo and style.

And it's quite an interesting prospect to try to gauge its impact and ambition with the absence of length and direction.

I have a new doctor now. He didn't ask to see my massive book of medical records that cover the last 10 years.

He took my blood pressure, listened to my heart, and looked at my tongue.

And after he got the results from my blood tests he called me up and said ...

"... Mr. Johnson ... keep up the good work."

Will do, Doc. Will do.

Thanks for reading.


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