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Tonight, I will attend a meeting that is on my schedule for this date every year.
It’s a meeting that I make sure has no conflicts for that date. If I am traveling, I look online for a schedule of a meeting that I can attend to meet that goal.
Hopefully, the meeting can be close to home but if I have to drive to another nearby location, I will make the trip. Tonight, I will drive about 100 miles to make the meeting and return home.
Sometimes, I know just about everyone in the room. Sometimes I don’t know anyone personally but I know each in more important ways that count.
They are fellow travelers and the road we travel is a long, difficult and never-ending one.
But while we may never each the end of that road, staying on it is a very, very important part of our lives.
I will look around the room at my fellow travelers and speak:
Hello, my name is Doug and I am an alcoholic. It has been 19 years today since my last drink.
Later, I will receive my 19-year chip, a coin larger than a silver dollar issued by Alcoholics Anonymous and that chip will stay in my pocket for the next 12 months, providing a daily reminder of sobriety every time I pull change from my pocket.
The 18-year chip I carry in my pocket now will join a collection of other chips in my desk drawer.
From time to time, when I am paying for something, people will see that larger than normal coin in my hand and ask: “What’s that?”
My answer is simple:
“It is the annual recognition of my sobriety,” I say.
Sometimes they offer congratulations. Sometimes, someone will say: “I’m sorry.”
I always answer quickly. “Don’t be sorry,” I say. “God knows I’m not.”
If I have any regrets around the chip that I carry each and every day, it’s that it doesn’t represent 50 years of sobriety because I drank for 31 years before taking the first step towards sobriety by attending my first AA meeting on June 6, 1994.
I tasted moonshine in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia at 15, liked it, and began drinking. I was an alcoholic before 16. Even worse, I was a functioning alcoholic, someone who could drink alone and hide that fact from others while appearing to be normal. I graduated from high school with good grades and — at 17 — became the youngest full time reporter in the history of The Roanoke Times.
No one at the bar of the Ponce de Leon hotel across the street from the Time’s office in Roanoke, Virginia, questioned the young reporter who joined others for drinks after work. In later years, I would work for other publications, including 11 years with The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and had a reputation as a hard working and even harde partying reporter and photographer. When service to my country required a Top Secret security clearance, my drinking never surfaced in investigations by government personnel and the clearances went through.
It wasn’t until later years, during a sabbatical from journalism and foray into the equally-intoxicating world of politics, that my alcoholism became apparent to others. In 1994, friends and my loving wife arranged an intervention that left me waking up in a hotel room one morning without any knowledge of how I got there or what happened the night before. That night, I went to my first AA meeting and never looked back.
As any recovering alcoholic knows, a major part of recovery is compiling a list of those one hurts through drinking and reaching out to try and make amends. My list is long and I’m less than half-way through it. Some of those affected have offered forgiveness and support. Others have not. Some cannot relive the unpleasant memories of encounters with me. I understand and support such decisions.
During my recovery over the past 19 years I have too often lapsed into what is known as the action of a “dry drunk,” someone who may not be drinking but still acts like a drunk and makes mistakes as one. I have done so too many times but hope that is behind me now.
I sometimes wonder what I might have accomplished in life if I had not been a drunk but recovery means looking forward and taking life one day at time and making each day count. A serious motorcycle accident last fall left me near death and in the hospital for too many days and that too causes one to reflect on where the future should lead.
As part of my recovery during the first year of sobriety, I started Capitol Hill Blue. On October 1, this web site will celebrate 19 years on the Internet, making it the web’s oldest surviving political news site. Blue has suffered from time to time from my mistakes as a dry drunk but — God willing — those mistakes are also part of the past and we can move on together.
Next year, on June 6, 2014, I hope to pick up my 20-year chip at an AA meeting. Then, with luck and support from readers of this web site, Capitol Hill Blue will celebrate its 20th anniversary later in that year.
Hopefully, we both still have a future.