A few nights ago, I stood up in front of a group of fellow travelrs to announce an important milestone.
“Hi,” I told the group, “my name is Doug and I’m an alcoholic. It’s been 10 years, four days and 11 hours since my last drink.”
I had hoped to stand up in front of my local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and celebrate the milestone with friends but circumstances took me many miles from them so I found a meeting nearby.
Ten years. That’s 3,653 days (including three leap years). Or 87,672 hours. Or 5,260,320 minutes. And that adds up to 315,619,200 seconds. Anyway you measure it, it’s one hell of a long time.
Proud? Damn right. Only about six percent of admitted alcoholics reach 10 years of sobriety. There was a time when I couldn’t reach 10 hours, much less 10 years.
As a decade-long member of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), I could keep my addiction a secret. That’s what AA is all about. But I made a decision several years ago to go public, hoping that it might help others who felt shame at being unable to handle their booze.
It hasn’t been easy. Reaching 30 days was the first real milestone, then six months, then a year – all one day at a time which is the only way we can battle the Beast. The Beast never sleeps, never takes a day off and never leaves a drunk alone. It is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that moment of weakness, that period of self-loathing and pity to send you seeking solace in a drink.
Even if you stay off the sauce, you fight the demons that accompany alcoholism – principally anger and denial. You waffle between self-pity and self-righteousness and become judgmental of others who have not faced the Beast or some other demon that might control their lives.
With luck, determination, the help of others and the love of those closest to you, you fight each to a mutual standoff. You never beat them. Alcoholism or the other addictions or traits that accompany it, is not a curable disease. It can lie in remission and strike back when you least expect. You can never let your guard down, not even for a second. The Beast is there and it never misses a chance to attack.
So you celebrate not so much a victory as an uneasy truce, a stalemate in a cold war with an enemy that will never, ever, leave you alone. You cannot fight it alone nor should you ever try. You continue to seek comfort in the company of other fellow travelers, some who have kept the Beast at bay longer than you and others who have yet to send it back into the shadows.
Yet, for one brief moment, I stood and proudly announced 10 years. Some in the room applauded. Some stared at their coffee cups. I knew what they were thinking. Ten years ago, I stared into my coffee cup when someone else stepped up and announced they had faced down the Beast for 10 long years. At the time, such an accomplishment seemed remote, too far away, too fraught with land mines, too unreachable.
Several congratulated me as the meeting disbanded. Some just nodded. They knew, as I did, that the Beast would be waiting outside the door, sneering and betting that I couldn’t reach day 3,654.
But I did, along with day 3,655, day 3,656 and 3,357. I will keep counting and facing the Beast…one day at a time.