The glass sat on the table. There was one glint of light bouncing off of the shiny surface, a reflection of the lamp overhead. The brown of the whiskey shone even brighter than the clean, polished surface of the receptacle in which it sat. They were two and they were one, sitting, solitary on the table, awaiting an action from the person in the chair, staring at the glass, at the glint, at the sheen. After several minutes, a right had reached forward and fingers wrapped around the entirety of the smooth vessel, then rose to a mid-air median between two nostrils and two lips. The nostrils narrowed as they inhaled the scent of the liquid that was both treasure and trauma. Some several seconds passed, joining the full minutes that had passed before the aggressive action that put glass to skin, leaving an empty table in front of possessor of the hand, of the fingers, of the nostrils and of the lips that were moments away from joining in the process of horrifying consumption. Seconds passed. Seconds passed. Seconds passed. In each second there lie an eternity. Finally, the decision was made and, finally, the hand lowered a fraction of an inch as lower lip met smooth, cool glass. One deep breath. One swallow. No sip was this; a commitment had been made, there was no point in doing this gently. One swallow. It was done.
With that, I ended ten years of sobriety.
My name is Stephen and I am an alcoholic. I took my first drink when I was a child. My daddy was a beer drinker and so was my grandmother. They loved it so; and my father, knowing I did not like it, enjoyed teasing me by offering me sips of his beer, indeed, urging me to partake of his passion. Most of the time, I would decline, sometimes I would try it again, testing to see if my palate had changed. My grandmother didn’t offer me sips of her beer. She didn’t care to play or to tease. She was a woman of business and had no time for shilly shallying. She also had no intention, absolutely, of sharing her beer, one of the great pleasures of her life. I, a prissy prude of a boy, looked down on them both. They were working people who drank beer in their nightgown or boxers, respectively, to relax after doing the yardwork on a blazing Saturday afternoon. I had no interest in their drug of choice. I was safe.
A sixteen year old living in Switzerland, I was still (a version of) prissy and prudish. I wanted to have friends but had difficulty making them. I had one or two but I wanted all of them. So, there being no real focus on any drinking age or id checking in certain European countries of the 1970s, when the students at school went to local pubs after three pm, I went with, hoping to say anything smart enough or funny enough to make me one of the popular kids. Wanting to be popular does not leave a person much room for acting coy and ordering soda at the pub, I knew this. After all, I started smoking in the 8th grade because I wanted to be friends with Robert Lacy and, guess what, I became friends with Robert Lacy. At the pub one night, everyone having ordered, I was the last at the table to be addressed by the server; I ordered a beer, oh the irony of ironies. I did not like the bitter taste and found it appropriate that the beverage resembled urine because I was certain that this was, indeed, what urine tasted like. However, I drank, so as to be cool. When the buzz kicked in I excused myself to the restroom and, there, I looked in the mirror at a smile and a confidence that had not been in the face, so accustomed to my vision, when I entered the watering hole. I laughed and threw back my head and the love affair was on.
I was starting college. I was a freshman at Tarrant County Junior College, with a bachelor pad and parents all the way back in Switzerland. I was completely free. I don’t know, really, how I did it but I managed to stock my apartment with bottles and bottles of the cheapest champagne you could buy: Andre. There was, apparently, nobody in 1982 who was as interested in underage drinking as there were people interested in making the sale. Since I had moved, during my high school years, from beer to wine, I thought a sophisticated bachelor on the scene in Hurst Texas should have plenty of wine and champagne in their home. Determined to live a life just like a Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers movie, I was never out of stock of champagne – how could I be, at two dollars and ninety cents a bottle?
By the beginning of my Sophomore year, I was going to class with big gulps filled with Coca Cola and Captain Morgan, the ratio of the former being significantly smaller than that of the latter.
By Christmas of the same year I was in the hospital after a suicide attempt involving 36 sleeping pills and a liter of Ronrico mixed with green Kool Aid, no other mixer having been available.
Were I a painting hanging in a museum I would have been titled Drama Queen, Fully Blossomed.
Once released from the hospital, I hid out in my parents’ home, embarrassed and ashamed and feeling very much alone. Having given up my apartment and independence, I was planning a transition to a new life, someplace where nobody knew me or the melodramatic days of my past. The new life came the following autumn, in a new town, in a new apartment, at a new university, with a new goal… and the same liquor cabinet. When I left that town and university three years later, I had a handful of friends, a husband and a bigger liquor cabinet. After landing in Dallas, we became the premiere party throwers of the Dallas Fort Worth theater community. The liquor supply consisted of, fully and at all times, a supply of wine, beer, vodka and, my favourite, whisky. There was no longer a need for mixers, as I had begun drinking straight from the bottle. Anything would serve to deaden the emotions of bitterness, anger, regret and self-hatred. My acting career was not going where I wanted it to, my photography was substandard and even though my husband and I seemed to be popular, I was unable to shake the feeling that I was less than everyone else in a sea of overwhelmingly large personalities. After being fired from a job at a Children’s Theater where I had been miserable, anyway, I spent my days in the easy chair, watching videotaped episodes of the tv program Designing Women and drinking scotch until I either passed out or ran out of booze; and when I did run out, there was a liquor store on the corner.
My husband left me. He left me for three days. Upon his return, he announced that he would stay with me if I went to Alcoholics Anonymous as well as couples therapy. I did both and our relationship was saved. Peace was restored to our home; the parties continued and life was somewhat happy for a year or two before, at my insistence, we relocated to New York. I was 29 and no longer beautiful. All of the drinking had robbed me of a 29 inch waist and genetics had robbed me of my hair. I had no career or future and no interest in caring. My husband was beautiful and outgoing and had many friends and I hated that. Jealous, I returned to the drink and before long I was the worst parts of the film The Days of Wine and Roses. On a memorable day, our best friend, visiting from California and staying in the guest room, saw me at my very worst. The next morning I said to him “I’m sorry you saw me like that last night”, to which he replied: “That’s ok, honey, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is my favourite movie – I love Martha.”
I quit drinking on the spot and never looked back.
Last autumn, almost a year ago, I sat in a room, alone, staring at the glass of Scotch I had poured myself. I sat for several minutes, looking, looking. Looking. The moments of my life were before me. I had traveled the road, I knew the stops I had made. I knew that what I was considering had consequences; and the consequences were serious. I sat and stared at the glass on the table, not daring to touch it. It was imperative that I weigh every thought, every emotion, every scenario before taking this action. I was not making a rash decision; every move was calculated and considered. I had walked to where the glasses were and picked one up. I had set it down on flat surface, gone to where the bottle of alcohol was and picked it up. I had returned to the glass, unscrewed the cap and poured the brown liquid into the glass. I had replaced the cap and walked back to the spot from whence cometh the bottle, restoring it to its’ proper home. I had returned to the glass and sat, staring at it. I sat, as minutes passed, just looking, just looking. I weighed everything in those minutes, minutes, minutes. I considered the ten year count of sobriety. I considered the possible catastrophe of what I was about to do. I reflected on the reaction of my family, all of whom know who I am and what alcohol does to me. I thought about the pain I was in. There was the continual physical pain caused by an injury that took place at work over a year earlier, ending, successfully, a career I had slaved for as a health and fitness fanatic. There was the pain of disappointment for the loss of a beautiful body, due to the inability to train, based on the pain and limitation. There was the stress of a job that was growing increasingly difficult to handle, increasingly difficult to enjoy. There was the knowledge that I had failed at absolutely every career I had ever attempted, except for my current career of waiting tables. There was so much inside of me that made me unhappy; I was fortunate in that none of that unhappiness was based on problems inside of my marriage. In that, I was secure and content. For some reason, though, that was unable to assuage all of the other pain and, with one final, fleeting look at all of the variables, I put the glass in my hand and took a drink.
Unless you are an addict, you cannot know what that moment was like for me. It was every emotion possible. Fear, loathing, hatred, disgust, disappointment, joy, happiness, relief. I had taken a drink and survived it. I could take another and survive it, too. The pain would subside, even if momentarily, and I would get through it. I would get through IT. I knew, also, that I was a different person than I was when I stopped drinking, a decade earlier. I could handle it. I would handle it.
It took nine days for my husband to ask me “How long have you been drinking again?” I took no breath. I blinked no eye. “Nine days.” Grown ups, we sat and talked about it. We discussed why. We discussed fear. We discussed intent. We discussed duration. I promised him that it was merely to help me through a difficult time, that I took full accountability for my actions. I did not fall off the wagon, I got off. I’ve no patience for people who cannot take responsibility. I did not fall. I did not slip. I did not relapse. I did not falter. The wagon came to an intersection and I, a grown man of nearly fifty, weighed my options and I got off. It would be temporary and I would get back on. I would see this through on my own terms and my own turf. Ever a supportive spouse, Pat assured me he would stand by my side and help me stay strong. In return I assured him that the moment it became a problem, I would stop. That was November.
At times, during the stress-filled holiday month of December, I found myself drinking as I closed up at work. The guests gone, the majority of the staff gone, as I cleaned and did my end of the night paperwork, I drank. Once or twice I drank on an empty stomach and, walking home, phoned people, hoping to catch up on life in fourteen blocks. Sometimes these people thought I was just cheerful; others, they knew something was up. One by one, came the need for confession, explanation, deflection; but, never, absolution. Most were supportive and understanding. Some were nervous and scared. One was judgmental and blithely walked away from our long friendship. On Christmas Day, around 8pm, I told the family members that were with us for the occasion. Their gift to me was a reaction of nothing but love and support (and a sea of concerned faces). Love. Support. Concern. That would be the going reaction, over the upcoming months, as one friend, then another friend, was informed of the secret and had to react to this change, so drastic and terrifying.
Terrifying, it is.
Promises were made, each of them well intentioned and each of them empty –promises to myself, to my friends, to my husband and to a God that none of us can see but who acts as safeguard to all of our secrets. Each day that I awoke, I vowed not to drink this day, beginning with the vow to myself and to God, as I sat in prayer at my altar, and ending with the vow to my husband, as I headed to work for the night. Some nights I would come home and announce “I have clear eyes!”; others I would come home and maintain a lone circumference of about two feet, lest anyone get close enough to smell the liquor on my breath and seeping out of the pores in my skin. I wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all myself and certainly not God. Of course, my husband knows if I have been drinking by simple demeanour and speech pattern; but, as far as demeanour goes, I did manage to justify every drink over nine months by saying (with some regularity) that at least I hadn’t turned into a monster.
No. I had turned into something much worse. I had turned into a victim.
These last ten years of my life I have become a different person. I rose above the boy that I was who, so desperately, craved approval and friendship. I ceased to be the man governed by substance abuse and crippling anger. I gave up the need for control and the desire to be something I wasn’t. I began to accept who I am, what I want and how I react. I had begun to reach that place for which we all strive: the place where we meet ourselves and say about that person “he’s alright.” In spite of that journey I had made to living in the light, I had allowed pain and stress and self pity to turn me back into a victim and, this time, the victim was even worse off because he was living with the pain and the stress and the self pity and the new bully, the old addiction – only in ten years the addiction had learned how to work quietly. There was less drama drawing attention to the addiction and the need to control it. There was, now, a quieter addiction, working slowly to reclaim its’ victim; and, this time, it was determined to win. This time, it was ruthless.
I would like to say that I reached out for help; but I didn’t. Help came for me in the form of a friend who has some Zen-like telepathy and who texted me after work one night. How are you, he wanted to know? The answer was obvious: I was lost. I was on my way into the Fires of Mordor and I would not come back from this one. Walking home from work, I texted him that I was in trouble. It was eleven pm on a Friday night and he said “I’ll be there when you get home”. Three hours of talk, sobbing and pizza followed. The next morning I awoke at six and at seven thirty I was at an AA meeting.
When you change your outlook, you can change the world. Those two days that followed were filled with talk, reflection, prayer and reform. I talked with my husband Pat and my hero, Danny. I talked with my best friends and came completely clean – their replies were the staunchest kind of support a fellow in trouble could ever ask for. I spoke with my mother. I talked to God. Mostly, I talked to myself. I talked to every version of myself I have known and been for 49 years; they are all a part of this mosaic that is me and they all get to weigh in on my actions and my decisions – only I get to make the final choice. I, alone, must be responsible for my choices. I, alone, must be responsible for my addiction. Addiction has been my constant companion for my entire life. It is a relationship from which there is no escape. Time and personal history has shown me that I can be addicted to everything from Entenmann’s to Designing Women, from exercise to alcohol, from shopping to sex. Living with addiction is entirely possible, just as people live with diabetes or some other physical ailment; the solution to living with our personal adversaries is in the choosing. Rather than choose letting the addiction control you, you could choose to let the addiction teach you. We can all use a good teacher. I am an addict. I am not, though, a victim. I am the author of my own story; I control my own destiny. It is all in the choosing and, seeing through clear eyes, once more, I choose me. I choose myself. I choose life.
It has been said that it takes 28 days to break an addiction. I don’t know if that is true or not; I imagine a more factual statement is that it takes forever, since it is going to be a forever kind of process, at least for me. Whether it is true or not, I know that it is a start; and that is really all one can hope for – a start. A new beginning, a new life.
Today is my 28th day. It is also my 1st day. Every day is my first day. Maybe every day is my last day. I have no way of knowing – that is why I must live it, looking through clear eyes. I don’t want to miss either my first or last day because I was unable to see what was happening around me, not one bit of it – or any day that happens to NOT be my first day or my last day.
My name is Stephen Mosher and I am an addict. What I am NOT, though, is a victim. I am a survivor. I am a warrior. I am a champion. Most of all, though, what I am is quite plain and simple:
I’m a man.
I am just a man, nothing more. Just a man.