It’s August. That’s part of it. I’m approaching four years of sobriety and I can feel the squirrels prancing around in my brain.
I didn’t recognize it at first. I knew that something was off, but it didn’t occur to me that this “offness” could be rooted in the fact that I’m nearing in on 1460 days without a drink. Actually 1461 because of leap year, but who’s counting?
There’s something about mountains and craft beer. They seem go go together. When we were in Oregon I was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of craft beers on offer that I’ve never heard of before. Yes, I still look at the tap handles, and still look at beer menus. Maybe that’s not wise, but I do it. In talking with my therapist about this last week she observed, “beers and beards, where there’s more of one there’s usually more of the other.” And there were a lot of beards in Oregon.
I like to think that I’m generally immune to the prevalence of booze on offer in the world. It wasn’t always like this, but as I got more comfortable in my own skin, more comfortable with my sobriety, I found that I really wasn’t bothered by the presence of booze in many situations. Part of it is that I work in a sales job, and so, there are often functions that I must attend where others are drinking. I’ve actually had a bottle of whisky in the house since the day I quit, unopened. It’s a relic from my grandfather’s stash with a Maryland Tax Stamp still in tact from 1961. It’s also Canadian Whisky, which isn’t really whisky, it’s more like rot gut.
And for the first few days in Oregon, it was the same. But then we took a drive down the coast to Newport to go to an aquarium, which just happened to be directly next door to the Rogue brewery. I’d be hard pressed to tell you which Rogue brews I’d fancy today, but I really enjoyed Rogue Dead Guy Ale when it first arrived on the shelves in MD. And I was flooded with memories of good times. Memories of the early days of the craft beer revolution and exploring and learning about all various different styles of beer. No longer was I stuck with American Pale Ale Pisswater.
I know that this is beginning to sound like I’m romancing the drink. And I am to an extent, but I also know that my struggle with alcohol was really a slow burn. I drank for nearly 20 years normally and only developed a problem after trauma was triggered when I became a father. So, I have a lot more time in the rear view where drinking was fun, light, social, than many others who have surrendered to the fact that they cannot drink normally. But when things turned, they turned fast and I found myself in a misery that I never want to experience again.
So, I was rolling around the coast of Oregon for a week, and slowly I started to find myself thinking, “What if?” — What if I had one beer and I was cool? What if I didn’t find that I wanted to get wasted after one? What if I have addressed the trauma and done enough therapy that I wouldn’t abuse the booze? What if I didn’t drink whisky, only beer? What if, What if, What if.
I did this in silence. My wife and son had no idea this was happening to me. I’m good at secrets.
As we were standing in line at the airport, about to get on a flight home, I found myself looking up a particular statistic about the risk of relapse in people who have been sober for 5 years. It’s fairly well documented that the risk of relapse is about 15% whereas the risk of suffering from AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) is about 13% for the general population. Did this mean I was coming in to the home stretch? Could I drink like a normal person again in another year?
These are the insane thoughts that ran through my head at 10:30 PDT on August 10, 2019. And they scared me.
I know what 12 Step tells me would happen, and I know it’s not pretty. I also know that there are many people who do return social drinking after they address their trauma. I have family members who remained sober for over a decade and then returned to normal drinking. The truth is, I don’t know what would happen if I were to have a single drink.
What I do know for certain is that my life has immeasurably improved as a result of getting sober. My health has improved and I have the blood work to prove it. My weight has improved, and my scale shows it to me every time I step on it — even if I’m not where I want to be. My physical strength and stamina has improved — I began running at 45 and now run 3 times a week and I’m about to run a 10 mile race in a week. My relationships with my friends and family have improved — I can be depended upon and while I can still pull out my “asshole card,” I do so much less often than I once did.
In short, I know that I’m better off not drinking.
I’ve been struggling to figure out where these thoughts came from. I know that it’s been a very difficult year for me emotionally. I have felt a bit like a kid caught in the rough surf at the break point in the ocean, as soon as I stand up another wave crushes down on me. And all the turmoil of 2019 cannot be discounted. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve been driven to seek escape.
But that’s not the entire story. As I said at the beginning of this post. It’s August. And while T. S. Eliot claimed April as the cruelest month, for me it’s August.
Subconsciously and consciously, there’s a lot going on in August. August always represents the end of summer. It is generally the peak of misery in terms of weather in Maryland. And it’s the month immediately preceding my sobriety date.
The squirrels run wild in my brain this time of year, and no one but me knows it’s happening. It always takes me a while to recognize it for what it is, and I go through some fucked up thoughts, but I don’t pickup a drink. I suspect that the squirrels might do this in August for the rest of my days. Every year, I make a promise to myself that I’ll remember this next year. And every year, I forget.