Thirty years and a day.
I celebrated my thirtieth year of sobriety last year, and today I have one more day.
I was raised Southern Baptist. No one in my family drank. I was an honor student. I went to Divinity School and became an ordained minister. I worked with the Ecumenical Institute of Chicago on an inner city reformulation project and trained church leaders on engaging the social issues of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I married a lovely woman who did the same work I did. We remained together for 17 years and had two boys.
After eight hard years I left Chicago and my wife left with me, somewhat against her will. We drove to Raleigh to live with my aunt in my Grandfather’s farmhouse. We had no savings and needed to start a new life. Somehow, I obtained employment as Business Manager of the Wake County Alcoholism Treatment Center. I was very curious to see what an alcoholic looked like. I scrutinized the patients looking for red faces and bloated bodies. That, I was sure, was what an alcoholic looked like.
We received in-service training on alcoholism. Strangely, I could identify with what I was learning, but it would be eleven more years before I became sober. In the meantime, I counted my drinks, and hid a few, too. Drinking was not primarily party time for me. It was relief. It was self-medication when I needed it. It was a way to cope, a way to fall to sleep at night.
My drinking didn’t stop me from being successful. A year after arriving in Raleigh, I went to law school and at the end of my drinking career I was a partner in a top law firm with a $325,000 salary in today’s dollars. I looked pretty good, but my life was coming apart.
I went over the line in my drinking when my marriage ended. I was despondent, scared, confused, and lonely. No one thought I was an alcoholic. Everyone wanted to cheer me up and console me for the difficulty I was having with my divorce.
One day I went to lunch with my oldest law partner. At the end of lunch I asked him to look into my eyes. I asked, “My eyes are red, aren’t they? Do you know why they are red?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Because I drank all last night.”
Then I asked, “Do you think I should do something about it?”
I’ll never know what would have happened if he had said “No,” or “It’s up to you,” or “You’ll get through this.”
I am ever so grateful that he said, “Oh, yes!”
And that was the beginning of my recovery. It was a moment of grace.
So if you ever wonder what an alcoholic looks like, an alcoholic looks like me.
I’ll close with a couple of words to you who are not alcoholics:
Don’t ever ask a sober alcoholic to loosen up and take a drink. Sobriety is a gift of grace.
And If a depressed person who has a problem with drinking asks you if he or she should do something about it, say “Oh, yes!”
Just a thought…
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