Monday, July 11, 2005

Index of Reflection

I made it. Today I hit a milestone in life that very few people will ever know. Unless I do something really screwed up between the time I hit the publish button and the time I go to bed, I will have accumulated seven thousand three hundred and five days of sobriety. (Don't let the date heading fool you, this is a just a bit of a late night.) That's exactly twenty years. Happy birthday to me.

Well, except that I'm not celebrating. I can't help marking the passage of time. I have lived twenty years and more beyond the times I should by all rights have died. You'd think that there would be an accomplishment worthy of celebration. To tell the truth, I had always sort of pictured doing this at an AA or NA meeting, surrounded both by the people who helped me to get here and those who hope against their experience to make it this far themselves.

That isn't going to happen. I have to thank AA and NA for bringing me into sobriety and for letting me know the things I have to do to stay sober and alive. I thank the members of those fellowships for telling me my story in their words and giving me hope. For most of the first eight years of my sobriety, I attended meetings at least daily, often twice in the evenings and three or more times on Saturday and Sunday. Meetings became the whole of my life, much the way that the things that qualified me for membership once had been. The Twelve Steps have been good for me (and I still live my life by them), but the meetings have not. I still go to the odd one to recharge my batteries, as it were, but I don't have a home group, so there is no party.

If I am completely honest, though, I know that I have remained sober out of fear. Most of the time I don't drink or do drugs simply because it is no longer my habit to do so. After the first few months of struggling, the patterns of living that inevitably led to a binge were broken. A "slip" would not have been an accident any time after my first cake and medallion.

There have been times, too (and rather a lot of them, when I think about it) that I wanted to erase the world. It isn't so much that I want to drink or get high for the party. It's more of a suicide thing, but just a temporary version of it. Not wanting to die altogether, but not particularly wanting to live through a particular moment either. That kind of thinking is obviously insane, so it's not as hard as you might think to talk oneself out of that line of thinking. I don't want to make it sound easy -- it's just not impossible to see where your mind is trying to take you as long as you are paying attention.

No, the real killer for most folks in recovery for any extended period is the insidious belief that if one has been able to stay on the wagon this long, then maybe there's a chance that one was never actually addicted. Yeah, that's the ticket. I was young and irresponsible and just overdid it a bit. I'm more mature and responsible now. I can have a beer or two with the boys and that'll be the end of it, right? Not this kid. During my bad phase, I was on the wagon nearly as much as I was drunk or drugged. Never could find that moderation thing people were talking about. Still can't. For me, nothing succeeds like excess. So, yeah, I'm scared to death of that first crisp, frosty pint of an India Pale Ale, the creamy delight of a gorgeous Ontario ice wine or the peat-and-honey nose of a dram of 40-year-old Laphroaig. As much as I can taste them just writing about them, I know that the first will just be the first of many too many. And when I'm too stupid to know it, I'm still afraid that it might be true.

Staying sober for twenty years has been the easy part. Living through some of those same years has been much tougher.

To steal a turn of phrase from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have learned what it is to love with all my heart and soul, and I have learned what it is to have both heart and soul torn to shreds by the loss of that love. I have been there to see the spark of hope and life lit in the eyes of the hopeless and dying, and I have seen too many people with infinite promise ahead of them lose hope and kill themselves. I have had the resources to help the less fortunate around me live a slightly less desperate life, I have had nothing and found no-one there to help me.

There have been times I've asked myself if it's really been worth it. When you're living on borrowed time, sometimes the interest rate seems a bit high. To those I've known for whom the answer was no, I remember you with love, and I hope you have found your peace. I'm still looking for mine.

I'm hoping that much of what I have been feeling over the past few weeks has been the build-up to today. I've been spending far too much of my time gazing at my belly button lately. Perhaps, with this out of the way, I can find a little motivation to get on with my life rather than contemplating what might have been had I lived the last twenty years a little differently.

Tomorrow never knows.

17 comments:

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff said...

wow... I'm speechless, other than to say congrats.

Anonymous said...

Another Dickens line: "There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart." It seems to me you have acquired both.

-rich schwartz

Jess said...

Speechless also. Even congratulations just doesn't seem adequate... Just remember how many friends you have that care about you, us all among them.

Harold Maurer said...

Stan:

Edagar Lee Masters said "Genius is wisdom and youth." Sounds like the genius part passed us both, but the wisdom part hasn't. I've finished off eight years of the same and want to thank you for your public acknowledgement that we can make it. I celebrate that every day.

I only came to your site because I knew "The Other Stan." Since then, your comments have been interesting and alive. I'm a better person for reading them.

St. Paul said: Thank God for everything, always.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Stan. July 11 is my birthday--now I'll have something else to celebrate on that special day.

Jeff Crossett said...

Congratulations Stan! As one whose family has had to deal with the same demons, all I can offer is "Ya done the right thing".

Gregg Eldred said...

I can't imagine what it must have been like for you, but thank you for sharing these moments. I think that you have made us all better for it. You have my deepest respect and admiration.

Chris Hudson said...

Nothing I could say would do justice to your accomplishment...Only you could know what you have really achieved over the last 20 years. Thank you for sharing.

"We don't receive wisdom; we discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. - Marcel Proust"

Joe Litton said...

Stan, Thanks for posting so much from your heart. There's plenty of BS and delusion etc in the world. It's refreshing to read your blatant honesty ...even when it's sharp and raw. I'd rather experience joy AND pain, if the alternative were simply dulled stupor. Each person is allotted the opportunity to experience plenty of ups and downs along the way, and in what might be a sort of sick kind of way, I'm grateful to be alive enough to grab that experience ...or sometimes let it grab me. It's good to be alive!

Karen said...

Congratulations, Stan. 20 years of sobriety is a fantastic accomplishment.

I had a friend who was surrounded by family and friends who loved him dearly. He and his friends would have cookouts and picnics and celebrate milestones... but he never seemed to feel the extent of their love, or how fortunate he was to have such a tight circle of friends.

I always admired that circle. The love was almost palpable when I would visit and they'd get together. I couldn't believe someone could have something so special and then not feel it.

His therapist nailed it - she called him a thirsty fish. It was perfect. Because it was so true.

I wouldn't wish the thirsty fish syndrome on anyone. And while the alcoholic drinks to feel numb, I learned it's also possible to be sober, and numb.

My point (which should have been made SO five minutes ago ;-), is that you've done a great thing, and it appears to me that you have a great deal of love and support. And the hypothetical I'd like to pose is... are you pleased with yourself, and do you feel how genuinely pleased those around you are for you?

I don't want or need to know the answer. I just hope it's yes, and yes.

Congrats again.

Phil said...

Congratulations on 20 years! Great reflection in your post. An inspiration to me -- 6 months sober tomorrow, God willing. :)

Stan Rogers said...

Phil, I always thought that they should make a bigger deal of the chips than they do of the medallions. A big part of getting from, say, ten years to twenty is, as I said, being out of the habit. At six months, I had to fill every minute of every day with not drinking. I wasn't always fighting urges -- I'm sure you've heard of the pink cloud syndrome -- but I did have to make sure that I was actively being sober. God willing, I'll be able to congratulate you tommorow for six months' sobriety. Today I'll congratulate you for having made the decision that will lead you there, and for continuing to let go and let God.

Senthil Kumar said...

Hi Stan:

I feel like seeing your pic after going through this piece. Donno why? I have some sort of pic of yours in my mind after reading your blogs and went thru lotsa answers in the forum.

In general, you feel like seeing anyone for whom you have lot of respect. I think i have it for you now. If you wish not to post in this blog send it to my skumar75@gmail.com. Thanks for everything.

Stan Rogers said...

Um, no, I don't think so. I may grudgingly allow the government or a security service to take my picture when necessary, but that's the extent of it. One picture of me has made its way to the web, but it's up to you to find it. Time, strife and constant physical pain have left me with a very unpleasant phizzog indeed, one that has been as much of a hindrance to my progression through life as anything in my past. I'd rather remain a disembodied voice, if you don't mind -- you may be able to imagine me smiling, but you'll never actually see it.

Senthil Kumar said...

I have almost searched close to 90 mts now and found lots of info except your pic. Its about to be 1 AM here and am going to bed. My search would continue tomorrow. Came to know that you were in militiary as well :-)

jonvon said...

stan,

this is one of the most amazing things i have read in a very long time.

Senthil Kumar said...

Atlast !!!

Its after a long time almost over 3 months. I continued your pic search and i think i have more or less gotten one..

Long time ago (in the year 2003)you have published an article in Lotus Advisor magazine on Javascript field values. There must be a picture inside the article but since the article is for subscriber only, i don't have the chance to view it:((

Am i right Stan??