I remember the first time I drank alcohol.
It was a bit later than most of my peers. I had vowed not to drink because I had seen the damage it could do to a family. But there I was with my brother’s friends, my second year of college. They encouraged me to just have one. It tasted good and made me feel good. Alcohol put me at ease talking to new people and made me feel comfortable in my own body.
This isn’t so bad, I remember thinking.
Life seemed to be going fairly well and I had a strong faith. I just drank like a normal college kid — or so I thought.
I never had a good gauge of how much to drink and so I would often blackout for failure of recognizing to slow down or stop soon enough. I had plenty of mornings where I would say “I’m not doing that again” only to do it again that night.
I drank more and more, and my depression deepened.
The tricky thing about alcohol, though, is that it never seems to reveal itself as the issue.
There was a slow internal decline that no one could see from the outside. I continued to get straight As and do all the “right” things. I searched for God continually even though most days I hung my head low.
After college I spent a year and a half doing service in Brazil. The work and people there truly changed my heart, and my drinking habits changed, too.
I thought that my daily routine of prayer and service would fix my problems.
But here’s the thing. Problems like that do not just go away. It was waiting for me when I got back.
When I moved back, I got a job in New York and slowly the drinking crept back in. I would only have a few beers after work — I deserved it, I thought, and everyone does that. On the weekends I would meet up with friends and the bars stayed open until 4 a.m., which didn’t help my inability to stop drinking on my own. My life revolved around drinking.
From the outside, no one would have known. I was a functioning member of society and was only 25, so it was normal to go out on the weekends.
One Lent, I decided I would go to daily Mass, which led to me going to regular confession. As I cried to this priest, he asked me if I had a spiritual director.
“No,” I said, “but I’ve been wanting one.” We made an appointment the next week.
He said that it appeared that all of my problems started with the same thing — drinking — and suggested that was the real issue. I refuted the claim and said there was no way that I could have any kind of social life if I didn’t drink. We continued meeting, and I continued crying.
I told myself, there was no way that I was an alcoholic because I didn’t get drunk every day — I simply drank too much on the weekends and did things I wouldn’t do had I not been drinking.
Six months later, after another night of drinking too much, I went on a hike with a friend of mine who was choosing to live in sobriety. Through our conversation, it dawned on me that I, too, was likely an alcoholic, and there was hope for me.
The next day, I had my last drink — half of a mimosa.
Last month, I had my fourth birthday, as we call it out here in California.
Four years of a social life without alcohol. Four years of dealing with the ups and downs of life without alcohol. Four years of figuring out how to have a healthy relationship without alcohol. Four years of growing my own business without alcohol.
What a gift I have been given: and a road of difficult and beautiful work. Not drinking is one thing, but staying sober is another.
Many people say that alcoholism is a symptom — and some approach recovery from alcoholism through spiritual, psychological, and physical means.
I first had to acknowledge that I was powerless over alcohol and required a Higher Power to restore me to sanity. Unlike many of my friends in the 12-step program, I didn’t have a negative experience of God prior to getting sober. However, my experience of God has grown deeper and deeper because of the program. I am entirely reliant on God’s will for my life.
I started to think of it in terms of a medical doctor. I can go to my family practitioner for my basic needs — the same things that every other person goes for. Colds, strep throat, yearly exams. But once my doctor sees that there is something wrong with a particular part of my body, he sends me to a specialist. For my eyes, I go to the optometrist; for my hip, I go to the orthopedic specialist. So it would only make sense that I can go to my regular parish for my regular spiritual needs.
But once I had a particular issue, in my case, alcohol, I had to seek help at AA through the Twelve Steps, which are spiritual in nature.
Staying sober is a daily practice for me. It requires me to connect with God, to give up control over my life, and check in to see where my character defects are flaring. It requires me to make amends wherever and whenever possible and to show up to my life. It has given me so much freedom and happiness that I didn’t know existed and, as they say, a new lease on life.