As readers and friends should know, I live with a beast — a ravaging monster called booze.
I’m a recovering alcoholic — sober for 21 years, six months and 23 days (as of Friday, January 29, 2015). But the beast still lives in my life and tempts me — one day at a time. It controlled my life for 35 years before I took the first step towards sobriety on June 6, 1994 — the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. I have held the beast at bay since then but it waits, and bets, that I will lapse. It knows the odds are on its side.
When you drink as I did for three-and-a-half decades, you hurt a lot of people and a major part of my recovery had been trying to contact each of those I harmed and attempt to make amends for my often disgusting actions.
Many have thanked me. Some, of course, have not. Others choose to ignore my calls, emails or letters. The pain of reliving part of a past that involved me is too great. I understand. Some, I have found sadly, are no longer alive.
One lady I wrote a letter to a decade ago responded by email just recently and said she has been trying to find a way to deal with the sordid part of her life that included me.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “Our relationship was very personal. You were an intimate part of my life and the end result still hurts emotionally. I was a mental wreck after our affair.”
I understood. I explained that the intimate times we spent together were driven by a real attraction on my part but that my drinking too often got in the way. We talked several times on the phone. After our conversations, she offered forgiveness.
“I am not seeking forgiveness,” I said. “I acknowledge what I was, what I am and what I did to you. I want you to know and understand that I am forever sorry.”
We said our goodbyes and she said she felt better. I hope so. I did.
I started drinking at 15. It was my way to try to overcome an inbred shyness and a feeling of being “out of place” in a family where my last name was different from my brothers and sisters or my parents.
I was drunk more than once while in class at Floyd County High School. I was drunk on dates or at events. I felt “older” and “more like a man” with alcohol in my system.
I drank even more after I began working for The Roanoke Times after graduation from Floyd County High School at 17.
As a reporter, even one of 17, the waitresses at the bar at the Ponce de Leon Hotel across the street from the newspaper office assumed I was of legal age and served me beer. Drinking and doing so to excess was a right of passage for a newspaperman.
I was drunk when I wrote a story that a First Place Feature Writing award from the Virginia Press Association — a piece about a young woman illegally sought and obtained an abortion, not permitted by law at that time. Some of my colleagues considered me someone who functioned “more creatively” when I drank, I thought of myself as a “functioning drunk.”
When liquor by the drink passed as a local option in Virginia, I bought my first scotch & water at Hotel Roanoke. At 19, I still wasn’t old enough to drink legally.
The drinking continued when I moved to Illinois to another newspaper job where my drinking contributed to building a wild reputation as a hell-raising columnist. One night, a lady friend and I drove from a night of drinking at a private club bar in St. Louis to my home across the the Mississippi River with the top down in a Triumph TR-6 in freezing weather. We remain friends to this day but never discuss that night or all that happened.
After meeting Amy and marrying her in 1977, we moved on to Washington where I worked on Capitol Hill, as a political operative, a communications consultant and, finally, back to journalism.
In Washington, life revolves around cocktail parties, receptions and long evenings in places like the Capitol Hill Club, Bullfeathers bar and other bars.
Amy worried about my drinking and joined Al-anon, an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous to help those who were involved with drunks like me.
Finally, after a long drunken evening on June 5, 1994, I blacked out and took the first step at an AA meeting at a Lutheran Church on North Fairfax Drive in Arlington the next night.
Many years later, I learned that Amy and friends had arranged an “intervention” that brought on that blackout. She had tried other ways to get me to stop drinking but none worked. She was ready to leave me when she and others concocted a plan where leaving me with no memory from a drunken night would force me to face my problem with a bottle. It was the last gasp by a loving wife to save or marriage and it was, thankfully, a successful way, to reach a “control freak.”
I haven’t had a drink since but still went through periods of being a “dry drunk” where I exhibited the destructive behaviors of someone still drinking, even though I was medically sober.
The recovery has been long and hard but has also been rewarding and gives me a better prospective on life.
It is, however, a life where I must — and will — continue to make amends for what I have done and — sadly — will continue to do because of human failures and weaknesses.
I was, and remain today, a strong-willed man driven by obsessions and passions for my life and my work. I must deal — one day at a time — with anger management, an assumption of perceived correctness and a judgmental personality.
Am I good man? Hell, no! I have weaknesses, biases and failures like most human beings. I hope and pray that I am a better person today than I was as a lifelong drunk.
I have done things in my life that bring vivid memories of shame. I have lied, I have cut too many corners and I have taken too many liberties with too many people whose only failure was placing their trust in me.
I hurt too many people and let my ego get in the way far too often.
I hope I have done a few good things during my time on this earth. That will be judged at some point by someone much smarter than me. I still owe many apologies, explanations and amends to so many that have suffered because of their acquaintances with me over the years.
I will try, as hard as I can, to make those amends in whatever time I have left on this earth. The list of those hurt and violated is still long and far from complete.
All I can do is keep trying…one day at a time.