On this Saturday, June 6, 2020, I met a fellow member of Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor for coffee, and he gave me a 26-year-chip — a bronze coin recognizing 26 full years of sobriety.
My normal AA group is not meeting in person during these days of COVID-19 Coronavirus lockdowns but hopes to resume soon. Otherwise, I would be in a meeting somewhere on this Saturday to announce that “My name is Doug and I’m an alcoholic. It has been 26 years today since my last drink.”
Twenty-six years. That’s a long time but it is not as long as I drank. I had my first drink, a class of moonshine from the still of Floyd County moonshiner Cleophus Sowers at age 5, handed to me by a 26-year-old woman who thought it would steady my nerves for some other activity that would follow.
I drank excessively for 32 years. My alcoholism destroyed friendships, relationships with lovers, job opportunities and much worse. Yet, through most of it, I convinced myself I was a “functioning alcoholic” because of award-winning news stories or acclaimed photographs produced while drunk.
I managed to marry a beautiful, loving actress who stuck with me through the bad times and believed there was a better road ahead.
But I hit bottom and, on the evening of June 6, 1994, with her help, I walked into my first meeting of AA in a church basement not far from our home in Arlington, VA, and sought help. That help has taken me on a long, sometimes difficult, and often winding, road to recovery that will last for the rest of my life.
A few years after starting with AA, I made the decision to break my anonymity and go public about my drinking and recovery effort, in part because doing so helped me deal with what I am, and also hoped that doing so would help others seek the help they so desperately needed.
As part of my recovery, I compiled a list of those I felt were hurt by my drinking and began trying to track them down and try to make amends. The list is long and the job is far from completed but many have thanked and forgiven me, which I had neither requested nor expected but helped more than I can ever say. Some did not wish to relive the experiences with me and I don’t fault them for their feelings. Their hurts were my fault, not theirs.
Alcohol is a drug, drinking leads to addiction and addicts like me must fight the disease one day at a time to stay on the path of recovery. “You don’t own recovery,” says an AA poster. “It’s a rental and the rent is due every day.”
Hopefully, I’m a better man today, but I am not a good one. I’ve done too many bad things to too many people who trusted me and I must accept who am and strive to move on and strive to be better.
I would not be here today without the love of my wife, who stuck with me during my drunkenness and helped set up an incredible intervention with good friends that got my attention. They saved my life and I cannot ever fully repay them for their efforts.
But I will keep trying…one day at a time.