One Year Sober for the Second Time

By Matthew Harrison

Sunday July 28th, 2019


Two stars are drawn on my calendar under today’s date. One of them is because today is my mother’s birthday. So, happy birthday, mom. The other is there because today marks one year since I’ve quit drinking alcohol. This is the second time I’ve hit the mark of a sober year. I’d quit drinking for 14 or so months, beginning in May of 2016 when I was 21. This is a brief story of why I quit the second time and why I’ll never drink again.

When I decided to give a second chance to my consumption of alcohol, I loved the relaxation of being out with friends and having a couple beers. I was excited and optimistic at the idea of flexing my self control and becoming a normal drinker. It was sometime in the summer of 2017 when I first began having a beer here and there, maybe even two on a wild night. To drink two beer in a night and choose to stop was something I’d done only a few times before and I was surprised by how nice it was to use moderation.

It was late November of that same year I drank in excess for the first time since reintroducing myself to alcohol. Pressure from school and work had mounted and I wanted to forget it all. I offered to go buy Starbucks for myself and the girl I was seeing at the time. I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels before grabbing the two coffees. I cracked the seal on the way home, splashing whiskey on my fingers as I topped up my coffee in a snowy back lane under the golden glow of a streetlamp. I remember sipping the coffee and feeling that old familiar punch.

When I got back to the apartment, I went for a shower while she went to do laundry. I chugged the bottle as fast as I could, leaving all but a few sips at the bottom. After that first sip of it in the coffee, it tasted like bitter nothing. I leaned my head back and the whiskey felt warm and weightless as I drank it.

When she came back, I fessed to what I had done, and we talked it through. I don’t recall now how long after this I drank again, but I didn’t see this as a definitive sign of my lack of self control. I saw it as a singular mistake, one that could be avoided with practiced caution.

I carried on drinking in social situations. Every now and again I’d get myself some beer to have while I watched a Jets game. It was a few months after that first incident that I came on hard times again. It’s not worth getting into what it was over, but my reaction, my first response, was to walk 25 minutes to the Liquor Mart and buy a 26-ounce bottle of Captain Morgan.

It was around noon when I left my house. As I got closer, my anxiety grew. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t care enough to stop. The thought of buying a bottle had crossed my mind and that’s all I needed in order to do it. When I was a block away, I thought about turning back. Instead, I kept walking. I bought the bottle, bought a slushie at the gas station next door, and headed home. I took a back path skirted by houses on one side and an empty field on the other. I took gentle swigs from the bottle before filling my slushie up with rum and continuing home.

I spent the rest of that day drinking rum in my bedroom, listening to music. The room spun and swirled until I opened my eyes, staring into the darkness between the ceiling and myself. The room was quiet, painfully and awfully quiet. I find that whenever the night, or in this case the day, ends with a drunken tailspin, the silence of waking up is haunting. It never seems real when my eyes first open. How can a room that witnessed such lonesome madness be so calm, so still?

I checked the time and it was 1:45am. The beer vendor would be open until 2:30, which worked out just fine because it’s a half hour walk to get there. I bought a 15 pack of beer and stayed up until 9 in the morning to drink all 15.

Those two days took place somewhere in the Spring, and between then and July, I’d carried on drinking. When I’d drink with others, I’d start slow, but would always get myself to a good buzz that would last me a few hours after getting home. There were a few nights I’d buy a 26-ounce bottle with the real intentions of having a couple drinks. Every one of these nights ended with another empty bottle. One of these nights had me up until 5:45 with a 6:00am alarm set to get ready for work. I wrote a piece that night [which can be found HERE], and it reads like pages torn from the Diary of a Madman.

When I drank socially, it was my excuse to unwind. When I brought beer home, I would promise to only have a few and then I’d clean out the box. One day, I drank a half a case of beer in the middle of the day as a direct response to a moment of peak stress. None of this was indication enough that I had fallen into old habits. None of this indicated to me that I had only momentarily quit drinking, but I had not quit being an alcoholic.

The final straw came at the conclusion of the previously mentioned relationship. I stayed in the apartment we rented for three weeks after we had broken up, unsure of where to go and unwilling to think about the next steps that had to be taken. I came home from work one Monday afternoon, put down my things, and crossed the street to the bar. I bought a case of beer and came home. I spent that night drinking, and when I woke up, I walked to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s. I drank that whole day and when that bottle was empty, I went back to the bar and bought another case. At some point in those days I quit my job. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered. Days and nights danced around me as I stayed in the living room which had become my whole world.

 I remember when I woke up for the last time. I was laying on my back on the floor. My hair was slicked back with spit and there was a crust of vomit on the neck of my shirt. Empty bottles and bottle caps surrounded me. I wore the same clothes I wore to work Monday. I checked my phone and learned it was 3:30am on Thursday.

I turned the light on and sat on the couch, looking about the room. I sent a text message to my brother, saying I was going to need help moving in the next couple days. A box of beer to my left had 9 full bottles left. I knew I was done. This was the proof I needed of the darkness that overcomes me when I drink. By the time the sun rose, those last 9 bottles were empty, and I haven’t touched one since.

A year from that point seems like a very long time, but it’s nothing at all. One day I’ll hit the five-year point, then 10 years, and so on. I made another choice just 27 days ago to quit cigarettes, marijuana, and substances of a psychedelic nature. What I’ve found in those 27 days is a definite resurgence of my anxiety and depression. It feels like a reminder of why substance abuse was ever so appealing in the first place. But I’m not worried, and I’m not afraid. Every day brings about a new challenge, and my greatest asset is my sober mind.

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