It's hard to know how to begin this. How can I encapsulate a quarter-century of pain, suffering, loss, humiliation, shame, irreparably damaged relationships, and squandered opportunities? Maybe I don't have to. Maybe you can feel the sadness that drips from these words, even as I type them. Maybe you will understand when I tell you that I woke up one day and found myself staring at a twenty-five year hole in my life. A hole that should have been a space filled with love, joy, peace, and accomplishment, all of the things that I told myself were my goals, and I looked and saw nothing. Worse than nothing, I saw the pain and suffering of both myself and the people I'd loved. I saw the blank, empty, loneliness of a hole that, once dug, could never be filled again. The damage was done. Maybe you can understand how hopeless such a realization can make a person feel. Add to this the idea that, as I looked forward and tried to imagine the rest of my life, I could see nothing but more of the same.
That was where I found myself at the age of 46. Drinking every day, just to (please), NOT FEEL SICK. I had reached a point where, if I didn't have a drink within an eight-hour period, I would shake so badly that I could barely hold a pen to write my name. I was, quite literally, losing the ability to even identify myself. I was deathly afraid of losing my job, my home, and quite likely my life. And, even after twenty-five years, I still couldn't figure out how I'd gotten to this point. Several stints in the hospital for alcohol-related illness, well-intentioned visits to rehab, and many attempts at group “step programs” had brought me no closer to figuring out a solution to my problem. And now, finally, it was going to ruin my life once and for all.
I guess this is where we will say I found a “moment of clarity”. Standing still in that one precarious spot, smack between disaster and total failure, I finally had an idea. Perhaps (quite obviously, since nothing had seemed to work) I had been doing it wrong. Perhaps what seemed to work so well for others wouldn't work for me. Perhaps I had been seeking the wrong answer all along. What I really wanted hadn't been to stop drinking, but somehow to go back to the way things were. To get back to that time in life when drinking was fun, when there were no consequences, when I could drink as I wished and not fuck everything up. Once again, I looked back at that twenty-five year hole in my life, and realized – that place did not exist anymore. My drinking had a “scorched-earth” policy. There was no “then” to go back to. If I was to do this at all, it had to be ALL. Or nothing.
With this new idea in place, I was faced with certain decisions. I had reached a point where quitting cold turkey was just not medically possible. I would almost certainly die. I could check myself into rehab, again, have myself detoxed by someone else, pain free, and be pushed through a system that I didn't agree with, having someone else pull my strings and make all my decisions for me. I could do that, and I would come out dry on the other side, but did I think that would work? I decided no. This time, if I wanted things to be different, I would do things differently. I decided, against all common sense and advice, to go out the same way I came in. I wanted to experience all of the pain and upset of withdrawal. I wanted to feel, in excruciating detail, everything associated with freeing myself from the prison that I had built. What happens next is NOT something I can, in good conscience, recommend that anyone else try. Ever. It is not medically advisable, and just because I made it through (I've always been a lucky SOB) is no guarantee that someone else would have the same results.
For two weeks, I set myself to the task of detox. I drank vodka from a clear measuring cup, one or two ounces at a time, gradually reducing my intake every day. Every day, I documented my experience. I kept a journal of how I felt, when I drank, how much I drank, and, more importantly, HOW BADLY I WANTED TO STOP. I did research every night while I sweated it out. I wanted to learn how others coped with quitting. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about this enemy I faced. I was determined to arm myself to the teeth for this battle. I went from a liter of 100 proof per night to two ounces of 80 proof on my last night in two weeks. And then, I stopped.
It seems anti-climactic, I know, but it's not that simple (is anything, ever, really?) You see, I didn't just STOP drinking, I STARTED doing. I started writing. About everything. Writing about the way I felt, the way I used to feel, the things I did, and the things I wanted to do. I started doing the things I wanted to do. I went places that I never could have gone, put myself in uncomfortable situations to see if I could grow and change. I kept (and keep) my eyes forward, and my head up.
I focus on the beauty and joy in life, and I am intent on fostering new and beautiful relationships with like-minded people. I have turned my attention to the old relationships I had, and if they can be nurtured back to health, that is what I do. These relationships are a constant source of strength, and these people are an inspiration to me. I have found that, by keeping my focus outside of myself, but still maintaining a discerning eye on “me”, I have silenced the voices that were hastening my death. For now.
I am a new person, filled with hope, and I feel like I have reclaimed my power. I start school shortly, and I have never been more full of joy and anticipation than I am right now.
This fight will never be over for me. I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will look in the mirror every morning for the rest of my life and steel myself for battle. This is why I keep the journals. This is why I write. Why I document. This is why I write this now. Every syllable serves as a constant reminder that there is no “then” to go back to. It calls to mind the strength and reserve that it took to start this fight, and it helps me to banish the shame. It helps me to keep both my head, and my guard, up. I choose to fight for my life, and it is a fight I intend to win.
My name is Tom Doland. I am not ashamed. I am not alone.
I AM NOT ANONYMOUS.