Monday, August 31, 2009

A Year Later: Still No Meetings

The day before my first anniversary of calling it a day with drinking, I came across this wonderful essay from Roger Ebert. Since I hadn't read this article from a few years back, I really had no idea. However, hindsight makes it clear that he's always had a great deal of insight to alcoholism with reviews and essays such as these.

On August 29, 2008, I decided to stop drinking for 30 days. I haven't had a drink since. I don't plan to have one today or tomorrow.

I don't go to meetings. I have nothing against them, but I've never felt the need to go. Seriously, no commentary on A.A. should be inferred here. The temptation to go back to drinking isn't there, and hasn't been there for a year and counting. If and when temptation hits me (and honestly, I don't really expect it to), I'll attend meetings. But for now, they haven't, so I don't.

Those of you expecting a commentary on A.A. will be disappointed. I have no experience with the group, and therefore have no insight. Also, those expecting "The Story of James' Problem With Drinking and Road to Recovery" will also be disappointed. I won't be giving you the specific details of my last few months of drinking or offering my reasons for why I decided needed to stop.

I'll give the vague details, many of which all of you no doubt have heard millions of times before: that I would become belligerent and hostile (first verbally and then, eventually, physically), that I would get angry and hurt messages from friends the morning after as a result of my behavior, that I was always the last man standing at the bar, that I would start to get paranoid that the alcohol would be gone abruptly (so I'd "top off" many of my drinks multiple times, getting to the point that my "mixed" drinks would just be straight booze), that I would often sneak away from the rest of my drinking buddies to find another bar so I could continue drinking alone (although the folks in Nosedive didn't know this, many suspected).

Mainly, I'll offer a shorthand summary of my first year without drinking and a handful of reasons why I don't go to meetings.

My main problem has never been that I crave a drink (in the way I crave a cigarette). My main problem has been that once I start drinking, I can't stop. A year later, that hasn't changed. There have been a handful of small bursts of longing, but they're just that: small bursts. A 30 second longing for hitting a bar, then it's gone. Plus, they're very far and very few between (I think I've had about five of those in the past 12 months).

During the first few months of sobriety, I would always worry about challenges down the road. In early-to-mid December, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through Christmas without drinking?" In mid-to-late December, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through New Year's?" In late-February, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through my birthday?"

But the present was never a problem, even when one of those feared holidays became the present. Thus, once the holiday came around, it wouldn't occur to me to drink that day, and I'd realize I had worried needlessly. Despite my theoretical worries on December 15, Christmas was fine (I should also point out that, even while worrying about how/if I was going to get through Christmas without a drink on December 15, it wasn't even occurring to me to drink on December 15). It took me a few months to figure this out. Once I did, I haven't been worrying about how to get through holidays, birthdays or cast parties.

Basically, I haven't needed external verbal reminders (read: the "drunkalogues" that Ebert talks about) of why I shouldn't drink. Hell, I get many external reminders all the time (going to bars, which yes, I still do, often serves as a great "booster shot"). This isn't bragging: this is just how my mind works (see the above paragraph). I like going to bars with friends. It doesn't feel weird to only order pineapple juice. I like knowing that the bulk of my paycheck won't be wiped out that night. I like that I don't have to worry about the evening turning nasty (from my end, anyways).

Was it a problem getting support from the folks in Nosedive Central? Of course not. I told them that I was stopping drinking for the next 30 days, but would probably be putting drinking on indefinite hiatus. They knew I was serious, and that I'd stick with it (they've known me a while). They were there for me. Plus, I'm sure they felt more than a little relieved that a.) there wasn't going to be a Jimmy to have to clean up at the end of the party and b.) they wouldn't have to stage an intervention. And finally, if there was a problem, then that meant they obviously weren't — and hadn't been — my friends.

They were relieved that they didn't have to worry about me anymore: worry if I was going to be belligerent, worry if I was going to unleash my typical brand of verbal venom, worry if I was going to get home in one piece.

Honestly, I was incredibly hesitant to write something like this. Not that I'm reluctant to admit to readers that I've stopped drinking, since it isn't a secret. I've already mentioned my abstaining of alcohol on this site before, and virtually everyone who interacts with me personally knows this. It's not news. No. My hesitance comes from not wanting to "jinx" my sobriety. So far, giving myself the constant out (I had agreed to try sobriety for 30 days a year ago) is, in a way, one of the things that make refraining from drinking no big deal for me.

Will I ever go back to it? Probably not. But being able offer the answer of, "Perhaps, someday," to others and myself makes getting through the day, week, month and year effortless. Perhaps I just worry that saying "I'll never drink again" will bring all the imps, demons and fates running into my world and use all their powers to trip me up.

(My father actually used a similar method for quitting smoking: when he quit, he told himself — and others — that he'd go back to quitting when he turns 70.)

In reality, the notion of being afraid that admitting to my alcoholism (which I have) will cause me to resume drinking is silly. For the most part, it has been effortless. There were vague pangs of doubt and anxiety, but they've always been theoretical and for options of drinking in the future. In the present, I never feel compelled to have a drink. I don't miss drinking. I don't miss waking up hung over, wondering where all my money went, and worrying about which bridge I may have burned the night before. I'd like to continue not drinking.

However, the hesitation to go public with this persists. Just as Ebert explains: "people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference." Well put.

Still, I think I'll be okay. If that changes, I'll start attending meetings.

We'll discuss prospects of my quitting smoking at a later date.

Able to start anytime,

James "Day At A Time" Comtois



Anonymous Stephen said...

It was brave of you to post this. And it was interesting to read your experience with this. I understand a lot of what you are going through, and I congratulate you on staying sober.

If you ever need someone to not-drink with, give me a call.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

Congratulations, Jim.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Thanks, guys!

2:14 PM  
Blogger Starlet O'Hara said...


i'd like to point out that my word verification is: repents

5:10 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

How awesome.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Stephen Kelsey said...

I was one of the many that held great concern about your excessive drinking. I am very relieved with the positive change you have made in your life. My mother once told me that she realized she had a problem when she noticed that after returning from lunch every day that she was unable to successfully use her typewriter. So, she got a job that didn't require any typing after lunch. She has since been banned from all of the bars within walking distance to her home for repeated abusive behavior.
--Stephen Kelsey

7:42 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Thanks, Steve! Yeah, I realized that just trying to adjust my life around drinking like that would be a horrible decision, and just make my world close in on itself.

I was (am) very fortunate that I'm someone who, as I wrote, actually doesn't crave drinking so much as I pretty much don't stop once I start.

Reminding myself of that really makes it easy: I pretty much tell myself, "You passed your 30-day test 11 months ago, so you technically can have a drink, but there's a 99.9% chance you're going to regret it and be too wracked with anxiety to enjoy yourself even before you get drunk, anyway. So, why bother?" And so far, that does the trick.

10:54 PM  
Blogger macrogers said...

You know, I hadn't known that about Ebert either, but had always noticed that he seemed to write about addiction with a special passion and eloquence.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Yeah, he's definitely tended to show a soft spot for films that treat addiction seriously and accurately, while showing contempt for films that are either crass about the subject or reveal a total ignorance about it.

8:04 AM  
Blogger jengordonthomas said...

what i love about this post, besides the bravery of self-revelation, is the point about future worrying, and the realization of being fine in the present. future worrying i.e. "what if" is something everyone does, and yet it's one of the most self-destructive habits. here's to being in the present.

1:23 PM  
Blogger joshcon80 said...


You know, I recently got sober as well and several people said, "oh... you should talk to James." It's been a slow "coming out" process for me, so I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to ask you about your experience.

I actually quit drinking in the program. It was really helpful (except for all the fucking god stuff) during the first few month. Now I've got about five months and I don't go as often.

I was the EXACT same kind of drinker as you. I isolated too, and couldn't stop once I started. It's incredible how much better my life is now that I'm a teetoler.

Congrats on your year. Keep on keeping on!

4:54 PM  
Blogger joshcon80 said...

By the way, if you ever DO decide to go to a meeting, the giant rock star filled hipster meeting in our hood is not to be missed.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Boo said...

James, you're so awesome for posting this.
I did not know. I'm very moved by this post. As you know I'm dedicating my life to helping people be healthier and especially the theatre...
I helped a friend who recently hit bottom with alcoholism and it was and is still hard.
Alcohol killed my mother.
I'm pleased that you are one of the people alcohol won't take.

One day at a time. You got it. :)

5:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.