By Bill Danskin
The Holiday season is a time of year that produces a wide-ranging set of emotions and behavior from people. It is a time of happiness and giving…but it is also a time where people experience isolation and reflect bitterly on their lives and their current reality. For many it can be a compression of emotions felt throughout the year, both good and bad. For me, it is a time of intensity and a test of strength. It is a time when I search for answers and take inventory of my life and reflect hard on my sense of self and wellbeing.
In my life it is a crucible of critical importance. It boils down to one thing for me that is crystalized during the holiday season. I am an alcoholic.
There are 17 million alcoholics in the United States, 11 million men and 6 million women. 88,000 people die from alcohol related deaths each year, making it the 3rd most common preventable cause of death in the US. 10% of children in this country have at least 1 alcoholic parent. There are 60, 000 chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous with 1.3 million members. Suffice it to say it is a problem of massive proportion and one that has a devastating effect on families and individual users.
However, while these statistics are meaningful and enlightening, the issue of alcoholism comes down to the struggles of one person at a time and the roads that they choose to take. For what its worth, here are the salient points in my own story:
I drank form the time I was 13 and quit drinking at age 37 (solely because I wanted to be a better father to my kids). I stopped for 16 years until I was 53. I did not have a drop in my 40s.
For reasons that I won’t go into here (and that I’m still not sure I understand) I started drinking again in 2006. I drank in rapidly increasing quantities for 5 years.
During that period, I experienced an escalating intensity of my addiction that resulted literally in a life or death choice. I reached a point that needed a drink every 20 minutes for maintenance and at night I was afraid to go to sleep in the fear that I would not wake up.
I considered suicide and was taken by police to a mental health hospital ward for support and treatment.
In 2011, I went to 3 rehab facilities – 2 for detox and 1 a month long stay. I was in and out of hospitals that year for a variety of alcohol related illnesses.
It was the most difficult year of my life and one where I faced the most basic question that one can have. Do I want to live or do I want to die? I chose to live.
On December 23, 2014 I will have been clean for 3 years. While I am not a devotee of AA, many people are and I can attribute my own ongoing recovery to an acceptance of the 1st of the 12 step program. I admitted to myself and internalized the belief that I am powerless over alcohol. I simply can’t drink again. I know that I can’t control it. It came very close to killing me and I won’t let that happen. No way.
It is a familiar story, I know, but I feel compelled to tell it and share with anyone who might have a similar problem. There is a happy ending. I want to let the reader know that there is a way back from certain oblivion. Back to a world where friends and family exist, where isolation and solitude are not the obligatory norm, and where the human spirit can rejuvenate and heal itself like a self -diagnosing and wonderful machine. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens each day as I crawl through the problems of life and endure, even triumph, occasionally.
In my own life, I still hear the ice hit the glasses. I still can feel the warmth and security that comes with the 1st and 2nd drink. I can taste the cigarette that comes between them. But I can also feel the sickness, the vomiting, the uncontrollable shaking that comes from an insatiable appetite for alcohol.
So as the holiday season unfolds, I reflect as always. I scrutinize my place and attitude toward life. But my life is not what it used to be. I am living, thriving and feeling a happiness I have not felt in many, many years. Like all of us, I have traveled a long road but I have escaped the abrupt dead end and have now entered a new, and better highway.
It’s not just that I stopped drinking. I am over that. Its is that I have found a new way to live; a way forward where I see myself as part of the world rather than doing everything I can to shut it out.
For that I will be eternally grateful. Happy Holidays everyone!