25 days, 25 years


25 years ago I was a Petty Officer in the US Navy.  One of the reasons that I joined the navy was to get some things out of my system before going to college.  I already knew at the time that I would not be able to stay focused enough on school to make anything out of it.  Graduating from high school I was already binge drinking most weekends and smoking pot as often as I could.  I knew that I had to get out of town in order to give myself a chance.  There’s no water in the northern rockies where I grew up, so the navy seemed a pretty good bet.

In March of 1990 I had just returned from one of the defining experiences of my life.  I had circumnavigated the world aboard an aircraft carrier. Leaving from Alameda, CA and returning to Norfolk, VA.  It took 6 months. We visited many of the most iconic ports of call in sailing lore; Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Pattaya Beach, Singapore, Rio, St. Thomas.  And I got absolutely, hilariously, stupidly, blind drunk in all of them.  And I remember very little.

Every time we pulled anchor and returned to sea I woke up in my rack feeling awful.  Poisoned.  Polluted. Lonely. Desperate.  I would connect with my friends and we would recount the “good” times.  The close calls.  Put together the missing details.  Sober up.  Get back to work and look forward to the next stop. I had a problem.  I knew it.  All my friends seemed to have the same problem, I told myself I was just doing what sailors do.

I could tell tales of drunken escapades prior to this and many, many since.  The point of this is to say that twenty five long years ago I knew I had a problem and it has now been twenty five days that I’ve been trying to do something about it.

Would that I had been able to stop back then.

If I had, then I wouldn’t have had to stop all those times that I’ve stopped between then and now. This morning I was talking to my wife, saying that the last time I quit (about two years ago) I felt better than I do now.  I had relaxed more and was less anxious about things like kids having friends over and being in social situations.  I think that part of what is  going on is an awareness that this time is necessarily different because I went through it last time, and failed.  I hope to be able to prevent my alcoholic mind from telling me everything is fine.  I mean that’s the rub, right?  I sober up and forget how I felt that morning after.  How embarrassed I was.  How much I hurt someone I care about or scared someone I don’t even know.

I don’t want to be  embarrassed anymore.  I don’t want to be mean and intolerant of my kids and my wife.  I want to be more reliable and engaged at work.  I don’t want to be scared for my health – when’s my liver going to turn to mashed potatoes? I want to feel healthy of mind and body.  If I get through today, It’ll be 26 and tomorrow will be a new, clear headed day with lots to look forward to and no regrets.



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