Later today, I will stand up in front of a group of fellow travelers and say:
Hello, my name is Doug and I’m an alcoholic.
It’s been 15 years since my last drink.
Fifteen years: 180 months; 780 weeks; 5,478 days (including three February 29ths on Leap Years); 131,472 hours or 7,888,320 minutes.
Any way you count it, it’s a long time but not as long as the 29 years I spent living under the influence of booze.
I started drinking at 17. Like many people that age, binge drinking became part of the routine. So did waking up with a hangover. I can’t pinpoint the exact date when I crossed the line between recreational drinking and alcoholism but it was sometime in my 20s and I spent at least two decades abusing alcohol and anyone who came into contact with me.
By most clinical definitions, I lived as a functioning alcoholic, managing somehow to make a life and a career that some might envy but I also did a lot of things I’m ashamed of and hurt a lot of people along the way.
When you finally face the beast you sit down and put together a list of those you have wronged and you pledge to make amends to them.
My list is long. I’m still adding to it. Memories are sometimes sketchy during that period and, even after 15 years of sobriety, an incident comes to light and a new name is added.
Some wrongs were committed even after that day on June 6, 1994, when I took the first step to confront the beast. Recovering alcoholics often become "dry drunks," exhibiting the same behavior that marked their days as a drinker. You face the beast but you never escape the demons that it unleashes. You fight them every day, one day at a time.
You face daily challenges to your sobriety: the loss of loved ones, the need to replace one addictive drug with another (my substitute is caffeine), and the constant temptations of life in a society where so may others still depend on their drug or drugs of choice.
But I have my list to keep me busy. I’m about half-way through contacting those I wronged during 20-plus years of drinking. It’s not easy to find some, particularly young women who were part of my freewheeling, and self-destructive, social life in the 70s. Many have married and moved on. I’ve used Google, Classmates.Com and a variety of "people search" web sites to track them down.
I found one recently, living in the Northwest. Classmates.Com gave me her married name and a people search web site provided a phone number. I called and we talked for nearly an hour. Tears streamed down my face when I hung up the phone.
Then I checked another name off the list.
After 15 years, too many unchecked names remain on that list but I will continue to try and reach each and every one: One day at a time.