A Perfect Storm of Sobriety

By Christopher Dale 02/10/15

For me, an auspicious alignment of circumstances set the stage for long-term sobriety.

Christopher Dale

Though I’m not the abject atheist I once was, I don’t see my sobriety as being preordained by a higher power. I didn’t believe in a direct-interventionist deity then and, at three years sober and counting, probably never will.

In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve heard tales of sudden, seemingly mystical conversions in which the obsession to drink was instantly and irrevocably lifted. Though they very well may be true, these stories invoke a passive simplicity with which I cannot identify. And for lack of the hand of God abruptly sweeping away my obsession to drink, my own humble beginning in sobriety was a bit more complicated.

A variety of factors – ones whose timely coexistence are, to me, nearly as miraculous as the perceived direct action of divinity – coalesced to create a situation just hopeless enough for me to finally abandon any notion that I could drink successfully. I didn’t take Step One (admission of alcoholism) praying on my knees, but rather cowering in a corner; I had, through oft-repeated, increasingly egregious actions that mirrored my alcoholism’s progression, completely choked off even the narrowest of passageways through which I could escape with any chance of drinking undetected or unscathed.

I had pulled too many capers, burned too many bridges, lied to too many faces. The jig was up. I had caged myself into a situation where, deservedly so, my every move was hyper-analyzed and every motive deeply suspected.

I now realize that, sometimes, good things come in tight cages. I had to be trapped before the 12 Steps could set me free.

The cage I had constructed for myself consisted of many bars – starting with, ironically enough, actual bars. On October 9, 2011, I sideswiped a taxicab and, rather than stop and take responsibility, thought it would be a really good idea to just keep going. Not surprisingly I was drunk; even less surprisingly, the police caught up with me just a few minutes later. It was the first and only time I have ever been arrested and – a very alcoholic thing to say – it may have been the most auspicious single event of my life.

For some time, the door had been slowly closing on my drinking career; the DUI slammed it shut with an emphatic, metallic clang. The next day, in front of an angry-looking judge and an even angrier-looking wife, my driver’s license was summarily suspended, the first of a lengthy list of ensuing legal penalties that would include community service and thousands of dollars in fines and court fees.

(Side note: If you can manage to get into the life-saving rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous without racking up a DUI – a topic so frequent in AA that many of us just say “D-wee” to save ourselves a syllable – then I highly recommend doing so. Jail cells are cold, monetary fines stiff and, when you finally get your license back, expect a breathalyzer so sensitive that eating a piece of fruit or bread before driving sets it off. Not fun.)

Like many alcoholics, by the end of my drinking career I was strictly an isolationist. Most people in my life knew I was trying to get sober and, even if they didn’t, no one drinks 12 beers in an hour socially. Without a driver’s license, my primary means of isolating – my car – was now unavailable.

Also unavailable was any remaining slack my wife had tentatively extended me during that already-precarious time in our marriage. Another escapade like my impromptu Cruisin’ USA impression, I surmised, would mean a court date involving an entirely different “d” word. I wasn’t prepared to lose my wife to this disease, a credit more to her than me.

She wasn’t prepared to lose me, either. I know this because any potential for my unexcused absence (work, AA meetings and a nearby gym being the only things excused) was eradicated by a level of vigilance only love or fear can fuel… And judging by the tone of her voice, she certainly wasn’t afraid of me.

There were other fortuitous factors. Earlier that year, I somehow managed to land a promising new job despite still struggling mightily with sobriety (I was, I can honestly claim, trying to quit drinking for the entirety of that year leading up to October’s DUI). The company’s office was simply too far to commute back and forth, even with a car, from our current residence. As a temporary measure, my wife and I moved in with my aunt and uncle, who lived just a short drive from my new place of business.

Here, the benefit was far more than proximity to work. My aunt and uncle were well aware of my ongoing battle with alcoholism, and the result was a sort of “rehab light” scenario: my wife, who herself worked long hours, now had reliable, discreet relatives to help keep her woebegone husband at least somewhat under control.

It was simple math: six eyes were better than two. It may sound trivial but, in that preferable environment surrounded by informed loved ones, I was able to put together, for example, three weeks between drinking binges rather than three days. It was a stepping stone along a slow path that may have eventually led to consistent sobriety without the drunk driving arrest and, once the DUI occurred, was a key factor in sustaining my then-fledgling recovery.

By the time, three months into my current run of consecutive sobriety, that my wife and I found a nearby apartment, my aunt and uncle had put up with their alcoholic nephew for more than half a year. Not everyone gets that kind of buffer zone between trying to get sober and actually starting to stay sober, and I’m truly grateful for that.

The final factor was… well… me.

In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I hear far too many people give themselves absolutely zero credit for their own recovery. This is at best silly, and at worst disingenuous.

The disconnect here, I believe, is that many alcoholics want to disassociate themselves entirely from the concept of prideful ego which, as most recovering drunks know, is a particularly dangerous trait for alcoholics. However, there is a difference between prideful ego and the respect granted oneself for undertaking a task as challenging as getting sober – whatever the extenuating circumstances. My initial recovery from alcoholism was the most difficult thing I’ve ever accomplished in my entire life, and I don’t think it’s boastful of me to say that I played an active part in it. I did so by being man enough to finally surrender and ask for help.

The DUI didn’t just strip me of my driver’s license, mobility, and marital leeway; it also stripped away the last vestiges of my stubborn insistence to do things my own way. I had been attending meetings, but nothing more. No home group, no sponsor, no stepwork. I wasn’t working The Program, I was working my program – and it didn’t work.

So in the end, despite being abetted by a perfect storm of favorable factors – punctuated by the DUI – I still had to make the call that no weathered captain wants to make: namely, to abandon ship. I was sinking and, as unimpressive or intuitive as it may sound, it was me alone who could relent to receiving the help necessary to avoid drowning.

When I woke up (or, rather, came to) in a jail cell on October 10, 2011, I was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. Circumstances had synchronized just enough for me to make a start in recovery, and I haven’t looked back since.

Christopher Dale is a recovering alcoholic and freelance writer who frequently covers recovery-based issues.  He is the founder and sole contributor to www.ImperfectMessenger.us, a blog which, in addition to topics surrounding sobriety, also discusses politics and social issues.

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Christopher Dale is a recovering alcoholic and freelance writer who frequently covers sobriety, parenting and politics. His work has appeared in Salon, The Daily Beast, New York Newsday and Parents.com, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDaleWriter.