Two years sober: Out from behind the eight ball

By TonyCastleberry 06/06/18

A few days before Christmas last year, I was shooting pool in an Asheville bar with my best friend Brian.

Despite my superior shot-making ability that night, I handed Brian easy victories by scratching on the eight ball to end three consecutive games. To say I was unhappy about this is a massive understatement.

I had just wasted three excellent chances to beat Brian in our healthy, but decades-long competition on pool tables, basketball courts, golf courses, dart boards and other sporty places.

In years past, ordering another beer would have no doubt diverted and diluted the rage inside me, but I was approaching 18 months of sobriety and didn’t want to let giving away three games of billiards derail that.

On that chilly December night in the mountains, Brian was drinking Old Crow and Coca-Cola. I was drinking just Coke. Our beverages were being served in identical pint glasses.

You probably see where this is headed.

When Brian visited the restroom in between games, I absentmindedly picked up the glass I thought was mine and took a swig.

The glass was not mine and as soon as the cold bourbon and soda hit my tongue, I felt an instant charge in my brain and body. If anybody had been touching me at that moment, I’m convinced they would have felt an honest to God electric shock coming off of me.

Hair on my arms, legs and scalp stiffened. I became wide-eyed and my heart raced, proof that on a chemical level — not to mention an emotional one — alcohol’s grip on me had not loosened.

After quickly returning Brian’s drink to where I found it, I asked myself: Should I tell Brian what happened? Should I tell anyone? Do I have to start over at Sober Day 1 and most importantly, do I want to stay sober?

Deep down, I didn’t, and don’t, want to be alcohol-free. Those few seconds after accidentally sipping Brian’s drink proved how much of a rush I could still get from even a tiny amount of booze.

Oh, to be able to live in that small window, the place where so many people can have just one beer or sip a Crown and Coke for an hour. That sounds ideal.

But since I had my first drink at age 13, it was never really about enjoying alcohol, at least not as an end game. My goal, always, was to get wasted, as drunk as possible, preferably to the point of blacking out, which is exactly what I was doing for a majority of my 20s, almost all of my 30s and on into my 40th, 41st and 42nd years on this planet.

It’s true I enjoyed that taste of Brian’s drink.

Just as fundamentally true is the fact that I have to avoid drinking if I want to live and with the benefit of a mind no longer clouded by dangerous amounts of alcohol, I see clearly why this oft-quoted sobriety slogan resonates with me:

“One is too many and 1,000 is never enough.”

When Brian returned to the pool table, I told him right away what I’d done and like always, he was supportive, telling me he believed me when I said it was an accident — which it was — and that there was no need to hit the reset button on my sober clock.

So it keeps on ticking and today, I’m two years sober.

Brian and I will probably return to that Asheville bar for more games of pool. I might even scratch on the eight ball again, but no matter how my pool game is going, I'm definitely gonna ask for a Coke in a styrofoam cup.

Email Tony at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tonycastleberry

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