During my drinking career I knew that my mind had a terribly hard time recalling past alcoholic episodes. My mind would always tell me that I could take that first drink. But it never remembered the countless drinks I had to have after the first. It never remembered the hell to pay the next morning. It never remembered the horrible fight with my wife, who wanted to leave the bar hours before, but I didn't.
In the depths of a bender, or in my suffering the morning after, it was always easy to remember. Racked with guilt and shame, the morning after a binge my mind would flood with memories of terrbile things that had happened the night before, or in previous drunks.
"Remember how this feels," I would tell myself.
Despite my best attempts to mentally catalog my episodes, it never worked. Once I sobered up and recovered from my hangover, no matter how brutal, my mind would always reset. When the next drink beckoned, my mind could never sufficiently recall past guilt, shame, and despair. The next drink was all that mattered.
Now in recovery, I've learned I simply cannot trust what goes on between my ears. My thoughts and feelings have proven to be the most unreliable resources I have. I can no longer rely on them to guide my path.
When I entered recovery I had no path. I was lost and desperate. I was headed down, and in a hurry. But I saw other fellow alcoholics in recovery who seemed headed in the right direction. So with pride fully deflated, I sought their help and followed their lead. Small step after small step, following the process they suggested, my obsession to drink began to dissipate. I didn't understand exactly how. I racked my brain. It didn't make sense in my mind.
But soon I realized that how I had come to find this path didn't really matter. I was sober for crying out loud! Who cares! I was beginning to see colors and light again. For the first time in the longest time I was headed in the right direction. I had ahold of something by the tail that I could follow.
I had learned to trust in something that I couldn't see, touch, feel, or explain. I didn't know it at the time, but the first seeds of a new faith had been planted. I no longer had to follow the deceptive thoughts and feelings in my mind. The astonishing results of this process earned my fidelity and trust. I was headed down a new path, one of recovery and hope.
Driving to work this morning, I passed a certain stretch of interstate and had a flashback to a darker time. I experience these flashbacks frequently. Sometimes it’s something I see, sometimes it’s something I smell or taste or hear. Certain triggers will force memories from darker days to well up vivid reminders of when my life was desperate and caving in. I’ve passed this particular exit a million times since getting sober, but for whatever reason today it struck a chord and sent me back.
I was late for work again but that was the least of my problems. I was just hoping to make it to work without vomiting in my car while keeping up with hectic morning traffic. I couldn’t stomach any breakfast that morning so there was no buffer between the leftover Jagermeister from the night before and my stomach.
Just don’t throw up. Almost there.
I’d made this drive to work hungover a million times. But I remember this hangover as especially debilitating. For the majority of my drinking career my hangovers were simply varying degrees of nausea and dizziness. But now they were progressing from what used to feel like mild sea-sickness to severe abdominal cramping where my stomach felt aflame. I worried these cramps might be a sign of something serious. Enough so, to even go see a doctor about them. But of course, in typical alcoholic fashion I lied about how much I was really drinking. So his diagnosis was useless.
To make matters worse as I took the exit I decided to light a cigarette. I always had an insatiable craving for two things the morning after a bender, cold beer and cigarettes. The problem is, even though lighting a cigarette while brutally hungover will give you a hell of a head rush, it also sends you plummeting into even worse nausea and dizziness after about the third drag.
I was now even more hammered. My eyes were glazed over. All I could smell or taste was ash and Jaegermeister. I could barely see out of my nickle slotted eyes. I was in no shape to go to work. Hell, I was in no shape to even be driving, and it was only 8:00am.
I wonder why more people don’t get DUIs in the morning? That’s when I drive drunk.
To be “safe” I would walk home from the bar at night only to drive to work four hours later. It made perfect sense to me.
I contemplated pulling over to throw up, but opted to try and tough it out.
Only a few miles to go.
As I turned down the off ramp in a brief glimpse of clarity, I knew I was screwed. I knew I was an alcoholic holding on to the last threads of functionality.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to stop.
When I see this exit now I am reminded it is a sign of my past. It’s a sign of the times when I was miserable, hopeless and lost. It was an exit to nowhere. I could have gotten off any time I wanted. But I chose not to.
Thankfully, God intervened with a detour to redirect me.
Today, this exit means something completely different. It’s an exit that directs me to my daughter after a long day at work. It’s an exit I take while enjoying the sun coming up with my morning coffee. I know now when I take this exit I am on the right path; A path towards joy, fulfillment and hope. This exit is no longer a sign pointing towards the abyss. This exit is a sign pointing towards the path God has mapped out for me; A road of recovery and healing that I now travel with my beautiful wife and daughter.