Fifteen Years Ago
Can color have mass and texture?
I believe it can.
Darkness, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to speak with you again, the darkness of despair, the darkness of loneliness and hopelessness and surrender yes, that darkness has weight, pressing down upon the lost, crushing lungs and heart, each breath harder to take than the last.
Just ask anyone on the street. Just ask the abused. Just ask the victims and the morally-bankrupt and the clinically depressed and yes, just ask the addicted. That kind of blackness, that kind of darkness, that complete absence of light will suck the life out of you and leave you limp, empty, unable to even conceive of another time, a time in the future, when light will exist.
I felt the weight of darkness fifteen years ago, laying face-down on a shag carpet in a hotel room in Anchorage, Alaska.
Hello darkness my old friend!
Alcohol had finally won the battle. I was helpless. I saw no exit strategy from the twenty-year battle with booze. The white flag was raised, I surrendered to the darkness, and I waited patiently for the Hounds of Hell to drag my worthless carcass into a cave of their choosing.
It’s impossible to describe to someone who has never been there, for we are all raised with hope as our rallying cry. From early childhood, through the teen years, into early adulthood, the vast majority of people hold out some sliver of hope, some miniscule morsel of belief that things will get better, happier times are right around the corner, just keep moving forward, never give up, happy days will return. But tell that to the crack-addicted, the sexually-exploited, the psychologically-imbalanced, or the perpetually-abused, and they will shake their heads slowly, vacant eyes barely seeing you, tell you no, sorry, you are so very incorrect in your thinking, for there is no hope for those beings, there is no sliver of goodness to grasp like a life-preserver, there is no white knight galloping to their rescue.
There is only darkness of the soul, and so they insert the needle one last time, they return to the abuser one last time, they accept that “suicide by cop” is their only escape, or they embrace a bottle of Vodka, one last time, in a nameless hotel in a cold Alaskan city, and wait for the darkness to become permanent. Was I trying to commit suicide? I don’t think that was a conscious decision. I simply did not care what happened. I saw no reason to continue the fight. I had surrendered.
It should have ended there, for me, that month, November, 2006, and it would have if not for an Olympia friend, concerned, unable to reach me, took it upon himself to drive to the airport in Seattle, catch the next plane to Alaska, track me down at that nameless hotel, and immediately bring me back home. What followed was amazement by doctors that my heart was still beating. What followed was a short stint in detox, followed by a month in a Washington treatment center. What followed was a life-line and a glimmer of much-needed hope.
Ten Years Ago
Listen to the voice of experience and believe in the words: one does not quit drinking and immediately everything becomes better in life. One does not leave an abuser, say goodbye to destructive behaviors, seek and find therapy, or take medications to modify psychological imbalances, and begin experiencing a normal life. It just doesn’t happen that way.
For the first five years of my sobriety, I had to learn how to live without booze. I had to learn how to deal with emotions, deal with truths, make amends, re-visit a thousand times, in my thoughts, my destructive past, and try not to drown in self-incrimination.
I had to learn how to be honest, for my past was a graduate course in covering my tracks and hiding the fact that I was a functioning drunk. I had to learn how to pay bills, learn how to be a trusted employee, and learn how to be someone another human being might one day love.
“Get in touch with your feelings” was more than psychobabble for me; it was necessary for me to function in society, and I had no experience at it. So I learned by observing. I learned by talking it out with trusted sponsors and friends. I stumbled and bumbled my way though those early years, making many mistakes, cherishing the occasional victory, but determined to finally get it right.
Did I think about returning to the life of a drunk during those early years? Of course! One does not undertake a complete overhaul of one’s psychological framework without cold sweats and sleepless nights. There are unlimited temptations for one craving a drink. There are unlimited excuses to fall off the wagon if one looks hard enough. I would pass a tavern while out walking and think about the ambrosia I was denying myself. I would think about the obstacles which still lie ahead of me, and I swear I could taste the vodka. My knees would weaken from the weight of guilt, knowing I could blot out that guilt by simply tipping a bottle to my lips.
But, and this is a huge but, I kept moving forward, surrendering this time to my defenseless against alcohol, and hearing the words of my father, dead long ago, telling me “if you are going through hell, Bill, don’t stop to smell the roses. Just keep moving forward.”
Five Years Ago
The temptations are fewer in number after ten years of sobriety. The excuses are old and tiresome. The lessons learned, how to be trustworthy, how to be honest, and how to be lovable, become natural rather than contrived.
Months will pass by without thinking about booze. The darkness, once an old friend, is blotted out by the light. The unthinkable happens, a loving relationship is nurtured, and you are no longer alone.
The demons are vanquished, but with the vanquishment comes the realization that demons live forever, and they are only a slip in judgment away from flying freely within my psyche. I must always be on guard, even after ten years of sobriety, always aware that the gift of a second chance can be quickly revoked if I ever forget, for one instance, if I ever convince myself in a moment of self-delusion, that I am cured and I need not worry.
Today I am seventy-three and I love myself and I love life. Those are words I never believed I would say, certainly not fifteen years ago, certainly not lying face-down on the carpet of some nameless Anchorage hotel room.
Today I am a writer, and my words have touched people, and I am respected in my circle of friends and acquaintances.
Today I have dreams of the future, a future with my wife, a future of traveling and laughing and experiencing new adventures.
It’s hard to believe, really, for I still clearly remember the darkness, the feeling of complete hopelessness. To go from that point to this point is miraculous, and I am incredibly grateful for this gift I’ve been given, and I’m also proud of myself for putting in the work, for staying determined, and for being willing to learn a new way of life.
To those out there who are still in the darkness I say this: There is a way out! Reach out and ask for help. A better life can be had, I truly believe that, no bullshit from a guy who has traveled that truth.
2022 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)