Cheers to 17 Years Without a Drink

It was 17 years ago today that I boarded an airplane headed for Tucson, Arizona for a month-long retreat.  I was heaving into the barf bag the whole way, but I was certain that the rest and relaxation would be worth the journey.

A few days before, I had viewed the accommodations on a video and was looking forward to hiking, swimming, horses, and sampling the menus from their world-class chef.

The best thing about it? It was absolutely free!

And it would change my life forever.

No, I didn’t win an all-expenses paid vacation. And I wasn’t throwing up in the plane because of motion sickness.

That day, on October 1, 1995, I was praying to the porcelain God (disguised as an air sickness bag), because that Sunday, just like every other day, I was hungover.

And I was not going to a 4-star hotel.

I was going to rehab.

In 1993 I was a newlywed and we knew we wanted kids someday. I’m smart enough to know that pregnant women don’t drink, so I thought it might be time to start cutting down on my nightly wine with dinner.

For an entire year I tried tapering down, but instead it just made me crave it more. So on September 13, 1994, the morning of my 32nd birthday, I made a deal with myself.

Today I won’t have anything to drink.

That night I told myself I was an idiot. Who in their right mind would not want a drink on her birthday? So I had a glass or two or three or more, and decided to try again tomorrow.

I woke up on September 14th and made a new vow.

Today I won’t have anything to drink.

But it turned out to be the birthday of my friend Mauricio, so I took him out for margaritas.

I don’t remember why I didn’t keep my deal on the 15th, but the 16th was a Friday, the 17th was a Saturday, and the 18th was a Sunday, so I obviously had very good reasons to have a beer or a mai tai or a Long Island iced tea (or a fill in the blank with your favorite cocktail) those days. Everyone drinks on the weekend.

I woke up the morning on September 18th and made another promise to myself.

Today I won’t have anything to drink.

And so the days continued. If I had a good day, I deserved to celebrate. If I had a bad day, well damn it, I deserved a drink. One day the dogs didn’t chew up anything, and I thought that was a good reason to have a drink.

Meals held new importance. It wasn’t, “I feel like having tacos,” or “I’m craving sushi.” Instead, it was, “I feel like a margarita. Let’s have Mexican,” or “I want some sake. Let’s do Japanese.”

I’d tell myself I was just going to have one glass. Just one. No matter what. Honest to God. But after one sip I was telling myself I was stupid for thinking that. I’d be craving the second one even as the first sip was greasing my throat.

But I wasn’t an alcoholic. No way. My dad died of alcoholism. Cirrhosis of the liver. He was only 45, but he looked like he was 80. He had no job, no money and no hope. I had a good job. I never drank in the morning. And I never drank on the job.

I called myself a responsible hedonist.

I woke up the morning of September 13, 1995 with the alarm clock screaming at me and my stomach performing cartwheels. I recited the mantra I had been repeating every day for the past year.

Today I won’t have anything to drink.

And I suddenly realized that this was an impossible vow. I was bright, I had everything going for me, and I was the hardest worker I knew, and yet there was something inside of me that was completely powerless over alcohol.

I’d like to say that this was the day I sober. But it wasn’t. I continued to drink for another two weeks, until one day I woke up and I was just done. I was sick of being hungover, I was sick of making the same empty promise every day, and I was pissed at the world.

I’d also like to say that I entered rehab to get sober, but the truth is, I was hoping that they could just teach me how to have two drinks and call it a night. I also wanted a tan. And some good ideas for a screenplay.

As I boarded that plane, in my wildest dreams it never occurred to me that I would never drink again. Sometimes the thought is still too overwhelming.

But for 17 years, one day at a time, I’ve been waking up in the morning and uttering a new vow.

Thank you God for keeping me sober for another day.

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14 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Career, Recuperating

14 responses to “Cheers to 17 Years Without a Drink

  1. Happy Sober Anniversary. Congratulations. :>

  2. I laughed out loud at your excuses – it’s my birthday! It’s a friend’s birthday! I did the laundry! (oops that last one was mine). It’s such a gift when those ‘one day at a time’ days combine to make a life better than you ever imagined. Congratulations. And to anyone who is asking themselves if they may have a problem here’s a secret: If you are asking that question you probably already know the answer.

  3. Anonymous

    Happy 17th Birthday Cathy! I bless my lucky stars not only for knowing you, but because that plane ride changed my husbands life forever as well!

  4. javaj240

    Good for you. I’m nowhere near 17, but I’ll get there.

  5. What a very touching post! Congrats on your sobriety. I know it’s probably not easy…but worth every single struggle. Have a great day!!!

  6. I’m proud of you Cathy.

  7. Happy 17 years. I like the picture of the champaign glass. It represents the difference between you and I. I would have a picture of an empty Jack Daniels bottles. When I drank I didn’t worry about pouring my drinks in a glass. Too much to bother with. I am glad when found each other in sobriety.

  8. Amy Maguire

    Happy Birthday, Cathy. It means a lot to me to have you in my life…regardless of how often we sit down to not have a drink together:) xoxo

  9. Abbe

    Happy Birthday Cathy!

  10. Bill Shaw

    Oh Good Lord. Now I am crying at work. Congratulations, Cathy!

  11. Tammie

    I agree with Bill!!! Reading your blog brought tears to my eyes! I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished, you are a role model to so many people in so many ways!

  12. congrats to you, super amazing 🙂 and how nice to meet another sober blogger. I’m on day 95, and can’t wait till i can say 17 years … what an achievement!

  13. Yes! That is an incredible story … what a toast to change, that someone who couldn’t stop, has managed not to start for 17 years. Thank you so much for sharing. You have truly inspired me.

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