By Korbin Matthews
That’s how long it’s been since I had my last sip of alcohol. Crazy, right?
But before October 8, 2015, the longest I had gone without alcohol during my decade of drunken debauchery was a 5-day vacation I took to Disney World with my family when I was 20 years old. When you’re underage and at the happiest place on earth, you’re intoxicated on Disney magic and general childhood joy, so I guess booze didn’t matter. But I couldn’t tell you the number of shots and miscellaneous 6 packs consumed on the opposite end of that spectrum, and outside of that 5-day reprieve.
All of those blur together.
However, I do remember the last one.
If you’ve stopped drinking you remember yours too, I’m sure. Anyone who has taken on the challenge of dealing with his or her alcoholism can remember theirs, whether they’d like to or not. My final drink isn’t a memory because I was already blacked out when I consumed it. Old me? Blacked-out drunk? What a shocker. But that means I woke up to my final bender.
I had a history of falling asleep in cars when I was too inebriated to drive, and my final night of drinking to excess ended in the same driver’s seat I had woken up in on more occasions than I would like to admit. My eyes slowly crept open, just as the faint light of the sun started to rise for a new morning. My phone was dead. My car was dead. I should have been dead.
I was out of gas and 49 miles south of my hometown. After searching through all of my messages and call logs, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have a destination that night, but rather that I was running away in any direction I could to escape myself and the shell I had become. I poured myself into another car and hoped it would take me away from it all. No wonder it took me an hour that morning for a good Samaritan to pull over and ask if I needed some help. I was a mess. I can’t blame them. If I saw me, I would have kept on driving too. I tried time and time again to run away from myself, but now I stood there defeated, desperate, and entirely alone with nobody to care for me. When you realize you can’t run away from yourself, your entire world can change.
So, that day, I decided to stop running away from me.
And here we are now. I made it home off of that county road where my last bender took me, but the memory, like all unsavory memories seem to do, lingers. As time and my commitment to remain alcohol free continues marching forward, sometimes the scope of how long it’s been since my drinking-self was in control seems like even more than a lifetime ago. Often times when you look in the rear view mirror it doesn’t seem possible that you drove that road at all.
That person can’t really be me, can it? The nights spent huddled on the cold cement of a jail cell wasn’t really me, was it? People don’t remember me like that, do they?
Your body and mind both begin to repair themselves during the process of getting sober, but there are some blemishes on your brain that you can’t scrub out, no matter how much support and clarity you have. This rings true for an alcoholic like myself who is still an extrovert and craves the social interaction that is innately intertwined with drinking. Even now as I am preparing to add another mile-marker to my sober travels, I still find myself caught off-guard and insecure when I least expect it. That fleeting vulnerability doesn’t even lie within the temptation to break my vow to myself and to drink again, but instead it manifests as the crushing weight of my mistakes sneaking in to remind me of how much alcohol ruined my life. It’s like anxiety about my past mistakes that flares up retroactively and, although I never see it coming, I have gotten better at facing it head-on rather than resorting to old habits and trying to avoid those feelings or cover them up at whatever cost. I am constantly reminding myself that I don’t continue to not drink because of the sour moments alcohol created in my past, but because of all the sweetness that my life has found during its absence. It’s like trying to find the silver lining in a dark cloud. Those times when you’re functioning fine in your day-to-day life and suddenly feel the haunting realization of the mistakes your drinking created; you don’t stay away from the bottle because of how much it ruined you, but instead because of how much leaving it behind has made you better. That kind of thinking is what keeps me from trying to run away like I did during that final bender.
I still run, but now I run forward.