525, 600 minutes
31, 536,000 seconds
It really doesn’t matter to me how it’s calculated—I’m just happy that I have been alcohol free for a whole year. Looking back at how I was living, especially at my worst, between 2010 and early 2014, I can truly say that giving up alcohol completely changed my perspective. It also improved my health, depleted my anxiety levels and overall made me a more pleasant, happier person. The benefits of removing alcohol from my life have been absolutely amazing—I could never imagine going back to the bottle.
It scares me to think about how my life would be right now if I stayed on the path of active alcoholism. I would be a shadow of my former self…lost, afraid, broken, unhealthy and alone. I wouldn’t be able to recognize my own reflection—and if you hadn’t seen me in a while, you probably wouldn’t recognize me either.
Speaking of personal reflection–one year ago, I did look at myself in the mirror. Actually I stared at myself for an extended period of time trying to figure out who was looking back. I vividly recall my hands gripping the bathroom counter, my breaths short, eyes blood shot, anxiety high and thoughts spinning—I asked myself “how did things get so out of control? Who are you? Where did Leif go?”
I gained 30/lbs, my face was covered in blemishes, my blood pressure was high, self esteem low and my ability to feel/express emotion was diminished. My girlfriend at the time walked out on me after three years together—her words still echo through my thought process: “Leif, you’re not the person I met three years ago.” I am proud of her for making the decision to leave—she deserved better, and when I watched her leave our house for the last time, gently shutting the front door—denying that I am an alcoholic was no longer an option. Denial is one big mother fucker.
You see, for years, alcohol was how I numbed feelings and emotions I didn’t want to confront. And the more I used alcohol as a way to address (actually ignore) my issues, the more those issues grew and festered. As the issues grew larger, more alcohol was required to make them go away. The more alcohol I drank the more emotionally detached and unhealthy I became. It is comparable to plugging a leak when you have a larger structural issue that needs to be addressed. The plug works temporarily—but as time progresses more leaks surface and what was once a manageable problem to fix has now compromised your entire structure. It will require complete reconstruction.
Part of being an alcoholic is rationalizing and justifying the habit every step of the way. I work hard and pay my bills, so I should be able to drink. I am a productive member of society—obviously alcohol isn’t a problem. In hind-sight, I understand that I was rationalizing the irrational on a daily basis—the decisions I made, specific to alcohol, were completely absurd. And I wasn’t going to recover unless I first admitted to having a problem.
One of the most important aspects of recovery is the recognition that your thought process was completely irrational. It is important to take accountability. The hardest parts of recovery are nothing compared to the sorrow you feel as an active alcoholic at your rock bottom. I remember the first two weeks of sobriety being quite the adjustment for mind and body. I was in pain inside and out, my blood pressure spiked and I was on edge. I thought of running to the liquor store hundreds of times just to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms…but I was too ashamed. I knew having another drink equated to giving up on life. I was determined to stop. After the first month I started to see the benefits I described earlier in this post—and it reinforced that alcohol could no longer be a part of my life. I began smiling more—genuine smiles—the kind that are accompanied by true happiness.
To me, back then, alcohol was making me feel better in times of despair—but what I wish I would’ve realized sooner, is that my choice to drink constantly wasn’t helping me, it was in fact the cause of my health, life and family issues. Since the cloud of denial has burned off, I have asked myself almost every-day “how could you not have seen how bad things were getting? How selfish you became?” Those questions won’t ever be answered—what happened, happened. Now, instead of beating myself up about past mistakes—I have to tell myself “I will never become what I became during my darkest moments again.”
You know what? Life can be as challenging at times, as it is beautiful—and learning to deal with the challenges without alcohol feels damn good. Maybe that sounds ridiculous to a normal person—but another alcoholic would know exactly what I mean. We are an abnormal bunch.
I made a promise to Lila, myself and to anyone that I hurt along the way that I can’t and won’t ever go back to the bottle. I will move forward knowing that I can and will deal with life, the good and bad, in a positive and productive way—free from the constraints of alcoholism. I am not proud of myself for giving up booze—I am just happy that I am finally making the right decisions on a daily basis.
Lila has always been a source of inspiration—and when temptation to drink surfaces, I picture her to shake off the desire. I realize that for a moment, Lila was the only part of my life that kept me going—her existence got me out of bed in the morning, dressed for work, kept food on the table and a roof over our head. I also realized that, as a parent, I had to evaluate what makes me happy as a person and not lose sight of taking care of myself. The happier I am as a father/person, the happier my baby girl will be.
The past year has been enlightening, refreshing, up, down and everything in between. It has been filled with honest discussions, personal reflection, hard-work and determination. The dust has settled and what stands before me now that the path has cleared is everything I need in life…my daughter, my health, my happiness and a renewed perspective. It’s no longer about asking the question: “how will I do this?” It’s about saying “I can and will do this.”
On the one year mark of my sobriety, I write this entry not for congratulations. I feel that alcoholics and addicts don’t deserve a pat on the back or round of applause for finally deciding to do the right thing. I write this because reading stories about how other alcoholics recovered has been a big source of inspiration throughout this process. I knew that I wasn’t alone. If my experience can help just one person—it makes sharing my story completely worth-while.
Cheers to another year of choosing water (and coffee) over beer, life over death and happiness over despair.