Sucks to be sick today. Today is my special day and I spent it mostly at home trying to feel better. I just watched The Biggest Loser Finale on Hulu and cried over all the inspiring people who have decided to take their lives back by committing to health; overcoming tremendous obstacles, suffering through pain and self doubt, facing demons. Then I remembered that this is my special day and I have arrived here fourteen years later because of my own personal battle, overcoming my own tremendous obstacles, suffering through my own pain and self doubt and facing the biggest demon of my entire life: alcohol.
Fourteen years ago today was the last time I ever drank alcohol. It wasn't a disastrous night like so many that preceded it, in fact it was quite a mellow evening, a few Red Bull and vodkas at a a neighbors party. I had even stopped drinking for about a month prior to that night(because of a disastrous, blacked out night), but for some reason thought I could "treat myself". The next day, February 14 is the first time I met Dr. Carpenter.
I was first told I was an alcoholic by a psychiatrist when I had been checked into a psych ward after an awful night in detox followed by a suicide threat and accompanying ride to the ER for what everyone thought was an attempted overdose. I never swallowed one pill that day, but nobody believed that and I was checked into the hospital. Things were very ugly for me, beyond ugly.
Upon hearing the words, "You are an alcoholic", I didn't really know what to think. I did not grow up in a family where alcohol was present and I did not know what "normal" drinking was, therefore I did not know that what I was doing was not normal. I had only ever been told that drinking was wrong and that we don't do it. Period. Not really helpful advice for a strong-willed, rebellious teenager with her own agenda. I thought I just liked to get drunk, not coming close to realizing my behavior and alcohol consumption was abusive. I was 17 years old.
I spent some time in an outpatient rehab after my week in the hospital and managed to stay off the alcohol for almost a year. I decided at some point in my then 18 years of maturity that I could start drinking again. It only took a year and a half before the downward spiral hit bottom and I was forced to face the fire and decide between life or alcohol. It was some legal trouble I got into while living in Vail, Colorado that forced me to admit once and for all that I have a devastating problem with alcohol and that it was going to continue to destroy my life. Sitting in front of the judge, he told me I was going to go to jail for 30 days for what I had done...unless, I got help for my alcoholism.
I had contacted a few other resources and done an alcohol evaluation with some stupid government agency and was sorely disappointed, knowing that none of these would be the help I needed. I then just opened the phone book and started calling psychologists. I did not want to see a psychiatrist because I knew they would just put me on medication. I called a few different psychologist offices and was told the wait was anywhere from four weeks to three months to get an appointment. Knowing I needed to return to the court within two weeks with something to convince the judge that I was going to get better was pressing.
I called one doctor's office and the voice of the doctor on the voice mailbox sounded strange and daunting, and I hung up. But after calling the others and realizing that there was nowhere else to turn, I called Dr. Carpenter back and left a message. He returned my call, and as we briefly discussed my needs he told me he could see me next Monday, Feburary 14. I was thrilled to be able to see someone in time to go back to the court. Dr. Carpenter then mentioned that, "Sarah, I'm old, I'm really old. And I'm blind".
The night before my first appointment with Dr. Carpenter was the last time I ever drank. At that point, I was "just on a break" thinking that I would drink again on my 21st birthday, coming up a few months from then. As I met and sat with this old blind man for the very first time, we cut right to the chase and began discussing my alcoholism, my legal troubles, and my desperate need for help. Dr. Carpenter asked me when the last time I drank was and I told him, "Last night". He then said something so simple and so clear to me and I'll never forget it as long as I live. He said to me, "You can't do that". At that moment I knew that he knew. And I also knew that he was right.
Dr. Carpenter was my soft place to land for that first fragile year of my sobriety and I don't know if I would have made it without him. I was there every Monday. The fact that he never saw my face, only listened to my voice, made for a special relationship. He retired on my one year anniversary, and we both knew that I would be able to stand on my own two feet.
There has been no decision with more profound impacts on my life than that of my decision to quit alcohol. I know with all my being that I would be dead or in jail long ago if I had continued down that path. I am so grateful for everything in my life that happened to lead me to sit me in that chair, that day, in that office with that old blind man. It was my destiny. I have my life today as a direct result of quitting alcohol and remaining committed to that decision every day that I live.
I never lose sight of the fact that my life is what it is, and I have done the extraordinary things I have done because I am not a slave to alcohol. When I see people suffering on the streets, alcoholics at their rock bottom, I thank the universe because I know that could very easily be me. Don't think so? Then you never saw me drink. It was a short and very fucking ugly two and a half years I drank, but it was enough to know, and I have no desire to find out again if I can "drink normally". I know that, contrary to what so many think, that I am not missing out on anything by not drinking at parties or bars or weddings. In fact, I know I have a lot more in my life because I do not drink. In fact I find it hilarious that people are so blown away when I tell them I don't drink, ever. Not even one. There is no such thing as one drink for me.
Every day on this year, I reflect on the turning point that it was for me. This year celebrates fourteen years. Fourteen years! It's nearly half my life, but it is also my entire life because my life truly began the day I put alcohol down for the last time. I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago and we discussed my upcoming anniversary. I told her that this would be one of the first years in a while that I was going to spend my anniversary in the United States. I then realized I have spent my anniversary in Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Japan, and Argentina. C'mon now! Six out of my fourteen anniversaries have been spent in other countries. As if that would be possible for me to have gone all those places drunk.
I am eternally grateful for the awareness and support made available to me as I came to accept my destiny as an alcoholic and the strength to get and stay sober all of these years. Being an alcoholic is one of the greatest blessings of my life. I have learned more and gained more by overcoming alcoholism than any other thing I've lived with and it has given me gifts beyond imagination.
So just like those inspiring fat fatties on The Biggest Loser that I was looking up to today, I realized that I deserve my own special pat on the back and my own personal celebration for my own commitment to life, when I took the first step towards it and away from the fire, fourteen years ago today. Congratulations Sarah, you are an inspiration to so many.