Twenty-four years ago today, I began rebuilding a life torn apart by 35 years of drinking.
I woke up on the morning of June 6, hung over from a long night of driving single-malt scotch and tequila, beginning with a proud whiskey from Scotland and ending with that sordid stuff with the worm from Mexico.
At least that was what I was told by those I drank with the night of June 5 and into the wee morning hours of June 6. I woke up with no memory of the night before, no idea how I got from the bar to the strange place where I woke up (alone).
It was late afternoon by the time I got home, something Amy suffered through in those day. She told me that I might want to consider going to a meeting in the basement of the church across the from the condo home in a high-rise in Arlington, our home for 23 years in the national capital region of Washington, DC.
“I’m not telling you what to do,” she said. “But you might want to think about it.”
I did and walked across the street and into my first meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous. I met many fellow travelers who battle the beast called alcohol and took the first step to return to a sober lifestyle.
Today, exactly 24 years later, I will walk into an AA meeting in Christiansburg or Roanoke later today and tell the group gathered there that: “I”m Doug and I’m an alcoholic. It has been 24 years today since my last drink.” That’s 102,534 days (including leap years) or 205,200 hours 12,312,000 minutes.
But my 24 years of sobriety pales to the 35 years I drank before taking that first step 24 years ago. I got my first drink of Cleophus Sowers moonshine at age 15 at the old U-Toll-Em Inn on Rte. 8 outside of Floyd. It came from a 26-year-old woman who wanted to “calm my anxiety” for some intimate physical activity that would follow.
Some years later, she contacted me to apologize for “all that happened in that motel room that night so long ago.”
I was in my 11th year of sobriety at that point and but told her that she I shared her regret for taking that drink but for nothing else. We both laughed.
Two years later, at age 17, I was out of high school and working for The Roanoke Times and often joined other staff members of the paper for beers at the bar of the Patrick Henry Hotel. The waitresses there never asked for an ID. They figured a reporter for the paper must be at least 21.
The drinking continued for the five years in Roanoke, then the 12 years working for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and followed Amy and I to Washington I fooled myself into thinking I was a “functioning alcoholic” but Amy was about to leave me, I had lost jobs for the stupid things that a drunk does and it was time to get my life under control.
The intervention that got my attention was cooked up by Amy and some friends who knew I was in trouble. It worked and I can never thank them enough. I walked away from political life and returned to the profession I love — covering and reporting the news.
Amy stayed with me and our bond is closer than ever.
The 24-year chip that I will get tonight will be in my pocket with me every day for the next 12 months. Then I hope to celebrate a quarter century of sobriety on April 6, 2019, and get a new one.
I’ll get there, one day at a time.