I woke the morning of July 1st, 1993 with a splitting, hangover-induced headache. You know, the kind that I got a few times a week for that entire year. My drinking really became epic after Julie moved out in February; I'd stop at the Giant on the way home and buy two six packs of Labatt's for dinner. Just the beer. I'd set my the alarm in my bedroom before I started drinking, so I'd get up on time the next morning. Set one in the living room too in case I didn't make it to the bedroom. I brought method to my drinking, let no one say otherwise.
On this particular morning, I was waking from a doozie gained the evening before at some random bar at Tyson's Corner. I think it was called "Champions" or something like that. On the way out of the parking lot the night before (had to get to bed so I could get up and get driving--was going home to New Jersey for the July 4th weekend), I had a little fender-bender. The good news was, the guy I hit (or who hit me, neither of us knew) had been drinking right near me for several hours. Neither of us wanted the police involved, so we agreed to take care of our own minor damage. Come to think of it, he was a good dude. I surely didn't need a run-in with the police, no not me. I had a security clearance. I was going to BE SOMEONE SOMEDAY. Besides, the two times I'd been stopped for suspicion of drunk driving in the previous month were clearly enough for one person, right? The first time happened about 100 yards from my house, so the guy told me to park it and walk. The second one happened RIGHT in front of my house. He said I was "driving too close to the curb". "Looks to be part of the road to me" was my smart-assed answer. I blew under the limit.
But this particular morning, I was in serious pain. Middle of the head pain. Not one of those wussy temple headaches. No--this one was deep. Brain stem stuff. But I had to drive 150 miles to New Jersey. On a bright day. This was going to be agony. So I hopped onto the Beltway and began my journey.
I drove for all of about ten miles, before I started crying. Not an emotional cry, mind you. A cry composed simply of agonizing head pain. I pulled over on the inner loop, to the shoulder of the road. Some of you may be familiar with this stretch of DC road. Pulling over on the shoulder gives one the amazing sensation of having your car rock while people drive by at 80 miles an hour. I sat there in my car, rubbing my head, crying. Thinking. I'm 28 years old. I've got a responsible job that I do ok in. I'm an Admiral's aide, for Chrissake. I've got good friends--really good friends. Sure, I destroyed a marriage, but hey, that's what happens when you're too young to be married, right? And my family--well hell, they mostly like me. I can get a little mean when I drink, but hey, who doesn't?
What the hell am I doing. Why am I doing this to myself?
So, I did something I hadn't done in quite some time. I said a prayer. I remember sitting there thinking about George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life--my favorite movie. His prayer. "I'm not a praying man...." . I started out kind of like that. And I asked God to help me, with a very simple request.
I'd like to stop drinking for 30 days. Just a month. Dry out, so to speak. Show the booze who the boss is. Yep. That's it. Thirty days. I prayed hard for this, through the pain, through the tears. God I hoped that a cop didn't show up.
Then I got an idea in my head. If I stop for 30 days, day 31 then becomes a bender. So what have I accomplished? Nothing. Why waste God's time with that.
And so I did it. I went for the fences.
"God", I asked, "I need your help to never drink again. From this moment forward. Never again. I may ruin other relationships in my lifetime, but it will be through some new and innovative device. Not alcohol. Please God. You help me, I will hold up my end of the bargain." That was it. And those were the words, more or less.
And I sat there, thinking about what a life without alcohol would be like. Would I still be interesting? Was I ever? Would I be an outcast in my own cohort? Could I actually do it? Do I really want to do it? What are the ramifications of breaking a deal with God?
I asked myself questions like this for about five minutes. And then I looked up at the road....and realized I didn't have a headache anymore. None. Zero. In fact, I felt GOOD, better than I had in months. I shook my head violently, just to see if there were any residual pain. None.
And then I really started to cry.
I realized then and there that I had gotten what I had prayed for. A chance. An opportunity. Some help. Some cosmic help. I cannot blow this. I have to follow through.
And so I drove to my parents' house, turning over in my mind the supernatural event that had happened in my car, alongside the DC Beltway. Soon after getting home and exchanging pleasantries, I asked my Dad for a private conversation. We went out on the back porch, and I told him "I have a drinking problem." I told him, because he had several years before stopped drinking of his own accord, and I told him in order to seek wisdom. "You're Goddamn right you do" was his answer. Ok, I guess I deserved that, after my performance at the last family function. So I told him I had decided to quit drinking--cold turkey, never again. I didn't mention my chat with that which there is no greater than and the bargain struck as a result. I asked him if I needed AA, or to go to a doctor. "No", was his answer. "Just stop. You can do it."
He was right. That chat happened twenty years ago today. I have not had a drink, not even one, in those twenty years. I can't say I haven't been tempted, but the temptation is never very strong. I miss red wine, when I'm cooking. That's about it.
People have asked me many times, "Why not give it a try again? You're older and more mature now, you could handle it." That argument has never held water for me. They may be absolutely right...maybe I could handle it now. But that's not the point. If I can't keep a promise to God, what good am I?
So here I am, twenty years later. I'm not perfect, Lord knows. A few people love me, some like me, many tolerate me, a few can't stand me (and they have good reason). But I have kept my promise and I aim to continue to do so.
And you know what?
I remember that day like it was yesterday.