One day at a time adds up to 25 years
One day at a time adds up to 25 years
I’ve got to be honest, I really don’t remember much about what was happening in the world in early 1996 in general and on March 23, 1996, in particular.
I had to look it up, actually. And here’s what I found out.
Celine’s Dion “Because You Loved Me” moved to No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts, finally dislodging “One Sweet Day” by Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey, which had been the No. 1 song in the land since Dec. 2.
“The Birdcage,” one of the few Robin Williams’ movies I haven’t seen, was the top movie in the land while “ER,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends” were in the midst of a heck of a battle to be the No. 1 show for the 1995-96 season. NBC’s emergency room drama won the title, besting the two comedies that also aired on the network.
I mean I knew Bill Clinton was president and that Bob Dole was going to in all likelihood be the Republican nominee for that fall’s general election. I knew the Olympics were coming up that summer in Atlanta. I mean
I wasn’t totally brain dead.
But I was a drunk.
When Saturday, March 23, 1996, dawned (and I use that word very loosely because in my drinking days, noon was, in my world, dawn), I didn’t know it but my life would forever change that day.
In many ways, it was a typical start to a typical Bob Fenske day. My head hurt, I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened the night before and I told myself, as I had every day since I had relapsed “for good” in late December, that “this has to stop.”
My apartment was a mess. My life was a mess.
I dragged my butt out of bed, walked into the bathroom and something had changed.
I just gave up. Right there, right then all I wanted to do was die.
I had put together 18 months of sobriety that ended with that relapse on my birthday in October 1996. After that night, I didn’t drink for a month. I was cured. I mean if I got drunk just once a month, I was normal, right? Absolutely, alcoholism told me.
It’s a disease that lies its you know what off, so I went back out and drank sometime in November. Then I went two weeks without picking up a bottle. I mean who doesn’t get drunk at least every once two weeks, right? No one, alcoholism told me.
Then it was a week, then it was a few days and then by Christmas, I was drinking every day again. You’re fine, alcoholism said, don’t worry about it, and I freaking listened to the disease.
I broke my rules. I drank alone. I drank when I got up. I drank at work — running out to my car to have a little vodka here and a little whiskey there, topped off by the strongest breath mints I could find.
That March 23 morning I made a plan to myself out of my misery. I was going to drive my car — a Ford Aspire — into a semi-trailer truck. The least I could do was give my mom and dad my life insurance money. But first I had to clean my apartment. I couldn’t let my mom see the squalor I called home. And then I needed to deliver a letter of recommendation from Ottumwa to Pella, where one of my former part-timers was attending Central College.
I cleaned. I drove to Pella. I delivered the letter of recommendation to Mary Bohenke, one of the most idealistic kids I have ever known. We went for pizza. We talked. And, somewhere in that conversation, I decided that life was worth living. I didn’t want to die anymore. But I also didn’t want to drink anymore.
I struggled through that night at home. I never in my life have been so happy for 2 a.m. to roll around because for a few hours, I couldn’t buy alcohol. I stayed with friends the next few days and then drove from Ottumwa to Mason City to go to the treatment center where I first admitted I had a problem with alcohol in April 1994.
I needed someone, anyone, to tell me what to do next.
The counselors at Prairie Ridge Addictions Treatment Center helped me start my sober journey. Hundreds of AA members kept me on the path for years, and honestly, I probably need to go back to those rooms where 12-step meetings are held but I’ve had some very close friends help me make it to today.
A quarter of a century without drinking. I remember going to AA meetings when I was in treatment and someone would say they had been sober for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and I must be honest: I thought they were lying because no one could go that long without drinking.
Turns out they weren’t, because holy crap, if I can go 25 years — trust me, if you knew me back in my drinking days, you’d heartily agree — anyone can.
I am not one of those AA members who is an anti-drinker. I don’t believe in Prohibition, except for people like me.
If I had continued drinking, I know I’d be dead by now. Alcoholism, depression and anxiety — especially as far advanced as my alcoholism was — add up to a lethal combination.
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride ever. I suck at marriage, and I have a 0-for-2 record to prove it. I can’t shake the depression and have had to take two “vacations” to deal with it since I sobered up. I get caught up in all the things I haven’t done in my life, and I do it way too often. Both my parents have died during my sobriety. My step-daughter Sam did, too. The person I care about the most in the world … oh hell, the list is long enough.
None of it has led me to drink.
Without sobriety, I never meet my first wife. I never have kids. I never move here. I never get the experiences — the good ones, the bad ones and the ones in between — I’ve had for the past 25 years.
Twenty-five years is a long time. If I’ve learned anything in that time it is that ending this column with “here’s to 25 more years” would be the worst possible conclusion. It’s a one-day-at-a-time deal. Period.
Instead, I’ll leave it at this: Here’s to one more sober day.