Father's Day 2001 was one of those turning points in my drinking history. It wasn't the day I got sober. That would take a couple more years. But it was the beginning of the end of my thinking that I could live this way forever.
Morning was the usual ritual for Mother's/Father's day. Brunch at home, with mimosas. My family bought me a dart board. At the time I was a hardcore beer geek and amateur dart geek; my main hobby was putting away pints and shooting darts at the Gingerman or the Dog & Duck with my friends James and Mark and Mike and Mike and Bill.
I was still in that frame of mind where I knew I would have to quit some day, but I was still waiting for that big event that would make it plain as day. Sooner or later I'd get liver cancer, or wreck my car, or get a DUI, or something, and then I would know that it was time to quit. (Sounds goofy now, doesn't it? It made perfect sense back then, and lots of ex-drunks I talk to now remember thinking exactly the same thing.)
So after drinking mimosas all morning, we set the dart board up in the garage and played darts with the kids. And shit, you can't play darts without drinking beer, so over the course of the afternoon I put away a 6-pack of Fat Tire. Somewhere along the way I vaguely remember promising the kids that we'd go to the pool.
Around 7:00pm, my wife wakes me up from my nap to tell me that they're going to the pool, with or without me. I told them to go without me. I was way too drunk, and I was getting that awful "I drank too early in the day" kind of daylight hangover.
And the guilt just crushed me. What a dorky Afterschool Special kind of thing to do. I made promises on Father's Day that I couldn't keep because I was too drunk.
It was the last straw. I told Gina I was going to quit. Not just for a month this time, not just for Lent, but for good.
A week later we went to a party at James & Mark's house, where I had a perfectly awful time, white-knuckling through it and pounding down Cokes non-stop. I had already backed off the notion of giving it up forever and decided that I was just going to give it up for a whole year. You know, see all the seasons change, experience all the holidays sober, just to see what it's like. It sounded refreshing. It sounded cleansing.
I got through an entire week in Wyoming with the in-laws and didn't drink anything. But it was calling me. I still walked through the beer section at the grocery store just to gaze at all the local microbrews that I would never have a chance to taste.
By the end of July, I had found a reason to drink. Just one time. Cassidy had gotten lost in the woods in Tacoma, police had to be called to find her, and the stress was overwhelming. It was also the perfect excuse. I decided, and Gina agreed, that I could drink on vacation in Tacoma, this one time, and still stay on the wagon at home in Austin.
A month after getting home to Austin, I found another reason to drink. I don't even remember what it was, but it seemed important at the time. A few weeks later, 9/11 happened, which of course called for a couple of bottles of wine to numb the pain. A few weeks after that, my company had the first massive layoffs to signal the end of the tech boom. More wine.
By November I was pretty comfortable with the notion that I should be able to drink once a week. I don't even remember the reasoning behind it; it was just "oh well". It was the new standard. Once a week. Or twice, depending.
Within six months, I was back to drinking almost every night, hangovers a couple times a week, drunk behind the wheel, etc, etc, etc.
By summer of 2003, I was a physical wreck. I weighed almost 250 pounds, my face was broken out, my total cholesterol was 240, I won't even get into the gastrointestinal stuff. Many bottles of wine a week, plus a few six packs. On top of that a bottle of scotch would typically last me less than two weeks. And that was just what I drank at home. I also drank at every meal in restaurants, at work every Friday afternoon, at least one night a week out with the guys.
And this when I had sworn off it forever.
This is what you call "quitting on your own". This is what you call "exerting self-control".
I'm still planning to write a blog entry picking apart the Penn & Teller "Bullshit" episode where they try to debunk AA, but their main theme was that AA is bullshit, and everybody who quits drinking does it on their own.
I love Penn & Teller, but they're idiots on this one. And every Father's Day is like a little reminder to me of how wrong they are.