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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Nineteen years, one day at a time

A 19-year-child from AA
A 19-year-chip from AA

Tonight, I will attend a meeting that is on my schedule for this date every year.

It’s a meeting that I make sure has no conflicts for that date.   If I am traveling, I look online for a schedule of a meeting that I can attend to meet that goal.

Hopefully, the meeting can be close to home but if I have to drive to another nearby location, I will make the trip.  Tonight, I will drive about 100 miles to make the meeting and return home.

Sometimes, I know just about everyone in the room.  Sometimes I don’t know anyone personally but I know each in more important ways that count.

They are fellow travelers and the road we travel is a long, difficult and never-ending one.

But while we may never each the end of that road, staying on it is a very, very important part of our lives.

I will look around the room at my fellow travelers and speak:

Hello, my name is Doug and I am an alcoholic.  It has been 19 years today since my last drink.

Later, I will receive my 19-year chip, a coin larger than a silver dollar issued by Alcoholics Anonymous and that chip will stay in my pocket for the next 12 months, providing a daily reminder of sobriety every time I pull change from my pocket.

The 18-year chip I carry in my pocket now will join a collection of other chips in my desk drawer.

From time to time, when I am paying for something, people will see that larger than normal coin in my hand and ask:  “What’s that?”

My answer is simple:

“It is the annual recognition of my sobriety,” I say.

Sometimes they offer congratulations.  Sometimes, someone will say: “I’m sorry.”

I always answer quickly.  “Don’t be sorry,” I say.  “God knows I’m not.”

If I have any regrets around the chip that I carry each and every day, it’s that it doesn’t represent 50 years of sobriety because I drank for 31 years before taking the first step towards sobriety by attending my first AA meeting on June 6, 1994.

I tasted moonshine in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia at 15, liked it, and began drinking.  I was an alcoholic before 16.  Even worse, I was a functioning alcoholic, someone who could drink alone and hide that fact from others while appearing to be normal.  I graduated from high school with good grades and — at 17 — became the youngest full time reporter in the history of The Roanoke Times.

No one at the bar of the Ponce de Leon hotel across the street from the Time’s office in Roanoke, Virginia, questioned the young reporter who joined others for drinks after work.   In later years, I would work for other publications, including 11 years with The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and had a reputation as a hard working and even harde partying reporter and photographer.  When service to my country required a Top Secret security clearance, my drinking never surfaced in investigations by government personnel and the clearances went through.

It wasn’t until later years, during a sabbatical from journalism and foray into the equally-intoxicating world of politics, that my alcoholism became apparent to others.  In 1994, friends and my loving wife arranged an intervention that left me waking up in a hotel room one morning without any knowledge of how I got there or what happened the night before.  That night, I went to my first AA meeting and never looked back.

As any recovering alcoholic knows, a major part of recovery is compiling a list of those one hurts through drinking and reaching out to try and make amends.  My list is long and I’m less than half-way through it.  Some of those affected have offered forgiveness and support.  Others have not.  Some cannot relive the unpleasant memories of encounters with me.  I understand and support such decisions.

During my recovery over the past 19 years I have too often lapsed into what is known as the action of a “dry drunk,” someone who may not be drinking but still acts like a drunk and makes mistakes as one.  I have done so too many times but hope that is behind me now.

I sometimes wonder what I might have accomplished in life if I had not been a drunk but recovery means looking forward and taking life one day at time and making each day count.  A serious motorcycle accident last fall left me near death and in the hospital for too many days and that too causes one to reflect on where the future should lead.

As part of my recovery during the first year of sobriety, I started Capitol Hill Blue.  On October 1, this web site will celebrate 19 years on the Internet, making it the web’s oldest surviving political news site.  Blue has suffered from time to time from my mistakes as a dry drunk but — God willing — those mistakes are also part of the past and we can move on together.

Next year, on June 6, 2014, I hope to pick up my 20-year chip at an AA meeting.  Then, with luck and support from readers of this web site,  Capitol Hill Blue will celebrate its 20th anniversary later in that year.

Hopefully, we both still have a future.

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12 thoughts on “Nineteen years, one day at a time”

  1. Congratulations on your many year battle against alcohol addiction. I’m sure you’ll make your 20th year ‘chip’ and beyond. : )

    So too thanks for hosting CHB and the Blue Ridge Muse over the years while at the same time grappling with such a powerful addiction.

    Best regards,

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. I started reading CHB in 1998, after we returned from several years in Asia. Each year, when you tell the story of your day-by-day battle with the beast and your success in gaining another year of sobriety, I mentally salute your grit and determination. Being stubborn has it’s merits, yes?

    Heartfelt congratulations, Doug.

  3. Chief, I am green with envy at your commitment. My Mother and her assortment of husbands could not stop her damaging habit for even a year. The poor woman got very drunk at Hollywood Park Race Track and was brought home to sleep it off. She woke at 3 am, tried to light a cigarette and caught fire and burned to death. Her life of 72 miserable years ruined her own mother’s life as well as mine. My own Father died in a car crash on Sunset Boulevard when he flipped his car into a ditch. He was 38 years old and probably did his family a favor by removing himself at a young age.

    Cheers to you Chief!

  4. Mr. Thompson,

    You are an inspiration to many who have never met you in person.

    That you continue to progress is a testament to the power of having a made up mind.

  5. Well Doug you’ll not get any pity from me buddy. I’ve been drinking for some 44 years responsibly and my doctor tells me I’m in perfect health for a man 62 years old. I happen to like a good glass or two of red wine or a good shot or two of bourbon, hell I’ve even been known to shoot down a boiler-maker or two now and then (sometimes four or five of those just listed). It’s all a matter of control and knowing what addiction is. In my opinion alcohol is a wonderful thing as long as it doesn’t control your life. 😉

    • Well, Bill, you’ve accomplished what many millions of alcoholics and addicts are or have been unable to do…and that is “control one’s own addictions”.
      Unfortunately, alcoholism isn’t a problem that’s resolved by “will power”. It’s a biological issue caused by the malfunction of a gene, which occurs through either abuse or genetic predisposition.
      The gene produces 2 enzymes and 2 hormones that play a role in a number of body functions.
      But one of the major discoveries concerning the failure in part or whole of this particular gene is that in the absence of these particular enzymes and/or hormones the body synthesizes another chemical (THIQ) for short…which locks itself in the pleasure center of the brain and causes a form of unidentifiable pain. The most amazing thing about THIQ is: It was only known to be in the brains of heroin addicts. Until about 25 or so years ago medical researchers had no idea how it was possible to find THIQ in the brains of solely alcoholics.
      The pain produced by THIQ isn’t like hitting oneself on the thumb with a hammer, but it manifest into a variety of emotional pains which the alcoholic can’t define but is vividly aware of its presence.
      The alcoholic, soon or later, discovers that the consumption of alcohol dampens the pain cause by the THIQ considerable.
      In all cases of alcoholism and other related biological genetic diseases (cocaine addiction works very similar to alcohol..biologically speaking)…alcohol or the effective drugs “will stop working”. It will no longer dampen the pain caused in the pleasure center of the brain.
      When alcohol stops working most alcoholics will try to compensate by drinking more and more. Meanwhile the damage to be body becomes more and more prevalent. Generally the physical damage manifest in a host of different ways. Sometimes multiple body organs are damaged at once time. Everyone is different.
      Another effect of the gene failure for many alcoholics is tolerance to alcohol…and also more many the a lessened or total absence of hangovers.
      The liver uses the enzymes from the specific gene I defined above to create another chemical which is metabolized and tells the “normal drinker” to stop drinking after a couple of drinks as the intoxication process is considerable heightened. Intoxication…is the same as saying “poisoning”. That’s what too much alcohol does to the body. It poisons the body.
      Most people can’t tolerate the toxic effects alcohol…thanks to this magic gene that creates so many problems for about 20% of the population.
      So I hate to disappoint you by saying…If you aren’t an alcoholic, based on the medical definition…you probably aren’t controlling your drinking because you have a healthy gene, which is controlling your drinking for you. The normal processes of the gene…is in control.
      We all have addictions of some kind or another. for example: All people who drive cars are addicted to the air in their tires. Some people are addicted to their washing machines, cook stoves…and yes, even the Internet. The mechanism, which produces those addictions are indeed internal chemicals in our bodies.
      Alcoholics and drug addicts must abstain. But its way more complicated than that. We much learn to deal with the biological mechanism, which controls our lives. We must learn a new format for living along with being abstinent. To date…there is no way to restore the failing functions of the gene.
      Good luck with your recognized addictions.

      • I began smoking cigarettes when I was 14 but gave them up when I turned 40. Was that addiction do to a cigarette gene such as the alcohol gene you describe above? Still enjoy a good cigar now and then.

        So what you’re saying is its not ones fault they’re an addict, it’s because of some bad gene. I find it sad how we Americans always have an excuse for one reason or another when it comes to controlling our habits. I’ll just stick with well-power thank you.

  6. Congrats, Doug!

    December 4, 1986 is my sobriety date.

    Obviously, by my AA birthdate, last December I celebrated my 26th year sober.

    26 year mark is one year less years than my drunk days. I started drinking as much as often at the age of 13. I wound up in the hospital twice because my body was damaged from alcohol…before surrendering to the fact that I am powerless over alcohol.

    My father became a street person and died of wet-brain (similar to cirrhosis of the brain or hardening tissue of the brain)from alcohol consumption in his 50’s. His father died at 45 from his alcoholism. He made moonshine close to Friendship, Arkansas. My mother’s dad also alcoholic…was a bootlegger in East Texas. His drinking to a huge toll on his life.

    I also had a younger brother die of heroin an alcohol addictions about 10 years ago.

    There are a lot more in my family who over the generations have died from alcoholism or addiction.

    Doug, we are both very, very, very lucky men.

    My best regards on your recovery in AA and your terrible accident.



  7. That’s a great accomplishment Doug. Glad you are keeping at it. The only experience I have to empathize with is my 8 years and counting without cigarettes, which I don’t feel is nearly the same thing.

    Hard to believe I’ve been reading and posting to Blue for 13 years. Wish I had found the site sooner. I still miss my CHB blog, and time sure does fly!

    • Woody, I’ve quit both smoking and drinking. Had very bad habits with both. And for me, smoking was tougher to quit. More of a physical withdrawal. The psychological and social withdrawal was tougher with alcohol, but the physical addiction was worse with tobacco.

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