On May 26, 1985, I gave up alcohol forever. I drank my last drink and never looked back. As a drug, alcohol is a depressant. Yet, alcohol induces depression in a sly manner – by disguising its psychoactive effects within the soft glow of frivolity. Life without booze invigorated me. After quitting, many asked why? My short answer: I’d already seen life saturated with booze – I wanted to experience something new and better and different. For thirty plus years, I have. It’s the second best decision I ever made.
Allow me to explain. I had no serious issues with alcohol. There were no DUIs, no courtroom appearances, no family interventions, no passing out, no automobile accidents, no slobbering drunken episodes. Sure, there were morning hangovers cured by drinking copious amounts of water to work the poison out. Though I sometimes drank alone, it was never to excess. I enjoyed the camaraderie of friends when imbibing. Wine accompanied a good meal, just as a cold glass of ale enhanced a steak or sausage. A night of drinking beer over a card game or sporting event, were times to enjoy. I even pursued finer beverages such as cognac and bourbon. Sweet drinks were fine for the right occasion.
My final night of “feeling no pain” included a couple neighborhood friends during a Saturday evening of merriment fueled by strawberry daiquiris. Before stumbling home there was talk of getting together for breakfast the next morning. It was Memorial Day weekend. I awoke with a hangover, worse than previous but nothing debilitating. I drank lots of water and went for a jog. Back then I didn’t take the coffee cure.
Through the day I began thinking about life: where was I bound and towards what purpose. Life seemed to be going nowhere. I tried imagining a new age, a new direction to change the story I’d been living. On previous occasions, I’d given up alcohol for short periods of time; one particular three-month calendar season came to mind. Thoughts began to grow. Memories fancied a youth – those carefree days before alcohol and mind-altering substances. There stood a fit young adult, filled with vim and vigor, ready to embrace challenges and explore the world. Instead the mirror offered a man imprisoned by conventions of social drinking; leaning on alcohol like a cripple leans on a crutch. I’d studied drugs and knew alcohol was a depressant, fully interchangeable with barbiturates for those addicted to either. The logic was inescapable. This drug known as alcohol – chemically a depressant – was depressing me.
I decided to change. My first calculus was to give up drinking for a while, or at least until the damn hangover ended. The more I thought about possibilities the more an idea of significant change grew – I would give up alcohol until its impact was fully reckoned. I’d never know what that life might be, if I never tried it. There would be no A.A. meetings for me. The one meeting I’d been to (as part of a self-awareness class) involved lots of depressing individuals smoking cigarettes in a dumpy Auburn union hall. There would be no support groups, no grand announcements. I’d just stop drinking and experience life on the other side of the bottle. So, I did.
Summer was approaching and opportunities arose for new beginnings. I started riding my bike again and did more exercising, but nothing terribly radical. The first big social event of the season was Maple Valley Days in early June . . . for which alcohol was standard issue. I’d been part of the Cedar River boat races with cousin, Bob Morris several years previous and was friendly with the social circle following the sport. I saw old friends and when offered a beer politely declined. Drinking was an expected element of the weekend celebration so declining the proffered libation only heightened attention of the clique. I answered casually, “Just quitting for a couple of weeks. Drying out, you know.”
Two weeks later I joined my Enumclaw buddies at the monthly incarnation of the DGA (Duffers’ Golf Association). There I made similar gestures to downplay any importance of “Bill’s not drinking.” I observed others became uncomfortable if I were no longer part of the drinking fraternity. To promote a relaxed atmosphere it was important to have some kind of drink in hand, anything would do. The best prop I found to be non-alcoholic beer. It allowed those who thought alcohol de rigueur for group dynamics, to more easily accept that my abstinence violated no rule of group etiquette. They saw me holding a drink and felt at ease.
The weeks turned to a month and a more formidable test emerged. Bob was marrying Jill and I would be his best man. I’d also be part of the close-knit group of friends for his weekend bachelor party. Eight of us would fly to Reno, rent a van, and tour Lake Tahoe and environs – a four-day, summer bash. I knew Bob’s friends pretty well from previous Maple Valley socializing much of which involved drinking. They would be my party-mates during our weekend safari. Only one of our gang, Keith Timm Jr. was a teetotaler. Make that two.
In any group setting, every person serves a role. I could easily take a break from abstinence and join the partying in Reno and Tahoe. Multiple opportunities to cut loose were available. Not everyone knew of my new sensibility, so the easy route suggested a reversion to the days of wine and roses. But, a better plan was hatched – I would serve as designated driver. The others could fully enjoy drinking and carousing, all under the capable hand of a sober chauffeur. I’d safely guide the caravan. Peer pressure melted like a daiquiri in the Nevada sun. I became the indispensable cog whose sobriety allowed their intemperance; the driver of the bus who piloted the fun. They admired my sobriety and I reveled in their esteem. My avenue of abstinence was beginning to look like a freeway to self-fulfillment.
The summer months stretched towards autumn and fewer people noticed, “Bill isn’t drinking anymore.” In time my sobriety became a non-event. Most people who drink pay little attention to those who don’t – they’re too affected to notice the person who doesn’t. Eventually, I gave up the ruse that teetotalism was a temporary phenomenon. I would never drink again. I was happy. It was the second best decision I ever made.
I won’t leave you dangling. About a month after my drinking stopped, I attended a cocktail party at the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle. It was a political fundraiser for a King County Councilmember from the south end. His daughter was there. We shared a pleasant conversation. She lived on Lake Sawyer. Yes, she liked volleyball at the annual Fourth of July celebration. We’d be on opposite teams for the East – West volleyball match played on the court near Mom’s home on the lake. I’d probably see her there. She came. They won. When leaving, the motor on her dad’s 10-foot dinghy caught fire. She jumped into the lake. Bob, Tom Cerne, and I flipped the boat upside down putting out the fire. Mom comforted the water-soaked girl up at the lake house. She called her parents to have someone pick her up. No one was available . . . though her uncle had seen a fire across the lake. I gave her a ride home in Terry’s outboard. I knew I wanted to see her again.
My mind was no longer clouded by booze. I was free to pursue the life I needed to live.