In two months I will celebrate 15 years of sobriety. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience because I can’t believe I have not swallowed a drop of alcohol in 15 years and I can’t believe how quickly those 15 years passed.
I don’t crave alcohol. When I quit drinking, I was through. I didn’t want any more alcohol. I had had enough. I tell people that I hit my lifetime quota at age 39. I don’t have alcohol in my house but I have no problem going to a party where there is alcohol. There are a couple of places I won’t set foot in: The bar across the street from the newspaper where I work and airport bars. To risky.
I sometimes wonder if the reason I don’t crave alcohol or drugs is because I finally was diagnosed with Bipolar II and put on medications to control my depression and mania. I no longer feel the need to self-medicate myself.
Some days I don’t think about my alcoholism until right before I go to bed, when I get down on my knees and thank the good Lord for keeping me sober another day. I never forget to do that.
But there is one thing that still freaks me out: drunk dreams. After all these years I still get them. I had one last week. It’s the same dream. I don’t actually drink in my drunk dreams and I am not drunk or hungover. It just suddenly dawns on me that I have been drinking in the last few weeks or months and what am I doing to do about it.
I’m not the kind of person who really cares about what people think of me. My code is to ask God to point me in the right direction, kick me in the butt and then do the next right thing. It’s a pretty simple way to live. But for some reason, in my drunk dreams I am very, very concerned about what people – especially my sober friends – will think of my relapse.
In my drunk dreams I am freaked out about telling people and what they will think of me. Of course, because I am drinking again, they won’t want to hang out with me. What would we talk about? When you are an active alcoholic, alcohol is a pretty big part of your life. When you are a recovered alcoholic – alcohol is no longer part of your life and the last thing you want to do is hang out with a hungover friend who is trying to figure out where she parked her car last night.
As much as I don’t like having drunk dreams, they are valuable. They remind me that no matter how long I am sober, I am still an alcoholic. People who are not alcoholics don’t have dreams about how they are going to tell their friends they have fallen off the wagon. I mean, have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, I had the weirdest dream last night. I dreamed I was an alcoholic and I had been sober for a long time but then I started drinking again.”
You don’t have those kind of dreams unless you are an alcoholic.
My drunk dreams also show me how valuable my sober life and sober friends are to me. In every drunk dream my overriding concern is – what is known in 12-step programs as – “picking up a white chip.” Colorful poker chips are given out during your first year of sobriety to celebrate certain milestones: 60 days, 90 days, six months, 9 months. But the first chip is the white chip – the chip you receive when you decide you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired and you surrender. The white chip is the surrender chip.
That’s what freaks me out in my drunk dreams: picking up a white chip. Some people have a lot of white chips. I have only one and I don’t want any more.
Maybe I am over-thinking my drunk dreams. But my fear of picking up a white chip proves to me the value in getting sober with a bunch of other drunks. I care about these people dearly. And I care what they think of me. I hold them in esteem. I respect them and value them. I need them and I don’t want to let them down.
I’m going to bed now. I’m going to get on my knees and thank God and then fall asleep. I can’t control my dreams. I can only learn from them.
Bottle with alcohol image available from Shutterstock.