April 11th, 2014, Rochester NY:
It was a little after two o’clock in the morning; I was driving my car as steady as I possibly could, going exactly 35 mph down Monroe Avenue. Between shifting gears in my bright yellow, cop magnet, five speed Chevy, I was taking baby sips of the now lukewarm bottle of Bud Light beer in my cup holder.
I was cradling the bottle tightly in my hand as if I knew it was going to be my last beer for a long time, if not for the rest of my life.
Fearing that to be the last night of my then tragic drinking career, I made sure that I savored every stale grain of barley all the way down to the bottom of the bottle.
I somehow made it home in one piece, but not before I took a long walk around the Park Ave neighborhood where I lived in Rochester. I walked the pavement for a good hour, smiling ear to ear enjoying the cool, crisp air that the dawn of springtime had to offer. I shared this walk alongside the other misfits and drunks wandering the streets alone that night.
Paying little regard to my surroundings, including the drunks, the walk was beautiful. I felt liberated, almost exonerated, but my home life was no prison, and my wife was certainly no Warden or captor.
It was the drink that I felt free from; I could feel sobriety stepping on my heels, and for the first time in my life, I felt as if I wanted to change my life around.
When I ended my walk and went back home, I thought about my soon to be fate.
When I awoke just a few short hours later, with no surprise to myself, my wife was nowhere in sight; her or the dog. The scene in my apartment felt like a bad country song. Sitting on the living room couch, saturated in alcohol sweat and the previous night’s clothing, I thought to myself, “There is no way that it could ever get any worse than this.”
But it did get worse, it always does. It always gets worse when you go back out.
April 17th, 2017 Buffalo NY:
It was little after 5:30 in the evening, I was riding my mountain bike as steady as I possibly could with a flat front tire and a broken handlebar across Twin City Memorial Highway. I rode my bike to the local 7-11 convenience store to buy just a few more beers before my wife got home from work.
Halfway to the store, trying not to crash my bike due to a lack of steering control and balancing on a flat tire, I thought to myself; “Jesus Christ Ricky, it just got worse!”
Seven months before April 17th, 2017, I had two and half years of sobriety, and I was so proud of myself, but like most, if not all addicts, I looked for the littlest of excuses to drink and without fail, I found my excuse rather quickly.
My excuse might as well of been breathing because I really didn’t need a reason, I just wanted to take that first drink again.
Immediately upon taking the first sip after two and a half years of sobriety, I felt right back at home.
I was peaceful inside my mind where I was, where I used to hide, from the world and all of my problems.
After the last time I got sober in Rochester, my wife told me that if I were to ever relapse again, she wouldn’t leave me just as long as I immediately confessed it to her without hiding it.
She told me that she would stand by my side and do everything in her power to help me get sober again, under the one condition that I was not to hide it from her. But like most addicts, if not all, it was easier to hide inside my world of lies to avoid conflict. When I relapsed this last time, I convinced myself that I would have just one whiskey then tell my wife as soon as she got home. I had my confession all planned out, but as soon as she came home, I became overwhelmed with nerves and caved.
I couldn’t tell her just yet.
Being an addict and a master of self-manipulation, I had one more whiskey about two months later, while I waited and thought up a better plan of confession.
That “one more” drink didn’t satisfy me like the previous “one drink.”
And the next “one more drink” turned into two more, then three, then five whiskeys, before I knew it. Seven months passed and I was riding a broken bicycle through Small Town America to buy flavored malt liquor. I was just glad that I chose to leave my car at home this time.
And then on April 17th, six days after my wife congratulated me for having three years sobriety, I looked directly into her trusting blue eyes and lied. I said, “Thank you!”
That act of betrayal alone sickened me more than anything else that I had ever done wrong, in my life. Shortly after that, I knew that it was only a matter of time until this charade was over. I couldn’t believe that I had landed myself here again.
I was so happy sober, and it was easy to stay away from the drink, but as much as I was okay without the drink, I was never okay with myself. I still battled with self-loathing for antiquated reasons.
I couldn’t stand the sight of myself; The Loser.
I would usually stop drinking a few hours before my wife would get home, this way I could cover my tracks and I was now pushing that time further back. On this one particular night, I waited until she left work to start covering my tracks, which only gave me about twenty minutes.
So I ate some pickles (her most hated food) and gulped down an energy drink hoping that the sweet liquid would mimic the sweetness of the black cherry whiskey that I was drinking.
I jumped in the shower and scrubbed my body as hard as I could to try and rid any possible alcohol that might have seeped out of my pores. Everything was going according to plan when it happened.
And this wasn’t one of my ordinary, “Oh my god I don’t know what kind of shoes to buy” panic attacks; this was one of the bad ones. This was one of the attacks that happened to be reminiscent of my dark, suicidal late teenage years where I couldn’t tell the difference if I was real or not, as in, I couldn’t tell if I existed in this world or if I was stuck in some alternate universe. (That’s a whole other story)
So I jumped out of the shower and stood in the middle of my bathroom panting like an old, worn out dog. As I stood there soaking wet with soap suds running down my body, I was trying to catch my breath, simultaneously trying to convince myself that I was real, without having to cut myself to prove it like I did when I was seventeen. (Again, that’s a whole other story)
This was it!
I had no choice now but to call my wife and tell her what I’ve been doing. I knew that I would be risking a great chance of her walking out and possibly never coming back this time, but I couldn’t take lying to her anymore. Plus if I didn’t stop the drinking now, it would only be a matter of time before I started with the hard stuff again; the illegal stuff.
After I had made a half-assed attempt to dry myself off, I put some clothes on and looked into the bathroom mirror after I wiped away the condensation. My eyes tried to focus through the smudges left behind from my fingers; I couldn’t help but think that I looked the same way I did back in Rochester, the day after my slow drive down Monroe Avenue with the half-empty bottle of Bud Light.
I looked like despair and death.
I picked my phone up off the bathroom vanity and called my wife. Immediately upon hearing my voice, she knew that something was wrong, this was an all too familiar phone call that she received one too many times before.
She knew what had happened, she knew that I was drinking, but that wasn’t the worse part of it. It wouldn’t get bad until she found out exactly how long I had been drinking for. With half of my body still wet and my hair running down my face, I sat down on our living room couch in absolute shame, waiting for her to walk through the door. Ten minutes later she did.
I thought to myself, “What’s going to happen?” “Will she stay?” “Will she leave?”
When I tell her it’s been seven months and not just that day that I’ve been drinking, “Would she ever forgive me?” Sitting alone in the living room, the sound of my heart racing was drowning out the silence that would inevitably turn into chaos upon my wife’s arrival.
Minutes later her key slides into the front door and I could hear the pins dropping in the locking mechanism to release the top lock. She walks in, closing the door behind her. My heart stops, then beats, then stops again. She takes six steps into the living room, turns her head to the left and looks at me with both fear and skepticism in her eyes.
There we were again, for the sixth time, facing off with the only consistent thing to ever come between the two of us in twelve years. It was the all too familiar, Relapse.
Watching her watch me, I wondered if she would pull me back from the edge one last time. I wondered if she would she save me again or if she would let me fall over that proverbial edge and watch me drown. Then I asked myself if I even wanted to be saved.
The edge is where I could either choose to stay and reason with reality or choose to fall over and settle for dying because it’s much easier to fade away from life then to deal with myself and all of my problems.
I’ve been dancing on the edge for far too long with the Devil, my tango partner.
My dancing shoes have holes in the heels, and my laces are incapable of tying anymore.
I need to take these soulless shoes off and toss them over that edge and watch as they disappear into the darkness below. I’ll walk back home to where my life was perfect, and I’ll make the journey there bare footed. I’ll apologize to my wife and tell her that I love her.
The curtain is finally closing on my theater of misery. This is the final show, and there will be no encore for this tragic performance.
Now I’m only waiting to see if my most devoted and loyal fan will stick around to watch me walk the stage one last time to give her thanks for sticking around, or will her seat, along with all the others seats be vacant underneath the now dimming lights. This dance is over.