12 Years: A Hollywood Ending


ife has a certain quality or property quite inimical to fiction. It is shapeless, it does not point to and gather round anything, it does not cohere. Artistically, it’s dead. Life’s dead.


Only artistically that is. In down-to-earth realist and material terms, of course, life is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and has everything to be said for it. But then life ends, while art persists for at least a little while longer.—Martin Amis, Inside Story, page xix

The annual end of June and start of July is a calendrical territory laden for me with reflective moods and a bit of wonder at how I am still here at all. Twelve years ago at this time, one chapter in my life concluded and the next one opened, except I was unaware of this on July 15, 2010.

I was in the shapelessness of my life, of life itself, and whatever narrative powers I may have summoned to give it shape had long been dormant. I drank on July 15 and I did not drink on July 16. In my memory of this moment, this may as well be represented with the sound of a door slammed shut—or slammed open, to be more correct, as life, my life, has opened with possibilities ever since—but in the experience of the moment, there was no difference between the two days.

My last drinks were of the quietly desperate sort: Because I was unemployed and had no money to my name, I had no full bottles of alcohol in the room I rented back then. I also did not have any food. The evening of July 15 was spent in a dig through a garbage bag of “empties” in the hope that a shot glass or two might be filled with the drips and drops that empties sometimes yield. Like water from a sponge that isn’t a sponge at all.
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100,001 Hours

“Someday we’d do useful things, we’d rise above, be kings and queens / But knew cheap chairs would always be our thrones …”—“All That,” Sparks, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip

* * * *
My first few hours sober were spent in anticipation of my next drink. Up until then, any hours sober—at work, or asleep, or at a social engagement in which alcohol was not present for reasons mysterious—were spent in cheerful anticipation of the next drink. Years, decades, passed with me either inebriated or in anticipation of that state.

I am one of those alcoholics who detested drunkenness in myself or in those around me. I only wanted the pleasant, detached, “buzzed” sensation, but the moment alcohol hit my bloodstream, I lost any capability to remain in that pleasant condition—the thought/sensation was, “If this feels good, more will feel better”—and so the land of drunkenness is usually where I landed. Decades. Decades.

On July 15, 2010, I was out of alcohol, out of money, out of food, recently fired from a sales job in front of customers (that’s a fun memory to have), and I anticipated my next (the last) paycheck from that employer. The paycheck came a day late, on July 17, and that extra day is how I am alive and sober today to write these words. July 15, 2010, was 100,000 hours ago today. I think there are more than 100,000 people to thank.
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Ten Years

It’s a long list. Each day for the last 3653 days, someone has said or written something directly to me or merely within earshot that served to guide me through one more day sober. One more sober day. I have thanked some members of that list in person, but some others are individuals whom I met once and they guided me through that day and then moved on. It’s a long list.

The individuals who have offered their wisdom more than once, some have become friends. Others have died, some have moved away. Not to go all “In My Life” on you.

I do not claim to remember every morsel of wisdom that I credit as that day’s bit of help for me because I am not Proust and I am not a diarist and many days I would not know wisdom even if it was offered to me wrapped in a box and labelled “Wisdom for Mark.” (Everyone loves presents!) My life as a sober member of society is proof enough for me that help has been offered and accepted each day for what is now, as of today, ten continuous years of sobriety.
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