Triumph Over Temptation: Celebrating 31 Years of Resolute Sobriety
Today, October 26, 2023, I celebrate thirty-one years of sobriety. That’s thirty-one years without a drop of alcohol. That’s amazing to me. And I thank God for every one of those eleven thousand, three hundred and fifteen days. I couldn’t have done it without Him.
I drank my first beer, a Rheingold sixteen-ounce with a steel pop top, while sitting in a dried-out fountain at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City.
I was fourteen years old.
I don’t remember who invited me to this special occasion. I don’t remember any of my friends being there. I’m guessing I must have begun associating with older teenagers who thought it a good idea to introduce Charlie to alcohol.
I do remember how awful I thought the beer tasted. But knowing this was one of those right-of-passage steps to manhood, I persisted. It took me almost an hour to drink that first beer. I would take a short, quick sip, close my eyes, and swallow. This is all I remember from this memorable first full container of alcohol.
It took the rest of that summer, but I was off to the races. When school started in September, I could consume a six-pack of beer. It was an ugly road getting there. I had to overcome my body’s continual rejection of too much alcohol. Eventually, with unwavering persistence, I accomplished my goal of consuming six beers and not throwing up.
During this goal-seeking process, I recruited all my friends to join me in learning how to drink. I am sure I used l some of my newly developing leadership skills, like embarrassment and intimidation. It worked. Most joined me. The ones I remember today are the friends who didn’t follow me into this abyss. They are the boys who became men of character long before I learned what that meant.
I went to high school in New York City.
The drinking age back then was eighteen. It didn’t take long for me and my select alcohol-seeking high school friends to figure out the liquor stores and bars that would serve us without proof of age. It also didn’t take long to figure out how to create phony identification to prove we were over eighteen. The most accessible identification to copy was the United States draft card. I made money forging these documents for my friends. I was an entrepreneur even back then.
Armed with phony IDs in an alcohol-friendly city, I built my tolerance and reputation. Some friends hung in there with me during this challenging period of becoming a drunk. Others just weren’t brave enough to keep up. I guess they couldn’t physically handle it. Or, maybe they couldn’t take the lies we had to tell our teachers and parents to remain angelic in their eyes.
When I turned eighteen, my father, a model of a functional alcoholic, decided it was time. He said, “It is high time I taught you how to drink. You must learn this so you don’t embarrass yourself at parties.”
He took me to New York’s Little Italy for a meal and a big night out. It was just me and him. I surprised him. I consumed as much as he did. We went beer for beer, drink for drink. At about 1 am, he decided it was time to head home. He made me drive, as this was part of this training session. To this day, I remember trying my hardest to avoid hitting the wall of the Holland Tunnel as we headed back home to Jersey City.
The following day, he told me how proud he was of me. Imagine that—mentoring and fathering at its finest.
The next fifteen years were focused on working hard and playing hard. And playing hard meant drinking hard. I was good at both. I had perfected the role of a functional alcoholic. There were some embarrassing lessons, but I am proud to say I got through them successfully.
At thirty-three years old, with a wife and two kids, I was not the husband and father I wanted to become. I was finally being honest with myself. I was not the man I wanted to become.
I was always an observer of people.
The people I admired were the work hard, play hard leaders. I wanted to be like them. Then, one day, it dawned on me. Although these men were successful, their personal lives were in shambles. This was the fruit of their lives, and I was walking the same path.
For the next five years, I would wake up every day and commit to not drinking by 5 pm. I was jonesing for a drink. By 6 pm, I was drinking. I let myself down every day for five years. I could not keep this simple promise to myself. At the same time, I maintained my discipline of always coming through at my work. This behavior resulted in me being conflicted and depressed.
One evening, after having dinner with Kathy, I realized what was happening in my family. What helped me along in this realization is that I was thirty-nine years old, unemployed, with no prospects for employment. I had hit bottom. I didn’t have work to hide behind as my excuse for my drinking. I had to face this fact. Alcohol was a big problem, destroying me, my marriage, and my relationship with my kids.
The next day, I called an old neighbor, a businessman like me but fifteen years older. I remember he went through recovery. I wanted to ask him what it was like. After all, he stopped drinking, kept his job, and stayed married. And he had great kids. This was the outcome I wanted.
We met for lunch.
He told me his story and how bad it got as he continued to drink through his forties. His story was ugly, really ugly. I could not believe where his drinking took him. While sitting across from him at lunch, I asked myself, “Could that happen to me?” The answer was an unequivocal “Yes.”
He asked me, “How about you and me attend an AA meeting tonight?”
I was stunned by his directness. Did he know that alcohol was kicking my ass?
I told him, “No thanks.” But he persisted, and I attended my first AA meeting on October 26, 1993. I was forty years old.
At the end of that meeting, something happened that I never experienced at any other meeting I attended.
Sitting in the back of a room with over sixty people, I was called out. An AA meeting always ends with everyone standing, holding hands, and then reciting the Lord’s or Serenity’s prayers. In this meeting, my first meeting ever, as the attendees stood, a man came to the front of the room and told everyone to sit down.
He pointed to me at the back of the room. Everyone turned to look at me. He said, “If you want to stop drinking one day at a time, you’ll do two things. You’ll come up here and take a white chip, indicating you will stop drinking one day at a time. And every day when you get up, you’ll ask God to keep you sober. And you’ll get on your knees every night before bed and thank God for keeping you sober.”
I went to the front of the room and got the chip.
That man died of colon cancer at forty-three years old, two years after calling me out. But he told me how to do the two things I desperately wanted at the time. He told me I could stop drinking and start talking to God.
Thirty years later, I thank God for that man. If he only knew the impact he had on my life. He was bold to stand and point at me. He had no idea who I was or what others might think of him. He just knew. Alcohol was kicking my ass and ruining my life. He knew because it did the same to him. He challenged me so I might live. He died, making a difference.