I am fairly reticent to preach about sobriety, and that’s mostly because I don’t really feel like I’m qualified. My reformed-drunk bona fides are pretty slim. I know tons of people who’ve been bone dry for 20, 30, even 40 or more years, but me? I don’t even know exactly when I quit drinking. I only know I haven’t had a drink today.
And frankly, my dear, that’s the only fuggin’ unit of time for me that matters.
Lots of times I want to write about being sober, and what it’s like seeing beer everywhere you look. Yummy, foamy, hoppy, alcohol-infused beer that is 100% pure beer. And I want to tell people that hey, being sober sucks in a lot of ways, well, actually, it only sucks in one way, and that is this: No one has figured out how to be drunk and sober at the same time. You have to pick.
My aversion to preaching about sobriety and preaching in general runs in the family. My dad was going to be a Baptist preacher when he grew up, but then he left the small goat stop that was El Paso in the 50’s and went to the University of Texas and met a Jew. My dad started lecturing the Jew about Christianity and his soul, and fire and brimstone, and all the good stuff that awaited him at the feet of Jesus.
The Jew, whose name was Abe (of course), listened patiently. He was a few years older than my dad and considerably better versed in the world. “Well, Chandler,” he said, “what if, after reading these fables of yours, a person doesn’t believe them?”
And that stopped my dad in his tracks, because for the first eighteen years of his life in Goatsville no one had ever raised the possibility that there were people who would refuse to believe the New Testament when confronted with it. He had been taught that the only barrier to everyone becoming a Baptist was their failure to have had the whole thing properly explained. This shock was the beginning of the end of Christianity for my dad, even though the final denouement didn’t come until he was in the navy, swabbing the decks of the U.S.S. Thomaston, a landing-ship dock. In between swabs he became an atheist, just like that. In the way that Jake and Elwood saw the light in the Blues Brothers, my dad unsaw it. The light went under a cold slosh from a bucket of seawater. [More than sixty years later my dad was visiting California and looked up Abe, who lives in Santa Monica, and called him up. Abe had zero recollection of any of this, but they got together and had a marvelous afternoon as my dad regaled him with how Abe had saved my dad’s soul from organized religion.]
But the point of this story was that dad’s conversation with Abe killed his preaching blues, and from that day forth he stopped preaching. So it runs against the Davidson grain to preach, and that’s partly why I don’t like to talk too much about being a drunk. Conversion zeal is oily in all its forms, and I kind of figure hey, if you are a drunk you had better quit, unless of course you don’t want to, in which case you should carry on, because it’s your life. My uncle Phil drank himself to death and was as happy as a clam until his last day on earth.
The reason I bring this up is because even though I’m no expert on sobriety, from time to time people, usually ex-drunks themselves, will make a quiet comment to the effect of, “Good job, wanker. Keep it up.”
And you know what? Those attaboys matter. They matter a lot. One part of the sobriety equation is knowing that people are watching, that people care. Not bike racer watching, i.e. watching in the hope the other guy fails, but human watching, friends and sometimes utter strangers for whom your battle matters and who are looking to hold you to account if you falter, and pat you on the back if you make it another day or another year or another five stinking seconds.
If you’re a drunk and want to dry out, you can. The bad news is that you have to do it alone. Nobody can do it for you. But the good news is that your fellow ex-drunks want you to succeed. It does more than validate them. Your effort helps keep them sober, too. You’re not some statistic, you’re a real person, and when you fight, well, you will find that when you look over your shoulder you have a lot more people in your corner than you ever imagined. You can be a drunk if you want to be, but it’s not required or foreordained. Sobriety is one straightened elbow away.
I’m writing all this because my dad sent me a Vote For Me email by a Houston judge, Judge Steven Kirkland. His election campaign pitch? “I used to be a drunk and I’ve been sober for 33 years. Sobriety has made me more honest and a kinder person.”
That’s pretty fuggin’ rad. That’s a guy I’d like to have in a black robe pronouncing judgment on my bicycling transgressions. That’s someone who has gone far beyond recovery and is way, way, way down the road of using his tribulations to lessen those of others.
And Judge Kirkland didn’t mention it, but being sober sure makes bicycling a lot more fun, too.
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