Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One day at a time

When I first learned about Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon I cringed. When I saw the pictures posted on Deadspin of his backslide last January I felt sick to my stomach.

Hamilton, the All-Star outfielder for Texas and former No. 1 overall draft choice, nearly threw his career away in a sea of drugs and alcohol before his career had even really started. His much-publicized recovery gave him a second chance.

Then came Saturday’s news and the pictures. As this all surfaced, one thought popped into my head and wouldn’t let go: Hamilton is going to get skewered in blogs and comments all across cyberspace.

Much of the criticism Hamilton has received relates to his outspoken beliefs in Christianity. While that is an interesting topic, it's not one I want to tackle here.

But because of his beliefs, I figured many people would call him a hypocrite or say he’s just another spoiled professional athlete making excuses for his transgressions. I guessed some lower forms of life found on the Internet would say much worse.

Or they'd say just plain stupid things such as what “sjthn” wrote following a heartfelt column by Tim Cowlishaw posted on the Dallas Morning News Web site Monday night.

Cowlishaw wrote about his own battle with alcohol. After it, “sjthn” had this to say:

“I’m sorry but life is not hard to live without drinking. The only reason people drink is to escape, escape the life they have made for themselves. Addictive personality, blah blah. Grow up, life isn’t all about drinking.”
No, it’s not. It’s not about being judgmental either. At least I hope not.

The incident hits home for me, thus my reaction. The demons chasing me are certainly different than the ones hounding Josh Hamilton. But I know something about recovery.

I worry almost every day I’m going to relapse and have a drink again. Sometimes I’ll think I can have just one or two beers now and I’ll be fine. But nostalgia distorts reality.

It never was having only one or two beers. One or two always led to three or four. Three or four led to five or 12. And that led to me waking up in a spot I didn’t remember going to sleep in—even if it was my own bed.

I had my last drink Oct. 5, 1998. That night I drank four beers while at my brother’s house in the Twin Cities watching a Monday Night Football game between the Vikings and Packers. Actually I had three at the house. And then one more with our friend after I gave him a ride back to his hotel.

This was soon after I made a deal with Kristin. I was going to cut back on my drinking. I would limit myself to only three beers when I went out. I broke that deal the first chance I had, though I hadn’t intended to. It showed me I can’t trust myself when it comes to drinking.

So I was done completely. No more “deals.” I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t go to counseling. I was seeing a therapist, but it wasn’t to treat my alcoholism. My abstinence became a by-product of that therapy.

Still, almost 11 years later I wonder if I’m actually done with alcohol. I know enough about AA to know I’m not “cured,” that I will always be an alcoholic. Thankfully, I’m an alcoholic with almost 11 years of sobriety to my credit.

Josh Hamilton had to restart his sobriety streak in January. He says he's been clean since then. When the news leaked of his relapse, Hamilton didn’t hide. He held a news conference to address it. He admitted he embarrassed his wife and his children. He said the incident reinforces he can’t touch alcohol, the same lesson I learned.

So I believe him when he says that. I know there are a lot of people out there who lack empathy, who will take this opportunity to denigrate Hamilton. They will be like “sjthn.”

But I also know about addiction. I know how hard it is to overcome. And I know that when you make a mistake, when you are sincere in your response as Hamilton was, you don’t need to be judged. You just need to get back on that road to recovery.

Where one or two days can become three or four days. And three or four days can become three or four months. And those months can turn into years. And you remember that life isn’t about drinking. It’s about surviving.

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