My favorite thing about getting a new doctor is when they ask me about my drug history. No, seriously. It’s my favorite because I get to rattle off a seemingly endless list of narcotics that I’ve tossed into the chemical dumpster that is my body. Granted, just talking about drugs and alcohol and my relationship with them was really uncomfortable in early sobriety. Confessing my chemical sins to a doctor was humiliating but 10 years of sobriety later, I really enjoy it. “Yes but not in 10 years” was what I answered to nearly every substance my new physician dove into the drug topic.
“Alcohol?” she asked.
“Yes but not in 10 years.”
“Yes but not in 10 years.”
“Uh hell yes but not in 10 years.”
I really hope my doctor was playing a game of drug bingo with her medical pals because I’m pretty sure I helped her win. When you put my drug and alcohol use into the context of time—from age 14 to age 36—there’s no wonder I had a lot of time to check a lot of boxes. Twenty-two years in the biz meant I had years to make lots of things really unmanageable. It was also the perfect time to retire, as it were. With every substance known to man put in nearly every orifice I have, you would think that I wouldn’t feel the urge to explore new drunken, drugged out avenues after 10 years of sobriety. But you would be wrong.
Listen, I’m not saying I’m “planning a relapse” or even in danger of slipping (which is, let’s face it kind of a cute word for something really devastating). I’m just saying I have the brain of an addict and sometimes that brain gets really loud and says stuff like, “Maybe you should try smoking crack again? I don’t feel like we ever gave crack a fair chance! Maybe crack would work out for us!”
The truth is even though I’ve tried as many drugs as most people with the last name Sheen, there are still a list of “yets” that are a mile long. For example, I got sober before “Rosé All Day” was a thing. This is a real tragedy for a gay man like myself who loves the color pink and getting shithoused on wine during the day. Back in my era, pink wine usually only came from the fine folks at Franzia and it was served out of a box. But now the kids are all about it and I, alas, am not of one the kids, in more ways than one.
I also completely missed crafts beers, boozy seltzer waters and Moscow mules. I also never had a moment with opioids which is odd considering I’m an accomplished drug addict who loves to do things that are popular. I mean it’s an epidemic so I shouldn’t feel FOMO for not being effected by an epidemic. But that’s just how I’m wired. Like I was horrified a few years ago when I heard people were shooting up elephant tranquilizers. Horrified but also had a moment of thinking, “Ooh. I wonder what that’s like!” And don’t get it twisted, even though I never, ever shot up when I was actively using, there’s still a part of my mind that can go there and think that’s a good idea to try some day. Just the other day, someone at the hospital where I work was brought in because they had overdosed on something called “nope.” From what I gathered it’s this mega remixed drug featuring your favorite artists like meth, heroin and ecstasy. Sounds pretty dangerous and let’s be honest something I would have tried with zero hesitation in a different time and place.
The important word in all of this is “yet.” Like: I haven’t tried all of those things yet, I haven’t had my life devastated by them—yet. I haven’t relapsed yet. Beyond the substance I haven’t tried there’s the darker yets that haven’t happened too. Like I haven’t served time in jail for drugs and alcohol—yet. I haven’t wound up in a mental hospital—yet. I haven’t gotten a DUI or attempted suicide or wound up living on the streets—yet. Because what I know about my own journey with drugs and alcohol is that there’s nowhere left to go but even further down. There isn’t a right combination of vaping weed (something else I haven’t ever done yet) and Negroni in existence that will make me a functional and successful drug addict. I’m not going start drinking rosé next week and magically become this normal person who can handle his booze. Knowing this 100% is an incredible gift and one I don’t take lightly. The only places left are even more awful than the garbage rock bottom I already hit in 2009.
“Jails, institutions and death” are the yets that 12-step programs tell us are the inevitable end if people like us continue to drink and use. Sounds dramatic but just from my own Irish and Swedish family, I can confirm this. Recently, I was lucky enough to work with a patient who celebrated 30 days clean and sober. After multiple stints in the hospital, this patient had nearly died during his last stay. His body was no longer able to keep up with his addiction. It was an intense reality: either keep using or die. The room for negotiating on possible ways to make addiction work for him was closed. Remarkably, he got the message, which is why that month sober really meant something to him. I say “remarkably” because I see tons of jaw dropping cases of addiction at their absolute worst—people who should not under any circumstance go back to using but somehow do. It’s the nature of the beast.
The romance of the new highs and even lower lows quickly passes for me these days. It’s a thought. It’s a blip on my radar. It’s a minute and then it passes. I know that whatever is out there in the world of active drinking and using can stay out there. I’m just happy that I haven’t felt the real urge to go find out (yet).