794 Days of Water: A Sobriety Story
On December 28th, 2017, at 26 years old, I went sober. In my first year, I was resilient in my commitment to confront myself and grateful for those who supported me. Now, with the fog lifted from over my hindsight, I recognize those same people are the ones I hurt when drinking, and I owe them apologies.
That’s weird, I thought I finished the glass of water before I went to bed.
I thought to myself as I woke to damp bedsheets.
I must have fallen asleep before I finished it and knocked it over during the night. Let me check.
I was wrong.
I peed the bed.
• I wish that this was a cute story from the archives of my childhood but it’s not.
This was me at 26, waking up in a bed in my childhood room at my parent's house.
Here I was, on a Sunday morning carrying bedsheets past my parents, who were waiting to have family breakfast with me, downstairs to wash.
I was 26, hungover, and living with my parents.
They didn’t say anything, but looking back I can’t begin to imagine the humiliation or concern they had for me.
This wasn’t an exclusive event either. This was also me at 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25.
This was me.
This isn’t me today. It’s been 794 days since going sober, and in the 2 years of this sober journey, a fog has lifted from over my hindsight allowing me to remember and reflect on moments like this.
In those two years, I’ve often thought to myself “How do you advocate for an adjustment of attitudes and values with integrity if you have previously abused and been complicit in advancing them?” The commitment that I’ve sentenced myself to is to be radically truthful in sharing my past so that others with parallel experiences find solidarity or become made aware of their options, and so that younger generations now entering the phase of life that has visibly scarred me are presented with alternate role models to those who are being broadcasted across televisions, airwaves, and social media accounts.
I’ve found that with writing, writers either write to relate or to educate. Here, I aim to intersect the two, first offering tales one might relate to, and then ones that will educate against the incorrect assignment I gave to alcohol for a decade of my life.
On the first anniversary of my sobriety, I published Last Year I Drank Tequila, which dug into the reasons why I drank. I confronted the harm I was doing to myself (physically, mentally, and emotionally) and being done to my dreams. In that year, cliche as it is, I began to really understand the idea that in order to love others, we need to love ourselves first, and that to change the world we need to change ourselves first. It was hard work, private work, and I am grateful for those who supported my decision. In year two, more secure in my relationship with alcohol, I’ve confronted the harm I’ve done to others. Harm, manifesting in others as emotional pain, worry, stress, anxiety, anger, and taking the steps to repent for and correct it.
All relationships don’t need to return to their former state, but for those who brought them pain, they must at some point have the courage to own their past conduct and begin a process of correction.
That’s what the past 365 days have been for me.
This process has returned me to friendships, revisited adventures, resurfaced memories and stories that I’ll cherish forever but also reached back to confront past pain, traumas, and humiliations of myself and those around me.
What’s become clear now that the fog has lifted is that no matter how great a chapter of my life was, knowing that it caused pain to others, even if a small fraction, is painful, and I’m not willing to dismiss what I did to others because of how embarrassing and humbling confronting it would be.
Welcome to year 2.
Ihave 19 cousins, 16 of whom are younger than me. Growing up, all my cousins on the Italian side of my family shared a summer house, and as my hockey career developed, the Irish side of my family and I bonded over sport. My grandma came to every game, and most of my cousins began playing themselves.
They’d wear my number. They’d look up to me. It was a responsibility I welcomed. In reflection, I think about what I communicated to them. Not in post-game interactions, or over summer ice cream, but in my actions, my lifestyle. On one hand, my athletic and academic success set a great example, but this exercise isn’t about praise, it’s about truth, and ignoring the dust-covered embarrassments would be irresponsible.
In summers, I’d rush to Harwich Port, a town on Cape Cod where the family house was, every Friday night for a weekend drinking affair. After early release from internships or training, I’d race down to arrive in time for a quick meal, shower, and round of shots before going to a local bar with friends. Saturday morning started with a quick sweat, then mimosas, beach Coronas, beach naps, beach sunburns, and a beach buzz all leading into a carbon copy of the night before.
On the surface, it was just a bunch of fun, but the truth was that I was engaging in the excess consumption of alcohol on a regular basis. That’s abuse.
But, with these decisions, I was communicating something else.
I wasn’t the only one at the house on those weekends. Beside me were 8 younger cousins, who, as cousins do, looked up to me, and what they saw was a person giving alcohol value. The same way I looked up to my former high-school teammates that offered me my first beer, and my role models in professional sports that used alcohol to celebrate victory, I had assigned an inappropriate value on the act of consuming alcohol.
Today, I’d much rather place that value on a bike ride, a panel, on education, or meditation than what I did then. I can’t rewind and erase the tapes of my young adulthood and that’s what’s so painful. All I can do today is to write new pages so that when my biography is finished, those years are merely a chapter, not an entire book.
And you can expect me to dedicate that book to my family.
It would read short and just say I am grateful.
I am grateful for their love and support, and I am grateful for their compassion and forgiveness.
During this year of reflection, I think of the pain, manifested as worry, embarrassment, or concern, I brought to them.
I think back to a time with my sister in Prague, Czech Republic. It was February 2014. I was living in Briançon, France and we had a week off during the season. I told my cousin and sister about this and we decided to plan a trip. We chose Prague.
Prague in the winter is pretty and inexpensive. We stayed at a hostel in the old town, went on pub crawls, saw the sights, it was a fucking blast. Until our final night.
We sipped screwdrivers outside the famous Astronomical Clock all day and at sunset, my sister and cousin wanted to grab a few souvenirs before the markets closed. I decided to stay. I decided to keep drinking. I asked the waiter, or waitress, I can’t remember, for a pen and began to doodle on a napkin. After some time I drew a lock, then an open lock, and then an open lock that melted into the word fiction. I sent a picture of it to a friend back home and told him I was going to get it tattooed on my body. He told me I was a fucking idiot, that I was drunk, and it would be a shitty tattoo. I decided against the lock, but a few minutes later I paid our bill and went to find a tattoo parlor.
Now, keep in mind my sister, cousin, and I all had American phone plans and I was supposed to stay at the restaurant. I found a tattoo parlor, had a few more drinks and decided to get a 5 x 6-inch pirate tattoo on my leg. Aside from the fact that it’s just a terribly done tattoo, I had not told my sister where I was, so when I got on wifi and responded to her expired “Where are you” and “???” texts with the word “Alley”, you can imagine the acute anxiety I gave her. I eventually shared the address with the help of the receptionist and when my sister walked in, I realized I had broken our trust. Not only did I go rogue in a foreign country, but I sent her down an alley to find me pantless with a blue pirate on my thigh.
“Is this safe? Are those needles clean? What the fuck Richie?” were all extremely valid questions that I didn’t know the answer to. Nor did I care. I thought what I was doing was the definition of being wild.
It’s moments like this, where I expressed no concern for anyone but myself, that in reflection humiliate me and confirm that I owe people apologies.
I think back to my parents, and an Easter brunch where I stood on the chairs of a table seating all my relatives, grandparents included and took swigs from a Grey Goose bottle in front of cousins who were as young as four. Granted, it was during a game of Cards Against Humanity, but there’s a difference between mature, possibly offside jokes, and just being an asshole.
I was being an asshole, and it was at the expense of my parents’ embarrassment. The car ride home was silent and all I could think was “How did they not have a fun time today?”
Claiming oblivion would be inaccurate and admitting my ignorance doesn’t absolve me. Neither does taking responsibility without intentional actions to correct these misbehaviors.
With family, my motivation to repent for myself is not for forgiveness, but with the hope that my errors can be used as an example for my cousins as they enter into the years of their lives where I chose harmful influences.
And I choose to share this publicly because this exists outside the privacy of my family unit as well.
Today, there are many young men maturing in environments saturated with the glorification of substance abuse and machismo and womanizing tendencies, that will claim these impressionable young men as victims should they subscribe to this narrative. A narrative that ultimately will create more victims as a result of the behaviors of these men. So, I want to offer an alternate example.
To these young men, I understand the desire to be liked by your peers, especially during a time rampant with bullying, but as someone who was actually Captain Fucking America, I want you to know that this — the above lifestyle — is for such a temporary applause in a popularity contest, that inviting harm to yourself and those around you is not worth it. To add, it’s important to identify how one arrives here. White men are born into privilege. It’s with this privilege I was able to become an Ivy-league athlete, where I then had an opportunity to invest in equity or abuse. During the years of my life where I consumed alcohol, I abused this privilege and the sooner we identify this, the sooner we can invest in correcting it.
If my example can be used as an opportunity to erect change and educate on the misdirection of abuses, I’m all in.
Incollege, I met someone that I had an interest in and they told me I had a warning label. At the time, I wore this with honor. It must mean I was a bad-boy, the younger brother to the wild I evolved into.
At least that’s how I interpreted it. I was selectively oblivious to the truth behind this suggestion that I had caused pain to someone or someones.
I binge drank during college and subscribed to a culture that assigned incorrect value to men who exhibited pseudo-alpha type tendencies of womanizing and substance consumption.
My habits and glorification of this lifestyle ruined relationships. Out of respect for those involved, there is no need to share details, all you need to know is that I was wrong.
This has been the silent pain of year 2. I allowed myself to hurt people that I cared about so much, and what’s worse is why I did it. I thought I would gain popularity and increase my social status for engaging in these behaviors.
Human lives and emotions are too valuable to fuck with. And I did.
Today, sobriety has granted me the ability to live and love with such intention that I am able to infuse my relationships with authenticity, integrity, and pure love.
Year 2 has been about taking responsibility, and writing this is a step in that direction, even if at a reduced speed. Of these relationships, there are still some I have yet to apologize to. I’ve convinced myself that reaching out after 5 years would just be picking at the scars their scabs healed into. Or, that it would be selfish of me to ask them to revisit the emotional pain I caused them in order to repent for my transgressions, only for me to feel better about myself. Am I even being narcissistic to think that I was important enough to have caused long-lasting pain? I’m active on social media, it’s easy to privately check-in on someone, and I’ve made the judgment that they’re happy now. Why would I want to disturb them?
I know what I need to do, and relying only on publishing admissions would be a repeat of cowardly behavior and too impersonal.
Apologies are coming.
This warning label wasn’t just reserved for romantic relationships either, this infected my friendships too. During my sophomore year, I learned I wasn’t invited to a friend’s birthday party out of fear of how I would behave. At the time, I was upset at the lack of invitation, but also flattered that I was viewed as this wild guy. It’s as if I was the equivalent of a bad-boy Clark Kent. I embraced this “warning” label persona so much that I even printed one out and taped it to my shirt one night before going out. A night out that, on occasion, ended up with me convincing friends I was fine to drive putting us all at risk.
It even infected relationships with my coach who I’d seek out at college tailgates to say hi to, knowing he was with his family. Is that really the type of player a coach wants representing their team or school?
That’s fucking embarrassing to type out. And no, not embarrassing in the way that owning a white Ed Hardy belt during your freshman year is, but embarrassing that I wholeheartedly believed this to be a good thing.
Unzipping myself from this identity has been a 5-year process with the hardest being this last year since there was nothing but the truth derived from reflections staring directly at my skin in the mirror.
I don’t wish scraped knees and elbows from crawling through rock bottom on anyone, rather I hope others will be inspired to have the courage to confront who they are, who they have been, and who they want to become.
For me, that exercise exposed a poor relationship with alcohol.
Iwasn’t sure what I was going to write on this soberversary, I just knew I wanted to write about it. Mostly for myself. What came out during writing sessions was a painful vomit of embarrassments that, when disinfected, found shape. This needed to be more than an admission, this needed to be an apology. Too often, we prematurely congratulate those who accept responsibility for repeated offenses prior to a complete process. What this protects is the failure to correct behavior. Apologies are incomplete without a corrected course. Cry wolf.
I’ve only ever attended one AA meeting but this essay would be a combination of step 5, admitting to ourselves and others the very nature of our wrongs, and then lead into steps 8 and 9, where we identify who we have wronged, become willing to make amends, and then make amends.
The word “wrongs” is heavy and can have exclusionary implications. Last year I shied away from the word “sober”, aware of the stigma that it carried with it. I still held this elitist attitude that I wasn’t like them. This was reinforced by a former mentor who advised me never to tell anyone in business I was sober, because it would communicate instability. That was wrong, my sobriety is a strength.
Today, I embrace the word. Sober means not affected by alcohol; not drunk. You don’t have to arrive at sobriety from tragedy, or even have had to consume alcohol to be sober. Most don’t understand alcoholism as a spectrum populated with sobriety, casual consumption, misuse, problem drinkers, and abuse. In an effort to update stigmas and attitudes, you’ll hear the word alcohol-use-disorder. It’s a little softer, and it’s quite common.
Consider the conversation on the front lines. A person is considered to have an alcohol-use-disorder when drinking interferes with their work or home life, damages important relationships or their health, and continues despite legal troubles and other serious consequences. It also has to do with problems controlling your consumption. With that, how could I dismiss myself from the conversation?
If an argument ever happened when drinking, alcohol was interfering with that relationship. If one has ever blacked-out, peed the bed, fallen when drunk, or vomited, then alcohol was interfering with their health. And, if a person ever returned to drinking after that, let’s call it what it is. The barrier to entry for classifications of alcohol-use-disorder is quite low, and for a long time, I refused to accept this. I wasn’t them.
What I was, was wrong.
I don’t write that to shame anyone, only to bring equity to the conversation, and inform a curious mind that their self-disqualification from the conversation after checking the boxes above is incorrect. I did that for years, and I regret it.
But 794 days ago the regret became too painful to dismiss, and that’s when this all started. I miss Moscow mules.
I miss being wine drunk at 2 pm on a spring Saturday.
I miss bottomless brunches, 10 person dinners, and ordering 20 shots at a time when I only have 4 friends with me in an attempt to attract and engage a crowd.
I was good at drinking.
But, I don’t miss wasting days of my life, I don’t miss knowing I had a negative effect on another person’s life, and I don’t miss the pain I brought onto myself.
Hi, my name is Richie. I am 28, wild and sober, and I am here to normalize sobriety.
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