I installed an app on my phone that someone recommended on Twitter for tracking number of days without your addictive substance of choice. It told me I was coming up on 6000 days and it felt like a nice opportunity to try out a new idea I'd had about using my beloved stationery in a creative way – and also to order a new fountain pen!
So here is my idea, to use my fountain pens to write my newsletter, to go back to how it used to be when I was in first year at the University of St Andrews, handwriting my Russian literature essays – the olden days, before the Smith-Corona word-processor that used to earn me bottles of White & Mackay whisky in return for typing up my pals' essays.
I like slowing down and writing longhand like this. Of course it makes it challenging to have it edited in my writers' group, so I had to type it up for that reason.
I would encourage you to read the handwritten version, but scroll down to get the digital copy if you want to. Even if it's just for accessibility reasons, I should really include that too.
If you'd like to listen to some music as you read, here's a short playlist of songs that remind me of my time in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where I worked on my Russian language and my alcoholism in equal measure.
Six-thousand days works out at roughly 16-and-a-half years. I’m 50 years old and was 33 when I had my last drink - ironically, a sociable drink with a meal in Georgia, USA. It doesn’t feel like a massive amount of time until I think about my kids, now aged 18 and 15. My daughter was 18 months old when I had my last drink, and my wife was pregnant with our son. That’s when the six-thousand days hit home—more than my son’s lifetime!
The last time I got blackout drunk was in September 2005, a month before the sociable drink in Georgia. I’d sneaked into my attic office at home with a bottle of Bowmore whisky and drank till I passed out. It proved to be the last straw for my wife and she decided to leave me. It’s a feeling that I don’t like revisiting. While I was in that state of purgatory and she was out with our daughter, I made a call to Alcoholics Anonymous and arranged to go to the next meeting. When my wife came back, I told her about the call and pleaded for one more last chance. Thankfully she agreed.
I’d been to AA before, five years before this incident, but my heart hadn’t been in it. This time it was. The stakes were just too high.
Sometimes it’s all too easy to take it for granted that I’ve been a sober husband and dad since then. Reaching this milestone gives me an excellent opportunity to reflect on that. The first feeling that comes to me is a profound sense of gratitude. That’s why it’s worth exploring how it feels in my writing and my videos, not just to acknowledge the achievement, but also to thank my wife for standing by me when the more obvious choice would have been to walk away.
Humility is one of the most important components of my recovery, but it feels right that I recognise this milestone as an achievement. Besides, it wouldn’t be humility that would keep me from recognising the achievement; it would be low self-esteem.
It’s surprising to me that I still feel low self-esteem after six-thousand days of not drinking. I would have expected those feelings to have been taken care of by now. That’s the thing, though – I don’t think those feelings will ever really go away. I’ve just got better at dealing with them.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found of dealing with negative feelings is by writing articles and making videos. I face those feelings head-on by exploring them in a creative way. Once I’ve done that—as I’m doing right here—I find that sharing them in public seems to diminish the power that those negative feelings have over me. I’ve never really been sure why that is. It could simply be that I wouldn’t make anything if it were just for me!
What I do know is that the result of exploring my thoughts and feelings through a creative outlet drastically reduces the danger of my picking up a drink. It’s also very rare that I’ll binge on chocolate Digestives after having published something. It helps me to start thinking well of myself, that maybe I’m not worthless after all, and that what I have to say might actually be valuable. I even find myself craving human connection, something that often feels like the one thing I want to avoid above all others. The Truth reveals itself.
My default state is still to avoid human connection. I’m learning this about myself as I explore my thoughts and feelings and become more self-aware. Just yesterday, I was loading the car outside my house when I heard a car coming down my road. Rather than stepping out the gate and offering a cheery wave to the driver—someone I undoubtedly would have known—I waited behind the wall, where I felt safe until the car had passed by. Is that really what six-thousand days without alcohol look like? Well, yes, for this bear, it is.
That’s why I’m working on getting well by exploring my thoughts in public. Maybe by writing about it I’ll feel able to step out the gate with a cheery wave the next time. And if I don’t, maybe I won’t think of myself as a failure, that I might as well go and seek solace in the biscuit barrel. Maybe I’ll learn how to be kinder to myself and others and get closer to becoming the man I want to be: a loving husband, a loving father, a loving human. The more I can beat the resistance and make something positive and real, the more loving I will become.
I’ve made a video marking my six-thousand days and now I’ve written about it, too. It feels good to mark the milestone by going a little deeper and sharing how I feel.
Six-thousand days! Go me!
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