Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my new memoir, Clean: My Battle With Sobriety. My book recounts my vicious fight against sobriety, with all the peaks and valleys, laughter and tears, successes and failures. I’m proud to say I’ve been drunk for 49 months now and, while every day is difficult, I will never forget the journey of how I got here.
Chapter 4, Surgin’ Urge:
I was in a meeting with Ken, my boss, Roger, his boss, and Louis, our VP of Marketing and Sales. I was pretty buzzed, but being a long-practicing functional alcoholic allowed me dazzle Louis (as usual) with the new plans to saturate the Midwest market with our new outdoor and print campaign. But it was when Louis said to me, “Carmine, your ideas really feel like a breath of fresh air,” that I felt it. The tingle in the back of my neck was back after months of absence. That small voice in my head started to speak to me. Fresh air, it told me, can be enjoyed when you think clearly. I thought I pushed that voice back down, but now it was coming back more fierce than ever. Fresh air, bright skies, optimism, accurate tastebuds; the things enjoyed by a sober man.
I went back to my office and got ripped out of my mind on peppermint schnapps. I had to drown out that tiny voice, which I nicknamed The Urge because always urged me to make a change. The Urge started small, but they always gnawed away at me. I would resist, but eventually I knew I would succumb. The Urge to put down the flask or the bottle or the can or the NyQuil tugged at me. It felt like it would be so easy to give in and just enjoy a ‘normal’ day of waking up refreshed, eager to start the day, being exceptionally productive, establishing and maintaining relationships. I spat at the very thought. I woke up three hours later, my drool-soaked desktop portfolio beneath my face. I took two long swigs of the schnapps and straightened my tie. I decided to fight the Urge. If it wanted to come back stronger, I would fight harder.
That meant removing all temptation to keep alcohol out of my system. I cancelled my weekly racquetball game with Mike. I hired a housekeeper to come by twice a week so I wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning. I bought a second Kegerator to keep in the bedroom and upped the delivery schedule. I went only to 21-and-over rock shows to be sure I would be around people who drank. I kept my gym flask full at all times so I’d be ready to go after a workout. I sold my car so I wouldn’t be tempted to not drink because I had to drive somewhere. I created as many opportunities as possible to remove responsibilities and distractions so I could refocus my energies. The Urge would not let up, so neither would I.
But, as things go when you have a goal, sometimes the obstacles lead you to failures. I was at the office late on a Friday, working on copy for a Monday presentation. It was 7pm and I just finished off the last of my Chivas when I grabbed my coat to head down for a cocktail at Morton’s. With my office on the 42nd floor, I usually take the express elevator. That night, of course, I was drunk as a skunk and feeling saucy enough to take a regular car down. As luck would have it, the elevator got stuck between floors 17 and 18, the exact middle of the 6 floors that were completely empty because of renovations. My calls on the emergency phone went unanswered. My cell phone had no reception. Worst of all, my work flask was due for a refill.
I was stuck in an empty building on a Friday night. My drunken screams and banging went unheard. The anxiety of being trapped for potentially three days and the sweating due to the 80 degree heat in the car meant my buzz was completely killed in about 3 hours. The Urge moved right in, telling me I didn’t have to live like I was living. I could see the world with clear senses, I didn’t have to feel numb all the time. I should be able to feel my teeth all the time, It told me. I cursed the forced sobriety, and I cursed myself for finding it appealing.
I was in that elevator for 14 hours before security noticed a problem. It was another hour before I was home to funnel six beers in a row. The Urge had become so loud and nagging, and the beers quieted it only a little bit. So I pulled out one of my Power Hour CDs and played it twice. I blacked out until Sunday night, but apparently I performed one my signature standbys: downing half of each bottle in my 4J Cabinet. The 4J stands for José, Johnny, Jack and Jim. The Urge was at bay for awhile as I went back to my routine of screwdrivers at breakfast, a four-Bass Ale lunch, and vodka tonics with dinner. It was nice to relax into my routine, I always found a certain security and peace with it.
Little did I know that my constant benders would soon halt due to incredibly great news with my family. Not only did my brother and his wife announce the birth of their new son, but my favorite aunt married a fine gentleman and my sister received a huge promotion. All these personal triumphs for my loved ones gave me an intense joy, and I neglected the drink much more than I would have liked. It allowed the Urge to take over and tragically, I did not touch a drop of alcohol for three months. It would take some real reflection and determination to turn things around and push away the Urge once and for all.
Read the rest of Chapter 4 and the details of my heroic journey to complete alcoholism when Clean is released in Q2 of 2009, available wherever books are sold.