New Year's resolution made 10 years ago still making a difference Change sticks day at a time

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

Say what you want about unkept New Year's resolutions. This year I'm celebrating one I made 10 years ago. There isn't a Dec. 31, or even many days since then, that I haven't made it all over again.

On New Year's Eve 1991, I poured out every bottle in my house that contained alcohol. Partly because people close to me had already blazed the trail and partly as a test to myself.

Down the drain. Quick. Before I changed my mind. The stuff that tasted so good in my morning coffee. The liquid that made a glass of cola so delicious. The party spirit that would take my breath away. Even the stuff for colds in my medicine chest.

It wasn't that I thought I had a problem. I just thought it was a good idea.

A month later, my brother gave me an AA coin celebrating my abstinence. I thanked him, secretly thinking he didn't understand. After all, I didn't have a problem.

Still, there were parts of my life I couldn't remember. And things I could remember but I wished I couldn't. People that acted like I should know who they were, but I didn't have a clue. At least one employer who said he

wouldn't have me back, which was too bad because my co-workers and I used to have some great Friday lunches at the local bar, where beers were only a buck a piece and the hot dogs were the best in town. The stories my daughters made up to cover for my behavior.

Nothing in that list to be proud of.

In fact, there was too much to be ashamed of, but I wouldn't let myself think about that.

After that New Year's Eve, there were days when a glass of something that would bring back that warm, fuzzy feeling sure sounded good. Would it hurt to have a glass of dry red wine with dinner? Or a hot cup of water and

whiskey to ward off a cold? Or a couple shots of stress relief to make up for a demanding day?

However, my stubbornness and my pride kept me strong. After all, if there was no problem, why did I need a drink? So every day -- and I mean every day -- I recommitted to my resolution.

A couple of years later, all of us on a pipe-line job caught colds. One morning I started coughing and the person next to me set his bottle of cough syrup and a spoon on my desk. In a desperate attempt to stop the hacking, I downed three tablespoons of the stuff.

Not only did I stop coughing, but also I felt this comforting warmth spread through my body. One second I was thinking how much I loved that feeling; the next second I realized what I had done. After maintaining a zero-alcohol diet, I had swallowed enough magic elixir to bring back that wonderful glow.

For the first time I thought I might need help. My fingers did some fast walking, found my brother's phone number and, like the angel he is, he calmed me down, told me it was OK, assured me I hadn't done anything wrong,

and promised to be only a phone call away if I needed him.

A few days later I went to my first AA meeting. But I was sure I wasn't like the people I was standing next to. These were really drunks. I mean car-wrecking, family-destroying, sentence-serving, rehab-needing drunks. I

was a saint next to them.

But I stuck with it, listening to what they said. Mentally, I did some self-assessment. I'd never been arrested, gone to jail or been in rehab.

But what about the time I drank wine at a friend's house, tried to drive home and fell asleep? My kids were with me, the car was totaled, but no one got hurt, so it couldn't have been that bad. And there was the time one of my daughters threatened to run away after I spent an afternoon with friends downing shots of whiskey, but she only threatened that once. And there was the time a roommate rushed me to the emergency room after I sort of lost

control, but it couldn't have been the alcohol I'd been drinking all day.

Pamphlets I picked up at the AA meetings shed light on what it meant to be an alcoholic. Books and classes helped, too. I discovered that my body and alcohol are a bad combination. That doesn't mean I'm a bad person. I

just need to keep my distance from something I happen to like a lot.

The people in those meetings became my family. My brother was my guide. My daughters' love was more important than my next breath. And I probably owe my life to the friends who stood beside me.

According to information from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, a 1998 study showed that 41,000 Alaskans were alcohol-dependent and 5,000 were drug-dependent. The cost of that dependence is felt in lost productivity ($319 million); criminal justice and protective services ($146 million); health care ($123 million); traffic crashes ($21 million); and public assistance ($4 million).

In 1999, there were 1,058 traffic crashes in Alaska attributed to alcohol and other drug abuse; 31 were fatal, 83 caused major injuries, 388 caused minor injuries, 556 caused only property damage. Total costs for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome births that year were estimated between $21 and $42 million.

There were approximately 3,000 jobs in alcohol-related industries in Alaska during 1999, with earnings of approximately $50 million. State excise tax revenue on alcoholic beverages, collected at the wholesale level, was estimated at $12 million.

"Today I ask for your help and partnership in addressing the often irreversible harm caused by alcohol abuse. Alaska leads the nation in alcohol abuse. Statistics show that 80 percent of all crimes are committed by individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The cost to the state runs in the millions of dollars," U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens told a joint session of the second session of the 21st Alaska State Legislature on March 16, 2000.

On Dec. 31 it will be 10 years since I poured out those bottles. I wouldn't trade one sober moment for even one drop. It has become a statement of strength, rather than weakness, to admit I'm an alcoholic. I was one 10 years ago and I'll be one when the clock rolls into 2002.

But I'll be a sober one.

McKibben Jackinsky is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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