September 5, 2020

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

I write this Friday morning. Last night, Lucy, my dog whom many of you knew, died after being hit by a car. From everything I could tell, she died instantly at impact, a blessing I suppose. Becca, my oldest daughter, found Lucy’s corpse at the bottom of our driveway. I was sitting on our porch. Becca’s shrieks called me.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

As I kept my hand on Lucy, she went from being warm to cold, but she showed no signs of life—or anything else. In a moment she’d gone from being to nonbeing, from one of the lights of my life to a dark, dead dog, from someone to nothing. (I know “someone” is typically attached to people and something to non-humans. Anyone who’s ever loved an animal knows what I mean, especially if that animal was as good and sweet and funny as Lucy.) 

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

Lucy came into my family’s life a little more than 100 months ago, in January 2012. Becca, 20 at the time, was home from college. Meri, 18, and Libby, 15, were there when my friend, Sherry, brought Lucy to us. Family lore is divided on whether it was Libby or Meri who named Lucy, but all three girls and I were excited to have a fourth sister or daughter in the house. Today, the girls and I will gather at Lucy’s freshly-dug grave to say goodbye to our noble lost family member. There will be tears. And laughter. But lots of tears.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

Last night, after I’d put Lucy’s body in a black yard-waste bag, carried her up the driveway for the last time and set that bag into the back of my car to protect it from animals, Becca and I sat on the porch. We reminisced. Becca cried and told me the only time she’d ever seen me cry as a little girl was when Alex, a glorious springer spaniel of Becca’s toddlerhood, had to be put down. I told her I’d bawled all weekend and intermittently for the next six months. Even with booze to comfort me, to soothe me, to change my perspective on life, I wept.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

Last night, when I was texting my friends, Karla and Dave, to let them know I wouldn’t be at work today, a strange thought popped into my head. “Lucy is the only member of my family who’s never seen me drunk.” Earlier, right after I’d carried the bag that contained what used to be Lucy up the driveway, I’d sat on the steps, my face cradled in my hands. I wanted a drink.  I wanted a lot of drinks. I wanted to rush right through feeling a sense of ease and comfort, through the slurred words and stories that trailed off into nothing, through the stumbling and falling. I wanted to slip into the abyss.  Then I remembered something.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

I’ve been in recovery for 13 years. Right after I was discharged from a VA psychiatric ward, where that recovery began, I was placed at a shelter for homeless veterans in Nashua, less than a two-minute walk from a noontime recovery meeting. At the first meeting I attended, I met a man who is still my friend and mentor. This man had already been in recovery for a long time, and a couple years before his son had shot himself in the head. I don’t have words (and don’t even want words) to get within an emotional mile of how he must have felt. Still, he didn’t crawl into the bottle or isolate from the world, at least physically. If he got through that, I’ll be okay.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

Lucy was one of the bright spots in my life. She was also a rudder—knowing I was responsible for her helped me steer my life. Eight years is a long time, even in the long life of an old man like me. Lucy and I roamed this planet for more than an eighth of my time here. I’ve only had one human romantic relationship that lasted that long. I will miss her like crazy.

I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

One of the first things I learned when I got into recovery is I can probably keep from using for one day. That one day is today. As long as I stay within today, I’ve got a pretty good chance of making it through. I don’t know what tomorrow will carry into my life, but…

…I don’t have to drink or use. Today.

And neither do you. Really and for true.