terça-feira, 3 de maio de 2011

It was a simple question. "Can you remember the last day you didn't have a drink?" Laura asked in her calm, soothing voice. She wasn't threatening or nagging. She did expect an answer. My wife is the kind of person who picks her moments. This was one of them.

"Of course I can", came my indignant response. Then I thought back over the previous week. I'd had a few beers with the guys on Monday night. On Tuesday I'd fixed myself my favorite after-dinner drink: B&B, Benedictine and brandy. I'd had a couple of bourbon and Sevens after I put Barbara and Jenna to bed on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were beer-drinking nights. On Saturday, Laura and I had gone out with friends. I'd had martinis before dinner, beers with dinner, and B&Bs after dinner. Uh-oh, I had failed week one.

I went on racking my memory for a single dry day over the past few weeks; then the past month; then longer. I could not remember one. Drinking had become a habit.

I have a habitual personality. I smoked cigarettes for about nine years, starting in college. I quit smoking by dipping snuff. I quit that by chewing long-leaf tobacco. Eventually I got down to cigars.

For a while I tried to rationalize my drinking habit. I was nowhere near as bad as some of the drunks I knew in our hometown of Midland, Texas. I didn't drink during the day or at work. I was in good shape and jogged almost every afternoon, another habit.

Over time I realized I was running not only to stay fit, but also to purge my system of the poisons. Laura's little question provoked some big ones of my own. Did I want to spend time at home with our girls or stay out drinking? Would I rather read in bed with Laura or drink bourbon by myself after the family had gone to sleep? Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty, or was alcohol becoming my god? I knew the answers, but it was hard to summon the will to make a change.

In 1986, Laura and I both turned forty. So did our close friends Don and Susie Evans. We decided to hold a joint celebration at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. We invited our childhood friends Joe and Jan O'Neill, my brother Neil, and another Midland friend, Penny Sawyer.

The official birthday dinner was Saturday night. We had a big meal, accompanied by numerous sixty-dollar bottles of Silver Oak wine. There were lots of toasts — to our health, to our kids, to the babysitters who were watching the kids back home. We got louder and louder, telling the same stories over and over. At one point Don and I decided we were so cute we should take our routine from table to table. We shut the place down, paid a colossal bar tab, and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning with a mean hangover. As I left for my daily jog, I couldn't remember much of the night before. About halfway through the run, my head started to clear. The crosscurrents in my life came into focus. For months I had been praying that God would show me how to better reflect His will. My Scripture readings had clarified the nature of temptation and the reality that the love of earthly pleasures could replace the love of God. My problem was not only drinking; it was selfishness. The booze was leading me to put myself ahead of others, especially my family. I loved Laura and the girls too much to let that happen. Faith showed me a way out. I knew I could count on the grace of God to help me change. It would not be easy, but by the end of the run, I had made up my mind: I was done drinking.

When I got back to the hotel room, I told Laura I would never have another drink. She looked at me like I was still running on alcohol fumes. Then she said, "That's good, George."

I knew what she was thinking. I had talked about quitting before, and nothing had come of it. What she didn't know was that this time I had changed on the inside — and that would enable me to change my behavior forever.

It took about five days for the freshness of the decision to wear off. As my memory of the hangover faded, the temptation to drink became intense. My body craved alcohol. I prayed for the strength to fight off my desires. I ran harder and longer as a way to discipline myself. I also ate a lot of chocolate. My body was screaming for sugar. Chocolate was an easy way to feed it. This also gave me another motivation for running: to keep the pounds off.

Laura was very supportive. She sensed that I really was going to quit. Whenever I brought up the subject, she urged me to stay with it. Sometimes I talked about drinking again just to hear her encouraging words.

My friends helped, too, even though most of them did not stop drinking when I was around. At first it was hard to watch other people enjoy a cocktail or a beer. But being the sober guy helped me realize how mindless I must have sounded when I drank. The more time passed, the more I felt momentum on my side. Not drinking became a habit of its own — one I was glad to keep.


George W. Bush, Decision Points, Crown Publishing, 2010