I Hear It’s My Birthday. Well, Happy Birthday(s) to Me.

[This post was first published on November 15, 2012. I am pinning it to the top of the blog/site a year later with a few further notations added in brackets like this one.]

November 15, 2012

While Ann and I were in Scotland last month I started keeping a personal journal again, and started making notes about my impending 62nd birthday.

As of today, right now, I have lived to the not especially ripe old age of 62. [I do consider that number something of a landmark in its own right, though: the first time I asked my grandmother how old she was, she said she was 62…] I don’t really feel “old,” as much as I use the number as an excuse for all manner of lassitude and transgressions. And I do qualify for senior discounts at the movies…

The best that can be said (the best?) is that I have managed to reach that milestone without having contracted a terminal disease, which is better than I can say for my brother who entered the first stages of terminal in the last weeks of his 61st year. By the time he was 62 he’d been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, a portion of his cerebrum had been removed and he’d lost the ability to clearly express himself verbally or in writing. He was, essentially, done, though it took another year for affliction to fully run its course.

If thats “the best” that can be said, then I guess the worst is: I now have twelve months in which to see if I can actually outlive him – if I can get to the age of 63. Because when the cancer was done destroying Arthur’s brain, he was still just 62.

I am now faced with the challenge of outliving both my father and my brother. My father — the specter of whose early demise has cast a shadow over my entire existence. I’d outlived him when I reached the age of 38.

To that number and the ones immediately that precede it I suppose I owe some debt of gratitude…

I was 36 when I began to realize that I no longer needed to impose my father’s fate upon myself. I was not likely to be dead by age 37. And so it was at that point – at the threshold of my 37th birthday in November of 1987 – that I made my first attempts to stop killing myself with drugs and alcohol.

Sometime in that autumn of 1987 I was introduced to AA. My first big takeaway from my first encounter being “the program” was that it was nothing like I’d imagined. It was not seedy basements and men in dirty trench coats. It was instead well-lit and friendly chambers populated with all kinds of people I knew and thought well of. A place I could relate to, maybe deal with…

My first attempt at sobriety started on November 1st of that year. At that point I still had a pretty vague, feeble understanding of the concept of “alcoholic.” I think I was still under the delusion that it was OK to drink so long as I didn’t get drunk.

So I was still drinking, but maybe not smoking pot, I don’t remember (heh, there’s a surprise), by the time of my birthday on the 15th of November, and I think I got pretty buzzed that night. “Not drunk, just buzzed,” I recall rationalizing.

As much as pot had been my drug of choice and preference since 1969, I think rich red wine may have been the hardest thing to admit I was going to have to live without it. Of all the substances I abused, I suppose that is the only one that I still miss sometimes. It certainly isn’t Scotch (Johnny Walker black = “werewolf medicine!”).

But by then, I’d been to a few AA meetings, had made a couple of abortive attempts to get with the program, and one pivotal passage had begun to sink in: “”Half measures availed us nothing.” I knew there was a full stop looming, and hopefully in the near-ish future.

Fast forward about 10 days to Thanksgiving, 1987. My then future ex-wife and I had a group of friends at our house . I have this mental picture of offering a toast, a glass of red wine in my hand, while Gene – the friend who had “12th stepped” me to the threshold – looked on in hopeful understanding and exasperation.

I drank that glass of wine.

And that was it. Not a sip or a puff or a sniff since. 25 years if the practice holds for another week. [Come Thanksgiving 2013, 26 years.]

So that was the first lease on life. I can’t remember how hard it might have been, those first 30-60-90 days. I remember thinking somewhere during that time, as the cobwebs began to clear, that I could do this for year. And somewhere during that first year I arrived at the irreversible conclusion: this was better.

My 38th birthday represented two substantial milestones: At 38, I had successfully outlived my father, who was dead at 37. And I had spent nearly a year in total sobriety.

And now I am 62, and I have outlived my father by 25 years, every one of them clean and sober – if not exactly devoid of anger resentment, irritability and just general crankiness. A dry drunk. some might say. A very long dry drunk, at that.

But now another threshold looms. I have to live to 63 before I will have also outlived my brother.

There is much more to that challenge than simply lasting the year.

I’ve got some living to do.