To drink or not to drink. If you’re an alcoholic like I am, there really is no question—you drink, you always drink. That’s what alcoholics do, we drink, St. Patrick’s Day or not. I’m an alcoholic because when I start drinking alcohol, I do not have the ability to stop on my own and it’s not because I’m Irish.
For an active alcoholic, on holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, we’re not that different. In fact, a lot of us referred to them as ‘Amateur Hour’, where people who can’t hold their liquor get drunk, rowdy, and make fools of themselves. But what happens when you’re newly sober and these holidays arrive? What happens then?
A sober St. Patrick’s Day
This year, instead of missing work the day after St. Patrick’s Day, sick and hungover, I’ll be taking St. Patrick’s Day off to celebrate my Irish heritage, sober. I’ll start it off the same way I try to start every day, with gratitude for what my life has become. And then, I’ll take my son to school and prepare to play the bagpipes for the class. Yes, indeed, I play the bagpipes! I’ll wear my Irish heritage kilt and my Prince Charles jacket with vest. I’ll play traditional bagpipe tunes for ten minutes or so and answer questions from the kids about the bagpipes, being Irish, and St. Patrick’s Day. Later that day, I’ll play 3 more gigs—one solo and the other two with my band. I play bagpipes in an Irish rock band, ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. Some call it an Irish drinking band, but we aren’t. I don’t drink and neither does James, the singer.
For me, and people like my bandmate, St. Patrick’s Day is a special day where we have the opportunity to celebrate, honor, and share our Irish heritage and culture with others, Irish or not. For some, St. Patrick’s Day represents a day where people go out for a good time, possibly drink too much, wear green t-shirts that say “Kiss me I’m Irish”, and paint shamrocks on their faces.
But for my family and for many whose families originally hailed from Ireland, there’s more to it. For us, St. Patrick’s Day represents courage, hope, faith, spirit, and the pursuit and achievement of our dreams. Equally as important, St. Patrick’s Day also marks the advent of spring, a season of renewal and change.
Recently, I explained to my son who St. Patrick was and why we celebrate. I opened a book called ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives‘, and interestingly enough, right under St. Patrick’s picture was the caption “Overcoming Obstacles“. I was immediately reminded of my alcoholism and that it is a disease of the brain that had terrible effects on me. Many people thought I was bad, a lost cause, and crazy, but, in reality, I was sick. For many of us, alcoholism is one of the biggest obstacles we’ll ever face. Sobriety is not easy, but it is attainable.
Living one day sober for any alcoholic is truly a miracle. As we continue to stay sober, the days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, and the months turn into years. But for a lot of us, those first few years can be really tough and grueling. We’re learning a new way to live, doing things for the first time in a long while without the aid of our old crutch, our old friend, alcohol. It is a difficult obstacle to overcome.
Getting sober, staying sober
I got sober, probably for the 100th time on March 8, 2008, ten days before St. Patrick’s Day. For an Irish bagpipe player, I sure have poor timing I thought, ten days before a holiday known for heavy drinking? Why do I continue to make things hard on myself? But getting sober was never the hard part, staying sober was. I knew if I were to stay sober, I would have to do things differently. I’d have to do the things I needed to do and not the things I wanted to do.
“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” –Oscar Wilde
My first St. Patrick’s Day sober was tough—I was outside my comfort zone. An alcoholic without his drink is in an abnormal state. Most of my family and friends would be drinking and I did not want to drink but I also did not want to sit home alone, which would all but guarantee I would drink. I made the choice to go to an AA meeting. And in that meeting, there sat my saints, my St. Patricks were there to support me. I saw guys I hadn’t seen in years, who I thought were either dead or locked up. And there it began, with me finding the strength to do what I needed to do as they helped drive away my snakes when I couldn’t do it by myself. Finally, it was a journey that I was willing to take, my path to recovery with the understanding that there are obstacles to overcome and, for me, knowing that there will always be St. Patrick’s along the way.
First published on March 17, 2016. It has been reviewed and republished on March 16, 2018.