On June 6, 2009, I walked into the office of Virginia Suaro, LCSW for my last, first counseling appointment in a string of first counseling appointments. My parents had tried everything. I was listless. I cared about my journey verbally, but not enough on any level to do anything about it. Not enough to get out of my own way.
Virginia was a lovely woman with a reassuring voice. She gave me permission, from the outset, to be honest without judgement. Rather than correct my actions, she’d probe. As a surgeon under drastic illumination, slicing through layers of outer shell, carefully displacing tissue and organs to reveal the heart of the matter, Virginia had a knack for cataloging surficial issues while grazing cautiously past them on the way to where my soul had fermented.
In late April of 2009 my grandfather had passed away. He was, and is, my north star. More than eight years removed, some of it has become lore more than fact, but the light shines just as bright no matter the integrity of the backstory. I had expressed disappointment in myself to my parents. That I had never reached a point during my grandfather’s life where I could point to winning battles the way he did. That I’d let myself become overwhelmed with the work required to climb the mountain. That in some way I was leaning away from him, even when I said I was leaning in.
It may not have been the first or the second session; it was probably the third or the fourth when, during the course of conversation, Virginia used a slightly different inflection in her voice and whittled down from her normally descriptive language to the bare, “You know, Will, it might be a good idea for you to consider quitting drinking.” I can still hear the words echo in my mind. I left that meeting pursuing those words in my soul.
Probably about a month later, on August 6th, I met up with my friend, Juan, at work and waited for him to get off of work. I had a few drinks and we were set to go out for a brief period. My parents were out of town and my girlfriend was coming over. I told her to hang out and I’d be there by 10:30. That quote turned to midnight, and then before I knew it, I was driven home at 2:30 by a friend, with a series of others’ in tow. It had been a festive evening. I spent way too much at the bar and was in a great mood. I went upstairs to my room to wake my girlfriend. It was time to keep the party going.
I turned the dimmer up slightly and WHAM! in a flash I felt my grandfather, the love I had for the woman who I desperately wanted to one day be my wife, and the words of Virginia echo through the house. Not my mind – these words were real. My epiphany showed me the times and ways I would push away everyone I ever loved because of my inability to curtail my use of alcohol. It showed me the life I’d lead if I were to continue to aimlessly meander from goal to goal, never sticking with anything for long enough to have anything to show for it. It showed me the inability I’d have, forever, to make up for having missed the chance to show my grandfather that I was made of the same stuff he was. I walked out the door and told my friends they had to leave.
In tears, I moved back into my room and toward the bed. I shook my girlfriend awake slowly. Sobbing, I told her I was sorry for pushing her away, that I did not want her to leave; I wanted to stop drinking. I was going to stop. I’d had my last drink. August 7th we woke up and she asked me if I’d remembered what I’d said. I’ll never forget what I said.
And so here I am, 100 months to the day, not another grain of hops or barley, set for fermentation, ingested. I first realized when 100 months would occur on my 8th Anniversary of sobriety. I did the tabulation in months, in days. I realized the next round number in days, 3,000, closely coincided with the next round number in months, 100. I don’t know where 3,000 days is on the calendar for me. I stopped counting days around the time I hit six months. I mostly just count years now. 100 months just sounds good to me. Daily, I am reminded of the miracle by which my epiphany blessed me. I have the love of my girlfriend, now my wife. Together, we’ve partaken in God’s creation together, ushering in three beautiful lives. We guide them daily. And we guide them so that they can get to a point where they can, too, realize that they are made of the same iron that William Cody O’Connor, Sr. was – that his legacy will become theirs. I am reminded of my miracle by the measurement I take of myself. Though it be a fraction of where I want to be, I am on the path.
I still set goals. I don’t always hit them. None of us do. Goals aren’t meant to be a measurement of perfection. They’re meant to be a knot in the line in the measurement of happiness. Those goals I fail to hit are usually casualties of other, more basic requirements expanding in the short-term. I can be honest with myself about that now. Alcohol used to be my cloak from honesty. Honesty hurt in the face of failure. Now I realized that failure is most permanent when we refuse to allow ourselves the room for failure. Sobriety has given me that strength. I have had to exercise that muscle, and I still fail in that. I resume my heading as fast as I am able, adjusting goals to reflect what I know to be the newly revealed obstacles in my path.
My support network has been critical along my journey through sobriety. It is not always easy to discard the “Why can’t I do that,” questions that swirl through my head at holiday gatherings or trips with the boys.
And yet here I am, 100 months in, buoyed by the fiber of my forefathers, the love of my wife, and the gentle, yet firm words of a tactical surgeon of the mind and heart. God grant me the serenity to continue.
Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,