By Ray Sullivan: Freedom Newspapers Publisher
This is a personal tale about the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made that has stuck. The decision saved me from myself.
I write about it not for praise, but in case someone reading it wonders if they should quit drinking like I did 21 years ago.
I couldn’t decide for sure back then, so I quit for a year before I made my final decision. I finished my last alcoholic drink on New Year’s Eve 1985, my 38th birthday.
I wrote about it in a column for the newspaper where I worked — my form of public pressure not to renege. I wrote that I wasn’t sure I was an alcoholic but I wanted to see what a year away from booze felt like.
By early December 1986, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to drink again. That Christmas Eve, I was sent a sign I couldn’t ignore. It came in the form of a tragic phone call.
My sister Winnie and her boy Johnnie were hit head-on in their car by a speeding drunken driver after last-minute shopping in our hometown of Pueblo, Colo. His car was in their lane. Winnie died instantly, impaled by the steering wheel of her compact car.
Johnnie was pried from under the crumpled dashboard on the passenger side, unconscious with severe head and internal injuries. He remained that way on life support in the hospital until Christmas afternoon. Wayne, Johnnie’s older brother, who was 17 and not in the car, asked that Johnnie be removed from life support. Johnnie soon died.
Thus my year-long resolution became a lifetime decision. It came nearly three decades after my first taste of alcohol.
I probably wasn’t 10 years old when I snuck a sip of some vile-tasting dry vermouth in the bottle my parents kept under the kitchen sink. And I clearly remember my first time drunk. It was a 1960 summer afternoon. I was 12. Several of us golf caddies were chugging quarts of beer at an older caddy’s mobile home.
The results were as ugly as our hangovers.
After that came many hangovers, and many nights driving home when I shouldn’t have. Several times I didn’t even remember driving. Fortunately, I hit no one.
That’s my tale. Out of a question came a year-long resolution and a lifetime pledge.
I’m told the non-drinker ranks also include the driver who hit Winnie and Johnnie’s car. I’m glad for him. He had a badly broken leg in the tragedy and is now out of prison.
I’ll be thinking of him tonight at our house where my wife, Bev, my rock through these years, will celebrate my 59th birthday with me and a few of our friends. Some will have alcoholic wine or beer or champagne. Some will not.
We will share friendship, good conversation, music and food, and play a few board games. Then we’ll raise a toast to each other’s good health as we watch the festivities in Times Square and say hello to 2007.
That is a New Year’s Eve I will enjoy remembering.