Thank God for Sober Heroes

It’s everywhere isn’t it? The references to booze, no wonder it’s so bloody hard to give it up. The other day I’m looking at a website and an advert pops up. Campo Viejo wine. I loved it and those bloody tailored advertisers knew it. Bastards. Not only that, the advert talks about all the things we are missing in this pandemic and shows an idyllic summer setting, with an outside meal being set up. Sun shine, family, Meditteranean country setting, friendly chat and then the uncorking of wine and the glug glug as it’s poured into glasses. The not so subtle message; wine is the oil of social interaction, the gift of the gods that makes life so much more pleasant. As I say, bastards. It’s an advert, I don’t get taken in by adverts but those associations are so powerful that I can feel myself willing to jack in a year plus of sobriety to reconnect with that old life and down a glass or two of Campo.

But it’s an advert. It’s designed to trigger us and make us want to rush out and buy the wine. I notice there’s no one at the table passed out with their face in the bloody lasagne or a pissed uncle boring everyone with his outraged stance on politics, ranting and raving after drinking one too many or cutting to aunt Sofia in the local hospital hoping for a liver transplant after a life of excess bloody Campo Viejo.

But that’s just one advert. I watch my favourite programmes. They all arrive home and open the wine to relax, they go to bars and order a beer. Everyone is drinking. It’s inescapable. Here the message is a little more subtle. Normal people drink small amounts but do it all day long. It’s nice, it’s what normal people do, it’s part of what makes us human. You, sober viewer are abnormal. Come on join the party. Bullshit I scream but it’s like i’m constantly having to be on my guard to challenge and counter these perpetual, persistent messages. Even bloody Bake Off has people sticking rum and other spirits in their cakes. Wink, wink , oh a cake laced with booze is so much better and naughtier than a sober cake. Well I’m a sober muffin and I’ve had enough. I can be as naughty as a gin soaked chocolate eclair on a good day. I don’t need a drink, I don’t want a drink. I know what drinking does, it’s not romantic, it doesn’t relax me, it doesn’t enhance life. So what to do when faced with this constant onslaught?

This is where my sober heroes come in. The ones who prove to me that you can be cool, talented, smart and sober. (let’s leave Donald Trump and Hitler to one side for the moment- they give sobriety a bad name). I still remember the guy at my drama group when I was in my twenties who loved to party, was a hit with the girls, was at ease socially and loved to dance. It was a shock when I found out he never drank. It was so unusual back in the 80’s. He didn’t need a drink to have a good time. That stuck with me. Then came my obsession with the Irish musician Christy Moore. Gave up when it was getting out of hand and recently heard him speaking about how his life has been so much better since he stopped drinking. Sober heroes, role models. We need them. Then there’s the American Writer Raymond Carver. Ah, a true hero. A great writer and for much of his life a true alcoholic. It nearly killed him. He stopped suddenly by himself and did the best writing of his life. He also found love with another writer, Tess Gallagher, whom he married and they had 11 great years together. Here’s what she said about Carver, I’ll leave it to her:

Raymond Carver- A Great Writer and a great role model for what sobriety can do

Instead of dying from alcohol, Raymond Carver chose to live. I met him five months after he’d made this choice, so I never knew the Ray who drank, except by report and through his stories and poems. One result of his decision to stay sober was that he became an internationally respected master of the short story, a writer who, at his death, was called by the London Times ‘America’s Chekhov.’ For me, the best result of his choice was that we found each other, and could write and live together, challenging, inspiring, and supporting one another in this new life we created day by day.

Every artist and writer faces the challenge of how to honor his or her intensity while not being consumed by it. Ray was nearly consumed by his. The decision that changed his life happened on June 2, 1977, a date that, if it were up to me, would be declared a holiday to honor all those who make it out of alcoholism. When I go to his grave now (he died at the age of 50 of lung cancer caused by smoking), I find messages from those who, as he did, want to stay sober, and who lean on his humility and generosity of spirit. They leave him notes: ‘Ten years sober, Ray! Life is sweet, you bet! Thanks, man.’

Ray and I always celebrated the anniversary of his sobriety by doing something simple, like eating chocolate after a nice meal at which we’d toasted the occasion with sparkling apple juice. I’d give him a gift: one year a stuffed elephant to remind him of his story by that name; another, a briefcase in which to carry his newly drafted short stories.

I think, in the end, Ray managed to exchange a deadly intoxication that would have killed him for an intoxication with language and story-telling. Ray had been ‘in the drink,’ as the Irish say, for 25 years by the time he finally quit for good. It took the wounded grace of moments added to moments for him to inch his way free and later, at age 50, finally sit on the mountain of 10 years of sobriety. He considered his decision to stop drinking the single most important event of his life. He wrote this poem shortly before his death on August 2, 1988.

Here’s the poem that Carver wrote:

Gravy

No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. ‘Don’t weep for me,’
he said to his friends. ‘I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.’

So Campo Viejo- next time you try to lure me in – I shall remember my heroes and the wonderful “Gravy” of sobriety. Thanks Raymond, Christy and the guy from my drama group (and all the wonderful inspiring sober bloggers). You remind me why not drinking is the better choice.

28 thoughts on “Thank God for Sober Heroes

  1. gr8ful_collette

    Lovely post, Jim! It does get aggravating, these wide-spread images of deception designed to weaken resolve and ensnare new victims. It needs to change. And yes to sober heroes. I love Carver’s writing and more importantly the strength he possessed to get better. Same with Stephen King, and so many others who make the best choice. 💕

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Thanks Collette, but unfortunately whilst millions pour into tax revenues from alcohol duty, I can’t see much changing. However, having an alternative perspective to that prevailing attitude of drinking is normal and desirable really helps counteract the deceptive attraction. I didn’t know that about Stephen King and he’s great – another one to add to the roll call of great soberistas! X

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      1. gr8ful_collette

        Yes, you should read King’s book On Writing. In addition to sharing his ideas in the craft of writing, he talks about how he got sober and also the near-fatal accident he was in when he was struck by a van while walking. Good stuff. 💕

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  2. clairei47

    Great post and funny that I have been thinking similar things about sobriety recently. I said to someone on my post … we always have the images of the intelligent, strong, beautiful career woman pouring herself a huge class of red to relax after her very important and tough day. We don’t see her later that evening with black stained teeth, spouting slurred rubbish and collapsing into bed fully clothed because she’s too pissed to get undressed. When we do see these negative images in films, it’s portrayed with humour and fun, not the reality of alcohol for most. Nice poem too. Positive role models are really important. X

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Very true Claire and I think us recently sober folk need to keep reminding ourselves of the realities of what drinking was like for us when we catch ourselves reminiscing with rose tinted glasses. Oh and you’re a good role model yourself. 😉X

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      1. clairei47

        Thanks Jim.
        I do find as time passes I forget how awful drinking made me feel. How I’d often wake up the next day wondering if I’d bored everyone or if I’d monopolised conversations and with a pounding head and murky memories. Horrid x

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      2. Jim Simmonds Post author

        Claire I didn’t need to wonder about things like that, people told me and I’d spend the day hungover and regretting the night before. Not now though- oh I still say stupid things but now I know I’m saying them and no regrets. X

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  3. nomorebeer

    Excellent post, Jim. I had no idea you had sober heroes. Ray sure is an inspiring one. Though I’m very surprised you don’t seem to care he smoked himself to death. The more time passes by, the more I’m starting to see the sobriety thing not as “thou shalt not drink” but rather as “thou doth not need a crutch/addictive substance to get through life”. Anywayyyyy whatever. We’re all human. and SOD THOSE ADVERTS!!!!! xxx Anne

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  4. Jim Simmonds Post author

    I do care- but it’s too late! If he’d turned up at my door I would have told him to stop the fags. Anyway it’s not a judgement thing- everyone is entitled to live their lives as they want (providing it doesn’t harm others) I just resent the constant external social and cultural pressures to do something that is so detrimental- which I suppose is a judgement thing. See what you’ve gone and made me do Anne- tied myself up in knots! As you say sod the adverts, constant cultural pressure, social conformity and internal wrangling! X

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  5. Lia

    Great post! Never heard of Ray Carver, but his “Gravy” poem is gratitude at it’s finest. Sober heroes are vital (especially for us beginners), in helping to focus on the magnificent of sobriety; because there is just so much around us, calling us to the romance of drinking. No wonder it’s so tough to stay the course. You are doing marvelous! xo, Lia

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Glad you liked it Lia and yes we have to remind ourselves of that decidedly unromantic side to drinking. It’s tough, it gets easier, it eventually makes you wonder why you didn’t give up earlier. X

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      1. Lia

        How I praying for this to be so! Have made it up to 6 months, longest stretch, and then fell. This time, I don’t want to fall.

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  6. ralisayoung

    I just found your blog as I’m newly sober and writing my own as well. Great post! It so frustrates me how inundated we are with romantic images of drinking and not the reality of alcohol for most people. I wrote a post about it as well and wrote a fake advert for Rose All Day and surgeon general’s warning of what might ACTUALLY happen if one drinks Rose All Day! It really should be illegal, that kind of advertising like what you were assaulted with about your former fave wine. And how is it responsible to promote drinking alcohol ALL DAY as with the Rose All Day campaigns. It’s so wrong.

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Hi there, just seen this as I have been really busy last few weeks and not been maintaining my blog which is very naughty of me. you’re spot on about the constant advertising and “normalisation” of alcohol and it’s a massive problem for anyone trying to give up as it can create the impression that giving up is a character weakness due to not being able to moderate and that you are now some kind of outsider. Giving up booze necessitates seeing through the constant pressure as well tons of will power and conviction. Well done you on both counts! Jim X

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  7. Pingback: Big Alcohol – One Year Without

  8. solo.polo

    Hey Jim, I wanted to thank you for this post. It’s really nice to see sobriety in a refreshing way, being to look up to those who accomplished great things and were sober (as well as little blessings like your friend from drama). It’s really hard to escape a non-sober mentality at all as it is quite the norm all around…”Wanna grab a drink?” “Can I buy you a drink?” “You wanna smoke?” I’d rather play board games and order pizza or something. Anyhow, I’m rambling on. Knowing that there are much more sober people out there makes me feel good as there are hardly any that I personally know. Stay strong out here, Jim and the people in the comments. God bless 🖐🏼

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