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A Quarter Century of Sobriety (Funny, It Seems Even Longer)

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Twenty-five years ago this month I promised my first wife, then extremely pregnant with our child, that I would never take another drink.

I was drunk at the time, full of Jack Daniel's, but I remember the moment well because it was the only promise I ever really made.

And I've kept my word, even though that woman is no longer my wife. Guess I was making the promise to myself, after all.

I didn't join Alcoholics Anonymous. I have great respect for the organization and the countless people it helps, but I've been a newspaperman and TV producer for a long time, and the last thing I need in my day is more meetings.

I don't even know if I'm an alcoholic. What I do know is that my drinking wasn't helping my life. It was weakening me at a time when strength mattered more than ever, so I stopped.

My drinking problems began when I was a reporter at the New York Post, back in the '80s. You cover a lot of tough, sad stories in a job like that, and nothing softened the edges better than a few drinks after work.

Besides, hanging out in bars was a career move in those days -- I'd usually be bumping elbows with one of my bosses.

A crazy memory that survives from those boozy nights:

We were tankin' 'em down at Jimmy Day's, a long-gone saloon in the Village, when suddenly the huge window facing West Fourth Street shattered, sending glass fragments flying across the bar.

A rock? A bullet? Who the hell knows?

My boss wanted to know. He grabbed my arm, pulled me toward the door and said: "Let's get that bastard!"

Technically, this was an assignment, and I never turned down assignments.

So off we stumbled into that windy night, chasing some lunatic who might have had a gun, and as I slowed down to let my boss take the lead (figuring, what's one less Australian in New York City journalism?), I remember thinking:

There must be better things to do at three in the morning!

Luckily, that lunatic we were (sort of) chasing was faster than both of us. We gave up and returned to the bar in time for last call.

An even scarier memory:

One wildly boozy New Year's Eve I staggered from a friend's party in Brooklyn, got on the wrong subway, woke up at the end of the line and climbed the steps to find myself in the middle of a cemetery somewhere in Queens. Or maybe it was The Bronx. Or a dream.

I drifted among the headstones in the pre-dawn light, reading epitaphs and fearing I'd see my own name, chiseled in stone. Not a bad Twilight Zone script, but a chilling way to spend New Year's Day.

Enough was enough.

When I quit drinking, I also stopped smoking -- a much more difficult habit to break. Every time I thought about how badly I wanted a drink, I distracted myself by thinking about how badly I wanted a cigarette, and vice-versa.

With that dubious technique, I distracted my way into clean lungs and sobriety. Suddenly I had no bad habits, unless sarcasm is a bad habit. (I'm hoping it isn't, because I could sooner give up breathing.)

My current wife, a delightful, bubbly Brit, has never seen me drunk. "Things have changed," she said a few years ago. "Maybe you could have a drink now."

All I could do was shake my head. "That would be like looking up an old girlfriend," I told her. "We'd BOTH be disappointed."

It's true. Too late is too late. The tail lights of the whiskey train vanished in the distance on that final boozy weekend in February of 1988.

So I'm stuck with sobriety. What's good about it?

Well, moments really linger -- like the time my son hit a home run in his very first Little League game at that playground on Houston Street and Sixth Avenue. I savored it with clear eyes, unclouded by hangover.

Wouldn't have wanted to miss that -- his little fists high over his beaming face as he crossed home plate, and the way his team mates swarmed him in their floppy, oversized baseball jerseys.

What's bad about sobriety?

Being in situations where everybody else is loaded. It gets lonely, much lonelier than actually being alone.

When is it really challenging?

The day my kid graduated from college, I stood and applauded his reception of the diploma with my ex-wife to my left, my current wife to my right. Boy, could I have used a drink!

Only kidding. That was a good day. The women had wine at lunch. I had ice water.

I'm not going to get all strident and righteous about 25 years of total sobriety, but I will tell you what it's meant to me.

Relax, it's not a lecture. It's not poetic, either. It's a matter of simple arithmetic, the kind the nuns drilled into us back at St. Anastasia's School.

I used to get seriously hammered two or three times a week -- let's say a hundred times a year. Over 25 years that would have been 2,500 lost days, not to mention the rotten way I would have felt for the first half of the subsequent days -- another 1,250 days lost.

That's a total of 3,750 days -- more than 10 years I would have lost to the oblivion of booze.

So by giving it up, I've gotten 10 more years of this nutty, precious life than I would have had, because I've been fully alive for all those times -- the good, the bad, the ridiculous.

Time, baby. It's the only thing we get that's worth a damn, and it's the one thing we all waste. Funny how that happens.

Charlie Carillo is a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." His novels "Found Money," "God Plays Favorites," "Shepherd Avenue," "My Ride With Gus," and "The Man Who Killed Santa Claus: A Love Story" are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents.