People have applauded me for my abstinence, but, truth to tell, I stopped, all those years ago, because continuing was harder than stopping. There is very little I have stopped doing, from which I was still deriving substantial benefit. I still eat too much junk, for example, but I eat way less than I did because it's painful when I do, or it slows me down on the bike because I gain weight, or somesuch.
I didn't stop using and drinking because of legal trouble, or family trouble (my parents told me they did not know how much I was going through at the time), or any other such thing. I don't have the dramatic stories of blackouts, crime, late nights, and entertaining shames that many people in recovery do. I stopped because I was depressed and anxious all the time, because I didn't want to live anymore, and because it was pointed out to me, in a way I could not ignore or deny, that alcohol and drugs were at the bottom of it (and it had to be pointed out; I assure you all that I didn't come to that realization by myself).
At the end of the time I was drinking and using illicit drugs, a large part of my identity went with that; some people had other interests, but I drank. When I was in the earliest days of my recovery, it seemed to me that the only thing I needed to do was stay sober, and everything else would work out. My self-definition as a recovering person was a primary part of my self-understanding for over a decade after I stopped using, and most of the people I hung around with at that time were other people in recovery. Finally, after fourteen years of that, I found that my self-understanding was changing, and I didn't think of myself primarily as a person in recovery anymore. At about that time, several of the people in recovery pointed out to me that they no longer could relate to the stuff I was talking about, and I went to find other society.
While there is evidence that people who have stopped for as long as I have may be able to return to social use, I've decided that it's just not a smart bet for me. When I recovered, I was able to believe things that I no longer believe: for example, that there was a loving god to whom I could turn my life over, or that all I had to do was stay sober and everything would be all right. My social and psychological situation at that time was such a shambles that belief in those things made sense and allowed me to function. But if I developed a problem again today - and there's no guarantee I would not - I would not be able to maintain those beliefs. So I don't know if I could recover again. Given that risk, abstinence is just a safer bet than returning to using.
And at this point, I have developed a life without drugs or alcohol. Most of my associates have no idea that I don't use, and those that know, don't seem to care very much... which is the way I like it. At this time of my life, it's just not a very big thing.
But in 1982, and for years thereafter, it was not only a big thing... it was the biggest thing. Recovery saved my life, and made me a part of society that I had never been prior to recovery. Almost anything good in my life today, I can trace to recovery from drugs and alcohol, and if I have friends, a wife, a calling, a place in the world - it is because on a February evening, thirty years ago, I just couldn't go on anymore.