An Hour and Forty Minutes

By Joel Mendez

When the nightstand clock displayed 4:30 in big bright red numbers, William would spend the first ten minutes staring at the clock hoping it would lull him to sleep.

He would spend his last ten minutes hitting snooze as the clock hummed its most annoying ring when its numbers displayed 6:30.

This had been William’s new sleeping pattern for the sixty days of his sobriety. He would go to bed early and wake up two hours before his alarm could ring.

It was the hour and forty minutes in between where he spent time tossing in bed, walking around the house aimlessly but mostly reflecting. William’s mind reflected on everything, mainly his regrets. In these hour and forty minutes, he was wide awake and the minutes felt like they were hours.

Each of these mornings, different scars would be cut back open.

He laughed out loud with a little shame because he knew what his 4:30 am sessions before recovery used to be – arriving home with a stench of whiskey and cigarettes and never making it to his bedroom. Now he was sitting in the same sofa which had been his bed when he returned from his late night drinking.

He could hear his sponsor’s voice, “Will, (he was never a Will but his sponsor was an old man in the program who already had another sponsored named William) the cigarettes are next, but you need at least a year of sobriety in you before you give up your Marlboros.”

William was now up to two packs a week. Well, at least he wasn’t drunk but his new habit was getting expensive.

His previous habit had cost him a wife, his kids, and even his childhood dog. But that wasn’t his bottom point — they were just casualties of his diseases. William wasn’t sure he had a disease at all but he was making his meetings every day, staying quiet in the meeting, and making sure someone would sign his attendance sheet to give to his lawyer.

He knew that he attended meetings, mostly out of fear of his court date in sixty days.

The typical day would go quickly. Go to work, call his sponsor on his way home, eat dinner, go to the meeting call his sponsor on his way back and then head to bed. But the hour and forty minutes very early in the morning would go slowly, keeping his mind wide awake and his thoughts remembering all the things the bottle or a shot use to make disappear.

Some nights, he would lament just how badly he had treated his wife Ann.  Other nights he would be haunted by his memories of being awakened in the middle of night when he was just six by the yelling and stumbling of his alcoholic parents.

“Oh no,” he remembered with horror, “I stumbled around in the middle of the night while my kids were asleep, just like my old man.”

“A classic case,” his sponsor would tell him, “Drunks make drunk kids who get drunk.”

During those middle of the night minutes, he wished  that he could called his sponsor Oscar who, at 68 years old with 35 years of sobriety, could still quote the first 100 pages of the Big Book. Unfortunately, Oscar could be reached at any time except after 9:30 pm. When William told Oscar of the hour and forty minutes he was awake every morning, Oscar told him to read the Big Book and gave him one of the twelve-step prayers to recite.

William’s mind was too active to be slowed by Bill W’s words or by Higher Power prayers. He didn’t want a drink either. He could use a drink but didn’t want a drink. Thankfully, he knew that his house had been cleaned out of any his poisonous beverages earlier by Oscar and another member in the program.

“No, it isn’t a drink I want. What is today’s regret,” he thought to himself.

It would always be a family memory or a past experience lingering in his head. At first when these thoughts would arise, so would his old self with the urge for a drink. He would look at his car keys, knowing there was a close convenient store open twenty-four hours where he could pick a six-pack. Now he simply stared down the keys which were within reach, eventually deciding against the trip to the convenience store.

Most of these early mornings, he would drink seltzer water and squeeze his sixty-day chip, digging the plastic chip deep inside his hands, leaving the inside of his hands red.

“I will never get it back,” he slowly whispered to no one but himself. “I will never get it back.”

On this night William finally began to realize that Ann and the kids weren’t coming back. His parents were long dead so there was no mending that relationship. His regrets were always going to be regrets.

He wasn’t in fear of his looming court appearance. The charges were serious but he started to come to the realization the only thing he could do is go to meetings and not drink. And he was doing that.

It was two minutes to 6:20 and time to get the last ten minutes of sleep before his alarm would ring. He sat in his bed and laid his chip on the nightstand. The next chip would be for 90 days of sobriety. One day at a time for 90 days, 24 hours in one day and 60 minutes in one hour. All he had was this moment.

William accepted the fate of tomorrow’s early morning confrontation with his regrets but, for today, he unplugged the alarm, lay back into the bed, and closed his eyes to finally get rest.

Joel Mendez, is a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department. A world traveler living in Europe, South America and Afghanistan. He is currently working on his novel in the Sci-Fi genre.