9/11, Ten Years of Sobriety, and the Pandemic

In respect to the solemn date of 9/11, I withheld this blog’s publication for one day.

Photo by Antonio Ruiz

On September 11, 2011, I woke up and swore I would never again pour alcohol down my throat, smoke a joint, or ingest any other controlled or uncontrolled substances into my body. At the time, I told myself that the decision had nothing to do with the then 10th anniversary of 9/11. It was just a coincidence.

Now, ten years later, twenty years after 9/11, I sometimes wonder. Especially now during a Pandemic that shows no signs of going away, contrary to the wishful thinking of the deniers.

There is so much commonality, emotionally, between the chaos of my life in 2011 and the chaos of 9/11/2001. That one day not only changed the survivors and families and friends of the dead. It turned an entire nation at that moment into a united people ready to do whatever was necessary to protect itself. Unfortunately for many, that act meant being turned into fearful, angry, vengeful, hateful citizens willing to strike out at anyone they thought looked like the “enemy.” 9/11 brought to the surface the ugly past of anti-immigrant fury so ingrained in the nation’s DNA.

That fury was not just from the usual white suspects. The wrath of hate extended to people of color who I thought would be more tolerant of the neighbors they had known for years. A hysteria crawled out of the nation’s sewer history and crept into their brains and hearts. It was repulsive. Emotionally devastating, and it has lasted for years even to this day.

I am not making a comparison between the death of thousands of people and my life. There were so many emotions in 2011. Feelings of fear, anger, even hate, and self-hate had crawled out of some sewer in my life and captured me. I had been dealing with alcohol and drug addiction for forty-seven years. Emotionally, it had at times turned me into an unrecognizable human being. The gut-wrenching vitriol. The despair of sinking into a bottomless hole. Countless relationships were injured, damaged, excised from my life.

I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2011, and decided that enough was enough. All those emotions had been bubbling up and oozing out of every pore and exploding inside and from me. I just couldn’t go on. The exit strategy was simple, walk away, just like that.

I’m not saying it was easy, nor that I did it alone. My family and friends were there. Always there when I needed a reminder. I was not going back into that hole, that very dark hole. And not once, in ten years, have I ever peeked over the rim and wondered. Not once.

Now, here I am ten years later, post-Trump, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We are surrounded by deniers, threats to our democracy, threats to the future of this country, more divided as a people (remember when we all rallied around the flag?). I’m still sober, attending college, trying to make sense of why we even celebrate 9/11 because it sure isn’t the same nation. Some people don’t remember because they weren’t born yet or were too young or stopped caring about their fellow citizens who aren’t like them.

New York City’s One World Trade Center when under construction (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

Sort of like on 9/11 when we suddenly stopped caring about our next-door neighbor because they were too brown or their names didn’t sound American enough, and who knows what’s in their minds and souls. It’s all the same shit as today. Fuck our neighbor, our family, our friends because, well, “It’s all about me.”

On this anniversary of my 10th Sober Anniversary in the middle of a pandemic, I honestly don’t want to relive 9/11 or the personal nightmare from which I escaped. There had been enough emotional suffering to last a lifetime. I want to move on with my life, free of the lifetime of the emotional burden

Sobriety allows me to look back and consider that I was more than a drunk and drug addict. I have accomplished much during my seventy-two years, and I wasn’t always the worst person in the world. The goal is to find the best in me and build on it for the future. That’s what I’m doing.

It’s easy to mourn the lost lives but forget what we became because of the tragedy. The last twenty years of 9/11 anniversaries but also on where we are now. I say we because, just like 9/11, this one finds us in a world of hurt. I am satisfied that I made it to ten years of sobriety. However, I have not felt this much tension, vulnerability, despair, and sadness for us as a nation of citizens in a long time. What the fuck happened to us?

The Manhattan Skyline (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

We can mourn and still push away from the worst of what we have become. I have realized that the enemy is not terrorists from some foreign country. Each of us Americans has become the enemy to each other. It’s us, those who take this pandemic as a threat to this planet versus people who want to defy mask rules and vaccine mandates. Those are the same people who want to impose their version of an America that never existed except on television and magazines. No, the United States of America doesn’t just belong to them. And they can’t get that through their thick empty heads.

As I review my status today, ten years sober, I see a man trying to stuff a whole lot of “would of should of” into these years of my life that are left to live (I hope it’s another thirty years). The reality is all I can do is take it one day at a time. I commit myself to challenge the worst of me and be a better human being and citizen. I can only hope that we as a nation can do the same.

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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