I’m an alcoholic. I’ve written about it, and how pervasive and underestimated the abuse of alcohol is in our culture. While I have accepted the word, I have danced with the devil through moderation for the past few years.

On April 30, 2018, at around 5 A.M., I emerged into the predawn Florida morning after an eight day stay in county jail, the minimum sentence for a second DUI. (It’s easier than you think, most especially if you drive even a little drunk more often than not.) While not deliberate, I started growing a beard that day.

Sixteen months later, my drinking patterns looked nothing like they did for the majority of my adult life. I have been drunk about half a dozen times in that span; I have blacked out only once, a rage response to my $10 a day alcohol monitor being removed after 4 months. (I was very unhappy about how that came to be, but that’s a story for a different day.) Until very recently, I believed I could moderate, and by almost any measure, I have.

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But this is me, a few hours ago. This beard has seen me drift to the brink of darkness. It has seen the lies that I let alcohol tell me, and it has caused immeasurable damage in my relationship to the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. Every promise I’ve made, I’ve failed to deliver, if only by the smallest of margins. We’re not sure if there exists enough trust or hope to recover.

Darkness sits to my right, the devil to my left. And this beard has had a front row seat to it all.

Moderation failed me, ultimately, for a pretty simple reason: the person I am while drinking changes, however slightly, before I feel any of the effects of alcohol. Sober, I am attentive, respectful, and ensure my love is well cared for and communicated with. Which is different than blowing off a promise, and then coming well short of an apology when I had failed to deliver on a commitment I said I would stand by, yet again.

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That beard, through all the pain, saw some of the best times with this woman too.

I really did feel good about my moderation. I had learned to watch for a rise in body temperature; talking too loudly; a little wobble; and the monster inside of me that tries to sell me that next drink a little too aggressively. I became mindful and in tune to each drink, and its effects. I had not an “an episode” in months.

Until me, beard and all, failed to deliver on my promises — promises I offered at the brink of the relationship’s demise. Because alcohol, even well moderated, effects who I am before any of those things I can feel, in the slightest, but no less damaging way.

This beard has become a large part of my identity — but over the course of the last 16 months, that’s not an identity I’m proud of. I’ve hurt the one I love most. I’ve failed her, I’ve failed others, and I’ve failed myself.

So this is me now. Right now. For the first time in my adult life, clean, and clean shaven. Finished with the aftershave of my late grandfather, my hero. Ready to start over, in so many ways.

That face is scared. Scared this will be too little to late. But it is hopeful. Confident in this next step.

It’s day 4 of my journey through abstinence, and day 0 of a new beard.

Like recovery, the beard has to come one day at a time.

My deal to myself? I drink, I shave.

I don’t want to shave. And I REALLY don’t want to drink.

The reward?

Each new day, that beard comes back. By this weekend, I’ll have stubble to celebrate. This month — Sober September with 3 friends to make the first chapter of my recovery “cool” — will see the a terrible patchy beard form. I’ll hate it, and wait each day for it to start to fill in.

And by Christmas, even Thanksgiving, it will. It won’t be what it was, but it will be a better beard. It will not have sat with me through more lies to my love and myself, through more failures, through heartache. It will be pure.

By summer, it will really be coming through. And by New Years Eve of next year, it will be what it was today, but better.

It will be a beard that I’ve earned. That I’ve fought for. That represents the best of who I am, not the worst of me.

Like recovery, the beard has to come one day at a time. The most important day is always today — failure today erases all progress of all the yesterdays. Each new day is more valuable than the last.

I can’t wait to wear a beard I’m truly proud of.

Politics, philosophy, culture. Just trying to make the world a better, place. BS Finance. Follow me everywhere @MFrancisWrites. “I know that I know nothing.”

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