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Rick Duerksen


The Etch-A-Sketch was probably the first interactive, handheld, screened device. It was not palm-sized but was still easily held in two hands, although I usually used mine while it was resting on the table. While it was a cool invention and I did spend a lot of time with it, the Etch-A-Sketch had a design flaw.

Sometimes, the columns I write go directly from my thoughts onto the paper. Sometimes, the words seem to bunch up at the end of my pen and the column takes longer to write. This column was two years in the making. By the time this story is published, it will be two years since I stopped drinking. Two years of choosing not to drink. Two years seem like a long time, but if my math is right that is only about 4% of my adult life. Two years seem like a short time, but if my math is right that is 100% of my new life.

I remember distinctly the moment when I decided that I had had enough. I was tired of the effort it took to continue to drink, and I was tired of waiting to die. I was sick and I was tired. Sick of being tired. Tired of being sick. When I am asked how it has been, if it has been a struggle, I say that at times, choosing not to drink has been the easiest difficult thing I’ve ever done and that at times it has been the most difficult easy thing I’ve ever done. For the most part, though, it is just a choice I’ve made. A choice I am able to live with. A choice I could not live without.

I think of all the people who have contributed, in some way, to my new life. People who unselfishly gave me the gifts that have helped me. I think of how they would feel if I were to fail. Some would be sad. Some would be hurt, and some would be justifiably angry. I think about how much it would hurt me if I let them down. But I don’t continue to choose not to drink for them. I do it only for myself. In this one thing only, I am totally selfish. I like my new life and I will do whatever it takes to protect it. If other people benefit from that, that is a bonus. But I choose not to drink for my own benefit, first.

There were a lot of things that led me to where I was that August morning, two years ago. Some were the result of what I did, and some were the result of things completely out of my control. But how I did react to those situations and what I did in response were my choices. My decisions.

The problem with an Etch-A-Sketch is that once a line is drawn, it can’t be undrawn. No matter how carefully you retrace a line, it stays on the screen. I look at all the lines on my Etch-A-Sketch of life that draw a picture I am not proud of. Lines that I can’t undraw. Lines I wouldn’t undraw.

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