Monday, November 18, 2019

Losing the war doesn’t mean he didn’t fight

”To have a problem in common is much like love and that kind of love was often the bread that we broke among us. And some of us survived and some of us didn’t, and it was sometimes a matter of what’s called luck.”
                             —Tennessee Williams, Memoirs
     Only one friend stopped by that first week after I was allowed to come home. Then again, Michael didn’t have very far to go: out his front door, turn left, walk a few steps, knock on mine. Bearing two cans of raspberry soda water and a bag of potato chips.
     We sat on the porch and talked. Which is what you most want to do when you first go into recovery: talk and talk and talk, trying to sort out how the greatest thing in your life has suddenly became the worst. And how now you have to give it up, somehow.
     It was October, 2005. I don’t remember anything we said. But I do remember, when we were done, Michael hugged me. He was much taller, a good four inches, and I got a face full of plaid flannel. Geez, I thought, not only do I have to give up booze, but now I gotta hug guys too?
     We started going to meetings together. Sometimes walking to the church around the corner in the warm autumn evening. Sometimes he would pick me up in that big old Cadillac he inherited. An inverted echo of high school, but instead of a buddy with a car coming to get me so we could hang out and drink beer, we were two 40ish men on our way to sobriety meetings in the Northwest suburbs.
     Meetings, meetings, meetings. I hated them. Michael liked them. He had a sponsor, and worked the 12 Steps, an eager advocate of How It Works.
     Only it didn’t work. Not for him. Not long term. For some reason, sobriety didn’t stick with Michael the way it has stuck with me, so far. Who knows why? Genetics, luck, something else. 

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  1. This column bravely confronts the "life style choice" approach to addiction. I view this as an example of a situation in which it might be better for the person fighting the addiction to believe it is a matter of "choice," whereas the rest of us can better understand "falling off the wagon" in terms of "illness." It is admirable that Neil can skillfully display the inexorable nature of addiction, while he himself must rely on the hope that addiction can be resisted if not decisively conquered.

    As someone who has consumed a lot of alcohol in the past, but has drunk none in the past few years, I realize that I've been incredibly lucky to escape the disease of addiction. Luck, genetic luck I suppose, not willpower, not religious or social support, has been the deciding factor. It's so sad that Neil's neighbor, whom he describes as a wonderful, caring, compassionate and helpful human being, a far better person that I can possibly imagine myself to be, can be stricken be this horrible monster that left him helpless and finally ended his life, while I enjoy my twilight years in peace and tranquility. Life is indeed unfair.


  2. I have lived with a person who cannot win against the battle with alcoholism for 13 years. I stopped drinking more than 28 years ago. It is horrible to watch .
    Periods of sobriety followed by consumption of monumental amounts of alcohol .

    Witnessing suicide in slow motion. Such a powerful substance.

    I don't understand why people go back to it after stopping for years. Vicious chemistry inside and out .

    Sorry for your loss

  3. Late July 1986 I awoke after a night of mild drinking, 6 or 8 beers. Mildly nauseous with a medium headache, I wondered to myself if last evenings entertainment was worth the discomfort I was feeling. The answer was no. I've been saying no ever since. It was easy, once I had developed a "want to". I have a cousin now on a path similar to your friend Michael, maybe worse. Lost family, lost job and occasionally on the street, he seems beyond help. I do not understand how his beautiful children aren't reason enough. I do understand that he cannot see that sobriety is an improvement, as I slowly came to appreciate. I missed my beer, especially Dos Equis Dark with Mexican food, but I got over it. No more hangovers, no more worries about DUI's or sleeping in my car. Things I do not miss. My condolences for your lost friend, Neil.

  4. The advisor of my college newspaper was a guy in his forties who was battling alcoholism, and he was losing badly. He taught a required course in J-school, and being in his class was a memorable and horrible experience. Sometimes he didn't bother to show up, and other times he would move the class to one of the student bars. I finally stopped attending because he often taught class while drunk. He gave me a barely-passing grade, but only to enable me to graduate. He died a couple of years later, at 45.

    The school named a building after him, but later thought better of it and brought the old name back. At first I thought he drank heavily because he had seen some horrible things as a crime reporter in Chicago, but I was just young and innocent. He was merely a garden-variety alcoholic, and it finally killed him. But he scared me straight enough to keep from ever becoming much of a drinker. And the older I got, the more headaches I got from alcohol, and that became a handy excuse when invited to imbibe to excess.

    Sorry about your the loss of your neighbor, Mr. S. Been there. Lost one to drugs a couple of months ago, and now two very young kids no longer have a mother.

    1. I don't think there is any explanation why people do some of the things they do. A guy I have known since grade school 60 years ago is an alcoholic. I think even if you quite drinking you are still considered an alcoholic. I don't know when his problem started. Possibly in high school. As far as I know he was just a beer drinker. He could consume a lot. I also don't know if he drank every day. Here in Wisconsin there were counties where you could go to beer bars. Years later I think of the times we put our lives in his hands when he drank. Some years ago he drove in to a train. How he survived that I don't know. He told me the story years later. He has been sober for some time now. I never thought to ask if he ever went through any kind of rehab or to AA. He did have some serious health problems which I don't know is related to his drinking. I just know that he has to take drugs to control it. My father owned a liquor distributorship here. I wouldn't have considered him an alcoholic but many days after work he and who was ever there would have a drink or two. At some point he would stop doing that. I have no doubt he drank too much at parties at times. I never picked up the habit of drinking considering the business. Neither did my brother.


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