Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bacchus and His Buddies

I stopped drinking 17 years ago; March 10, 1991, to be exact. My mother would die a year later to the day. I also stopped smoking dope and snorting the occasional line of cocaine that found its way to my nose. All in all, it's been a good decision and I don't regret it. I stayed stopped by talking about it a lot to other people with the same issue. In time, I lost the shame associated with this particular disease--alcoholism--and lost, as well, the desire to drink and/or get high every time I needed to celebrate, mourn, be witty, be smart, appeal to women, find courage or simply get along. It was not a burning bush experience. After a while I also found a degree of spirituality, a belief in something amorphous but nonetheless real. I came to believe that there might indeed be a god, and that, more than likely, it wasn't me.

Alcoholism is a fascinating disease. Of all the the chemical addictions out there, alcohol is just about the only one that will kill you directly. It affects every organ in your body from the skin in, and even as your system is slowly shutting down, your brain tells you you're perfectly well and healthy. Alcohol provides a nasty way to die. You get esophageal varices--bursting blood vessels in the throat; cirrhosis, where your liver hardens, shrinks and no longer works; and ascites (also known more archaically as abdominal dropsy), an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity that produces beer bellies in men and a nine-months-pregnant appearance in women. And of course you can be hit by a bus while drunk, kill yourself and others in an automobile accident, or get particularly suicidal and decide tonight is the ideal night to put a bullet in your brain. Friends have done all of these. If you stop drinking suddenly, there's a strong likelyhood of getting alcohol withdrawal convulsions, as well as the DTs, which may include visual hallucinations. Stopping cold turkey is often fatal--the body can't stand the shock. Overall, roughly one alcoholic in ten gets and stays sober more than three years.

The shame associated with the disease is one bourne of bad things done while drunk; unforgivable things, stupid things that alienated friends and family, a boundless selfishness as you protect your addiction. In many ways, depressives, schizophrenics, bipolars, all suffer in the same manner. When your illness controls you, you will do anything to survive, including harming the ones you love most...

I mention all this because stopping drinking may have been the single most important decision I may have taken in my life, dwarfing marriages and divorces, finances, jobs, friendships, writing, travel, spiritual epiphanies, anything and everything. And it is categorically impossible to explain the experience to people who have not undergone it. My lovely and smart SBC (you knew I'd have to mention her sooner or later) could not fathom this, and she cited my alcoholism as a reason for her decision to break things off. A bitter harvest which proves once and for all that doing the right thing does not always pay off in a manner you might expect.

Here's installment 9 of Wasted Miracles.

Josie leaned against the door, turned the deadbolt, stripped off her clothes and dropped them on the floor, took stock of the situation. Herbie, the sonofabitch, had stood her up, never showed at Hannibal’s on Lee Highway where he was supposed to pick her up. She’d waited half-an-hour, forty-five minutes, enough lattes to make her nerves jangle. The dork behind the counter had looked at her funny and she’d flashed him the finger but it hadn’t made her feel any better.
At eight-thirty she’d called Herbie’s place and it had been busy, stayed busy for another four tries at which time she was ready to kill the little shit, he was probably talking to one of his low-life friends which somehow angered her even more. If she hadn’t seen him in her mind with his feet up on the leather couch, bullshitting away on the phone, she probably wouldn’t have dropped twenty-two bucks for the cab fare to his apartment.
The ride took more than a half-an-hour, the cabby, some Rasta guy with dreadlocks, got lost. So she was in a fine state of near fury by the time the driver dropped her off in front of the Park Plaza in Adams Morgan. She walked past the half-asleep security guard, gave him a look that would choke a panther, climbed the two flights and beat on Herbie’s door, which did nothing to calm her since Herbie didn’t answer.
In the hallway she could detect faint traces of his cologne. Brut, he always wore it, found it macho though she thought it made him smell like he dressed at K-Mart. Even the scent annoyed her.
Herbie had eight or ten hangouts in the neighborhood, so she decided to check out a couple, just in case. She saw a lot of his buddies, one even tried to hit on her which would really piss Herbie off when she told him, but she never got to because no one had seen Herbie all evening.
Around midnight she’d run into Johnny D., a gay black guy she knew from the program and he’d bought her a couple of Pepsis, listened while she bitched, commiserated that Herbie was indeed a sorry motherfucker who didn’t deserve a woman like her. Johnny was all right. Some people said he still hung around the drug scene, might even be dealing a little, but he made her laugh, he had a mouth on him that wouldn’t quit and he knew everybody. The other guys left them alone though it was obvious one or two of them found her interesting, which was at least something.
She turned to a mirror bolted to her closet door and inspected herself as she did every night. High breasts, maybe a little bit on the small side but no one had ever objected, certainly not Herbie, the dick. Long legs, nice ass, good hair. She put on the extra-large T-shirt she used as a nightgown, started wiping her make-up away.


  1. Bravo! It takes courage to open yourself up to people; to discuss your own trials, tribulations, and successes. You make yourself vulernerable.

    I have to wonder if SBC would have used any excuse to end your relationship. Is it any better to use a disease under control as a reason than to simply say the relationship isn't working for her?

    Integrity is high on my list of values. Being honest may be difficult sometimes, but in the long run it is the best - and kindest - way to deal with any issue.

  2. What a shame. I assume you are in AA. Did SBC ever attend a meeting with you or was she too scared? Let me guess--she may not drink, but there may have been a drinker in her life. Is she bipolar? Sounds like it. My husband and son are both long-term recovering alcoholics and I have had the pleasure to see them grow over the years. They are amazingly strong, steady, responsible and loving men. It is a shame SBC was not willing to take a chance.