Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On Alcoholism


Those of you who follow me via Twitter and Facebook probably noticed a couple of rather strange-sounding status updates over the past several months. They all, in one way or another, referenced several trips to the ER and being there for friends in need. I think I'm about ready to talk about it. If only because it has taught me valuable lessons about how difficult life can be when you are no longer in control.

Back in September I met R, a guy who lives in my apartment building. R seemed intelligent, interesting, well short, a pretty nice guy. R and I hung out a few times and as I got to know him I realized we had tons in common. I'm not going to get into any substance, but let's just say that he seemed just as damaged as I was in some pretty fundamental ways.

A couple of weeks after we met, as I was hanging out one Friday evening in my place, R knocked on my door. He looked absolutely terrible. He was sweating profusely, his eyes were dilated and he could barely walk. He told me he had always suffered from some mysterious illness that prevented him from sleeping for days on end and made eating difficult. Even as he slurred his words I made the executive decision that he needed to head to the ER immediately. I grabbed my keys, grabbed my wallet and slowly walked him downstairs to a cab.

At the ER, everything was pretty routine. They took blood and urine samples, gave him an IV and after 4 hours told him that they could not figure out what the problem was. Heading back home R was more himself. We even joked about a couple of smoking hot nurses who had treated him.

Sometime in late December R showed up at my door looking even worse than back in September. Again, I dropped everything and took him straight to the ER, where, for the first time, an inkling of what was really going on began to emerge. “Have you been drinking?” the attending physician asked. “No,” was R's response.

Up until this point, I had assumed that any drinking on R's part was merely exarcerbating whatever affliction he suffered from. After the nurses and doctors were gone I pressed R a bit. “Dude, when was the last time you drank?” “Jack, I'm an alcoholic,” he said with some seriousness. After he was discharged we walked back to the apartment building in silence.

Early the next morning, several people in our building walked into R's apartment to find him catatonic. He was seated in a chair in a daze, arms raised to shoulder level. There was a nearly empty bottle of rum on his desk. It took three of us to carry him downstairs to a waiting taxi.

R spent 15 hours in the hospital and was released early the following morning, only to continue drinking for several weeks after that.


I think I've learned several things from my friendship with R.

First and foremost, it is clear to me that, whatever my demons might be, there are people who are struggling with far worse. I think back on what I have accomplished over the past several years and wonder if I could have gotten this far if I had started out as damaged as R is. Somehow, I doubt it.

I've also learned that alcoholism, like any other addiction, can affect even the smartest and most capable of all of us. R is still a great guy. I still respect him greatly. I just wish he would slay his demons so he could be free as well.

Good luck R. I believe in you.


Heather's Moving Castle said...

Thanks for sharing! I have lost a lot of loved ones to alcohol. I hope R can get past this soon.

Mimi said...

IMO, it sounds like R is nearing his bottom. But only he will know for sure. That's the place an addict *must* get to before he can start recovery. It's the place where he will decide to live or die. It really is a good place to be. If he decides to live, this will be the place he'll look back on for the rest of his life... to remember how bad it was... and how good it feels to be free. To R: Your pain is almost over... one way or another. I am so very sorry you're going through this. I hope with all my heart you'll decide to live. -Heidi

Meg said...

I lived with an alcoholic once. Smart lady, no doubt about it, but it ate at her and it seemed uncontrollable. I've heard that she's doing better now after extensive rehab, but how long that lasts no one really knows because something could trigger it and she'd be right back in the cycle.

I know a lot of people think, "You just quit when you want to" but it really isn't that easy. She wanted to. She didn't want the life she lived as an alcoholic. I know she didn't. But sometimes we face things that we just aren't strong enough to handle because they take away our strength and our support bit by bit until it's just too much to handle. It causes problems on top of problems that others can't understand.

Best of luck to your friend and to all of those out there fighting their demons.

Natja's Natterings said...

I have an ex who is also an alcoholic, he is a great man, very talented but is no where near his bottom yet as far as I know.

I really do worry about him still.

Best of luck to R that he gets some help soon.

Jack said...


I hope so too.


I've heard the term before. Never thought I would be in a position to know someone who would be going through something this difficult.


Well, I sure hope she is out of that as well. I can't speak for R, but that sounds like what he's been going through.


weston said...


You're not trying to save this guy in some way are you? You sound extremely invested in his illness. The desire to help is admirable but I hope you realize that you're not equipped to handle what is involved.

If he won't seek treatment I hope you are gently but firmly separating your life from his.

Ruthie said...

It will be a tough road to travel but he can beat his addiction. My prayers will be with your friend.

Anonymous said...

I am R.

Jack invited me to read and contribute to this article a few days ago. When I finally read it, I was extremely touched and also awakened. I guess the main message I would like to communicate here is that a disease such as alcoholism--as with any other infliction--is extremely difficult to truly understand unless one experiences it first-hand. I know I'm a great was mentioned by Jack, successful, traveled, educated, all of that. But I have this evil little devil sitting on my shoulder at all times. I hate this part of my life and wish there was a way to just hit the "off" switch. But through personal experience and extensive research, I've learned that there is no easy fix. It takes time, determination, support and constant adherence to daily goals. To draw an analogy: it is like trying to convince yourself to not drink get thirsty, then thirstier, then even worse...and you finally convince yourself that you need to drink water in order to survive. Well, granted, water is in fact necessary for survival, and alcohol is not, but in the mind of an alcoholic it is. Another thing about this condition is that alcoholics often don't even realize what is happening when they are drunk. They don't comprehend reality in the same fashion as others. Hence they make irrational decisions, such as prolonged drinking. Sometimes when I am drinking, I find myself having a dialogue in my head, "I don't want to drink, but I will anyway. Why? I don't need to. I know it is destructive. There is absolutely no reason for me to drink. But I will anyway." This is an example of irrational thought that pervades my mind. So in an effort to combat this, I set little daily goals and stick to them. For example, I will not allow myself to have a drink before X time of day. I will limit myself to X number of drinks. I've found that I cannot go without alcohol completely, but if I set little goals like this and regulate my drinking, I am OK from day to day.

And also here I must mention my indescribable appreciation for Jack and his selfless graciousness. He hauled my butt to the hospital more than once when nobody else was around. Who knows what might have happened if he hadn't. Not only has he done this, but, through conversations (a kind of informal counseling), he has extended a whole world of insight and compassion for me to embrace. On the surface, it's friendly dialogue between two friends about a problem. Deeper, it has had a profound effect on me and my outlook on life. Thank you for this Jack -- it is appreciated more than you will ever know.

In closing, I guess I would just like to extend this entire blog post and responses to others who suffer from the same infliction. Just remember that life is too beautiful to let oneself slip to such lows. And, as one poster here mentioned, sometimes it is necessary to hit rock bottom before recovery. I feel like I'm pretty much there currently, so I'm looking forward to a big rebound. I have many great things in my life right now, and I look forward to getting back to enjoying them.

Christine said...

Wow. I was going to write a comment on Jack's post when I saw R's comment. Now I don't know who to respond to first.

I grew up with several alcoholics in my family, my father being one of them, so I've seen what it can do to a person. My uncle is an alcoholic who's been to rehab so many times that I can't keep track. But I don't think of him as "failing". At least he still tries. Before ever going to rehab, he tried quitting cold turkey himself and as a result had a seizure. My cousin is an alcoholic too. For all three of these people, their lives revolve around getting that drink. Who knows how many other relatives I have who are closet alcoholics.

R, I sincerely hope you get to a place where you can get better. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it is. There is a lot of support out there for you if you need it. I'm not a recovering alcoholic but I have recovered from a lot in my life and I know for a fact that nothing is impossible. Good luck to you.

Jack said...


I hope he is doing well as well.


"The desire to help is admirable but I hope you realize that you're not equipped to handle what is involved."

Believe me, I've thought about it and have distanced myself to the extent that is appropriate. This is something R has to deal himself. My function, as a friend, is to be there to the extent he wants to help himself.


Thanks. He definitely appreciates that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your support, be it positive or critical. It is healthy for me to hear it all. I'm doing much better lately, granted it's only been a short time since my last relapse. It's really nice to be able to feel open in talking about this (with complete strangers at that), because it is what I believe might be one of the first steps to liberation. For the record, this is the first time in my 10-year time as an alcoholic to be so open and honest. It's a good feeling to discuss this and get a diverse array of feedback. It means a lot to me. Thank you to you all.


Jack said...


Totally took your comment and made it a separate Guest Post.


Your words are inspiring. I am sure this is exactly what R needs to hear.


Maybe confronting this stuff directly, out in the open, is exactly what you need to find healing.

Jack said...


Again, you've clearly went throught a lot on this issue. I just hope you are beyond the ills of alcoholism and can impart good advice on people like R many years to come.


Glad this has been a positive experience for you. And yes, I can see that you are doing much better. Take care.

Dee said...

In reading this post and the comments, I found mention of support but no one mentioned the obvious support group, alcoholics anonymous. I lived with alcohol and drug abuse in my home for over 15 years. I recognize many of the tactics you are trying, like trying to limit drinks, sticking to one type of drink or only drinking at specific times. Any alcoholic will relate to these "goals". For many, including us, the alcoholism progressed into disaster. AA is a very successful, very well known, program for alcoholism and I want to encourage you to give it a try. You are right R., speaking truth and honesty helps, you no longer need to be embarrassed or hide. That is part of the beauty of AA the sheer acceptance, love and understanding from the members, they truly understand what you are going through. You will find help and many have found long term sobriety in this program. My husband has been sober and drug free for almost 3 years and I know that between AA, NA and Alanon (a program for friends and family)we have the understanding, guidance and most importantly, tools that we need to get through one more day, but not just get through it, to actually find joy and happiness in the days.

I wish you strength and compassion in your endeavor to get sober, you can find help. Good luck and blessings to you and if it helps remember....
Philippians 4:13 says "I can to ALL things through Christ who strengthens me"
God Bless