Alcoholism

The other night, I came home feeling really, really stressed. Some things had gone wrong, and I just couldn’t relax. Allison suggested I have a bit of Scotch. Thinking that sounded like a pretty good idea, I did. I poured about three ounces, what I guess most bartenders would call a “double.” It had the desired effect. I immediately relaxed, felt calmer, even got a bit silly. And I slept well that night.

Scotch whisky is something I enjoy. I’ve become very fond of good single-malts, and of Islay malts in particular. But it occurred to me the next day that there’s something very fortunate about the fact that I can sit down with a drink, enjoy it, and stop there. Not everyone can.

I have known alcoholics, both the recovering and the non-recovering ones. I’m not one of those callous people who refuse to acknowledge that alcoholism is a disease; I have seen the disease process at work. I’ve seen promising careers, beautiful lives, close marriages and thriving families destroyed by it. Anyone who thinks it is purely a choice is deluded.

This is not to say I am innocent of drinking to excess or being drunk. There was a time, around 1993 or 4, when someone I had a HUGE crush on decided to leave town. After the going away party, I walked to a nearby bar, drank until the bartender cut me off, and started walking home. The next thing I remember is waking up at daybreak, a few hundred yards from my apartment along a short-cut path, my face in a puddle. It wasn’t pretty, and it hadn’t made my emotions go away; it just delayed them. That was the last time I drank heavily for a long time; I had no difficulty whatsoever leaving the bottle alone.

There were a couple of times later in life when I tried to similarly self-medicate. When I found out my ex-wife’s idea of marital fidelity was not getting caught. When that marriage ended. When my precious little bird, Phoenix, died. After particularly painful arguments. But these were all isolated incidents, binges that were the result of poor judgement or emotional breakdowns. They happened at intervals of months or years, not days. They never continued, never became habitual, never became problematic. I never drank an entire paycheck. I don’t, I’m confident and very grateful, have the disease.

But I know how powerful it is. And when I see its influence, its devastating effects on someone, I have no idea what to do. I haven’t been there, and I’m no expert. All I know is what the twelve-steppers have told me — you can’t help someone change unless they first want to change. I pray that such a want enters the mind of everyone suffering from this disease in time for it to make a difference.

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