It was a Sunday morning in the year 2008 and I was wearing a silk robe. It was very very early, almost eleven am I would guess by the sounds coming through my living room window. I was drunk. My assumption is that I was drinking either a screwdriver or a greyhound because it was, as I have mentioned, so very early. As I puttered about my normal routine, my morning solitude was abruptly brought to an end by the ringing of my doorbell.
I was quite certain this was nobody I knew, as nobody I knew would come to my home unannounced, let alone so very early. So I answered the intercom prepared to let this lost soul know that they had indeed rung the wrong doorbell and they were lucky that I happened, by some twist of fate, to already be awake – given the hour.
To my surprise, it was not a stranger, but in fact a co-worker. I was instantly confused – but having already made the mistake of answering, I had no option but to allow him entry.
I opened the door in my silk robe and offered him a drink. He did not accept. Rather, he entered somewhat nervously and paced for a moment as I repeatedly offered him a seat – which he did not accept. Finally he looked at me, with my silk robe and tumbler in hand, and offered me a piece of white paper, which I took and examined. The title of this paper was:
20 Questions… Could I be an alcoholic?
I looked at this “friend,” if that was even his real name, then down at my silk robe. I looked at the tumbler in my hand and thought — “who the fuck does this asshole think he is? It’s 11am on a Sunday, and I’m in my own Goddamn house where I have every right to be drunk with impunity.” What I said was “Thank you.” Then we both knew it was time for him to leave, which he did.
I did not speak to that friend for five years.
He, like so many people in my life who cared about me, those I knew would not let me drink myself to death, was subconsciously and systematically cut out of my life until I was surrounded by people who either would not or could not stand in the way of my God given right to drink myself into nothingness like a free man. And so I continued. Suicide in slow motion.
Five years later, on February 18, 2013 I found myself sitting in that same house on a Sunday morning, around 11 AM, surrounded by a dozen empty bottles of wine. Over those intervening years I had developed an increasingly codependent and dysfunctional relationship with “the other voice.” I could no longer look in the mirror for fear of its judgment. I could vaguely remember when we got along and it told me I could accomplish anything. But it hadn’t said that sort of thing in years. Lately it had become increasingly fond of the phrase “you should just kill yourself.”
But that morning, for reasons I still search to understand, it was kind to me. Not nice, but kind. It said to me very clearly, and very calmly “If you keep this up, you are going to die this way. Maybe not today, maybe years from now, but you will be alone, and surrounded by alcohol.”
I had spent almost a decade trying to manage my drinking. Quitting for short periods, sometimes only hours, once ten months, only to find myself inevitably back in the same circumstance – surrounded by empty bottles of alcohol. There was something about the clarity of this realization that made things quite different. I didn’t “want to quit” or think “I’ll try to quit.” I Believed that if I did not quit now, that I would die. And so I did the only thing I could think of to do at that moment.
I called the friend who had come to my house five years earlier.
We had not spoken since that day. There was a very good chance he no longer lived in my city. There was an equally good chance that he would have no interest in hearing from me. When he answered the phone I did not have the capacity for small talk. I was suddenly very afraid. I think in retrospect I was very afraid that he would help me stop drinking.
I said: “I have lost control over my drinking. I’m surrounded by empty bottles. I need help and I don’t know who else to call.”
He said: “I will be over in 20 minutes.”
And he was.
My life changed that day. I have not had a drink since. Over four years now. My experience was that the beginning was really weird and uncomfortable. I no longer knew who I was without alcohol. I didn’t know what to do when I went out to dinner. Or to a party. I once asked another alcoholic what I was supposed to do on a Sunday. He laughed. I told him I was serious. I knew in movies they went to brunch or to the park, or a museum but I had no personal experience with Sundays sober. He said “you do whatever you want.” Four years later I know that he is exactly right. Now I do whatever I want on a Sunday.
While I slowly found out who I was without alcohol I learned something very important. I didn’t have to do this alone anymore. It turns out that being an alcoholic is a lot like Fight Club. You don’t really talk about it very much but it turns out that you are currently, at this moment, surrounded by people in Fight Club and don’t know it. What it took for me was being desperate enough to ask for help and, in a way that I never could have anticipated, I was swallowed up by a blanket of support that was hiding all around me in plain sight. And I heard more than a few versions of “I was wondering when you’d finally show up.” It turns out my shameful secret was not much of a secret after all.
My biggest shortcoming has become my strongest asset. I feel very lucky to write this letter. I hope someone reading it might take some comfort in knowing they are not alone. And I also thought I might share something someone once told me early on. He said “don’t worry, everything you’re afraid of about not drinking turns out to be the opposite. You’ll be a better friend, a better romantic partner, more fun to be around…” They were right.
If you are confused about where to start – look for people smoking outside of a church or community room. You can also look at the very beginning of the phone book. Or just say the words out loud to your friend who’s always drinking club soda or diet coke. Fight Club is all around you, and life is better than I ever imagined it could be. I am free.