The addict that I mentioned in my last post disappeared again only a day or two after we spoke. Back to the street, to an ugly and very scary life that is much worse than I had been led to believe (and I had been led to believe it was pretty bad). This is both the fault of the lies inherent to advanced addiction, and to the sad-sick denial present in this individual's caretaker (this is all-too common as well). I expect a great deal of dishonesty and denial from an addict, from any addict. It is the plain-and-simple nature of the disease. But I underestimated this one.
The thing is: It doesn't matter. Had I known, I wouldn't have said much differently. I wouldn't have used the examples of the immediate and not-so-immediate past as weapons. And this person wouldn't have listened any more carefully if I had. Denial is -- in the case of addiction -- FATAL. Not "scared straight" fatal. Not "it won't happen to me" fatal. Just plain, goddamn fatal. Every time. Always.
The message, however, isn't a dour one. The message is one of hope. It just so happens that I am not Suzie-fucking-Sunshine. I am, at my very core, a cynic. And I do struggle sometimes to find the very decent nugget of humanity in mankind-at-large. But addiction is an awful bastard. And you can't beat it back with sadness, or depression, or fear. You can't cure it with voodoo, or denial, or happy thoughts. There is no reprieve for half-assers. To beat this cancerous illness that turns our bodies and our minds against us, the weapon is hope. I have seen addicts and alcoholics that find sobriety, but without hope, fail every time. Without hope, the road ahead seems too long, too dangerous and too hard. I found some, once, at a rehab center in a cold valley in Estes Park, in the middle of December, and I cling to it with all of my tenacity. I found it. It is mine. I will not let it go.
With that in mind, I received word on Saturday, that "George" is currently sober, out of the hospital and living temporarily with his son in Chicago. There has been some talk about a trip to Colorado.
Sometimes, I have to go looking for it. And sometimes, hope finds me.
In sober circles—when it is important—we use only our first names to maintain anonymity. This does, of course, cause some confusion with more common names and can lead to irreverent surnames and qualifiers being used. My favorite Bruce for example, is familiarly known as Lawyer Bruce. Because he’s a lawyer, and the other Bruce is not. My friend Jim, is Big Jim, or sometimes just Big. Because, well, he’s biggish. The old-timers had handles like "Boxcar", and I suspect they used up all the good nicknames.
Because of this easy familiarity and in order to further protect the anonymity of a friend, I’m going to change his name. I will, in this entry at least, call him George.
George was breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank when I met him. He could barely stand, and needed a wheel chair to get about for the first half of his month in our recovery center. His physical health was perilous to say the least. He was surly. His silver hair always disheveled. He was occasionally ill-tempered and closed off. He was every bit the death’s door alcoholic, and I liked him. He is the brother of a friend of mine, although I did not know it at the time. From Chicago, he brought something of the guarded, gray, windblown city in with him. He had some trouble with the program of recovery (this is not abnormal for addicts in a treatment center) but towards the end of his stay, I felt confident that he had a very good chance of making it.
When George left our treatment center, a few days before me, he was able to move about freely, and talk without oxygen. He had reestablished contact with his children, and he had hope and a plan for the future. He smiled—often. He told crass jokes with enthusiasm. And he was looking forward to a planned move to Colorado. He was and is my friend, and I will always remember his coarse sense of humor and rough-and-tumble mannerisms. Not long after he returned to Chicago, George began drinking again. It was a matter of weeks before he was homeless, destitute, and unreachable. A couple of months found him tied to a hospital bed. Virtually dead. Unrecognizable as his former self.
It has been nearly two years since I saw my friend, and while he is still alive, I do not know if he would know me, or if he could remember me or the conversations we shared. Last I heard he was in some type of hospice. A wrecked shell. And I do not know him.
I miss my friend. And while I am thankful for the opportunity I had to get to know him, the tangible loss of his presence is painful.
I spent the better part of my Sunday talking to an addict about my age who had just returned home from a drug related disappearance. It can be difficult to maintain an optimism for recovery under the circumstances and with such a high rate of relapse. And it may seem strange to draw hope from a friend who did not make it. But that’s the way it works. George didn’t make it, but he came close, and I still remember the swell of joy and admiration I felt when he became himself again, if only for a short while.
Another week gone by without a new post. I'd feel terrible if I weren't so damn busy all the time. The new job is taking up -- no joke -- 40 hours of my time, per week. Yup, straight up full-time, yo. That coupled with the hours and hours of school work and a wicked case of the bike doldrums, and I'm wrecked. So here's Baxter to cheer you up in the meantime.
I've suffered as a sub-par student for much of my academic career. Poor organizational habits were a contributing factor, as was a frankly bad attitude towards education that was caused by a sort of aimless life-view. The principal cause of my absentee education, however, was the inevitable lack of motivation and skewed outlook that accompany the denial and depression inclusive to my hard-drinking lifestyle.
The last time I attempted to return to college and finish my degree, I never even attended my first class. I registered, paid, picked up my student ID, signed up for two courses, one classroom and one on-line. Then, not-surprisingly, I didn't show up for the first, second or third day of class and so-on. I couldn't even manage to log in to my online course from the relative comfort of my own couch.
I remember -- with startling clarity, given the general fogginess surrounding the period -- sitting at the kitchen counter in the sunny, early afternoon. My small, white Mac open to the course login page. A very full tumbler of cheap gold-brown whiskey sat just to the right of the keyboard -- not the first of the day... At some point between adolescence and semi-adulthood, I had forgotten, probably intentionally, that one isn't supposed to fill a rocks glass to the rim, only stopping just shy of the lip, squeezing every last drop into what one's wounded psyche could qualify as a "serving." Sometimes I listed slightly as I poured, spilling whiskey, or gin or occasionally vodka across the counter. Sad, lonesome rivulets of wasted alcohol dribbling away like my future...
I was staring at the comics and magnets and photos stuck haphazardly to the refrigerator in front of me, sipping whiskey, oblivious to the notion that most people, normal people, happy people, might think twice about drinking straight whiskey before eleven AM. Something snapped or popped, or rather, shifted back into its broken home and I decided either that there was no point in even trying to study, or that I might as well wait a few hours (probably a little of both) and I gave up before I even began. I shut the computer and wandered from the sunny kitchen into the dark, closed-in basement to empty what remained of a bottle of Canadian Mist in front of a glowing TV. Not your model student.
That echoes my original college experience as a student at DU through some unlikely miracle of GPA sleight-of-hand, luck and forsaken kismet. Attending class only sporadically, very occasionally completing homework on time, and failing fantastically to note any correlation between brazen alcohol abuse and grade-killing apathy. I made it two years -- sort of. The clarity and focus I’ve gained through a rigorous personal inventory and active participation in A.A. and other sober activities has helped me to cement my goals in my mind. Where I previously floundered, I now have a clear perspective. Before I didn’t know what I wanted, now I am sure that I want to graduate from college. I am plainly and intensely motivated.
I have to admit how incredibly surprised I was when I recently entered my third week of classes at Regis University, to find that I'm actually a college student. I'm reading, doing my homework, writing papers, paying attention to deadlines. Its shocking, but I'm actually STUDYING. Thank God for third chances.