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.
There is hope for us all. I think.