Quitting Drinking Again
Tim, the bartender, reluctantly set the shot glass on the bar. It was full to the brim with a beguiling amber liquid that promising incredible delights. Sam cupped his fingers around the glass but did not touch it. He realized his hand was trembling.
He wanted that drink as much as he had ever wanted anything in his life. His mind told him a single swallow would not harm him. It would just make him feel better. But he knew it was a lie. One was never enough. Someone had told him the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. A truism if he had ever heard one.
“Are you sure you want to drink that?” Tim asked. They had known each other for years. More than once the bartender had seen him drunk on his ass. He said Sam had a Jekyll and Hyde personality, a nice guy when sober but a real jerk when drunk. Instant asshole, just add alcohol, was the expression he used.
“I’m sure,” Sam said. But he wasn’t sure. He teetered on the brink.
Memories of past drunks flooded his mind. So many times he had promised to quit drinking forever. Each time he had meant it. It was easy to want to quit when you woke up with a mouth that tasted like bile, a head that pounded with jackhammer intensity and a mind full of shadowy recollections of the night before.
How many times had he drunk a warm beer just to make it to the bathroom to throw up?
He was a champion quitter. Once Marcie had accused him of being an alcoholic and he had promised not to drink for thirty days. And he hadn’t. But the thought of a drink was constantly on his mind and when the thirty days were over he went on a two-day binge to celebrate.
He had quit drinking for a myriad of reasons--to regain bedroom privileges, to be a better husband and father, to get his boss off his back.
But it never lasted. In a few days he forgot. He had an extraordinarily fast forgetter.
“How long since your last drink?” the bartender asked.
“Don’t you get a chip if you stay sober thirty days?”
“So they tell me.”
“I hear you can trade a chip for a drink in some bars.”
“Aw, I’m not that bad off,” Sam protested. “I can still afford to pay for a drink.”
“Sure you can. But do you want to? Do you remember what happened last time?”
“Of course, I remember,” Sam lied. Actually he hadn’t a clue. He remembered how the evening started but not the end. Sometime after the fifth or six Scotch he had blacked out. The following morning there had been a red blotch on his face where a woman had slapped him but for the life of him he couldn’t remember why she had hit him.
What he really remembered was the day afterward when he drank a pint of whiskey to chase away the goblins. After he emptied the bottle he started to go to the liquor store for more but Marcie grabbed the car keys and stuffed them in her brassiere. They had wrestled for a while as he struggled to take them from her and tried to explain he was a grown man and had a right to go out for a drink if he wanted to. But she wouldn’t listen. Finally, in a fit of anger he had hit her
He still visualized the shocked expression on her face. It was the first time he had actually struck her. Neither of them had thought he was capable of it. It didn’t coincide with the image in his mind. Nice guys don’t hit their wives.
Suddenly he was whipped, more defeated than he had ever been in his life. His wife was crazy and his life was a mess. He was a rat caught in a maze with no way to escape.
He finally had to admit his drinking was out of control, that it had gotten to the point where he couldn’t control when or how much he drank, and that his life was totally unmanageable.
That was when he called AA. Marcie said the reason he called was because she had threatened to leave him but that wasn’t true. He didn’t even remember her threat. He had called because there was no place else to turn, because it was the last house on the block. He was just so damn sick and tired of being so damn sick and tired.
An elderly couple showed up at his house about an hour later and fed him coffee while they sobered him up. They read from a volume they called the Big Book and told him about their drinking and how they had found a way to live comfortably in their own skin without alcohol. It seemed both of them had fallen further down the ladder of despair than he had.
When he tried to explain it was all Marcie’s fault, that it would have been ok if she had just given him the car keys, they told him to shut up and listen.
They laughed when he told them anyone would drink if they were married to his wife.
They told him denial was not a river in Egypt.
The next day they took him to his first AA meeting. It was an eye opener. The people were not the homeless denizens of skid row he had expected. These were middle class folk who lived in nice houses and had jobs, people with bright eyes and friendly smiles. There were even some attractive women
Many of them had histories similar to his.
His first drunk had occurred when he was fourteen and it had been a miraculous experience. He felt more alive than he had ever felt before. He was instantly ten fight tall and bullet proof. He was smarter, better looking, taller. It was as if color had been added to a black and white world.
He had behaved outrageously, getting into a fight, which resulted in a bloody nose, and vomiting on his shoes, yet the hangover the next morning seemed a small price to pay for the exhilaration he had felt. He couldn’t wait to do it again
What impressed him most about AA was the friendliness and the laughter. They had an amazing ability to laugh at themselves. The saddest tales brought forth gales of laughter.
They shared their problems honestly, not only about their desire to drink but also about the rigors of life. There was sympathy and understanding. He had never seen people who cared so much about each other.
They explained he had an illness, that, without help, he couldn’t stop himself from drinking--especially after the first drink. At first he had thought it was just an excuse for weaklings but when he considered his history it began to make sense.
Some had been sober an incredible long time. One joked he had been dry so long he had become a fire hazard.
He had thought the God angle might be a hindrance. He had been a God-fighter ever since his son drowned, unable to reconcile his yearning for justice to a world where random acts of horror occurred with alarming frequency. He refused to worship a God who was unjust.
They told him not to worry about it. He could choose his own Higher Power or none at all. It was suggested he simply keep an open mind. Each of them had an individual interpretation of divinity, often simply a vague concept of an unfathomable deity. Only a few were practicing Christians. Their suggested prayer was only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out; never for selfish gain.
Probably their most pungent point was that if he was not totally convinced he was alcoholic he should go out and drink some more.
He had been ecstatic about what he learned. For the first time in years he dared to believe there was a solution, that it might be possible to quit drinking and to regain his self-respect.
For the next few weeks, he went to a meeting every night.
He was imbued with a sense of hope and well-being. It was like floating on a pink cloud.
Still, there were problems. Marcie was unhappy that he spent so much time at meeting and thought he should have more time for her and the children. You have simply traded one addiction for another, she claimed. She sneered when he suggested she go to Al Anon.
His boss was riding him, too. He had not forgiven Sam for his transgressions while drinking and was looking for any excuse to fire him.
No one had much faith he would really be able to stop drinking.
The climax had occurred earlier in the evening. He had come home after attending a meeting, excited and hopeful, but Marcy had been in a mood. Her tone had been harsh and reproachful as she accused him of being a selfish, self-centered prick, no different that when he was drinking. It was all too familiar, exactly like the drunken squabbles they had inflicted on each other in the past.
His nerves were raw and he lashed back at her. As she dissolved in tears, he thought: What’s the use? Here he was trying harder than he had ever tried before and she didn’t appreciate it.
Fuck it, he thought.
He had walked out of the house in a rage and came directly to the bar.
Now, as he contemplated the drink in front of him, beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead. It was more seductive than any woman, more beautiful than a sunset. It sang the same sweet song the Sirens of yore had sang to lure ancient sailors to their doom on wind swept rocks.
Still, in his heart he knew the drink would not make Marcie easier to live with or his boss more understanding. If he got drunk his world would be the same when he awoke.
It was like the poem by Housman:
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
He remembered the clichés:
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Nothing can happen to you that a drink will make better.
It was an epiphany. He did not want to lose what he had found.
With more hope than conviction, he muttered the magic words.
God, please help me.
Somehow he found the strength to push the drink away.
Tomorrow he would pick up his thirty-day chip.