“This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free, but you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end”
From the song, “The End”
by Jim Morrison and the Doors
Damn, I hate the night!
I woke up screaming a little while ago, my heart pounding in my chest. It had been a long time since the demons came to visit, so I guess they were overdue. Things have been going pretty well for me lately, but I know their pattern – they just like to remind me once in a while that they haven’t forgotten about me, so they send the nightmares which always arrive in the darkest hours, creeping silently like the fog to steal my dreams.
There’s a saying that you hear around the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous that it’s always 3:00 a.m. in the heart of an alcoholic, and I suppose to some extent that’s true. But the bad guys don’t come as frequently anymore, and I know how to handle them now, so perhaps it’s just God’s way of reminding me that I’m only one bad decision away from returning to that terrible place of loneliness and despair that had ruled my life for twenty-five years.
So I whisper a prayer in the darkness, requesting only that He strike me dead before I take that next drink.
One day God rang me up, and said, “Write your book, Wes, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
And I said, “Okay, sounds good to me, God, so here goes - I hope they like it!”
And God said, “As long as you like it, that’s all that matters, so just write your book, Wes.”
So I did, and then God called again and said, “Cool, now that will be a five hundred dollar consulting fee, and I don’t accept checks or credit cards, just cash or precious metals, and you can drop it off in the collection box down at St. Margaret Mary’s.”
“Such a bargain,” I said, then inquired, as was my habit when negotiating matters such as this, “Hmmm, so I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d take bitcoins instead?”
And God just muttered something under his breath, then said with more than a little exasperation, “You’re pushing it, my son, right to the edge. Why must you always be different from the rest of the flock, why must you always push it?”
I felt no compulsion to answer Him, because we both knew why - that’s just how it rolls in WesWorld.
My name is Wes. I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and an onion, and I’m a whole bunch of other types of addict as well. I am powerless, but not helpless, sober, but never cured, confident, but not arrogant, recovering, but never recovered, grateful, but never entitled, and when I’m at my best I’m just another nameless face in the crowd.
I’m your brother, your aunt, your student and your childhood friend, your boss and your employee, your neighbor walking his dog and the name on the grave of the can’t-miss kid who died before he won the prize, the elderly woman who sits silently knitting in the corner, the twenty-year old junkie shaking it out in his fourth detox and the old man hoisting one back as he sheds a tear over the grave of his Vietnam buddy, the precious little newborn opioid baby, stunted, gasping for breath, whose first day is her last, the nurse who cooled your feverish brow, the policeman walking his talk as he walks his beat, the salesman who sold his soul for a line of coke, the teacher who knew everything except how to say no, the rock icon, broken and burned, who learned too late that death was the loneliest gig of all, and the cabbie who sits quietly smoking at the train station as the evening snows swirl through the lights from the hospital across the road.
And I am the blind man who sees not with his eyes, but with his heart.
I am you and you are me, and I pray, and I pray and I pray that I never consider my battle against addiction to be won, for that will surely be the day that I shall die.
So after all is said and done, and the last call has been made, I’m just a chaos junkie, and what I’m addicted to is anything that has the potential to allow me to avoid reality, and which will put up a great big wall between myself and the rest of the human race.
But for the purposes of this book I’ll stick to the alcohol and the drugs, because they’re what finally brought me to my knees, nearly killed me and, by the grace of God, gave me a life today that is second to none.
It is a life that I never imagined could have existed, a life of hope, promise, companionship, and integrity, a life that was handed to me in my darkest hours.
I suppose that a head doc would diagnose my condition as a cancer of the soul that if left untreated will devour my humanity, my dignity, and my morality, and it will kill me just as surely as any physical cancer of my body could. I know through painful experience that my only salvation lies in abstinence, and in the maintenance of a physical, mental and spiritual condition that is based upon love and acceptance for my fellow alcoholics and addicts.
So I guess that when we get right down to it what I’m really addicted to is “more,” and anything that will fill that great big hole in my soul that’s been haunting me ever since I was a little kid. Alcohol and drugs did a swell job of satisfying it for quite a while, until they didn’t, and then there was Hell to pay, because when the walls come down they come crashing down if you’re an alcoholic at the end of your last run.
It’s never pretty, never easy, never fun, but if you’ve been there you already know that, so you just kept right on drinking and drugging to delay the inevitable reckoning.
If we’re lucky, we survive. If not, I suppose it wouldn’t matter all that much, except perhaps to the people who loved us once upon a time.
For the rest, well, they stopped caring a long time ago, but in our arrogance and hubris we just never noticed, nor gave a damn.
I ought to know, because I was you once upon a time, lost, broken and forgotten, just as you are me, and either of us can find ourselves back out there in the wastelands with just the snap of our fingers at the end of a bad day.
My name is Wes, and I’m an alcoholic, a drug addict, and an onion, one of the fortunate ones, and these are my heartbeats.
I was a techie in the late 1990’s, and as part of the continuing education process I took a network engineering course in order to acquire some important job certs.
For the most part the course was dry, boring and highly technical, but one evening the instructor gave the class perhaps the most important lesson that I have ever received for not only solving complex computer riddles, but more importantly for solving most of life’s challenges.
As is usually the case, its beauty lay in its simplicity, and in its universality.
Dave, the instructor, told us to ask ourselves a short, simple question when the system was crashing down all around us:
“Look back, and ask yourself, ‘what changed since the last time everything was working perfectly?’”
Think about that, because if you can track back and locate the nexus, that nearly inaudible click of the key in the lock which arrived just before everything hit the fan, then you’ll have a head start for solving just about any challenge that the Universe will ever throw at you.
I learned that lesson in 1998, in a computer seminar, and that one simple little concept has stuck with me ever since, and I have solved some nifty conundrums with it.
It would have been swell if somebody had mentioned it to me in 1966, however, because my life might have turned out very differently.
But nobody ever did, so c’est la vie, because like Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.”
Well, perhaps, but in my case that turned out to be a twenty-five year vacation in Hell, so I probably would have skipped it if had the choice, thank you very much.
In retrospect, ground zero was clear as a bell from day one, but I was just too young and stupid and arrogant to recognize it for what it was.
I mean, it wasn’t like I just woke up one sunny morning when I was sixteen and said to myself, “Gee, Wes, what to do on this beautiful summer day? Oh, cool, I know, I’ll start drinking and drugging, and then I’ll become a screaming, raging, piss-drunk alcoholic and addict for the next twenty-five years, and I’ll see whether I can ruin every opportunity I have for a good life, and just drink and drug myself to the brink of death, or beyond! I mean, why not, I’ve got nothing better to do today!”
No, the evil twin stepbrothers, Alcoholism and Addiction, don’t play that way. As the 12 Steps remind us they’re cunning, baffling and insidious, so they prefer to give you a little tease, just enough to con you into thinking that you’re the boss, that you can stop anytime you want, and then they’ll steal away everybody and everything that ever meant anything to you, and they’ll set your dreams on fire and they’ll tear out your heart and stomp on it.
They let me get away with it the first time I drank. It was 1966, the Vietnam War was raging, and the Beatles and the Stones were fighting for first place on the charts. I was a “war baby,” I had just turned sixteen, and one night my best friend Greg picked me up at my house in his parents’ Mustang convertible. I took the co-pilot’s seat, and we picked up our friend Steve, and we headed out to the back roads of Westwood, Massachusetts, which was a middle-class suburb of Boston.
Westwood was also a “dry” town, which meant that alcohol couldn’t be sold in it, and I have often wondered over the years whether that contributed to my inevitable downfall. After all, what’s better than the mystery of the forbidden fruit for lighting a budding alcoholic’s fire?
It was a warm, sultry, late summer evening, and we had each raided our parents’ liquor cabinets. I had been elected bartender, so I was responsible for mixing up some gin, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, a little of this, a little of that, and for good measure I tossed in a half inch of Creme de Menthe, then stirred everything up in a quart-sized Coca-Cola bottle, and finally I shook it a half dozen times for good measure.
James Bond would have been proud of me.
For each of us it might just as well have been the nectar of the Gods, rather than a noxious, foul tasting 80 proof bottle of swill, but that jungle juice got the job done. This was my initiation to alcohol, it popped my cherry, and it took me to a world I could never have imagined.
That first hit burned a path to my gut, and I choked, coughed and gagged, but it stayed down, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks, and suddenly it was ohhh, sooooo cooool!
And that was that – Lucifer had turned the key in the lock and snagged another sucker.
Two hours later Greg swerved to a stop in front of my house, whereupon I fell out of his car, then staggered over to the bushes near the side entrance, where I puked, and puked, and then I puked some more.
There, I thought, that should’ve cleaned out just about all of the poison from my system, so I stumbled inside and bounced off the walls to my bedroom, where I promptly passed out, fully clothed, on top of the sheets, reeking of alcohol and vomit.
Less than an hour later I found myself holding onto the toilet bowl for dear life, hurling my guts out, and then I looked around and saw my father glaring at me, disgusted by what he was witnessing. He didn’t utter a word, just scowled and stormed back to his bedroom.
It was then that I heard my mother crying in the background.
Attaboy, Westie, you the Man!
The next day wasn’t a particularly fun one for me, but I was young and stupid and a jock, so I quickly recovered from the physical effects of my hangover. The shame and embarrassment lasted a little while longer, as did my loss of driving privileges, but a week later I was back in high school, playing sports, my privileges restored, and with the exuberance, or ignorance, of youth, all memory of that night had been erased from my mind like it never existed.
And that would prove to be rather unfortunate, because that was my last chance to receive a free hall pass from spending the next twenty-five years of my life in Hell.
Ah, but such is youth, the pain so sharp yet fleeting like a summer storm, and soon forgotten, while behind my back my two new best friends, Alcoholism and Addiction, winked slyly at each other, for they knew that they had hooked another rube, and they didn’t intend to ever let me go – not alive, anyway.
So that was my first drunk, but I don’t remember my last one.
They tell you in the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous that you should always remember that final drink, and think about it long and hard before you take another one, because it just might keep you sober, and alive.
But I don’t recall one single moment of it.
I do know, however, that I was out there for five or six days, but that’s the extent of it, because I’ve never been able to piece together an instant of it, from the minute that first slug of bourbon hit my lips until the moment I finally crawled out of my blackout.
It’s all just a blank, gone, like it never existed - poof!
So the way I figure it, the very fact that I can’t recall it, and that I lost a rather considerable chunk of my life to that binge, probably means that I earned my seat in AA after all, because if that didn’t do it, I’d sure as hell hate to see what would.
But I do know this – it must have been a doozy of a last call.
It was early June, 1992, and I had been sober for almost two months, since my last thirty day stint at a now shuttered alcohol treatment facility called Beech Hill, which was nestled in the scenic Monadnock Range near Dublin, New Hampshire.
With somewhat jaded detox humor we “guests” had renamed the place ‘The Irish Alps,’ due to its location in Dublin.
It was quite the rehab in its day.
When I returned home I played the sobriety game pretty well for a while, but that was my customary scam after every one of my amusing little trips to the detoxes, because all I had ever considered them to be were one long series of cons that I ran on the world, and on myself.
Bottom line? These time-outs were great for cleaning the alcohol out of my system, but they were nothing more than a tune-up and an oil change, and I had never remained sober for longer than a day, or a week, or a month after any of them.
And this most recent little vacation turned out to have been no exception to the rule.
Denial’s a swell way for an addict to avoid reality, but I always knew deep down that I was just biding my time until the next handy excuse came along to let me do what I did best – drink myself to the brink of death.
Hitting the detoxes and treatment centers, and pretending that “this time” would be different, and that I really intended to remain sober, was my modus operandi. But that was all just noise, a lowlife drunk’s stereotypical line of bullshit intended to keep my family, friends and employers off my ass while I set myself up for my next big jackpot.
Naturally, there’d been a woman involved this time – aren’t there always? She was the only woman I had ever loved, a woman with funky blonde hair, a lithe, slender body, and the most beautiful, shy, ice blue eyes that I have ever gotten lost in.
But I had screwed things up royally the last time I had been with her, so I decided to punish myself as only I could do, and after trashing myself unmercifully for a few days I reverted back to form and did what I did best - I said the hell with it all, and I picked up a bottle, and I hid in it.
And so, right on schedule, and for reasons that would only be important to a drunk full of denial and self-hate, I drove to the closest packey, bought a couple of half-gallon jugs of Jim Beam, and a carton of Marlboro reds, then proceeded to cross over to the Dark Side one final time.
This latest shitstorm had started out pretty much the same way they always did. As I left for the liquor store, my lifelong pal (the con artist who rented space in my head) had convinced me that we (we?) were only planning to pick up a half-pint of bourbon, and a couple packs of smokes. Our goals were modest, so we figured that we’d just nurse one tiny little drink while we did some deep thinking about our future.
But that brilliant plan lasted about four fucking minutes, so when we arrived at the package store and stared at all of those beautiful bottles of liquid magic gesturing seductively to us, my good old pal suggested that I (oh, so now it was “I” again?) might as well pick up a decent supply.
You know, just so we’d have something on hand in case company dropped by during the next year or two, or I stubbed my toe, or somebody’s dog died.
But we both knew that was all a crock, because visitors rarely came by anymore, at least not since I had gone off the deep end in a rather large way, and that had been years ago.
And as to the remainder of my litany of pathetic excuses, who was I shitting?
Not that it would have mattered, however, because I was one of those paranoid drunks who hid all of my booze. That way, on the remote chance that anyone was naive enough to stop by expecting to share a nice stiff convivial adult beverage, and some stimulating intellectual conversation, I could always claim that the cupboard was bare, and my stash would remain safe.
And that was Wes’s first law of addiction - keep the stash safe at all costs, because running out of alcohol and drugs at 4:00 a.m. was not to be tolerated.
Now, on the other hand, if you happened to show up with a couple of grams of coke, then accommodations could always be readily made, and my bourbon would magically appear, because there are always exceptions to every rule when it comes around to maximizing one’s high.
But the bottom line is that after I got done with all of my self-serving bullshit and rationalizations, everything evolved into one basic fact of life - simply put, as my AA pal Tony used to say, “I took a drink, then the drink took me, and then I was off to the races.”
It was all so linear and logical the way my little forays into insanity played out exactly the same way every time. They always started out with my good little buddy whispering sweet nothings in my ear about how it was perfectly okay to take that one simple little fucking drink. Just one, but then I’d be gone, back out there for one more death-defying thrill ride.
“Go ahead, Wes, you can have a drink, it’ll calm your nerves, help you to think better. Things are gonna turn out great, you’ll see, this time’s gonna be different - I promise!”
Because, like, yeah, “this time” will always be different when you’re jonesing for your fix.
You’d think I’d have learned.
Well, actually I had learned, of course. It wasn’t like I was fooling anyone, particularly myself, because that’s the point of it all, isn’t it, to have plenty of booze around when you’re making a decent attempt at drinking yourself to death? And wasn’t that the endgame all along, to wind up dead? My life wasn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders, but even after a lifetime of screw-ups and failures I still didn’t have the balls to pull a trigger.
So, enter alcohol - the painless, mindless .45 caliber solution for all of a drunk’s problems.
I had already subconsciously worked the numbers, so I knew that the bourbon would last me perhaps four or five days, and that was just the right amount of time to tie on a proper bender, and take one more trip to the ‘Land of Blessed Oblivion.’
So as soon as I returned to the apartment I poured a nice big fat one on the rocks, lit a smoke, stretched out in the recliner, and commenced to nurse that one tiny little fucking drink.
And with that first sip I entered into what I pray was my final waltz with Death by alcohol.
It was so close, so damned frustratingly close, but I couldn’t quite reach it. It was right there in front of me, just beyond my grasp, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, just inches above the surface of the water, slipping in and out of focus, tantalizing, mocking, calling out its siren song to me, but I just couldn’t quite reach it.
It seemed like I’d been trying for several hours, but I had no real point of reference to judge the passage of time in this cold, dark void I was floating through, and it didn’t really matter much because the result was always the same. And so I’d take another deep breath, and dive deep, always deeper than the last time, and I’d coil, waiting for that one perfect moment when my heart rate had slowed almost to nothing, and my breathing was strong and steady, my muscles taut, contracting, and then I’d exhale sharply, blasting the air out of my lungs, uncoiling in a powerful, fluid release of all the kinetic energy I had stored in my body, and I’d explode toward the surface, my legs pumping, chest and arms on fire from the exertion, reaching, flailing, straining to get up and out of the water, my hands clawing for that one strong branch that would be my salvation.
And always it was so close, so damned frustratingly close, but I just couldn’t quite reach it, and then my momentum would fail me again and I’d falter, and in my nightmare I’d sink once more into the cold and the darkness and the terror.
Man, coming out of a blackout was always a ballbuster!
That drunk dream was the last thing I could remember until I crawled back into consciousness in my apartment in Norwood, Massachusetts, sometime around noon on a sunny Sunday in early June, 1992.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that would mark the day that I finally surrendered to the diseases of alcoholism and addiction, without any reservations whatsoever.
I need to repeat that last phrase, if only for myself, “without any reservations whatsoever,” because as Chapter 5 of the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us, “half measures availed us nothing,” and I’m living proof of that. The chain of events that occurred during the remainder of that day took away any last doubts and denial that I may have been desperately clinging to, and it is my belief that by finally letting go of those reservations I was saved by a Power greater than myself, who I chose to call God.
There’s just no other way to explain it.
When I finally came around my head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton, and I was shaking and numb all over, but I sucked down that last half-inch of warm bourbon in the glass in one long, magnificent gulp.
Ahh, the breakfast of champions!
I waited several moments for the alcohol to spread its warm, fuzzy glow throughout my body, took a deep breath, and then somehow I managed to climb out of the recliner and stagger into the bathroom.
Even I, as jaded as they come, was shocked by what I saw, because staring back at me from the mirror was a vision from Hell. I hadn’t shaved, showered, brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, or eaten during the entire binge. My eyes had that dead thousand-yard stare, blood red, lifeless and sunk way back into their sockets. I had a week’s growth of beard, I was shaking and wobbly, and my clothes were hanging off me like a scarecrow’s.
I looked like somebody in a scene from ‘Dead Man Walking.’
Just then a wave of nausea hit me, and I went down on my knees in front of the crapper and emptied my guts. I studied the mess as it filled the bowl, watching particularly for any evidence of blood. I had a buddy who drank like me, and he had survived two esophageal hemorrhages caused by his binge drinking, but the third one finished him off. His last moments were spent lying on a hospital gurney in an emergency room, puking up blood and fighting intubation. The staff couldn’t control him, so they finally backed off and he bled out, and that was that. He was forty-seven years old, and he’d been a full blown alcoholic for thirty years.
Lesson learned, I always checked for blood in my vomit also.
This time I got lucky. It was all clear, hot fluid, nothing solid, no chunks of semi-digested food, no sign of blood, just good old American eighty proof bourbon and stomach acid burning my esophagus raw on the way back up.
It soon turned into the dry heaves, and it was another five minutes before I could stop gagging.
Blood, or no blood, my first thought was, “Shit, it’s finally happening. I’m dying.”
My second thought was “Shit, it’s Sunday, it’s Massachusetts, and the freakin’ liquor stores are closed. How much booze do I have left before the DT’s hit, and how the hell do I get my hands on more?”
I’d had the delirium tremens damned near a hundred times over the past dozen years, and they were ungodly, so I’d do practically anything to avoid them, but hitting one of the local Walpole bars was out of the question. No bartenders in their right minds would serve me in the shape I was in, or if they did I’d be face-down on the railing after two drinks.
And, besides, how could I risk driving and a possible DUI stop, because the thought of going cold turkey in a drunk tank was beyond anything imaginable. I’d been “PC’d” a half dozen times over the years for drunk driving, and I will guarantee that the last place you ever want to wake up from a blackout in is a jail cell that you never remembered getting locked up in to begin with.
That, my dear friends, is the stuff from which nightmares are made, and you can damned well take that to the bank.
Now, on the other hand, it would take forever to get a cab, and then what was I going to do, have him drive me fifty miles each way to the New Hampshire border, just so I could buy more alcohol? Or over to South Boston to find a backdoor bar operation where I could grab a couple of bottles of overpriced rotgut? Or just keep him on the clock while he chauffeured me around the booze dumps down in the Norwood flats, all of which I’d get tossed out of twenty minutes later?
Decisions, decisions, what’s a poor lost alkie to do when he’s dying for his fix?
I had one remaining option that I’d been hoping to avoid, but my time was running out, so I would need to come up with a plan, and fast, before the withdrawal sickness really hit hard.
First, however, I had to check whether there was any liquor left to steady my nerves.
I managed to stumble out to the kitchen, then said a silent prayer of thanks to the ‘Gods of the Lost Drunks’ when I saw that my last bottle of bourbon had three inches of precious lifeblood left in it. I also noticed that there were now three empty half-gallon bottles lined up neatly on the counter, brave little dead soldiers, plus this one lonely survivor that I was polishing off, and a couple of packs from a second carton of Marlboros.
Based on simple math it was clear even to me that I had ventured out at least once for supplies, and God only knows what else. I shuddered with relief that I had made it back in one piece, although now I had to check to see whether my car was out in the parking lot.
How many times over the years had I gone out searching for a missing vehicle after a rough night or weekend? It got so bad at one point that I ended up organizing search parties with my friends. That had worked out swell, at least until they stopped returning my calls.
And then one day I stopped having friends, which pretty much made all of that pain in the ass social stuff a moot point.
But, like they say, God looks after fools and drunks, and I was both, so on this day my car sat shimmering in the sunlight.
I performed some rapid calculations then, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was time to consider that final option I had been procrastinating about. And, thank you God, there was sufficient bourbon remaining to implement it.
I called it my “Backup Plan DT,” which was to attempt to be admitted into a detox or treatment facility - that’s if I could find one that would take me again, and that might present a problem based on my recent track record.
At this point I wasn’t seriously considering another futile effort to stop drinking forever, but I knew that I’d beaten the stuffing out of myself, and that I’d soon be in a beaucoup nasty withdrawal. I also recalled that all of my most recent self-detox attempts had been bona fide nightmares, so I simply didn’t have it in me to go it alone this time - I was just too exhausted.
I was already becoming nauseous again, dizzy, twitching and aching all over, and I knew that it would get a whole lot worse as the alcohol leached out of my system.
I could also tell from the pressure behind my eyeballs, and the banging sound in my ears, that all of my vitals were spiking through the roof. It felt like my eyes were about to pop out of my head. My personal best blood pressure reading of all time was 220 over 140 after a week of around-the-clock binging on cocaine and bourbon several years previously, and I feared that I was challenging my record this time around.
The elevated vitals led me to wonder momentarily whether I had scored some blow during my binge – coke was the cruelest game of all, and it had owned my ass from day one. I had chased it hard for a dozen years, but I didn’t really have any connections these days, and there was none of the usual drug paraphernalia lying around.
No, bottom line, this must have been just another monster alcohol hangover, one of hundreds that I had experienced over the years.
I’d never had seizures while detoxing myself - that I knew of, anyway - but a guy standing next to me on the night before I left the Alps two months previously had gone down like a sack of bricks with a grand mal seizure. It was terrifying to watch, and no doubt it was a lot more terrifying to experience firsthand.
I realized that I was susceptible this time around, and I was in no mood to do any field research on the subject. You die from seizures, all alone, convulsing, swallowing your tongue, choking to death. But, as miserable as I was at that moment, I was still full of enough self-hate to want to remain alive, if only so that I could to go on hating myself for just a little while longer.
So the die was cast, and I decided that some R & R was in order, because the more I thought about it, the more I looked forward to taking a nice escape from the World for a few weeks.
There would be decent food, no irritating little phone calls from concerned family, friends, and another soon-to-be-former-employer, and a steady supply of nifty downers to ease my heebie-jeebies.
Naïve, but arrogant to the end, I actually believed that I was still running the show, and that I could dictate the terms of my own surrender.
What a crock, because truth be told I was nothing more than a conniving, clueless drunk on another in a long line of losing streaks.
Talk about pathetic!
I might have been chock full of the arrogance and false pride that’s only found in an alcoholic in denial, but nevertheless I still considered myself to be a rather sophisticated rehab veteran. I had learned through trial and error over the past five or six years which detoxes and treatment facilities would meet my rather discriminating standards, so I began to explore my options while I nursed my bourbon.
First out of the gate were the State of Massachusetts detoxes. For the most part they were roach motels, but they were cheap, and they served a purpose, namely to get you dried out and off the streets for a week.
As an added bonus they were also a great place to hide out from any number of angry, vindictive individuals who might be seeking out the pleasure of my company. I had used one for a week the prior winter, in order to straighten out and disappear from a pissed-off former employer who wanted their company car back for some strange reason that I just couldn’t seem to comprehend at the time.
So I’d spent a week at the Framingham, Massachusetts detox back in January. I wore the same ratty bathrobe, pajamas and smiley slippers for the entire stay, slept on a cot in a crowded room that stunk of urine, sweat, vomit and shit, ate two day old donuts, Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, and Gorton’s fucking fish sticks three times a day, then got topped off with 400 mg of Librium daily.
At one point during my fun-filled holiday I leaned over to switch the channel on the 1970’s era television in the dayroom, but thanks to the Librium I lost my balance and started falling.
It seemed like it took me ten minutes to hit the floor, but ohhh, cooool… it… sure… was… fun… until it wasn’t.
It’s a strange fact of Nature, but if you’re a low-life stinking drunk the ground always seems to rise up and smack you in the kisser sooner or later, so please feel free to call it one of “Wes’s Laws of Fucked-up Gravity.”
Other iterations of said law relate to major decreases in bank accounts, self-respect, sex appeal, employment opportunities, quality of residential address, and quantity of, and social status of, friends.
But no, I didn’t think that I had a problem, even though I looked like Jack Nicholson at the end of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ when I finally booked my ass out of there a week later.
Because the state detoxes had confidentiality regulations they also attracted their fair share of individuals like myself, who were hiding out, on the lam from pissed-off friends, relatives, spouses, bill collectors, drug dealers, various law enforcement agencies, or employers.
So until you caught the rhythm of these places it never hurt to keep your mouth shut, and to be careful about who you hung out with in there.
But, on the other hand, if you kept your eyes and ears open you might just pick up a few nifty new tricks, if that was your bag. Spend an hour listening to the string of lies and broken promises that flow out of a junkie’s mouth like mother’s milk when he’s two days off the needle and you’ll know what I mean.
Talk about effortless, if somewhat pathological.
On a positive note, however, the staffers were all in recovery, real professionals, dedicated to helping any and all sick, suffering alcoholics and addicts who walked through the door, and they brought in local AA groups to put on meetings a couple of times a week.
If nothing else, those meetings broke up the monotony, and in some cases they offered hope to individuals like myself, who had none of our own.
But the bottom line was that these facilities were usually nothing more than crash pads to stop the shakes before you went back out into the world to play your games all over again.
The Framingham Detox wasn’t exactly a garden spot, even though it was the best of the State facilities, so I checked it off as last on my list of places to take another fun-filled vacation from Planet Earth.
Well, unless things got really bad that is, which after all was the reason I had ended up there in the first place.
I’ll tell you, though, God must have been making some long term plans for me during that prior stay, or was just having a chuckle while he screwed with my head, because Pat R., the Clinical Coordinator of the facility, would become my recovery counselor several years later.
Pat conducted my out-take interview at Framingham, and gee whiz, believe it or not, for some strange reason he figured out that I hadn’t quite hit my wall yet.
Nonetheless, he was instrumental in my eventual recovery, and I ended up dumping all of my garbage on that poor bastard every two weeks for five years.
I’m honored to call him my friend to this day.
And there were some bonus points there as well. Pat was a scratch golfer, and he built golf clubs for a hobby, so by the end of my counseling years I had a nice new set of handmade clubs, had knocked five strokes off my game, had discovered a new addiction, and was beginning to look for a Golfers’ Anonymous meeting.
So who says ‘The Great Handicapper in the Sky’ doesn’t have a plan for each of us, or at least a sense of humor?
I only wish that He could have given me a hand with my putting, however, because I’ve still got the fuckin’ yips on the three footers.
Next up on my dance card was the middle echelon of detoxes and treatment centers, where I had been in-patient three or four times over the years.
My facility of choice here was NORCAP, which operated a seven day detox program in Norfolk, Massachusetts, as well as a longer term treatment facility in Foxboro.
I had matriculated to both of them at various times during my career, played the sober game for a while after I returned home, but always ended up drunk on my tits within a couple of months after every one of my stays there.
It wasn’t all their fault, however, because at least they tried, whereas I didn’t. Meh!
These mid-range outfits were newer, better equipped, the food was good, and they held plenty of in-house meetings, in addition to inviting local AA groups in.
Some of them even had barebones exercise facilities, so there were at least a few creature comforts.
Many were also affiliated with hospitals, as was the case with NORCAP, and they had on-staff counselors to work with the patients on developing a recovery plan for when we went back out into the ‘World.’
I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to the counseling part of the program, considering my .000 batting average every time I departed said premises.
I was also somewhat concerned that health insurance might become an issue here, and certain that it would for the upscale treatment centers if I decided to fly first class.
I actually had health insurance at the time, compliments of a company plan that I had been covered under. I’d been given a six month grace period on it after I was fired by that former employer back in January for, among other things, “a history of inconsistent results, which culminated in disappearing with a company car for two weeks after he was given his last verbal warning.”
For my part I had fired back with an indignant letter of my own that challenged their unfriendly comments as “nuance and innuendo, wrapped up in wild supposition.”
There, take THAT you miserable turds!
But I did get the insurance, and it financed a much needed thirty-day trip to Beech Hill for treatment of alcoholism just six weeks after my January stint at Framingham Detox.
So, as circumstance would have it, I suppose that my former employer’s accusations weren’t all that “nuanced” or “wild” after all.
Well, whatever. I still considered them to be egregious slugs, just on general principles, and besides, they hurt my poor little feelings!
The problem now was that I didn’t know whether the insurer would be willing to kick in again, just two short months after they blew $19,000 on my thirty day respite at the Alps.
That wasn’t exactly a stellar return on investment, at least not if you’re an insurance auditor. But I had a swell time, anyway, and believe it or not it helped build a base that would ultimately save my life.
I was also somewhat wary about applying to NORCAP for another reason, however, because I was a three-time loser there, and it occurred to me that my odds weren’t all that great for improving the outcome this time around.
I ascribed that concern to the likelihood that I had developed a mental block about their program that would be difficult to overcome.
Please, an effing mental block? Seriously?
That rationale was pure nonsense, of course, like most of my best thinking in those days, but I was as apathetic about the place as I was about Brussel sprouts and bean curds, so I just couldn’t get a hard-on about going back there. It left me with the total blahs, so I decided to take a pass on NORCAP for the time being, and would instead concentrate on the upper tier facilities.
And, besides, I considered the high-end joints to be more in keeping with my life style and breeding, so why not go first class this time around?
I had four prospects in mind, last of which was the Alps, so I took a deep breath, pounded down another slug of bourbon, lit a smoke, then commenced to smile and dial.
God mentioned later that He’d been getting a big kick out of my desperate maneuvers and machinations that day. He referred to them as, “a pathetic attempt by the Captain of the Titanic to negotiate with the iceberg.”
Happy to hear that, God, I’m thrilled to know that somebody was getting some chuckles out of my misery, because after all I’m here merely to serve at your pleasure!
Thirty minutes later the shakes were coming on harder, and I was down to my last inch of bourbon, and one final treatment center – the good old Alps.
The other three facilities had refused to consider me because it was Sunday, so they wouldn’t be able to receive a confirmation that my insurance was valid until the next business day.
What, they wouldn’t take my word for it?
I’d been afraid of this. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go back to the Hill, because it was a perfectly good facility, and I had received some beneficial counseling during my prior visit.
I had even made some good friends up there, which was a rare occurrence for me, because I don’t trust. Period.
And I had met Blue Eyes there, and we just seemed to hit it off, which was an even rarer occurrence for me because I had always been a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type, and because I don’t trust. Period.
The big problem, after the uncertainty of insurance coverage, however, was that I felt like I’d be returning to the Hill with my tail between my legs, a failure for all to see. “Pride goeth before the fall,” perhaps, but nonetheless it had only been two months since I graduated, and here I was drunk on my ass again, about to go begging for a bed.
But, really, that’s pretty much just another steaming pile of cheap rationalization and bullshit, just more crap spewing from the mouth of an out of control, arrogant alcoholic in denial. I had become an expert at conning myself and the rest of the world - well, conning myself anyway, because in retrospect I’m not so sure that ‘the World’ was still buying anything that Wes was pitching, or even cared whether Wes was dead or alive.
And could I blame them?
The plain truth of the matter was that I’d done a damned good job of destroying my life over the past twenty-five years through a near-fatal addiction to alcohol and drugs, and half the world knew it. But I never gave a good goddamn about them in the first place, and come to think of it I never gave a rat’s ass about the other half either.
Because I didn’t trust. Period.
Well, at least not until Blue Eyes came along, because she saw through all of my childish nonsense in about two minutes flat, and left me howling at the moon.
The bottom line, however, was that I’d experienced loss after loss after loss, the likes of which I could never have imagined possible once upon a time. Yet here I was coming back to an alcohol rehab for the nth time, and all I could worry about was my damned image? Or how I’d come across to a bunch of suffering people who were still drooling on themselves after a couple days off the sauce? Seriously? Most of those poor souls probably had plenty of worries of their own, so I’m sure that the last thing on anybody’s mind that day was having to fret about how another down and out drunk from Boston was making out with his DT’s.
Ahh, the indefatigable ego of the alcoholic in full bloom, filled to the brim with lies, arrogance, denial and excuses.
Curiously, I rather liked Beech Hill, although I will admit that some of my rationale was a little bit fuzzy. In fact, make that very fuzzy – unless you’re an addict, that is.
A case in point, one big kicker for me was that they handed out the blue 10 milligram Valiums to bring you down, rather than Librium. A minor detail you say?
Not to me!
I freakin’ hated Librium, because it turned me into a zombie, but I’d always had a thing for Valiums, because they let me float along in my own safe little cocoon, oblivious to the world.
They were also a great hangover cure, and sometimes I mixed ground-up 5 mg. yellows with my cocaine to take the edge off when I was getting a little too jacked up toward the end of a forty-eight hour binge weekend. I nicknamed the concoction ‘Yellow Snow,’ after the Frank Zappa song.
That was one of a dozen nifty little drug combinations I had perfected over the years, that were capable of killing every single emotion I had ever felt, and I suppose it’s one of the reasons why my first alcohol counselor had mentioned that I should have been a chemistry major in college.
But really, when you came right down to it, I was merely a pathetic coward who thoroughly disliked the pain of coming down off a bad drunk. So, thanks to the blue 10’s that they pumped into me, re-entering Earth atmosphere had been a fairly easy ride when I arrived at the Hill in full blackout mode back in March.
And that was a very good thing, and certainly an experience I endeavored to repeat this time around.
So my thinking was that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it - just keep feeding me my blues, please and thank you, and let me go into a corner to suck my thumb and sulk until I’m ready to rejoin the world.
But just how does one argue that case to the admittance director of an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility? I mean, aren’t I supposed to sound like I’m just a little bit repentant?
“Well, sir or madam, I’m applying to your fine institution so that I can get my hands on an almost unlimited supply of my favorite pharmaceutical, in order to bring me down slow and easy off my latest jackpot. Oh, and yeah, to cop a free high just for shits and giggles. So please, may I have a few fistfuls of your blues, just to keep me level until the pain goes away? I really do want to get clean and sober, but I can’t concentrate on sobriety when I’ve still got the screaming horrors. I promise that this time will be different, really!”
Like I said, fuzzy logic at its best, another addict needing to get high to get straight. But that was me, always trying for an angle that would keep me floating along, immune to the pains of reality, without any of the downside.
And always failing miserably.
To round things out, however, the staff and counselors at the Alps were compassionate and caring professionals, and I had benefitted from some of their suggestions – that is, when I wasn’t checking out Blue Eyes’ perfectly formed derriere.
And, adding to the attraction, the food and the rooms were well above average, the views of the Monadnock Range were spectacular, and for the physically fit drunks there were some scenic walking trails that wound throughout the surrounding forest.
One other strong point was that they had some great AA meetings at the Hill, including a Saturday night barnburner that brought in recovering alcoholics from throughout the region. There were always some strong, entertaining speakers in those crews, which made for a nice change of pace - not that their inspiration had done me any good, of course.
And, no shit, they even had an outdoor swimming pool, and it was June so most of the ice would probably be out by now!
And last, but certainly not least, to top it all off with a great big juicy red cherry, the piece de resistance was that they had a great phlebotomist who always hit your vein just right when he was doing blood draws to check your liver enzymes. That may seem a bit trivial, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had a nervous, shaky phleb poking around your veins with a sharp needle for ten minutes, trying unsuccessfully to get a good stick while you’re coming down hard off a screaming, raging, binge drunk.
Trust me on that one.
So to sum it all up, what more could a low-life stinkin’ drunk with delusions of grandeur ask for than a nice vacay in the Alps?
Aye, laddie, the Hill was the next best thing to a month in the Caribbean!
I stared at the bottle. There was one nice big fat warm fuzzy drink left, so what the hell - I picked up the bottle and I picked up the phone and I drank and I dialed.
Little did I know, I had just saved my life.
It was a foregone conclusion how things would turn out, but we had to play the game, so we performed our traditional dance. It was a farce, but as always everything worked out in the end.
Practice makes perfect when you’re negotiating the terms of your own surrender. I had learned that lesson the hard way a couple of years previously when I was applying to NORCAP. I had been blowing about a dot three four on the breathalyzer, drunk out of my mind and speaking in tongues. The only way I could get admitted was to hand the phone over to a slightly less drunk friend of mine, now deceased, thank you Demon Rum, and he had successfully conducted the interview on my behalf.
But even then things had almost bombed out at the very last minute, when they requested my credit card information as a deposit, because I gave them the numbers off an expired Texaco gas card.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, my deceased friend’s name was Doc. He was a great drinking buddy. He was a PhD psychologist with one of the highest IQ’s I have ever known, and he had a long and distinguished drinking career, but in the end the booze beat the IQ hands-down like it always does. So Doc drank his multi-million dollar clinic into the ground, and eventually wound up sleeping on a wooden cot in a filthy old basement, next to an ancient washing machine.
The last time I saw him alive he weighed somewhere around one hundred pounds, down from two hundred, and he was lying on the cot shooting cheap vodka into his gut through a feeding tube. He had lost most of his mouth and jaw and throat to cancer from the drinking and the cigarettes, so the tube was his only viable delivery system.
What can I say, you do what you need to do when that cold-hearted monster owns your ass, and I ought to know, because I would have done the same damned thing if I was in his shoes.
So now I was conducting my own negotiations. I had a high degree of confidence, because I’d practiced the lines I planned to use so many times, on so many admittance directors, that I could have recited them in my sleep, or even blind drunk like I was now.
Or so I hoped, anyway.
For Beech Hill’s part I was certain that the staff would soon be turning down the covers on my bed, and leaving a mint on the pillow, while they waited breathlessly for the six hundred dollar per day insurance authorization to arrive.
But the bottom line was that none of this polite, formal bullshit that we were about to engage in really mattered much, anyway, because at the end of the day it was always just about the Benjamins.
So I conned them, and they conned the insurance company, and everyone was happy, even that poor fuckin’ auditor who had taken it up the ass for nineteen large on my previous Alpine adventure.
And, besides, now that the auditor had been burned once he would no doubt lay off his bets to a half-dozen reinsurers this time around, so what was the big deal? Life goes on, the wheels turn, the rivers still flow to the seas, everyone grabs a piece of the action, and this game wasn’t any different from the way the Vegas bookies arbitraged their own risk.
Hell, the way I figured it I was just boosting the economy and spreading the wealth around a little, so I should receive a medal for that, comrade!
After five minutes of shuffling papers, and keeping me on hold, Dave finally picked up. That was just ‘The Man,’ letting me know who was in charge. Fine, Dave, I’m sure yours is bigger than mine, so can we get down to effin business now?
“So, Wes, why now? You just left here two months ago, and obviously things didn’t go too well. What’s different this time? Why do you want to get sober now? What do you hope to accomplish?” This oughta be good for a chuckle!
Jesus H. Christ, what’s this, a freakin job interview? “Well, Dave, I, ahh, I worked really hard last time, uurrrppp. It’s just that I caught a couple of bad breaks when I got home an I screwed up an I didn’t hit enough meetins… oh, yeah, an I never got a sponsor or went to counseling. But I want sobriety more than anything else in the world right now, an I ahh, ahhhh, an I know what I did wrong, an I just need one more chance, so please help me, please.” Blah blah blah.
“Are you willing to do everything we suggest to remain sober this time? I mean it – everything?” You’ve gotta be shittin’ me - better get the Fishbowl ready again, we’ve got a live one here - he’s as ripped as the last time around!
“Absolutely, Dave! I know that I don’t have a lot of chances left. I just need to get away from the, ahh, noise fer a while, so I can get centered an work on a strong recovry plan. Beech Hill has all the tools an I know I can learn how to use them this time, you’ll see… yer my last, ahh… hope. I’ve surrendert.” Blahdee blahdee blahdee.
What the hell is this guy on, he sounds like he’s on a nod. “You have to understand, Wes, you’ll be admitted provisionally until we can get your insurance straightened out. We should be able to pick you up in a couple of hours, and we should get an approval from them by tomorrow. But if they decline you, for any reason, you’ll need to take a bus home on your own dime. Agreed?” I’m sure as hell glad I’m not the poor sucker who has to drive this whackjob up here.
Yippee, the rube’s buying my shit again! “Yes, of course, Dave, I understand, and that would be fine. Thank you so very much for givin’ me this chance again… ahh, I’ll, ahhh, work really hard an you won’t regret it. Thank you thank you thank you!” Blahdee fuckin’ blah.
“It’s two o’clock, so the driver should be able to get down to your place sometime around four, four-thirty.” And they call this a freakin’ career?
“That’s great, perfect! Ahhm, ahhm, thank you, so much… I’ll be ready! See you soon!” Now how the hell am I gonna get the driver to stop once we get over the New Hampshire border so I can snag a bottle of vino for the ride?
“Ok, Wes, we’ll see you in a few hours, and please try to get some food in you,” Dave said, about to hang up.
Time to go for the gold! “Oh, by the way, Dave, I was wonderin’, my Doc has specified that I should only be given Valiums. I believe they’re the blue ten milligram ones, to assist in my, uh, ahh, my detossification. He says Librium is not an appropriate drug in his perfessional opinion, too many dangerous side effects. Do you, ahh, see any, uh, any problems with that?” Please, God, help me, just this once! I promise never to lie again!
Jesus H. Christ Allfreakingmighty, do you want us to wipe your ass too, you arrogant shit? “Sighhh, no problem, Wes, I’m sure the doc can accommodate your needs.” Click.
Oh yeah, Baby! I’ll snag the vino as soon as we hit New Hampshire. I can nurse a quart for an hour, keep a nice buzz on, and I should have my first blues an hour after I’m through the door. Yesss! It’ll be a nice smooth glide slope, comfortably numb for the rest of the day! I wonder how long I can drag out the scrip for the blues? At least a week, I should think.
Victorious, I took a long, slow, loving swallow, and polished off the last of my bourbon.
“Rest in peace, Mister Beam,” I said, “it’s been a pleasure to know you, but hopefully we’ll soon meet again.”
I still had a full package on as I stumbled into the bathroom for a shave and a quick shower - after all, I wanted to look presentable for my new fun adventures in ‘Rehab Land.’
First, however, I had to take care of another case of the dry heaves, which meant that I’d probably lose all the therapeutic benefits of that last mouthful of Beam, and perhaps a small piece of my esophagus as well.
The bathroom break cleared me up, somewhat, but I was becoming more squirrelly as my buzz began to ease off. This was the dangerous part, because the scary stuff would be hitting me soon, and it would be close to three hours before I could scam a jug of wine, and probably four before I could pop my first valiums.
And those damned shakes had no intention of waiting that long.
I hated them, and all the rest of the crap that came along with alcohol withdrawal – the puking that morphed into the dry heaves, the dizzies, the insomnia, the blinding headaches, the blood pressure spikes, the cigarette burns all over my body and clothes, the paranoia, the sweats, the shits, the stomach full of razor blades, the mysterious cuts and bruises, the fuckin’ Brahms rhapsodies playing over and over and over again in my head even when there was no music on, and worst of all the pure hating myself for having to go through this nightmare all over again.
This had the makings of a very long day shaping up, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that bottle of wine that was already calling out to me from just over the New Hampshire border.
I had just forced myself to start packing my duffel bag when the phone rang.
Uh oh, a snag this soon with Beech Hill? Did that freaking insurance company decline me already? Who the hell else could be calling?
I was in for a surprise, and it broke my heart, but it changed my life.
The call was from Blue Eyes, my drop-dead gorgeous friend from my previous stay at the Hill. She was the last person I expected to hear from that day, but dear God, she was the only person I wanted to hear from.
She had rolled into the Alps back in March, a week before me, and we ended up in the same counseling group once I was judged competent to join the rest of the population.
There was just something about her that grabbed my attention like nobody ever had, and we hit it off pretty much from day one.
I don’t know which one of us had more pent-up anger when we first met, but we were good for each other. Pretty soon I was looking forward to seeing those killer blue eyes brightening up when we met at the meal tables, and I began trying to provoke one of her shy, sexy smiles with some of my patented wisecracks.
We opened up to each other about our stuff, and pretty soon I was telling her things about myself that I had never told anyone. And she did the same with me, and my heart went out to her when I heard her story.
For a guy who had shut himself off from the world a very long time ago, a guy filled with nothing but self-loathing and anger, this was something really special.
Fight it as I may, I knew that I was falling in love with her, and I knew that she was falling for me.
But that was the worst thing that could happen at a treatment facility, because detox romances hardly ever work, and usually they end up in a trail of tears, with one or both of the parties using again.
We took a long walk through the forest to the ‘Money Tree’ on the morning that she left for home. That ancient oak was a good luck omen – you took a quarter and you banged it into the trunk with a stone, and as long as it remained in place it was supposed to guarantee that you’d remain sober after you left ‘the Hill.’
For her it worked.
For me, not so much.
It had been a sunny, warm, perfect mid-April day in the mountains. There was a large boulder lying next to the tree, so we climbed up on it and lay there for a couple of hours, soaking up the sun, talking about life, and making our promises to get together after we returned home.
At some point during that magical morning I fell into her eyes, and I never came back. Blue Eyes set my soul on fire that day, and I was changed forever.
We lived about thirty miles apart, so we began seeing each other almost immediately after I returned home, and I had some great times hanging out with her and her precious little girl.
Suddenly an enjoyable evening wasn’t drinking myself into a stupor, but rather it had become pizza, a good movie and a game of Jenga. Her daughter always won, and I didn’t even let her.
But one night when I was up at her place the voices of the demons from my past started whispering to me again. They were haunting me, eating away at my happiness for no reason I have ever been able to fathom, and I began to shut down.
It was nothing that she had said or done – quite the contrary, we were having a wonderful time, and I felt a deeper bond with her that night than with any other human being I had ever known.
But out of nowhere all of my shields began to go up, and I became tense and non-communicative. I went stone cold silent, and just shut her out.
I was dying inside, but I couldn’t tell her any of the things that were in my heart, those thoughts and dreams she wanted and needed to hear from me. I couldn’t tell her that I was falling in love with her, that I couldn’t imagine spending my life without her, or that she was the most wondrous, perfect woman I had ever known.
Perhaps it was the depression that had plagued me all of my life, or the self-hate and urge to self-destruct that had hounded me since before I could remember, or maybe it was the lifetime of scars I had worn ever since I was a little kid that still prevented me from showing my soul to her.
Maybe the wounds were still too deep, or I was just too broken, or too new in sobriety to open myself up all the way to anyone, even Blue Eyes.
Or maybe I just couldn’t believe that I deserved something so good and so beautiful to happen in my life.
Or maybe I just wanted to drink more than I wanted to remain sober, so by hurting her I could hurt myself enough to drink again, and God, I wanted to eat a round for even imagining that.
I’ll never know why, and that’s the hell of it, but to this day it’s what I think about whenever I wake up alone in a cold sweat from a drunk dream in the darkest hours of the night, and the demons that slip out of the shadows at 3:00 a.m. always make sure I remember that evening from so long ago.
Whatever the reason, I went into my cocoon, and I know that I hurt her feelings very badly that night. She had begun to open herself up to me, trusting me, making herself vulnerable, and it took a world of courage for her to do that because I knew where she had come from, and it was the same half-acre of Hell as I had.
And yet I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even hold her in my arms and tell her that we were going to be alright. I just went cold and dead inside, pouted, shut her out and shut down every emotion I had in my body.
She let out the biggest sigh of disappointment that I’ve ever experienced when we hugged good-bye the next morning.
I couldn’t speak - I just left.
The ride home was terrible.
They tell us in the Program that we should never hold on to regrets. Well, maybe so, but I’ll go to my grave not forgiving myself for that night. You see, I grew a conscience at some point over the years, and the knowledge that I let her down and turned my back on her when she needed someone to tell her that she was going to be alright has been one of the most heartbreaking weights I have ever carried.
Blue Eyes deserved more from me, much more, but I shut down and disappeared.
And thus I had my excuse. The self-hate and self-destructive urges had won out again, as they had a hundred times before, so I trashed myself good and proper the next day, and the next, and then finally I went out and bought those two bottles of bourbon, and did what I had always done best.
I guess we know how that turned out.
I was shocked but elated to hear from her now, although I couldn’t help but wonder at the timing of it all.
“Hi Wes, I haven’t heard from you for a while, are you doing alright?” Tentative, nervous, cautious.
“Hey, pretty lady, this is a nice surprise, but nah, not so hot. I screwed up. I picked up. I’m a mess, and I’m heading back to the Hill today, just waiting on my ride.”
There was a moment’s silence, then, “Oh, Wes, somehow I had that feeling. I’m coming down, I’ll wait with you.” Softly, quivering, hurt.
“No, you don’t want to do that. I’m toxic. It’s bad. It’s not cool to be around me - it could be dangerous for you, too.”
“I don’t care. I’m coming down, no arguments. I’ll be there in an hour.” Click.
Well, as I knew from day one, this woman had spirit and a strong will, and there was nothing on Earth that could stop her once she had made her mind up to do something.
Blue Eyes arrived forty-five minutes later, while I was still attempting to pack my duffel bag. The shakes were getting worse and I was having second thoughts about going back to the Hill just as she walked through the door.
I was never so happy to see anyone in all my life, or so bitter, for knowing the reason that she was there.
By the way, there’s something else you need to know about Blue Eyes - she’s far and away the best hugger I’ve ever met, and I’ve been hugged by hundreds of women over the years. It’s an AA thing - we hug a lot. I used to cringe about it when I first began hitting meetings, but I got over it. In fact, I like it now, a whole lot. Blue Eyes taught me well.
And this time was no different - she pulled me in deep and never let me come up for air. All I could do was hold on tight, try to catch my breath, and enjoy the experience.
I suppose that it’s pretty easy to take charge when you’re the mother of a six year old girl, and you’re dealing with a six year old adult. She went into overdrive as soon as we unwrapped, and my packing was finished a couple of minutes later. That’s just the way she’s always been, and it was one of the many reasons that I had fallen in love with her.
We didn’t talk very much. After all, there really wasn’t too much to say, so we sat on the sofa for almost an hour, virtually silent, and she held my hand the entire time. But just her physical presence, like some beautiful Angel of Mercy, was all I needed.
She had a calming influence on me. I was still wired, on edge, fighting off the shakes, but just the physical and emotional connection to her was enough to make a difference, if only for a few moments.
Blue Eyes didn’t know it, but she helped save my life that day, and I’ll love her and be grateful to her for that until the day I die.
And I don’t wonder about the timing of her call anymore - I know who had set it all up. There’s no doubt in my mind that she was a gift from a Power greater than myself, telling me that Wes was finally going to be okay.
It was June 7, 1992, and it was the day I ran up the white flag of surrender to my disease.
It was the last day I ever took a drink - one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time, one heartbeat at a time, or whatever the hell it takes.
I still had a long way to go before this day would come to an end, and sooner than I would have wished I heard a car pull up outside the apartment’s backyard gate.
It was followed seconds later by the honk of a horn.
My ride from the Alps had arrived.
Blue Eyes’ hand tightened around mine, and she was biting her lip, brushing back a tear.
I was close to tears myself, as I searched for something to say that was even a little bit encouraging.
“Hey, everything’s gonna work out fine,” I whispered gently, not believing it for a second.
“I know,” she said, her voice wavering, “I’ll come up to visit once you’re settled in.”
“That would be nice.”
With that I grabbed my duffel bag, and we went out through the sliders to the waiting car.
The driver was exiting his vehicle as we approached, and he greeted me, “Hi, Wes, you probably don’t remember me, I’m Bill, I drove you up to the Hill back in March. Sorry to be seeing you again under these circumstances. Here, let me take your bag.”
Bill might have remembered me from the pick-up back in March, but I didn’t know him from Adam. I had no recollection of him, or of any aspect of my trip up to the Hill. I had spent the entire two hours passed out on the back seat, except for one short break when I woke up long enough to have him pull to the side of the road so that I could vomit. We arrived around midnight, and it had taken him and an orderly to drag me out of the car, whereupon I collapsed in a heap at the front door. They carried me inside to the admitting desk, and from there straight into a glass-sided triage unit located right behind it. This was the infamous “Fishbowl,” where they kept an eye on the really sick ones until we were stable enough to be assigned a bed.
“Hi, Bill. Can’t say it’s nice to see you again, but the fact is, I don’t remember you, no offense.”
I handed him the bag, he chuckled, then said “None taken,” as he tossed it into the trunk. He snapped the lid shut, looked at Blue Eyes and me, and said, “Take your time,” as he climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Thank you,” was all I could manage as she pulled me in one more time. I knew that she was fighting back the tears again, and so was I.
I briefly wondered what was up with all this crying nonsense that I was suddenly susceptible to, because I didn’t cry, period!
I’ll be up to see you soon,” she whispered, “so please take care of yourself and do what they tell you, Wes, please! I’ll be up soon.”
I finally let go of her, slid into the passenger’s seat, and Bill slowly pulled away. I couldn’t look back - I couldn’t bear to see her standing there, all alone.
Bill had the good sense to remain quiet for the next fifteen miles, while I silently raged at myself.
We made decent time as we headed north on Route 128 toward Route 3 and New Hampshire. Bill was keeping to himself out of courtesy to me, and I had no desire to talk anyway - I was too absorbed in working off another case of the shakes, while I wallowed in self-pity.
The good news, if you could call it that, was that my withdrawal from the alcohol was going a little better than I had anticipated. I don’t know whether it was because I still had too much booze in my system, or if it was from all the vomiting, or from becoming more active, or if Blue Eyes had cast a spell on me with her magic touch, but for now things were somewhat manageable.
Well, somewhat anyway, but I was numb all over, sweating profusely, fighting a blinding headache, my hands were shaking to beat the band, and my thought processes were far less than lucid, bordering on the hallucinogenic at times.
But that was all garden variety detox stuff, certainly nothing life-threatening, nothing that I hadn’t shaken out hundreds of times before.
More than anything I wanted to vomit again, even if I had to force it, because I knew that I’d feel better once I was able to rid myself of most of the poison that was still seeping into my system. But there was hardly any fluid left to bring up, even though my gas-filled stomach felt stuffed, and was churning violently.
And, of course, I was pissed off at the world, and more so at myself.
“What the hell,” I raged silently, “what the hell have you done now? You had it all, you dumb shit, and you threw it away for nothing, just to get freakin high again! When the hell are you finally gonna learn, when you’re fuckin’ dead?”
I must have been vibrating from my little diatribe, because Bill picked up on it almost immediately.
“You know, trashing yourself really won’t get you anywhere, Wes, because it just makes things worse. I oughta know, been there myself once or twice,” he said, his voice measured, calm, reserved.
“Oh, swell,” I thought, “just what I need, another missionary who has made it his life’s duty to be the savior of my soul! Evidently this guy, who doesn’t even know me, has taken it upon himself to assume the role of designated mind reader, as well as chauffeur, so am I going to have to listen to his song and dance for the entire ride?”
“Yeah, well I already have that tee-shirt, Bill, so you’re telling me this because…?” I asked, scowling.
“Because… I was sitting in your seat eight years ago. I’d lost it all - everything! Wife, kids, house, job, friends, the car, the dog, the golf clubs, you name it. You think you’re the only one who screwed up your life because of booze and drugs?”
Then he laughed under his breath, and I couldn’t tell whether he was laughing at me, or at himself. Not that it mattered by now, because he had just qualified for top spot on my shit list.
“Yah, well that sucks for you, but I really don’t give a damn about the rest of the world right now,” I replied.
He just chuckled and continued on in that same subdued tone, “Keep coming, Wes, just keep coming, you’ll be okay.”
Then, sensing that discretion was in order, he lapsed back into silence as we headed north on Route 3 toward Nashua.
I turned my thoughts back to more important matters then, namely trying to figure out how to snag that jug of wine that now lay a mere fifteen minutes up the road, so screw him!
Bill broke the silence again as we approached Nashua and the New Hampshire border.
“Wes, listen, I’ve been where you’re at, and I know what you’re thinking, that it’s hopeless, that it’s never going to get better, so why bother? Just say screw it and drink and put up the barricades, and the hell with the world. I was in that same place for a long time.”
I could see that he was taking the conciliatory approach this time, so he evidently considered himself to be some kind of hostage negotiator who was fighting for my mortal soul.
I wasn’t buying any of it.
“Yeah, well excuse me, but who asked you? You seem to think that you know me for some reason, but you don’t know squat. I screw up - that’s what I do. Drunk or sober I screw up, so it’s a hell of a lot easier staying high, because I don’t have to listen to preachers telling me how to save my soul. I lost that a long time ago, and it ain’t coming back anytime soon, trust me on that.”
“Yeah? You screw up everything? So why did that beautiful lady who thinks the world of you show up today just to keep you company until your ride came? I saw the way she looks at you, and you’re breaking her heart! So yeah, keep it up and you will for sure screw that up too, Ace, guaranteed.”
Damn! Now I was really pissed off and on the verge of boiling over, even if he did have a point. Damn him, I didn’t want to play his game, and I was still dying for a drink, anything just to sedate my shattered nerves. But as much as I needed to keep him as a temporary ally, at least until I got my fix, I was still too stubborn to back off and get humble. We had just crossed into New Hampshire and the beer and wine stores were open, so I was looking for my spot.
“What the hell do you think you know about her? You don’t know jackshit! I already ruined any chance I might have had with her, so I have no idea why she came down to see me. Maybe she just wanted to make sure that I was gone for good, and that I was out of her life.”
But that was a crock, and we both knew it.
“You are so full of beans,” Bill taunted, “are you listening to yourself? Get off the pity pot! Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink. Where do you want me to stop? You think I don’t know you want a bottle right now? That’s what this bullshit is all about, isn’t it, just staying high? Who are you kidding, I told you I’ve already been there, and I played that same con long before you ever thought of it!”
“Yeah, and what do you have to show for it? You’re sitting here in a beat up old piece of shit on a beautiful day, driving a freakin drunk to a detox, like you’re on some kind of secret mission from God. Is that all you have to show for your great sobriety? This is your swell life, chauffeuring drunks around? They oughta make a movie about you, you can be the next freakin Mother Teresa!”
Uh oh, that got him. His face went red and the veins in his neck appeared ready to pop as he began to say something, then stopped.
And then he began again, and again he stopped.
It was then that I realized I had flunked the first rule of hostage negotiation – never talk trash about a guy’s car.
But I had to give him credit, because if it had been me taking that childish nonsense I would have been wading in throwing both fists by then.
We drove along in silence for another five minutes.
When he finally spoke again he was quiet and reserved, but it was clear that he still had an edge on.
“Don’t pretend to think you know me, Wes,” he said slowly, “I own this beat up piece of shit outright, and I’m proud of it. I own every one of my possessions outright. I lost everything and everybody eight years ago, and I’ve worked my ass off and struggled and bled just to get my life back. And, anyway, it’s not about the toys, but what’s inside,” he said, slapping his chest, “that’s what makes me the person I am today, and I’ll take my life over yours any day of the week!”
He paused, then continued before I could interrupt, “I have my family back, and they love me. And I have friends, real ones, not drinking buddies who disappear the moment the booze and the drugs run out. They’re there for me no matter what, just like they know I’m there for them. I’ve got my self-respect back, I like myself today, and I’m grateful for the life I have!”
Another pause, then he quietly delivered the punchline, “Can you say the same?”
I sat there silently, raging at myself as I searched the roadside for the first gas station that had a beer sign in the window.
Naturally, there weren’t any on this stretch of the road.
Damn, what are you doing to me, God?
God? Now where did that come from?
Moments later I found my opening. He had lobbed it right out there for me to hit, and I didn’t even need to come up with a con. All I had to do was play his humility game, toss in a couple of lines of “I surrender,” and I’d have him stopping at the next beer and wine store.
Hell, he’d probably pay for the jug.
I spoke up after a minute or two, trying my best to sound humble, “Okay, Bill, I apologize. I’m not doing so swell, and it’s been a mother of a day, so I’m sorry if I took it all out on you. It was wrong of me. That’s not who I usually am, and I respect you for what you’ve accomplished.”
I paused for dramatic effect, then continued, “You’ve just gotta understand that I’m tired of all this crap, and I’m broken, and I’ve been on a losing streak for longer than I can remember. So yeah, you’re right, I do want a drink, bad. I’m hurtin’ all over, man.”
I hesitated once again, then went for the money shot, “Is there any way we could possibly stop so that I could get a couple cartons of smokes for up there? Oh, yeah, and maybe one last bottle? I’m freakin’ bad, and I just need something to get me to the Hill in one piece before I lose it! I’m afraid that I’m gonna go into convulsions, it’s happened before,” I lied, “please, just one last drink to help chill my nerves?”
It might have been somewhat manipulative, but technically it wasn’t a real lie.
And, besides, I knew that he wouldn’t buy it, but he didn’t need to. He’d already given up and wanted this ride over as quickly as possible, and if that meant letting me grab a bottle, then fine and dandy. We were about an hour away from the Hill, and it would be a nice smooth ride if I was pacified the entire way. Maybe I’d do us both a favor and pass out again like the last time, so he’s thinking what could possibly go wrong in one hour, and then he’ll be rid of me for good.
Damn, I wanted to puke again! That would clear everything out, and make plenty of room for that cheap sweet wine that I could almost taste right now. Hell, maybe I could even bag a jug of Mad Dog 20/20, which would really knock me flat on my ass for my swan song.
Bill broke into my reverie then, “I’m not gonna fight you anymore, Wes. You’re an adult, so I won’t get in your way if you want to drink yourself to death. There’s a place right up ahead. You won’t be the first one I’ve stopped there for, nor the last, but before you step out of this car we’re going to make a deal, understood?”
“Sure, whatever you say.”
He pulled off the road and rolled up toward the front of a convenience store, then parked the car, but left the engine idling.
“You’re under my care, Wes,” he said. “You’re a mess. I have a responsibility to deliver you to the Hill safe and sound, and alive. I’m not supposed to be stopping for stuff like this. We’ve still got an hour’s ride, so go in, get what you need, and get your ass back out here fast. Get a cup of soda, toss out the soda and drink whatever it is you’re drinking out of the cup. I don’t want you swilling out of a bottle for the cops to see. Neither of us needs that, and I will ask them to PC you if it comes down to it, and then you can thumb your sorry ass home whenever they let you out.”
He hesitated, then continued, “You brought the booze with you, if anyone at the Hill asks. We never stopped for it. I didn’t know you had it until we were on the road. I don’t need them thinking I enabled you, or got you loaded. I’m doing you a favor and I’m playing it straight with you, so I expect the same in return.”
A final pause, then, “No more trouble. No more side trips. No more nonsense. Agreed?”
What more was there to say - he had just handed me the keys to the kingdom.
“Thanks, man, I really appreciate it.”
I didn’t wait for him to change his mind, so I leaped out of the car like I had been shot out of a cannon.
I could smell that sweet wine calling out to me from the store. It was so close, what could possibly go wrong?
I only took two steps from the car before I was overcome by a wave of vertigo that sent me careening into a van that was parked next to us. I bounced off it and went down hard on one knee, bruised, shaking, confused. I felt another spasm of nausea pass through me, but there was hardly anything left to bring up, so I just knelt there for a few seconds, retching and trying to stop the spins.
Somehow I managed to struggle to my feet and get my wind back. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Bill climbing across the front seat, reaching out to grab me, but I lurched away from him and stumbled toward the store.
All I succeeded in doing, however, was play bumper cars with his vehicle and the van. Eventually I ran out of both car and van, then tripped on the curb and collapsed onto the sidewalk near the front door of the convenience store.
By then I had accumulated a half dozen bemused spectators, plus the store clerk, who was glaring at me through the glass door, stone-faced.
But I had to hand it to Bill. For an old fart in his mid-50’s, and somewhat overweight, he was quick on his feet, and strong. In a matter of seconds he launched himself out the driver’s door, took a dozen long strides, and grabbed me by the collar of my sweatshirt. He half dragged and half propelled me back to the car, jerked open the rear door and literally threw me into the back seat.
I tried to rise, but he slammed his hand into my chest, and pushed me back down onto the seat.
“You stay there. You do not move. Do you hear me? I said, do you hear me?” He had a fierce look in his eyes, and I thought for a minute that he wanted to smack me.
“Awright, take it easy, I’m not going anywhere, so just chill, will ya!”
“You bet your ass you aren’t going anywhere, except straight to the Hill. No stopping for cocktails, no piss breaks, no snacks, no nothing. Your drinking privileges are officially over. If you don’t like it you can walk home from here, because I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore.”
“Aww, c’mon, can’t you at least get me a couple of beers now that we’re here? I prom…”
His glare cut me off in mid-sentence, and then he slammed the rear door shut and climbed back into the driver’s seat.
I felt a momentary flash of panic when I realized that I’d be detoxing without any outside help for the next hour - shit!
Bill started up the car, backed out of the parking space, and melted a little rubber as soon as we were back on Route 101.
We headed west in silence.
“You remind me a lot of myself, you know, how I used to be when I was out there running the same dumbass games you are,” Bill finally said over his shoulder. “That’s not a compliment, by the way. I was pigheaded, arrogant and clueless. I disrespected everybody and everything, but the whole time I was scared shitless, acting tough, like everything was all just a great big joke, just like you’re doing now.”
He paused, then said, “Do you get it yet? This war’s over, and you lost. It’s just a matter of how you want to go out.”
And, for good measure, “You’ve got a choice, Wes. You can live sober and have a good life, with happiness, self-respect and people who really care about you, or you can go out in a box, alone, dying a drunk’s death. It’s up to you - we’ve all got choices in this world, Wes, so all you have to do is choose Door #1 or Door #2. What’s it gonna be, tough guy?”
If Bill was attempting to embarrass me, or frighten me, or piss me off, it wasn’t working. I had been inviting all manner of indignities upon myself for several decades, and I had changed over the years. I was hardened to it all, and nothing embarrassed me anymore, nothing whatsoever. No matter how low I sank, it was all just the cost of doing business, paying my dues for feeding the beast within.
I looked at myself dispassionately in those days. I understood nothing of morality or ethics or personal honor, nor did I bother to concern myself with such abstractions. I viewed the world clinically, almost pathologically, as if with cold, dead reptile eyes. The world existed merely to pleasure me, to cater to my basest instincts, to feed the perpetual drinking and drugging machine that I had become.
Nothing else mattered except staying high, numb, and dead inside – nothing!
And through it all I wore my cynicism proudly, like a crown of thorns.
But somewhere deep inside me something was stirring now. I was just plain beaten, so very exhausted. I bore a weariness in my body, and a soul sickness the likes of which I had never known before. It was as if every one of my cells was crying out for rest, and for an end to the struggle.
Yet still I fought it tooth and nail. Drinking and drugging were all I knew, and I couldn’t imagine life without them. They were the armor that kept a hostile, terrifying world I had never understood at bay.
But underneath it all I was still just a terrified little kid, hiding from the world, hiding from my feelings, hiding from all that was good and pure and beautiful, just like I had been in the bad times so long ago.
Bill’s comment had hit home on that one.
Dear God, where had that innocent child’s dreams gone?
Almost as if on cue Bill spoke up again, “It gets better, Wes, it really does. You don’t need to fight this war anymore, so let it go, just let it all go. You can’t beat it, it’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than any of us.”
“Let IT go? Let WHAT go? What the hell do you want me to let go of? Why the freakin riddles? That’s all I ever hear from you people – riddles and fairy tales and let it go, let it go, let it freakin’ go!”
“Just stay away from a drink and the drugs for one day, Wes, that’s it, that’s all you have to do. Let go of the booze, let go of the drugs, let go of this damned stranglehold you seem to have on life. You’ll find your answers, you’ll figure out the rest when you’re ready for it.”
He paused, then continued, “Look at yourself. You’re going to die, and sooner, not later. Is that what you really want? Is that how you want to be remembered? Is that what you want to do to that beautiful lady back home?”
“Don’t you dare bring her into this! I’m warning you - she’s off limits, period! You want to give me a batch of bullshit, that’s fine, but leave her the hell out of it! I don’t need any more effing guilt trips today!”
“Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean to get your knickers in a twist, but you’re walking a thin line, son, and you’re running out of time.”
I was too beat to argue with him anymore, and my stomach still felt like it was full of battery acid, so I changed the subject.
“You’re in okay shape, for an old guy,” I stated grudgingly.
“Not really, you’re just a wuss. I was a bouncer back in the day, so I took care of wise guys like you every night. It’s all just about getting the leverage.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that for the next time.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, you keep doing what you’re doing and there probably won’t be a next time.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Happy!”
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself, Wes, your body can’t take it like it did when you were young. It won’t bounce back like it used to, there’s just too much damage done over time to all the major organs and systems. That poison you’re pouring into yourself eats away everything, like its acid.”
“Yeah, well I’m not worried,” I snorted, which was only half true. I had given up caring about myself in any type of physical or emotional way a long time ago, but somewhere deep inside me there had always burned a faint spark, not of hope, but of curiosity. It was hardly ever in my conscious mind, but every once in a while it popped up, unbidden, and asked one simple question:
“What if?” What if I could change? What if I could stop the drinking and drugging? What if I were free to live my life on my own terms, rather than on a bottle’s? What if I were free of the “bondage of self” that they were always talking about in that AA literature? What if?”
It had popped up during my detox in the Alps two months previously, when I first met Blue Eyes.
And now here it was back again, like that damned TV battery bunny clanging away on the cymbals, playing games with my head, turning me into a dreamer.
Damn, it must be the last remnants of the alcohol draining out of me, I’m hallucinating again!
Idle supposition was a nice hobby, I suppose, but one thing the fatalist in me knew was that nothing would ever change, not in my world, anyway.
We rode along in silence for a while, through the peaceful late afternoon New Hampshire countryside. I was exhausted, my pulse was still pounding, my temples were throbbing, I still had bouts of dizziness, and I had a burning ache from the pit of my stomach all the way to my throat. My hands were still trembling out of control, and those freaky Brahms rhapsodies were playing in my head again.
I hated to admit it, but this jackpot had kicked the ever-loving snot out of me. Maybe Bill was half right after all, maybe it was time to call it a game.
“You don’t have to do this alone, Wes,” Bill broke into my thoughts, “you never have to be alone again.”
“Yeah, well I kinda like going it solo. I take my own counsel. One of my insurance clients used to call me the ‘Lone Wolf,’ and that’s me, out there doing things my own way, so I don’t have to depend on anybody’s bullshit and back stabbing, I learned that real early in life.”
Bill shot a quick, appraising glance my way, and then his eyes bored straight through me. “Yeah, that rugged individualist shit’s really swell, Wes,” he smirked, “so how’s it working out for you these days?”
“I’m crapping Twinkies, Bill, can’t you tell?”
“Attaboy,” he chuckled, and once again I couldn’t decide whether he was laughing at me, or at himself for being stuck in this never-ending car ride to Hell.
Damn, I wanted a drink.
It had been bugging me since we first hit New Hampshire, and finally I had to ask, “So, why’d you quit?”
I was waiting for some cutesy smarmy little patented line of nonsense like, “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” but his answer was more forthright.
“I told you - I lost it all. One day I woke up in the hospital after another in a long line of binges, and I was in restraints. I had gotten ripped, and had been in a bar fight, and for a change I got the shit beat out of me. I guess I went a little nuts and they put me away in a psych ward for a couple of days. I’d already been kicked out of the house and had lost my day job by then, so I was pretty much out on the streets.”
A pained, faraway expression had settled into his features while he spoke – taking a trip back to the scene of the crime sucks, and I knew that better than most.
But then he continued, “I had a record, mostly juvie stuff, a few bar fights and one DUI, but the judge was a straight shooter, a real hard-ass, so he sentenced me to sixty days in the House of Corrections. He told me that he’d suspend it if I agreed to enter an alcohol treatment program for thirty days, then spend a year in a halfway house and do four AA meetings a week. The final condition was that I would need to get my sheet signed by the secretary at each meeting, and then turn it in to the Court every two weeks.”
“You’re shittin me, you did all that stuff voluntarily?” I asked, incredulous.
“You’re kidding me, right, make a choice between jail and a halfway house? I jumped at the chance, and went in for a thirty day stint at Beech Hill that night. The judge had also revoked my license for a year, so I was pretty much grounded anyway. At first I fought the strict rules in the halfway house, and the AA stuff, but somewhere along the line something changed in me, and I finally surrendered.”
Again that faraway look, but his features had softened, and he went on, “It was the strangest thing, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. One day I just stopped fighting the world, and to this moment I consider it to have been the grace of God coming into my life. I just let it all go, everything, the stress, the worry, the fear, the anger, the shame, the self–hate, and in their place this feeling of peace and calm came over me. I finally felt like I knew where I was supposed to be, like I was home, that I belonged, and everything’s been on the up and up ever since. It was like I had lost the battle, but won the war.”
He remained silent for a moment, almost like he was back there at the epiphany, and then he changed the subject, “So how about you, any good war stories?”
“Yeah, a few,” I replied, “nothing big though. I got PC’d and spent the night in jail a half dozen times for driving under, had a few drunk driving accidents, and I had to plead nolo once to drunk driving. They fined me $200, and sentenced me to attend a Whiskey 101 class at the county courthouse one night a week for two months. It was a joke, half the people who attended showed up hammered every night, slept through it and went back to the bars as soon as the class was over. I had a sales job on the road, and needed my license, so I played their game, stayed free of trouble for a year, and then they cleared my record.”
I hesitated for a moment, then added, “I’ve also lost about five or six good professional jobs to the booze, and disappointed a lot of good people along the way.”
“That’s par for the course. Any drugs, or other troubles?”
“Yeah, plenty of drugs, I’ve done just about everything except heroin and the needle. The way I went over the top with everything else I always knew that the smack would kill me for sure, so I never even snorted it. Coke’s the big one, my second love right behind the alcohol. When I coke I can drink more, and when I drink more I need to coke more.”
“That’s quite the vicious circle,” Bill observed, “it must be great for the nervous system! Did you ever stop to think that there are a hell of a lot of ways to die from alcohol and other drugs besides shooting dope? There’s a saying in the Program that goes, ‘it doesn’t matter whether you smoke it, snort it, swallow it, shoot it or shove it up your ass, it all goes to the same place.’”
“I’ll be sure to remember that, maybe I’ll tack it on the wall by my bed, but I’m not worried,” I said, then added, “in fact, my first alcohol counselor suggested that I should have been a chemist, what with the way I mixed all of my drugs and alcohol.”
Bill just shook his head in exasperation.
After a moment I continued, “I had a couple of bar fights, but they were no big deal, although I got stomped really good at a roadhouse bar over in Maine by three guys about ten years ago, and I almost lost my right eye and my right nut. One of them didn’t like me dancing with his girlfriend. The assholes lifted a grand in coke money off me for my trouble, which really pissed off my friends when I showed up empty-handed the next day.”
Then I added, “And wouldn’t you know, my buddies didn’t seem to care all that much whether I was half dead, they just wanted to know where the freakin money and the coke were, neither of which I had answers for.”
“Tough luck, but as they say, shit happens, you oughta know that by now, Wes.”
“Yeah, whatever… so you’ve been sober ever since you left that halfway house?”
“Oh yeah, sober and grateful for having survived all of that crap, and I even got back together with my wife. The kids have pretty much accepted me also, except for my oldest, but he’s having his own problems with substance abuse. It’s a family disease, after all,” he said, then added proudly, “and they even gave the day job back to me.”
“Do you still hit meetings?”
“Hell yeah, I hit meetings, because I wouldn’t be sober or alive otherwise! I still attend four meetings a week, sponsor a couple of guys, and volunteer at the Hill. I love sober life, and hanging out with recovering people. They’re the best medicine you could ever imagine, they taught me how to laugh and cry again, and how to live life on life’s terms.”
He paused, then cracked a big shit-eating grin and said, “And this is the fun part, getting my “remember-when’s” by driving guys like you up here. It keeps everything green and fresh in my mind, and makes me really, really grateful that I’m not you anymore,” and then he broke out into a hearty roar of laughter.
“You’re a real bundle of laughs, Bill, so maybe someday you could win a comedy hour and make enough money to buy a new freakin car,” I said, scowling.
“And maybe someday you’ll be fortunate enough to look back at all of this and laugh also, Wes. I’m praying for that, because today could end up being the best day of your life, if you just allow it to be.”
We were approaching a rest area, and I said, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Bill, things are hitting on all cylinders today. But meanwhile, could you pull into that rest area so I can puke again? I wouldn’t wanna ruin your fine Corinthian leather upholstery.”
“Sure, whatever you say, Mr. Lone Wolf, you’re running the show,” he said, and then he broke out into another spasm of uncontrolled laughter that was really beginning to get on my nerves.
“Screw you,” I muttered, and then I leaped out of the car and collapsed onto my knees behind a nearby stand of bushes.
“We’re almost there,” Bill announced, as we made a right turn off the main road and began climbing a bumpy dirt track that wound through a steep, wooded incline.
I knew that we were beginning the long ascent to the Alps, which was situated at the very top of the hill.
We had driven along mostly in silence for the past twenty minutes, and I was finally feeling a little better. That last bout of vomiting had done its job, and much of the remaining poison had been expelled from my system.
Now I was just weak, exhausted, washed out, uncaring, and I remained silent as we proceeded up the slope. I just wanted to swallow two or three blues and go to sleep for about a week, and I surely wasn’t looking forward to the check-in process, and the endless questions and poking and prodding.
And I was praying that they still had that same steady-handed phlebotomist who had found my vein on the first stick the last time I was up there.
We exited the tree line and arrived at Beech Hill, rolling to a stop at the main entrance to the building. I recalled with dismay that I had walked out this very same door, sober and full of short-lived hope and optimism, just two short months ago.
Yet now here I was, back again, just another broken down drunk crawling into rehab in defeat. What was this, five times, or six in the past five years? I couldn’t remember, and I no longer cared.
But my new best pal wasn’t finished with me quite yet.
“Wes, do me a favor,” he began, as he shut down the engine, “just give it a try. Play the game whether you believe in it or not. What have you got to lose? You’re a good man, and it’s clear that you’ve got a good head on your shoulders when you want to use it. But sometimes it’s the smart ones who have the biggest problem getting sober, because they think they can outwit their disease. You can’t beat it, nobody can, and you’ll die trying if you keep fighting it. You deserve better than that.”
He let that sink in and then continued, his eyes boring into me, “One day, just keep it to one day, or one hour, or one heartbeat if that’s what it takes. I’m telling you straight, anybody can stay sober for that long - anybody! I’m a living example of that, and you can be too!”
“Yah, well, I’ll see. I just want to go to sleep now, for a really long time. I’m beat, more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“Well, maybe that’s the fight going out of you - maybe you’re finally ready to surrender and get on with your life. You deserve it.”
“I don’t know about that. Maybe it’s just the booze going out of me, but like I said, I’m beat, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“One day, Wes, just one day at a time.”
Finally I bit, “One question, Bill. Was it worth it? In the end, no bullshit, was it really worth it?”
“Oh yeah, it was worth every second, Wes,” he said, as a slow, easy smile spread across his face.
We exited the car then, and Bill went around to the trunk to retrieve my duffel bag. It was a serene late afternoon in the Monadnocks, and the spring foliage had acquired that vibrant green hue that is so characteristic of June in the northern mountains of New England.
I suppose that to many people the scenic beauty would have represented an affirmation of the eternal renewal of Nature, and of the human spirit, but I couldn’t have cared less at that moment. I was wrapped tight, sick, vibrating, and all my shields were up. I just wanted a fistful of my blues, and a quiet bunk to crash in.
Bill handed me my duffel bag, then stared hard into my eyes once again. He stuck out his hand, and I shook it as he reminded me, “Just one day at a time Wes, that’s all, one day, one hour, one moment, or one heartbeat, whatever it takes.”
He paused, and then he said something that I have never forgotten, “And remember this, Wes, God deals with forever, but you just need to take care of twenty-four hours.”
I was beaten and broken, hoping for a really quick goodbye with no last minute AA sermons, and just then a staffer walked up, took my bag, and indicated that I should follow him, so I turned and started toward the door.
Bill wasn’t giving up without one final comment, however, as he called after me, “Oh, yeah, and that judge who sentenced me to all of those AA meetings and the halfway house? He’s my sponsor now,” he yelled, “I learned from a master,” and with that he roared with laughter as he climbed back into his car.
I turned, just as he began to pull away, and shouted, “Yeah, well I’ll be calling you pretty soon to ask you to be my sponsor, Chief, so we’ll see how long your swell serenity lasts.”
He must have heard me, because that old shit bucket of his began to accelerate, its tires chirping, and then he went fishtailing down the drive throwing up a wall of gravel in his tracks.
I could have sworn that I heard his fiendish laughter even after his car had disappeared into the tree line.
I turned once more toward the entrance, fought off a dizzy spell, then walked cautiously toward the front door, mindful again of the bitter irony that was tearing me apart. It had been almost two months since I walked out this door full of hope and optimism, looking forward like a naive sixteen year old to a new life, and to getting together with Blue Eyes back in the World.
But now, again, for God only knew how many times, all I felt was hopelessness, self-loathing and an emptiness of the spirit that I feared would never know peace for as long as I walked the earth.
All that was left was to repeat to myself a line from a book that I had read a long time ago, about a grunt going off to do battle in a faraway land, as he muttered his sad existential lament to the Gods of the Darkness, “Fuck it, don’t mean nothing, so just drive on.”
And that summed it up for me in spades, so I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, pushed open the door, and then stepped through the looking glass one final time.
“Yeah, drive on, soldier, and never let ‘em see you sweat, no matter what!”
No big deal, because it was just another day in the life of a down and out drunk.
A blast of cool, refreshing air hit me as I entered the main lobby of the building. The weather had turned much warmer since my last trip up here, so the building’s air conditioning made a welcome contrast to the stuffy atmosphere in Bill’s beaten up old junker.
I took a couple of moments to study my surroundings, and to regain my bearings. I was still light-headed, feeling shaky and apprehensive, and I hadn’t quite gotten my equilibrium back yet.
Nothing had changed much since my last visit, although I had been expecting to see more residents, so I figured that most of the population was out on the back observation deck that doubled as a smoking facility, taking in the views and getting a last hit of nicotine before dinner was served.
Then I remembered, however, that Bill had mentioned that the population was about half of what it had been back in March. He told me that the Canadian province of Ontario, which had been a major supplier of residents to the Hill, had recently ceased the financing of treatment programs in the United States for its citizens.
That was a damned shame, I thought, because I rather liked those Canadian drunks and addicts. It turns out that we’re all pretty much the same wherever we live, and I thought that I would have enjoyed going on a respectable weekend binge with most of them.
Alcohol and drugs, the great equalizers, they hold no respect for international boundaries, they merely seek out the lowest common denominator.
Well, c’est la vie, that explained why the Canadian flag was flying at half-mast on the pole in front of the building. I had to hand it to the prankster on that one - it was a nice touch.
I couldn’t stall any longer, so I began to walk slowly across the spacious, circular common room. It held a couple of group meeting areas, several counseling cubicles and, at the far side of the room, the nurses’ station that doubled as an admitting desk.
Even from this distance I could make out the Fishbowl, which was situated right behind the station. It was a makeshift mini-ER, and it was there that I had been placed under constant observation during my first night at the Hill back in March.
Hallways split off from the sides of the room, one each heading for the men’s and women’s residential wings, while others led to the cafeteria, private counseling and administration areas.
I had made it almost halfway across the room, and was about to congratulate myself for not falling flat on my face, or going into convulsions, when a young, slim woman in nurse’s scrubs came striding toward me from a corner office.
She was clearly intent on intercepting me, and she looked vaguely familiar as a warm smile of recognition came to her face.
“Hi Wes, I don’t know if you remember me - I’m Donna. We talked a few times when you were up here back in the spring,” she said, still smiling as she held out her hand.
Then it all came flooding back to me in a rush - of course I remembered her! Donna had been my Nightingale when I first arrived in March, and had been on the floor when I was carried in by Bill and the orderly. She was a kind and gentle soul who found great satisfaction and fulfillment in administering to the perpetual conga line of sick and suffering alcoholics and addicts who arrived daily at the Alps, and she had always taken the time to be supportive whenever we ran into each other on the floor.
You just knew that there was something very special about this woman - it was in her soft-spoken words, her eyes, and in the natural grace with which she flowed around the floor administering to “her” clients.
I shook her hand tentatively, somewhat embarrassed by my forgetfulness.
“Hi Donna, I’m kinda scattered right now, but yeah, I surely do remember you, because you had some good advice for me, and I wish I’d taken it. This latest jackpot was a killer, I never knew what hit me.”
She nodded in understanding, then said, “How about we go out back and talk for a while before you check in? Would that be OK?”
She caught me by surprise with that one, and true to form my alkie paranoia kicked into overdrive. Shit, what’s she trying to tell me, that they’re booting me before I even get checked in? Did that damned insurance company bail on me? Am I gonna have to head back home tonight with Bill? Are the beer and wine stores still open? Damn, good luck with that, Chief, because if they’re kicking me loose then you will most surely earn your hazardous duty pay on that run!
Yet all she had asked was, “How about we go out back and talk for a while before you check in? Would that be OK?”
The anxiety must have been written all over my face, because Donna smiled again, then quickly reassured me:
“Relax, everything’s fine. I already got it cleared with the Doc. I just want to talk to you about some things. You’re a good man, Wes, and you deserve to have a good life. A few of us on staff today were saddened to hear that you’d be coming back up here, so I just want to give you a hand.”
“Well, I’ll be honest with you, Donna, I made every effort to find another detox before I called here. No offense, it’s just that...” and my words trailed off.
“I understand, Wes. I know that it must have been difficult to make that call, but there’s nothing to be self-conscious about. The main thing is that you’re here now, and we all want to help, so follow me.”
With that she led me toward a door that was situated off to the right of the nurses’ station. It opened up onto a small, shaded patio and garden that overlooked the surrounding hills, and it was obviously a quiet oasis for staffers to escape the stress on the floor, have a snack, or grab a quick smoke.
At this time of day the patio appeared to be enveloped within an unworldly aura, softly lit by the late afternoon sun that filtered through the oaks and maples protecting the rear of the building.
The view across to the Monadnock Range was magnificent, the sun splashing the vibrant green mountains with a subdued yellow glow that mesmerized me.
We settled into garden chairs, and then I pulled out my cigarettes and looked inquiringly at her. She nodded an okay for me to light up, and we sat in silence for a few minutes taking in the views.
“So, do you want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know, there’s really nothing much to say. I just don’t seem to get it, so I get frustrated and wonder why I bother, and then the next thing I know I’m coming out of another jackpot. I tried, Donna, I really did, but every time I start to think that I can make it I end up self-destructing. Things were going pretty well, really well actually, but it’s like I figured out that I don’t deserve good stuff to happen to me, so I intentionally fu… excuse me, sabotage myself.”
“You certainly aren’t alone there, Wes, that’s part of your disease, but you can change that thought process. It isn’t wired into your DNA, so you just need to think it through and cut yourself some slack. You CAN change! You’re a good person, and whether you realize it or not people like you, they respect you, they want to be around you.”
I gave her a sideways glance of skepticism at that, then snorted sarcastically, “Yeah, that’s me, Donna, I’m a real people magnet - they come from miles around to sit at my knee and learn about life according to Wes, hell, I even have a fan club!”
She chuckled momentarily, but then her eyes clouded and a serious expression came over her face. “There you go, bringing yourself down again. That’s your disease talking! It lies to you, because it wants you drunk and high and out of control, and it wants you dead! Do you understand that, Wes? It wants you hating yourself, shunning the world, fighting life, because it wants you dead!”
I started to say, “Well, maybe it’s got the right idea,” but then thought better of it.
She paused, then continued in a softer tone, “But you can stop it. You just need to be willing to change. That’s all you have to do is be willing - willingness is the key that opens the door to change.”
“You make it sound so easy - just make a wish, snap my fingers, click my heels and everything will be swell again. It doesn’t work that way for me, Donna! It’s like I have a built-in self-destruct mechanism that kicks in as soon as I think I have a chance to make it this time. It’s been like that since I was five years old! I screw up everything, before it screws me!”
A frown crossed her face briefly after my last words, as if she recognized something, but then she continued, “Do you hear yourself? You’re still negative, talking yourself down! You don’t need anybody else to sabotage you when you think like that, you do it to yourself! But you can change - you must change if you’re going to survive. Please, Wes, give yourself a chance, because you’re running out of time!”
I hated to admit it, but she had a point. Living the life that I had put myself through over the past twenty-five years had taken me to places I could never have imagined I would experience in my worst nightmares.
Then I recalled a saying that I’d heard at one of the handful of AA meetings I had forced myself to attend over the years, “If somebody else did to me what I’ve done to myself, I’d beat the snot out of them.”
Now that, I understood.
And yet I continued to sabotage myself, time after time after time, but now the clock was inexorably ticking out the last minute or two before midnight.
Somehow, somewhere, and without ever noticing it, I had crossed that invisible line which I had once upon a time in an innocent child’s fairy tale promised myself I would never violate.
I had become accustomed to the decadence and moral equivocation with which I lived my life. I fed into the distrust, the fear, self-hatred, lies, betrayal, and the total alienation from all that was good and fair and beautiful in the world. I maintained a negative, almost pathological view of life, for if I didn’t believe that anything good could ever happen, then it stood to reason that I could never be disappointed.
It was as if my addictions had altered my DNA to the point that I was a mutant, an exile from humanity.
Donna was correct. I hadn’t lived, I had survived, at least so far, and I had crossed a lot of boundaries that in another time I had considered inviolable, in order to do just that
But now the denial was coming to an end, and I was broken, dead inside, feeling a hopelessness and a soul sickness that made the very act of breathing almost too difficult to attempt.
Continue to survive like this? Why bother, I had stopped caring.
Somehow change my thinking, somehow believe that there was hope for my recovery, for a better life? Inconceivable.
And yet what was the alternative? It was change, or die - there was no middle ground left for me to hide in anymore.
But now here was Donna, picking up right where Bill had left off, challenging me to do the most terrifying thing that I could conceive of – to change, to become vulnerable, to admit defeat.
My skin crawled at the very thought of it.
Donna broke into my thoughts then, “Have you ever heard of ‘HOW?’” she asked.
“How, what?” I replied, curious.
“It’s an acronym, H, O, W. The letters stand for honesty, open-mindedness and willingness,” she said, pausing to let the words sink in.
Then she continued, “The ‘h’ means becoming rigorously honest with ourselves, and with other people, the ‘o’ is for remaining open-minded to the possibility that we can change who we are, and how we look at life, and then, finally, the ‘w’ means having the willingness, and courage, to actually change, and to do the work we need to do to get better.”
Three little letters, but to me they stood taller and more intimidating than the mountains that surrounded the building.
“That sounds like quite a lot of work, Donna.”
“Yes, it is, Wes, but you don’t have to take it on all at once. All you need to do is keep an open mind, and try to change, a little bit at a time. Just take it little by slow, like they say in the program. It’s all about progress, not perfection, just trying to get a little bit better every day.”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Wes, don’t you see, you’ve already begun - you started down the path five years ago when you went to your first treatment center. That was the beginning! And now you’re here, again, still trying. There’s something inside of you that keeps plugging away, always trying to come back, always trying to recover from this disease.”
“Yeah, well if I was a doc I’d probably tell them to pull the plug right about now, because this guy’s toast.”
“You know you don’t mean that, you can’t even fool yourself anymore, you’re here, and that says it all!”
“Yeah, but this is about the sixth rodeo I’ve been to.”
“Don’t look back, Wes, that’s over and done with, and you can’t change it, so just look inside yourself at the ‘here and now.’ Today can be the start of a brand new life for you!”
I remained silent, and then she changed her tack, “What are you looking for, Wes? What’s the one thing you want more than anything else in the world right now?”
Damn, that hit a nerve, and I didn’t even need to think about it, because it had been renting space in my head for years. I had been a tortured soul for longer than I could remember, always negative, always afraid to open myself up to opportunity, always seeking to kill the pain and fear and shame and doubt and disgust that ruled my life in the only way I knew, by drinking and drugging myself to the brink of death.
Yet all along I had been seeking just one simple little thing.
“All I ever wanted was to find some peace of mind, and to stop hating myself,” was all I could say.
She reached over and took my hand, then whispered softly, “You’re here. You’re doing that right now. You’re being honest with me, and with yourself. And you’re not alone, you never have to be alone again, Wes, never!”
“It’s too hard, too overwhelming. I took things way too far, there’s no going back!”
“No, that’s not true! It’s like I said, just take it easy, and take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time, or one heartbeat at a time, whatever it takes! That’s all you need to be concerned with, Wes, because a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So just don’t pick up a drink for one day, or one damned second! You can do this! Please, Wes, you need to do this, so let it all go!”
“It still seems impossible.”
“Try it, Wes, just for one day – today! What do you have to lose? It’s like we say, if AA and recovery isn’t for you then you can always go back out there, and your misery will be happily refunded.”
“Just today, huh?”
“Just today, just for this one moment! There’s nothing left for you out there, Wes, you’ve run out of options - it’s over! This terrible war that you’ve been fighting your entire life is over, but don’t you see, you’ve won, you’re alive, you’re here, you’re being honest with me and with yourself! You’ve been given the keys to the Kingdom, now use them!”
I’ll never fully understand why, but it was as if the weight of the world slipped off my shoulders at that moment. Perhaps it was this woman’s gentle grace and unconditional love for a broken man, or maybe it was just my time, or this quiet garden, or perhaps the sequence of events that had played out over the past six hours as if by divine intervention.
Whatever the reason, I felt a sense of peace and belonging that I had never experienced before settle into my body. It was as if all of my muscles went slack at the same moment, and then my mind stopped its tortured racing for the first time in memory.
I surrendered then, in that serene little garden on a mountain in New Hampshire. I let it all go, let it all drain out of me and, unabashedly, I wept. The tears began streaming down my cheeks as I cried like a baby. They might have begun as grief, but soon I was overcome by feelings of joy and release, and I knew then the serenity that Bill had spoken about just an hour before when he told me about his own surrender.
“That’s it, just let it all out, Wes, let it go, you’re going to be okay, I promise, you’re going to be okay,” Donna whispered softly, reaching out to hold my hand again.
For the first time in my life I felt like I had come home, and I knew no shame as the tears continued to flow.
Donna and I talked for another twenty minutes, and toward the end I laughed. It was deep, genuine, from the gut. I found myself liking it, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed like that.
She took me by the hand, then led me back into the building, and over to the admitting desk.
I was shivering, but not from the air conditioning.
Her final words of advice on that tranquil afternoon were, “Don’t look back Wes, look around you, right here, in the present moment. Live for today, and just don’t drink for one single day.”
And then she hugged me, and that was that.
I filled out some papers at the front desk, then signed them.
The staffer informed me that the insurance company hadn’t made an official decision about my status, but the representative had indicated that it was just a formality due to it being Sunday. He had called his decision-maker and had run my case by him, and his boss had given it a preliminary approval, and would confirm it in the morning if everything checked out okay.
Ordinarily I would have fallen prey to my normal paranoia, fearful that he’d change his mind overnight, but I decided to go with the flow and look at it optimistically.
After all, what choice did I really have?
Them the admitting nurse hit me with a bunch of the usual questions, and took my vitals. No surprise, they were still way up there in the red zone, but heading in the right direction at least.
She then called over my favorite phlebotomist and he slipped that needle into my vein so easily I hardly knew he had done it, and that was all there was to admittance.
But then something peculiar occurred. The nurse informed me that the dayshift Doc had scripted me for the valiums, so she suggested that I take one, just to bring me down a little. But I declined her offer, and rather than experiencing apprehension or fear, I felt relaxed, strong, at peace with myself and with my decision.
To this day I believe that my refusal to take that one little pill to solve a so-called problem marked the first real validation that I had surrendered to my disease.
A staffer then showed me the way to my room. There were three beds, but there didn’t appear to be any other luggage, nor evidence that there were other residents occupying the room. That was just as well, because I didn’t feel like company that night, and I really wanted to avoid getting trapped in a long drunkalogue session with curious new roommates.
The staffer informed me that the dining hall was still open, and that they had saved some of the nightly specials for me. The last thing I wanted was a big meal at that point, but I was still edgy and wired, so I figured it would be a good excuse to get away from the room for a while.
The dining room was located on the way to the smoking deck, which was my primary destination, so I decided to grab some tried and true remedies for the acid stomach that always came along after one of my binges.
Ten minutes later I had politely refused all of the specials that the cook had been saving for me, and was picking away at a pile of french fries that I hoped would line my stomach. I had also polished off one large glass of ginger ale, and was now nursing a second one.
I began belching out of control then, but that was perfectly okay, because experience had taught me that the drink would act as a natural antacid, and would offload a lot of the gas that was making me feel bloated and on the verge of nausea.
Evidently my home remedy was working, a little, anyway, so I picked up my spoon and dug into a large soup bowl that was full to overflowing with chocolate ice cream. It tasted like manna from Heaven.
French fries, ginger ale and ice cream, a feast fit for kings, so what more could a detoxing drunk ask for?
I soon polished off everything, belched a half-dozen times, and then made my way out to the smoking deck.
There were perhaps a dozen residents who were sitting or standing around in small groups when I arrived on the deck.
I still didn’t feel like entering into any big discussions at that moment, so I walked to the far end of the platform and peered out through the gathering darkness to the shadowy outlines of the Monadnocks.
They were shimmering, washed softly by the illumination of the rising full moon.
I let my exhausted mind go blank then, as I absorbed the sights and sounds of that beautiful late spring evening in the mountains. It was cooling off rapidly, so I drew several deep breaths and exhaled slowly, allowing my tortured body to relax and release some of its toxins, as I listened to the gentle chirping of the season’s early crickets.
I remained silent and alone, leaning into the railing of the deck, while a sensation of peace and calm unlike anything I had ever experienced slowly descended upon me. I felt relaxed, empowered, and unencumbered by my past.
I wondered, then, “Is this what it feels like to be free of the obsession to drink, to stop fighting life? Is this what Donna and Bill meant by “letting go?’”
I had no answer for that, but I held out hope that someday I would.
A few of the other residents came over several minutes later, so we exchanged introductions. Two of them were members of the diminishing Canadian contingent, so I had a smoke while we talked about that, and then they gave me the lowdown on the current events at the Hill.
I gave them a five minute recap of my own day, then excused myself, almost asleep on my feet, and mentioned that I would catch up with them in the morning.
My luck held. I had no roommates that night, so I took the bed next to the window that looked out onto the valley and the mountains beyond. I unpacked, stored away the small wardrobe that Blue Eyes had skillfully arranged, and hit the sack by ten o’clock.
I was exhausted, but my mind couldn’t stop racing yet, so I thought back to the events of the day, and recited a prayer of thanks that I had survived it. I thought of Blue Eyes, and Bill, and Donna, and wondered anew at how they had appeared as if by heavenly design to save me from myself. I had never been religious, but even somebody as cynical as me had to marvel at the manner by which everything had played out on this day.
And then, in the twilight between waking and slumber, I recalled the words to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Well, that pretty much summed it up for me. I was the poster boy for unmanageability and chaos, and it was beginning to look so simple that I briefly wondered how I could ever have ignored the obvious for so long.
But then I realized that this was what Donna and Bill had meant when they urged me to “let it go,” to remain anchored in the present moment, and to just not drink for one day.
I knew that I had a lot of difficult, painful work ahead of me, if I was to survive, but if I could stay away from a drink and the drugs for just one day then I had hope, and a chance at having a good life.
It was at that moment that a quote from one of the few AA meetings I had attended over the years came to me: “The journey of a lifetime starts with the first step,” so that was where I would begin.
The darkness closed in upon me then, and my last thought before slipping off into the Sleep of the Dead was, “What if?”