Recovery Notes #2

To drink is to die

I’ve heard it said that there are three eventual outcomes for a person who continues to drink alcoholically: institutionalization, jail or death. Even though I’d had a number of drunken brushes with death (a car accident, a house fire), the fact that I was courting death didn’t register on me until my last day of drinking.

When I awoke on August 22, 1983,  I was on the seventh day of a binge which I spent at my typewriter drinking and eating hash brownies while attempting to write the great Canadian novel that would stun the world and propel me to sanity and fame (I wrote one short paragraph).

A year earlier, I had picked a fight with my boss, suddenly quit my job as a newspaper reporter in Hay River (a small community south of Great Slave Lake) and stormed off to Yellowknife with a carload of worthless stuff, little money and no place stay (in recovery lingo this is called a “geographical cure). Alcoholics thrive on being victims so if you had asked me why I quit my job, I would have said I was disrespected, overworked and underpaid but said nothing about my unreliability and irresponsibility. The truth was that my job was interfering with my drinking.

I survived that first year in Yellowknife by leaning on others for money, drinks and places to stay, eventually managing to dig myself out of the financial hole through a series of freelance assignments which I was able to complete while in a semi-sober state. But emotionally I was a wreck. I was overcome by haunting loneliness and unnamed terrors that would not let me go, no matter how much I drank. The days when drinking was a magical cure for my feelings of inadequacy were far in the past and now alcohol only magnified my misery. Yet I still I persisted in my belief that it was the solution, not the problem. The more I drank, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the more I drank. Suicide became a viable option.

That August morning, a friend came over to visit. Mike (not his real name) and I had gone on many binges together and I knew him well. But I hadn’t seen much of him since he quit drinking four months earlier. Now I was astonished at how much he had changed. Instead of whining about how badly the world had treated him, as he would have in the past, he admitted to his drunken wrongdoings. Listening to his honesty, I had an epiphany (I am rather given to epiphanies as you will see in future posts). I saw how drinking controlled my life. For the first time, I realized that it could only end in death, whether by drunken incident, suicide or bodily breakdown.

I burst into tears.

“Mike, tell me the truth,” I said, when I had regained control over myself. “Do you think that I’m an alcoholic?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

It was the perfect answer. If he’d said ‘yes,’ I would have gotten angry and consoled myself by getting drunk. If he’d said ‘no,’ I would have celebrated by getting drunk.

After Mike left, I drank all the booze that was left in the house. The next morning I decided I wanted to live more than I wanted to die. 

Unless I have an unexpected burst of time and energy (highly unlikely), I plan to take a break from this blog over the holiday season. I will post again early in 2018. Meanwhile, happy holidays, everybody! May you all find peace and happiness.

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my HOLIDAY SALE! 

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