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Looking Into the Belly of the Beast

It’s Freaking Dark Down There


I was across the country, in Seattle, for my old college roommates’ wedding. Some long-ago college chums were in town, I did a few of my favorite Seattle things, and for the first time, I hiked on Mount Rainier. I was sober and happy.

My old college roommate, we’ll call him Larry, and I, had been rather off-the-deep-end drunken wastrels. We were able to apply ourselves somewhat, and we both eventually graduated, me in 4 ½ years and Larry in 6 years or so. All good.

We stayed in touch, and met up in eastern Pennsylvania a few times, staying on the farm where my sister and a bunch of other hippie-types lived.

Larry and I tended to drink a gallon of cheap wine by the stone fountain in the afternoon, and then we’d each drink a gallon of wine by the pool in the evening. I don’t think we were the favorite guests of those who lived on the farm, but things were loose enough that we flew under the radar for the most part.

Years later, Larry gave me a call out of the blue. He asked me what I was doing. I was newly sober, and I hemmed and hawed. He pressed me, and I told him I was clean and was about to go to a meditation group. He flipped out, said he was newly sober, and he wanted to go with me. He was in Newark and would be into NYC, where I lived, in a flash.

He showed up. We marveled at this remarkable turn of events, and then we went and meditated, like we had done in acting class in college. It was a trip.

Next thing I knew, he moved out to Seattle.

A handful of years later, he and his fiancee came to town. We had a meal, and hung out a bit. She was also clean and sober, a self-identified addict and alcoholic.

So it was quite a surprise to see her order and drink a glass of wine at the lovely welcoming dinner at a great restaurant in Seattle, a few days before their wedding. And Larry was drinking near-beer, which does have a trace amount of alcohol in it. Hmmmmm.

Not really my business.

A couple days later, they went to stay at the downtown Seattle hotel where the wedding and reception would be, and I was out and about enjoying the city when I gave a call to see what they were up to. Just headed down to the lobby, did I want to swing by? Yes, I did.

I ordered a tea, Larry a soda, and his fiancee ordered a glass of wine. Now it was getting up close and personal. But, still not my business.

Until she addressed it. She said, “I know that I was sober when we met in New York. But I realized that cocaine was my real problem. I recently started drinking again.” And here’s the kicker - “And if it gets to be a problem, I’ll just stop.”

“…if it gets to be a problem, I'll just stop.”

At that moment, I knew I was looking into the belly of the beast. Because I’m a true alcoholic. None of this California sober bullshit for me. It’s life and death, and I know it. And I know it because I lost all choice in whether or not I’d take the next drink.

Until I had a moment of grace, and I reached out, and received, the help I needed.

If I could “just stop,” I wouldn’t be an alcoholic. In which case, whatever.

In the mouth of a true alcoholic, those words are insanity. And what I guard against, every day, is losing the knowledge of the truth of my condition.

And it’s cool. I don’t want to drink, at all. Had enough. I was on the accelerated program and I drank up my share by the age of 30. Done.

We lost touch. It’s a shame. Last I saw Larry he came, with his alcoholic brother, to a show I did in Philadelphia. They didn’t drink in my presence, but their behavior sure was weird.

Don’t know what became of his wife, or his marriage.

What I do know is that I’m grateful that I recognized the maw of the belly of the beast when it reared its head on a sunny afternoon in a lovely and quiet hotel lobby in downtown Seattle, many years ago.

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