100 Proof Evidence
photo by Henry Heng https://www.flickr.com/photos/harry525/
When I sobered up in 1989, I learned I had a progressive, fatal illness.
This was news to me, intense news that got my attention.
I enrolled into an outpatient program at the now-defunct St. Vincent’s hospital in Greenwich Village. There, I got an education on what I was dealing with in my addiction to alcohol and drugs.
I didn’t want to believe it. And once I started to believe it, I didn’t want to accept it.
I wanted to bargain with this situation. I wanted to believe that I’d be able to go back to drinking and drugging but keep a handle on it. I strove to convince myself that I’d be able to manage it, all evidence to the contrary.
I didn’t want to face reality. After all, I’d been committed to escaping from reality for a very long time.
One of the main ways I began to accept the nature of my condition was to go over my past. I made a long and thorough list of times that I became out of control, and the behaviors that followed from that. Behaviors like drunkenly climbing fire escapes or trees, or purposely falling down flights of stairs because I thought it was a thrill. (There’s a term for that - stupid.)
It was a list of short descriptions made only for me to recall the incidents, not to detail them. As long as they jogged my memory, they were good.
I worked on this list for a while, combing through my history. I mostly did it in chronological order, remembering certain scenarios that took place at various times during the years, such as somebody getting a mixer and making daiquiris all summer, or the stretch of time devoted to quaaludes. This helped to specify the memories, and once the floodgates opened, I could barely write things down fast enough.
I still have my long list. It’s my evidence, in case I ever think I’d be able to drink safely again.
This is the most important thing I’ve ever learned about myself: I’m a true alcoholic of the fatal variety.
It’s shocking to understand that one has a fatal illness. I can remember the fear when that sunk in. I swallowed hard as I literally looked in a mirror and did my best to come to terms with that.
Most fatal and progressive illnesses will kill you.
I have one that can be arrested by abstinence. Amazing. Unreal. Incredible.
Looking over my list of insane incidents, my great good fortune to be alive became clear. I’d been courting death for years.
The desire to bargain my way out of this faded.
I would say to anyone that the person you need to be completely honest with is yourself. Maybe that’ll start by being honest with someone else. I think, largely, that’s how it started for me.
But it was in the private moments, alone, staring down my denial and confronting my truth, where I learned that my running days were over.
If you’ve got it, you’ve got it. There’s no going back. The elevator only goes one way: down. Get off it, if you can. You’ll find your way up.