seven years and three days ago, i spent christmas in an emergency room in florida. food poisoning. we went to make sure i’d be okay to fly and ended up there most of the day waiting out the real tragedies and injuries. my wife, her great aunt, and an endless loop on CNN about the death of James Brown kept me company. ho ho ho.
i saw something, heard something, a conversation, between a disconnected and numb orderly or intake nurse or nurse-nurse, I don’t know which exactly, and a man that survived a car crash. She told him his wife didn’t survive the crash. She said something to me about it and I wrote it down on an admission form so I wouldn’t forget it, because it was the most horrible thing i had ever heard, and i wrote it down to make it smaller, to make it a thing i could fold up and put in my pocket. later i put it in a comic. i still have nightmares about it though.
One at a time as other family arrived, they learned their awful news right in front of us.
At some point, as a daughter learned her mother died on christmas two feet from my left foot I had the thought, clear as day: if that was me, I’d go find a bar right fucking now and not come out until after New Year’s.
So I realized I had a problem.
I realized I had a problem a long time before that and my solution was to drink more and take more. I realized I had a problem and my solution was to just quit getting high and to just quit drinking. Only, for me, there’s no just about it. I’d swap one addiction for the other or make up new ones all-together. Girls, work, porn, fighting, sleep deprivation, anxiety, whatever — anything I could pour into that hole in the middle of me I used to dump booze and drugs into to stop feeling, i’d pour.
in certain rooms they call that white-knuckling. I had white-knuckled it for about five years before I found myself in that ER. Five years of still feeling all the pain and psychosis and depression a junkie and alcoholic feels with none of the anesthesia. Five years of trying to hold my shit together and doing, honestly, a lousy fucking job of it.
We were trying to have a baby. We had one and lost it. We were trying again. I was six months out of my career in advertising. I was in a blind fearful panic every hour of every day. I had a wife and a mortgage and wanted a child but i felt like i was on fire all of the time. how could i hope to ever hold a baby in my arms when i was always burning up?
Something about watching that family, something about the… obscenity of being witness to their most awful, most private, moments. And I all I could think was if my wife was dead I could go get fucked up again.
It’s what they call a high bottom but that was my rock-bottom.
I’d been going to meetings, maybe four or five a year — at best — since I starting my white-knuckle joyride into the bright side of life. I was a tourist. I went at first out of curiosity. Or rather — I went because I knew I had a drinking and a drug problem and I knew I hadn’t solved it, I just slowed it way the fuck down. And the first meeting I went to, I identified myself as an alcoholic and addict and started to cry.
I stayed the fuck out of meetings as much as I could after that.
Like I said. A tourist.
December 29th, 2006, then. I went to a meeting as I had from time to time at noon, with a friend. My friend had been working on… not quite a year of sober time in program and had gone out and wanted to get back into a regular practice of meetings. So I went to make sure he didn’t run out the back. I went to sit there and fold my arms and half listen and make sure my friend didn’t bail on their promise.
And I heard something so true that once again a meeting made me cry and I stood up and said my name and took my first chip and began the process of adding real and actual sobriety to my life. Before that I was clean and I was on fire. I was clean and I was killing myself. I was clean and I was going to kill myself. I was clean and waiting to kill myself. Now I finally found myself out of moves, out places to run, out of excuses, out of energy.
If I was going to save my own life, it was time.
And I did. AA did. NA did.
AA and NA helped me. I am an atheist introvert with anger issues and deep suspicions towards groups, groupthink, and a bad fucking history with organized religion and I am telling you AA and NA helped me. Who I was was embraced and welcomed and accepted. For the first time in my life i realized i wasn’t so goddamn alone after all.
And little by little the pain went away. I learned how to live.
It worked for me. And it continues to work for me even though I don’t go to meetings nearly as much as I’d like or need. If you want what I have found
This time of year is brutal — fucking brutal — if you share my disposition. Add in a birthday and, ho ho, a sobriety day i and the crush of months and years cannot be avoided. At the same time though… maybe, in some ways, it’s appropriate. It’s the longest, darkest, time of the year. Maybe it’s silly to expect some of that darkness not to spill over onto everything.
It got easier when I reached out into the darkness and found other hands there reaching back for me. I found them in the basement of churches and in rehab centers, I found them in unsuspecting houses and shining medical facilities. I found them. It’s just that, first, first I had to reach —
** edit: for some reason i typed ‘agnostic’ instead of ‘atheist’ the first time. what i get for not rereading before posting. i’m tired and fighting off a cold. sorry. pls don’t make me turn in my secular humanist card at the next pagan fuckfestival.