A Fatal Condition.
Yesterday, a friend of a friend was found dead. He was an alcoholic. Same as me. Same as many of you. A father of young children, 9 and 11. I didn’t know him. I never met him. Never spoke to him. I know him only through my friend, an alcoholic like me. She feels survivor guilt today. Because she’s sober. And he’s dead. But that’s the way of things, with this disease. We die. Our friends die. Our lovers die and our children die.
I had a long conversation with my friend last night. She told me that in the beginning, when she was first recovering, I told her the same thing I’ve written here many times: alcoholism is an incurable, progressive, terminal mental illness. She told me last night that when she first heard it, she thought I was being melodramatic. Maybe you, my non-alcoholic reader, think it’s melodramatic.
You know, there’s nothing to forgive in thinking that. Alcoholics tend to be dramatic. I am no exception. But there’s no melodrama in that description. My friend said it seemed melodramatic until she came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Until she saw with her own eyes. Recovery is never finished. We are never cured. I know people who have had years and years of sobriety who went to drink. Sometimes, they don’t come back.
I’ve known people with years and years of sobriety who’ve blown their heads off stone cold sober. Alcoholics, at least those of my description, are prone, are seduced, toward living tiny lives of dispirited isolation. Dark rooms. Bathtubs. Basements. Desolate and depressed and numb from useless rage. Our disease never leaves us. And in the long march of time it takes more, and more, and more.
And eventually, it kills us. This friend of my friend died surrounded in filth and vomit. His children, I am told, never wanted to see him anymore. He didn’t do things. Like make them food. So many times I’ve heard the same refrain: “No matter what, I’d never let alcohol come between me and my children.” So many times, I’ve seen that vow broken. When we are alcoholic, anything that we try to put before alcohol, we lose. Which is why in recovery, anything we put before sobriety, we lose.
It’s not melodrama. It is the simple grim calculus of the condition. Alcoholism has no cure. It advances past any barrier we put in front of it. And it ends our lives. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard conversations that begin, “Did you hear how they found him?” We die miserable, silent, lonely deaths.
And every time I hear about another one, I am grateful. Because I’ve known plenty of alcoholics too, who’ve died sober. Peacefully, in a clean bed. Mourned. Celebrated. All of us are bound for eternity, dear reader. I have seen the door that so many people like me, better than me, have slouched vilely through. And because I know that door – that door appeals to me in a way that I think no non-addict can understand – I can step from the road that leads me to it. Guided by those who have recovered, and alike by those who have not.