Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On Alcoholism


Those of you who follow me via Twitter and Facebook probably noticed a couple of rather strange-sounding status updates over the past several months. They all, in one way or another, referenced several trips to the ER and being there for friends in need. I think I'm about ready to talk about it. If only because it has taught me valuable lessons about how difficult life can be when you are no longer in control.

Back in September I met R, a guy who lives in my apartment building. R seemed intelligent, interesting, well short, a pretty nice guy. R and I hung out a few times and as I got to know him I realized we had tons in common. I'm not going to get into any substance, but let's just say that he seemed just as damaged as I was in some pretty fundamental ways.

A couple of weeks after we met, as I was hanging out one Friday evening in my place, R knocked on my door. He looked absolutely terrible. He was sweating profusely, his eyes were dilated and he could barely walk. He told me he had always suffered from some mysterious illness that prevented him from sleeping for days on end and made eating difficult. Even as he slurred his words I made the executive decision that he needed to head to the ER immediately. I grabbed my keys, grabbed my wallet and slowly walked him downstairs to a cab.

At the ER, everything was pretty routine. They took blood and urine samples, gave him an IV and after 4 hours told him that they could not figure out what the problem was. Heading back home R was more himself. We even joked about a couple of smoking hot nurses who had treated him.

Sometime in late December R showed up at my door looking even worse than back in September. Again, I dropped everything and took him straight to the ER, where, for the first time, an inkling of what was really going on began to emerge. “Have you been drinking?” the attending physician asked. “No,” was R's response.

Up until this point, I had assumed that any drinking on R's part was merely exarcerbating whatever affliction he suffered from. After the nurses and doctors were gone I pressed R a bit. “Dude, when was the last time you drank?” “Jack, I'm an alcoholic,” he said with some seriousness. After he was discharged we walked back to the apartment building in silence.

Early the next morning, several people in our building walked into R's apartment to find him catatonic. He was seated in a chair in a daze, arms raised to shoulder level. There was a nearly empty bottle of rum on his desk. It took three of us to carry him downstairs to a waiting taxi.

R spent 15 hours in the hospital and was released early the following morning, only to continue drinking for several weeks after that.


I think I've learned several things from my friendship with R.

First and foremost, it is clear to me that, whatever my demons might be, there are people who are struggling with far worse. I think back on what I have accomplished over the past several years and wonder if I could have gotten this far if I had started out as damaged as R is. Somehow, I doubt it.

I've also learned that alcoholism, like any other addiction, can affect even the smartest and most capable of all of us. R is still a great guy. I still respect him greatly. I just wish he would slay his demons so he could be free as well.

Good luck R. I believe in you.

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