Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Gift of Being Clean and Sober

Corey Haim's dead at 38 due to a drug overdose. There goes another child star. And naturally there are people on Twitter bemoaning the fact they didn't put him in their "Dead Pools" this year.

I suppose I used to be pretty cavalier about drug abusers too; who didn't make fun of Anna Nicole Smith slurring and slobbering into the camera on her show? And I wonder how many people watch Intervention less for the help someone gets at the end but more for the stunts they pull when they're under the influence? That's worthy of great laughter; I'll admit even I laughed at the Duster Lady cackling from her sofa: "Here comes the po-po!"

Nowadays these things tend to just make me sad, though, because, of course, it takes one to know one. We think those fucked up people are having a great time partying. What most people don't realize is that it's not fun at all. We poke fun at those people because we think they are choosing to use their substance because they have tossed care and self-control into the wind and are selfish. But trust me, when they're at that stage of their addiction, the drug is the thing that has control. No amount of self-will can get you to stop. We are disdainful of addicted people because they drive around drunk or stoned; they hurt their friends and families; they're a burden on the health care system; they can't hold steady jobs; they're pathetic. And all of those things are true (or can be). Thinking that way kept me from getting help for the longest time. I wasn't as bad as them. I might lose my temper and get mad at Chelle, or I might be inappopriate with other women, or I might call in sick sometimes because I had a bad hangover, but I wasn't one of those guys.

Not me.

Yet, I am. It's funny: when I first started telling people I'd just gotten out of rehab for alcohol addiction, one of the most common questions I got was, "What made you drink?" People seem to think there has to be some overwhelming reason, and there isn't one. I drank because I didn't know how to live without alcohol. I needed it to get motivated to cook, to clean, even to exercise. (That was a sight: me on the recumbent bike with a bottle of Corona in the water bottle holder!) Going to the racetrack wasn't about the horses: it was about sitting at the bar. Going on vacation wasn't about relaxing and sightseeing: it was about how many margaritas or mai tais I could put away, and the next day was about how many I needed before the morning shakes went away. There was no reason. I existed for booze.

Oh, sure, when I first started drinking, there were reasons. It made me feel better, witty, more relaxed, comfortable in my own skin. But there comes a point for alcoholics and addicts that we don't feel like ourselves unless we're under the influence. And then we're off and running. We become the addiction; we lose ourselves. We start perceiving things around us through the lens of our substance. We may be occupying space in the real world, but we're living in a substance-induced delusion. At my worst, I believed my wife was a control freak living with me more as a matter of convenience than actual love. I raged at her. I had convinced myself I drank the way I did because I felt trapped.

Now that I'm sober, I realize I felt trapped because I drank.

So, instead of judging people like Corey Haim, count your blessings. There but for the grace of God go you. Or me once again. Don't make fun of addicts. Instead, pray that they get help. Because really, alcoholics and addicts--if they don't get help and stop feeding their disease--will wind up in one of two places: in an institution, or dead.

I am 187 days sober today, and each day is a gift.

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