Hope for the Late Stage Alcoholic

His head is hung as he talks about having disappointed everyone once again. He knows the only person he’s truly let down is himself. Somehow his remarkable intellect remains intact. He’s describing the psychological barriers and false beliefs that he needs to reconcile in order to get better. I shake my head and say, “Maybe what you need to do is not f@cking die and then we can be concerned with what’s going on in your head?” He laughs but agrees that sobriety comes first and everything else comes after. He’s been down this road many times before.

He’s a late stage alcoholic who is way past the six months his doctor told him he’d survive. He has theories about why he remains vertical and breathing. He attributes it to “good genes.” I suggest that his genetics are inherited from a long line of alcoholics and that it seems more likely to me that a Higher Power has something to do with it. He waxes philosophically about what plans God might have for him. Gently I preach to him, “What God wants you to do is not f@cking die!”

There may be no atheists in fox holes but active alcoholics live in rabbit holes.

The view from the rabbit hole is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope – everything looks very far away and unattainable. Sobriety seems impossible. The lucid moments afford us a view of the nightmare we can’t wake from. Those in the late stages of the disease of addiction retain very little hope.

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions but it’s littered with broken dreams.

He’s lost count of the spin dries, Detox centers, IOPs and rehabs. Truth to tell; he could teach the classes better than most professionals. It’s cheap to call it irony, but the dream he’s left on life support is his desire to be a substance abuse counselor. I keep quoting Train to him, “I won’t give up if you don’t give up.” There are a million reasons why I want to see him make it, not the least of which is that we need him in the field.

Recovering alcoholics & addicts are almost always the best counselors. It’s like David Bromberg sang, “You’ve got to suffer if you want to sing the blues.” If you’ve danced with the devil then you know how seductive the bastard is. He truly is, “Cunning, baffling, and powerful.”The Disease of Addiction promises everything and delivers only dis-ease, destruction, and death.

Past attempts and periods of sobriety look like failure to the alcoholic. In truth they were short term successes. One of the greatest success stories I have ever had the honor of serving came to have hope by conceptualizing what he calls, “Cumulative Recovery.” He explained that in all of his past attempts, he learned and grew. These gains were not truly lost when he returned to drinking; they were simply put on a back burner.

The longer he fought, the more difficult it was to believe he could achieve long term sobriety. This is the singular option and standard the late stage alcoholic & addict considers. Shifting our focus allows us to see that we’ve actually had a great deal of past success in managing one day at a time. The choice this man accepted was to take all of his past lessons and seek help in tying them together. Seeing the collective value of his experiences afforded hope and a willingness to reach out to those on similar journeys. He found that he had a great deal to offer others and even more he could receive.

Having Faith is not simply about a Higher Power. It’s about believing in ourselves, in our programs and in others. You gotta have a reason to live (hope, goals, and dreams). You gotta have people who believe you can make it (stop pushing them away). You gotta get off the proverbial fence (fear holds us there) and you have to be willing to do those three beautiful words – Whatever. It. Takes. When we put conditions on what we’re willing to do and there’s a good chance we wake up dead.

This is why I love the programs of AA and NA. They give hope to the hopeless. If you are vertical and breathing, then congratulations – you have another chance to get it right.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.