He called out to me from across a very crowded room. I recognized him immediately, but I instantly knew something was wrong. This man looks a lot like my old friend, but 50 feet away I just knew…
My friend would have been smiling. His eyes would have been bright and he would have had at least three old jokes to tell me. Instead, the man who stood before me was unsteady, unsure of himself, and appeared very lost.
I was slammed by the smell of cheap beer as he reached out to hug me. Without thinking I asked, “What are you doing?” Not a second of hesitation before his one-word response, “drinking.”
If you’re in recovery or love someone who is, then you know the instant mix of my reactions: The punch in my gut, the breaking of my heart, the dull anger of hating the disease, and the frustration of knowing that the conversation to follow is unlikely to be worth having.
Express your love, move on, pray for them.
“I’m really sorry to hear that. I hope you’ll come back to recovery.” He looked sadder than anyone I’ve seen in a long time (and that’s saying something). “I don’t think I’m coming back from this one.”
I’ve heard those words too many times. Maybe it’s hard to believe but I’ve heard them spoken in very different ways. Sometimes in fear. Sometimes in doubt. This is the one I hate the most:
He’s lost in a familiar place. He knows the way back but he’s sure he won’t find it this time. We speak for only a minute. I try never to talk much when folks are under the influence. I remind him there are a whole lot of folks who care about him and want to help. He hugs me again and I’m off.
I saw him a few hours later. I was relieved to see him waiting for a cab. He was so completely alone and feeling hopeless. That’s what late stage alcoholism is. I still have hope for him but I know he has to be willing and I know there’s only two ways people become willing:
God or suffering.
I love my friend and I hate his disease. I am powerless to do anything more than pray for him. I know that there but for the grace of God go I. It’s a reminder to me – I cannot afford complacency. I can continue to grow or I can risk losing everything. The knowledge and ability for self-destruction will never fully leave me. Only the propensity is up for grabs.
That’s it. That’s all there is. No choice could be easier to make…at face value.
Recovery is an ongoing process of facing fear, releasing pain, receiving love and becoming more free. When it’s done in fellowship with kindred spirits, it gets better as you go. Do it alone and you’re outnumbered – it’s just you fighting every demon you ever had and a disease that wants you dead.
Carpe diem – seize the day and hold on to each other.