Sunday, January 24, 2010

Twist In My Sobriety

Mike suffered from the disease of alcoholism, though it would be difficult to distinguish it from the disease of depression in his life. He drank to find relief from his depression, and his drinking made him more depressed. In his suicide note to my parents he said drinking was the only thing that brought him relief. I understand this idea. Just as Mike drank to seek refuge from his overwhelming and consuming depression, I used to self-medicate to find relief from OCD. The problem with this kind of thinking is where it ultimately leads. The same thinking that told him that he needed to drink to find relief from his pain also convinced him that it was a good idea to put a bullet through his head.

I got sober 11 years ago today. A few years later, Mike voluntarily admitted himself into an alcohol treatment program. In the weeks leading up to his decision to go to rehab, he and I talked every day. Our relationship was like that—we had sporadic episodes of closeness, followed by long stretches of distance and silence. When he was 19, he spent some time in a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt. He refused to talk to my parents. Suddenly I became the only person he would talk to. I was reminded of this period when we spent hours on the phone before he went to rehab, talking about recovery. We now had something in common. He spoke in a language I could understand.

I used to think Mike and I were polar opposites. While we tended to agree on music, films, and politics, we had nothing in common in the way we lived our lives. I left home at 16, and he lived with our parents till he was 31. Much of my young adult life I was reckless to a fault, whereas he was risk-averse to a fault. But alcoholic thinking I understood.

When I visited my parents in West Virginia last month, I stumbled across Mike’s journal from rehab. It was in his file cabinet, where he kept the files I needed to settle his financial affairs. I never would have opened it if he were still alive, but since he is gone I wanted to hold on to whatever piece of him that I could. He wrote about powerlessness, and about surrender. He described a universal journey, one that transcends our individual circumstances. We weren’t as different as I’d thought.

I don’t know how long Mike stayed sober. I thought we would continue to share this common bond, celebrate milestones with each other, and keep talking. It did not work out that way. Mike would only let me in when he wanted to, and then he would disappear. And I did the same thing, getting wrapped up with my busy life, too busy to check up on him. I suspect he relapsed a couple of times over the years, based on what my parents have told me. He and I rarely talked about it again. My family thinks he was sober when he went back to school and started his new career over the past few years. We know he relapsed again at some point last year. We suspect he was not sober when he died, although only the toxicology report will tell us for sure.

Tonight I say a prayer for all those who are still suffering. May they find relief without a bottle or a gun.

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