Being humbled by a 'borderline' alcoholicI had just returned to the apartment complex from an early morning errand today when another resident I'd never seen before approached me and, in a near mania that I didn't understand then but would shortly, begged me for a ride across the city during rush hour to an appointment he had just some 20 minutes later. In his rush, the guy - whose name I didn't get even if he told me - locked himself out of his apartment with his car keys inside. The management office of the apartment complex wasn't open yet, and the guy had no way to get back inside. An undefined something about the guy put me off at first, but I decided to drive him when he said his appointment was with a psychiatrist. Why he was seeing a psychiatrist and having such an early appointment being none of my business, I told the guy I'd get him there.
In my car, the man continued his near manic babbling and in less than a minute, I learned he was in the midst of a divorce, that his soon-to-be-ex had gotten a protective order that prevents him from seeing his three sons and that he'd recently been fired from his job as a salesman. But it was when he admitted that he had been hit with a drunk driving charge that I knew why the guy was seeing a shrink and why so early in the morning. I'd been there, done that: judges here apply a standard sentence of requiring drunk drivers to attend a number of hours of "alcohol classes," usually led by a psychiatrist or therapist-counselor and which are more educational about the effects of alcohol on the body and have nothing to do with therapy. I knew, too, that the guy, if he didn't show up for the court-ordered class even with a valid reason, would have an arrest warrant issued against him.
And I fully understood, too, the reason for the guy's incessant talking, so much so that I couldn't have gotten in a word edgewise if I'd wanted. But I didn't want to and, instead, just listened. As the man babbled on, my own experience with my last DUI years earlier came flooding back. It was, in some ways, a reality wake-up call for me. At the time, I was trying to start my life over again and regain what I could what alcohol had taken from me, and coming to terms that I wouldn't be able to regain some of what I'd lost. And, like the guy I was transporting, I remembered my own mania when I was where he was - talking incessantly for whatever reason, maybe hoping that just babbling would get done what needed to be done - fixing my life.
The man shared that he could "easily do 10 beers a day with no problem," that his psychiatrist labeled him a "borderline alcoholic" who recommended no more than "14 mixed drinks a week." "Borderline alcoholic," I thought to myself, "my ***!" I also wanted to suggest to the guy that he ask his probation officer to assign him to another so-called psychiatrist who'd even use the term "borderline" and basically give someone "permission" to do "14 mixed drinks a week." I heard the guy do a lot of "blaming" on the wife he was divorcing and, maybe incorrectly, on his ex-employer who may have fired the guy because of his drinking.
Somewhere in all the guy's talking, I shared with him that I, too, am an alcoholic and that, for me, there is no such thing as "borderline" and that, when I came to face what my drinking had cost me, I had no choice but to accept that I am an alcoholic and that I and only I am responsible for the problems, the losses, that my drinking cost me. The guy seemed almost stunned when he asked me how much I "keeping (my) drinking to" and I answered that I don't drink at all. He asked "how" I could "do it" without "at least a few beers," and my answer to him was the same to everyone else who asks: when the consequences of being drunk are too high for me to be responsible to, there is no choice - don't drink at all.
Even though the guy lives in the same building as I do but on another floor, I'm guessing I'll run into him again. I hope so. If I do and he wants to talk about his drinking, I embrace the prospect of this 12th-Stepping. I think the guy pretty much knows that his drinking has already cost him dearly - a DUI that will be on his driving record for seven years in this state, triple car insurance premiums for at least three years, probably his marriage, his children, and his job. But, if he's anything like me - and I think he is - he's absolutely terrified about starting all over again. I hope I get the chance to assure him that, even though life for him right now may look insurmountable, starting over can happen. It's going to take a lot - a LOT - of hard work, a lot of honesty and probably a lot of time, and starting over won't be easy; it never is. But it is possible.
That's what I hope to be able to tell the guy someday.
On the drive back home after depositing my rider at his psychiatrist's office, I was humbled and muttered AA's adage, "There but the grace of God ..." But that wasn't enough; I said a thank-you to my Higher Power that, today, I have a choice - and my choice is not to drink.