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Being humbled by a 'borderline' alcoholic

I 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.
cmmacneil cmmacneil 41-45, M 12 Responses Aug 30, 2012

Your Response


Lucky that the man ran into you for the ride - or maybe there was a reason you guys crossed paths!

O, I'm sure there was a reason, Catalina. A 12th Step, as we call it, is as much for the person GIVING the help as it is for the one NEEDING it!

I was in the program 15 straight years. I had fun watching the drunks at the bar after two years of sobriety. It's hard the first two years. Even harder going back into the rooms. All about attitude I know this. Might not be where i need to be but thank God I'm not where i use to be. I just have to stop thinking so much. Live love laugh.

Live, love, and laugh. That's right, decoymalloy.
At tonight's meeting there was a lot of laughter. It kind of balances out the tears, you know? I call it "hope."

Both your higher power(s) were giving gifts. I love those moments.

Borderline alcoholic...nonsense!
I wonder if his shrink really did say that about the 14 drinks a week? The poor man may just be trying to avoid the truth. Alcoholics can't drink. Period. The divorce, the job loss, the DUI...all typical symptoms of the disease.

Chances are he will be mandated by the court to attend AA meetings. I often see the "get-out-of- jail-free" people at meetings, having their card punched. Maybe he will hear something there that will move him in the right direction.

You are a good man, ChristopherMatthew.

Don't know about being a good man, but one who needs to be humbled once in a while. As you note, after listing to Jon's divorce, job loss, DUI and so on ...I wanted to ask how much more loss will convince him that he can't "cut back" and stop totally - until I remember I was just like him in my stage of denial and sense of being persecuted. Obviously he still hadn't lost enough, hadn't hit that mythical bottom - and I was sorry that I could get him to understand that, when we think we have nothing left to lose - yes, we do.

Ah yes, the mythical bottom. We just keep digging! Gotta put down the shovel.
Robin Williams once said, "An alcoholic will violate their standards, just as quick as they can lower them."

Whatever you say, Dolmen.
Except the man said he "could easily do 10 beers a day with no problem."
Hmmm...having 10 drinks a day, getting a DUI, divorcing, losing visitation with your 3 children and getting fired from your job...that sounds like a problem to me. But hey, you and his psychiatrist think 14 drinks a week is a good solution. Drinks that are poured at two units, of course.

I hope that man gets better answers.

I don't have a thing against anyone, Dolmen.
You think 14 drinks a week is okay for someone on their way to a court-mandated shrink appointment for a DUI.
I disagree.
I don't see how that is "undermining" you. That makes it sound like you have some agenda I am interfering with.

It's not that complicated, Dolmen.
Addicts,more often than not, find themselves doing things they could never have imagined.
For example...driving drunk, lying to their families, stealing from their families, sleeping with strangers, sleeping with strangers for drugs, drinking at work, losing their work, neglecting their children, losing their children, etc.

Also, I am not really sure what the hell you are so riled up about. This is a place of support, you seem to want to challenge people who are trying to make their lives better. So you are a doctor? So what? I met a lot of doctors in treatment. This disease doesn't care where you work.

3 More Responses

Powerful story.... thank you so much for sharing it. I further commend you for being open to speaking to this man again should you bump into him, and extend a helping hand in the form of advice. The world does not have enough people such as yourself.... you were kind and generous to a person who probably needed you to simply listen more than you know.

Kudos on your continued recovery and grace.

Thank you, RedRubies. I am NOT in the class of people the world doesn't have enough of. I know from experience in my own recovery from alcoholism that I need the humility of where I can go back to if I do NOT provide help when I'm asked for it. If I say no to a call for help, the quality of my recovering is that I'm NOT sober - I'm just a dry drunk. And I don't want to go back to EITHER a dry or wet one

You are welcome. Well all have our paths and did a kind thing, so do allow yourself to feel positive about it.(I do like your point about being a wet/dry drunk...I had not thought of it that way.)


Every one of us who makes it through another day clean and has the capacity to offer appropriate advice when asked deserves a lot of credit.

You did a very good thing.

'Humbled' is the right word, definitely but at the same time you should be proud of the fact that you have managed to escape from that dark, dark place to regain your life, one step and one day at a time.

Yet we are all one drink away from ending up back in that place.

Hang in there

You know he will always be forced to remember what you did for him, and also what you said to him. I believe just as when we are drinking we effect others, when we are sober we effect others profoundly. God bless you, own everyday each one is yours.

I hope you're right, Bookem! He continues to struggle.

Thank you for this wonderful sharing cmmacneill ! Yes, It is a great gift from God that you and I have a choice for today.So grateful for that all the other items in my gratitude list.<br />
I pray n hope you have a good 12 step.This gentleman has all the symptoms of unmanageability writ large on his life.Pray that he realises that.<br />
Keep coming back and so will I.<br />
Love n Hugs

Awesome story. You were there when a soon to be brother needed you, your higher power put u in the right place at the right time. U carried the message, and I, like you, hope he got it. Time will tell.

Powerful words, it takes someone strong to accept their faults and move forward. Congrats for trying to be an inspiration/ support for others and for having the courage to share your experiences. That isn't always an easy thing to do.

Isn't it cool how your past experiences had prepared you to be there for someone who needed help at that particular time?

Each of us has past experiences, but it's up to us if and how we make them part of our future. With me personally, I try to avoid regretting my past because it cannot be undone by doing what will help it NOT being repeated in the future. It IS true that we cannot keep what we have been given without sharing it.

Thank you for this story. Sounds like you have a good ear and advice !