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One week before Christmas 25 years ago an EMS ambulance rushed me – intoxicated, suicidal, addled headed – to the Detroit Psychiatric Hospital. The nightmare of a classic lost weekend stretched into nine harrowing days.
My recovery – the hit-bottom tumble and soul-cracking thud of some 30 years of sustained drinking – soft-centered, hardheaded, two-fisted – exuberantly social, shamefully secret – ultimately sad and pathetic – was a slow process.
I detoxed over two months, first at Cottage Hospital, then at Deaconess Hospital. It took me a year to begin to sense that little by little (one day less foggy than the last) that I was moving closer to recovered sanity and sustainable sobriety.
The hardest thing in world I ever had to do that year was return to work: shaky, embarrassed, unsure of the future, afraid of being shunned, worried I might slip again into the dark corners of my mind, to be lost once more, unlit by human warmth or reason.
Fortunately my work colleagues and staff were understanding and welcoming. My close friends rallied for me and offered kind words and encouragement. Many offered hugs that I so desperately needed. My mother, who got me into Cottage Hospital through her doctor, gave me round-the-clock love, wise counsel, good humor. (She happily saw me sober for five years.)
My final collapse did not happen without warning. I had blackouts. I passed out on a friend’s lawn after gulping down glorious but lethal screwdrivers. I was driven home by caring St. Clair Shores police because there were no hospital beds available that weekend). I behaved oddly enough at work to be advised I needed to get help.
But I postponed seeking that help until after Christmas – a Christmas that arrived viciously blank that year in a tacky green gown and a strap-me-down hospital bed.
As an alcoholic I am one of those human beings whose body makeup and metabolism don’t process alcohol “normally.” Instead of falling asleep or passing out after one or two drinks, I could drink my buddies under the proverbial cocktail table. I enjoyed drinking and drank everything, with the exception of bourbon. When addiction grabbed me by the short hairs of the dog that bit me, I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t live with or without alcohol. (Few could live with me.)
Over time my brain cells – syphoned of nutrients disabused of proper functioning – altered. (The reason an alcoholic cannot resume “safe” social drinking, and will in short order soon be back to cell block one.)
.. Yes, it’s my 100-Proof Ghost of Christmas Past. Here’s my tree-totallin’ Angel of Christmas Present …
On Dec. 18, I attended the LGBT AA meeting held in the Farmington Hills Universalist/Unitarian Church. There were 60 celebrants – longtime and newly sober – joyfully gathered.
Following an exceptionally tasty potluck dinner (gays – and some lesbians, I’ll add – are all gourmet cooks) I was honored with an AA token commemorating my 25th year of sobriety. (I’m grateful to join the ranks of Judy, Nancy, Marty, Chris, Frank, and old friend Harvey Keith, who died 10 years ago with 30 years of quality sobriety.)
In gratitude for the gift of 25 additional years, hundreds of pieces of created art, 360 PG columns, no hangovers, blackouts, or unpaid bar tabs, reasonably functioning braintrust, and resounding joy of being a sober, self-accepting gay guy (who can keep his hands to himself), let me share this holiday season: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”