“Ready to go?” asked my wife as she headed for the door, a picnic basket firmly in her grasp. “You go ahead,” I said, peering down at the small, unopened bottle of vodka I secretly held in my hand. “I’ll be out in a moment.” I had found the bottle while cleaning out the garage the day before, the bottle I had secretly placed there as my “just in case I really need it” security bottle. Memories began to bombard my mind, memories of that day; that day with the doctor.
“Why do you think you drink?” he had asked me in his even, doctor-like monotone. Was it just my imagination, or did most doctors seem to all attend a school that required a, “How to Speak Like a Doctor 101” course?
“Because I like the taste? Because I enjoy waking up in vomit-infested gutters with my pants down around my ankles?” I pitifully chuckled, an ill attempt at humor, a humor that he apparently found anything but humorous due to the fact that he still hadn’t looked up from his writing, still hadn’t looked me in the eye.
“Do you find humor in your need to drink?” he asked, voice still very much aligned with his “How to Speak Like a Doctor 101” training.
“I don’t need to drink,” I snapped, feeling immediate shame and guilt. I also added a hint of anger into the mix adding to a terrific recipe ripe for destruction and trust me, destruction was something I was quite familiar with. It was actually that familiarity that caused me to refrain from letting him know how I truly felt because what I truly felt was that I needed a drink. Instead, I sat there shivering while feelings of nausea and anxiety swept through every cell of my body. The racing of my heart made me wonder if it might simply beat out of my chest at any moment. I actually began to envision it popping out of my chest and just lazily rolling down the front of my shirt and onto my lap.
The doctor stopped writing long enough to finally allow his eyes to meet mine. Had he somehow detected my nonsensical thoughts? Maybe it would be better if he’d just continued to write. Besides, his look made me begin to feel a bit unnerved. What was that look exactly? Did he know I was losing my mind? Did he detect my pain? Did he feel pity for this drunk who sat before him? Was he sending some kind of a telepathic message letting me know that I drink because I am an alcoholic?
It really didn’t matter what he was thinking because in that moment it became more clear than it had ever been before. That moment seemed to drag on for a hundred years. The ticking sound of the clock joined the occasional moan that emanated from the hospital hallway, while the deafening rat-a-tat of my heartbeat threatened to overtake all other sounds in the room. At that moment I had suddenly realized that it was true. I had finally admitted the fact that I was indeed an alcoholic. Yet, I also felt this revelation had come too late. Maybe it made no difference because I was nothing more than a lost cause.
I suddenly felt a rage rising from deep within my chest; a rage that I felt I could no longer contain. “Liar,” I silently berated him. “A year,” he’d said the year before when I’d sat in the same chair, same office, same look on his face and in his eyes. “A year without a drink will cure you. A year without a drink and you’ll never want another.” Yet, I had. I had wanted another, then another, then another. A year hadn’t cured me at all. A year hadn’t even come close. A year hadn’t cured the mornings of not remembering where I had been the night before. A year hadn’t rebuilt that beautiful Cadillac I had totaled that reckless night spent in a drunken stupor. A year hadn’t erased the many irresponsible, romantic trysts with complete strangers. A year hadn’t changed the fact that I had failed my wife along with my own body and soul.
“What are you thinking?” he asked me, his voice suddenly irritating me to the bone, much like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. “What am I thinking?” I spat, lacing my words with thick, poisonous venom, “I am thinking that you’re a liar.”
“Tell me,” he said seemingly unfazed, “Why do you think I’m a liar?”
I’ll be honest here. I knew deep down that he wasn’t really the one I viewed as a liar. I saw myself as the liar and I knew that I had betrayed myself, my family, and all that I held sacred.
I really just wanted to blame him. I needed to blame him. I needed to blame someone, anyone other than myself because to blame myself would have meant that I had been an alcoholic long before this moment, long before I was willing to admit it. I had heard “a year” because it had been what my alcoholic mind had needed to hear that year before.
Suddenly, I found myself jolted back into the present moment. That conversation with the doctor now two years behind me. I had surpassed another year, then two. I now knew that I was not a lost cause and that these two years had made all of the difference. I knew that years three, four, and beyond would continue to make all the difference.
I glanced out the window toward the car. My wife and two children sat in eager anticipation, smiles on their faces, eager for our joyful day of adventure. I opened the bottle of vodka and brought it up to my nose. The familiar smell stinging yet enticing. I walked the bottle to the sink and began to pour it down the drain. I also knew that I poured down so much more than just the clear liquid. I poured down those moments of waking up in yet another urine-infested bed. I poured down that monster with the bloodied teeth, releasing it from the forefront of my mind, ceremoniously throwing it into the darkest of prisons; prisons where release or escape would never be found. Yes, I am an alcoholic but today I am an alcoholic who doesn’t need a drink. Today, I am an alcoholic who is anything but a lost cause.