While preparing to write this post I received a telephone call from a long time friend. I hear from him now and then, usually when he is not quite sober and yet longing for the sobriety of his past.
Our friendship goes back to when he was a budding student with intellectual and musical ability that could have been harnessed into something great. He married a fine girl in our community and I had the privilege of being her obstetrician for her first two pregnancies.
Even back then, there was evidence that things were not going well for Miles. There were problems with his employment and his parenting ineffective. His “heart healthy” alcohol intake increased to control his whole life. His wife was forced to run the home as well as being the primary financial supporter, but she managed.
Miles lost the concept of truth telling. He had only sporadic gainful employment, and he continually made apologies and promises to do better. She finally gave up on the futility of building a trust-based relationship. Miles continued his chosen lifestyle until, by the age of 51, he was completely disabled because of his depression and alcoholism.
I have talked to him when his delusions of grandeur were beyond imagination. He would talk about his fine attainments in the music world, or give details of his outstanding record of educational pursuits. But in the background I could hear the retching of others, sharing the joys of yet another hangover.
My experiences with alcohol have been limited to that of a non-participating observer.
I saw the distance my father would put between his car and other drivers who were obviously too impaired to stay in their lanes. I watched friends in school with great personalities and intelligence far above my own decline until they had dashed all hopes of attaining their goals. In medical school I went from one service to another: medicine, surgery, psychiatry, pediatrics, emergency — and found the victims of still more symptoms and consequences of alcohol. And all of this observation came before I joined the US Air Force.
In the military every possible event was made into a special occasion, and alcohol was the best possible reason to attend. At many of these parties, Twister was the game of choice. Based on physical speed and agility, it wasn’t my best game. But after losing repeatedly, I found that if I waited 20 minutes or more to join, I could be the champion.
My friends were experiencing the benefits of just one drink, but it was enough impairment to let me win. My roommate said that I should go with him on the weekends since he had so much fun and he couldn’t even remember what he had done the night before!
Later, I became an Obstetrician and saw alcohol’s effect on the unborn fetus. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a huge price for both mother and child to pay for the rest of their lives. In looking for a safe dose of alcohol that the mother could drink during her pregnancy, we discovered that there is no safe level.
I spent years as a doctor watching the conflict and tragedy that comes from violence and misunderstanding as a result of alcohol exposure, even in commonly recommended amounts of drinking. It is impossible for me to see how living longer without heart disease could even begin to equate in value with the repeated miseries that my friends have endured getting to their present state.
Escaping reality has never been more attractive than it is today. Alcohol does this service very well. It is a world-class illusionary drug. The pub is the place where “everyone is your friend” and that’s a coveted feeling. When everyone there has escaped reality there are no problems. But any sober person in attendance has distinct memories of the words and events that passed “among friends”.
My bottom line for alcohol use is stated in very crude English. But the longer I live the more convinced I am of its truth: “It is so easy and frequent for Jay Sloop to make an ass of himself, why would he choose to do anything that completely assures that he will!”
I have not yet met even one person who is truly more intelligent, swift-witted, skillful or reliable after even one drink, much less after drinking more.
Miles concluded his recent visit by telling me that at 54 he just wants to be a part of productive society again, to have contact with his two children and be a sober adult to them. There is no way for him to ever get close to that goal as long as alcohol is any part of his life.
The way back for Miles is simple, yet he has found it impossible to accept. I have seen “the way back” applied. Its effect is profound and lasting. It starts with coming to grips with the spiritual reality of life. By choosing to develop a transforming friendship with the One who is caring and powerful enough to bring change — God. He loves to change me for the better so that “making an ass of myself” is less blatant (you can take that to mean either a long eared animal or a piece of anatomy).
I propose a toast with water “To Life!”