“Chris…I went back out last Thursday.
I don’t plan on staying out,
but I don’t know when I’ll be back either.
I’m proud of you, friend.”
This is the text I received at 7:21 pm this evening. This is the text that broke my heart. But, this is the text I have been waiting on for my five months of sobriety. I knew just what to do to restore a dear friend to his sobriety. I had the right words, the words that would fix him. So, I put on my cape and dialed the phone. Twenty four minutes and nineteen seconds later, ego properly deflated, I realized my cape was much more suited to wipe my tears as I learned one of the hardest lessons I have learned in my sobriety: You can’t fix people and you can’t make someone not want to drink.
What do you tell someone that says they hate being an alcoholic? “Yeah, I do, too.” How do you respond to someone who tells you they were staying sober in hopes of regaining a lost love that, in reality, will not return? “That’s probably not the right reason to get sober.” How do you console someone who is giving voice to all of your own reservations and objections to this seemingly simple but at times almost impossible goal of never again picking up a drink? “Yeah, forever IS a really fucking long time.”
I sat and wondered why no one gave me a script for this conversation. Someone has to know just what to say, right? I don’t know who that person is, but it is certainly not me. Without my superpowers, I was forced to do as a mere mortal and just be there, just be me, just listen. Boy, is that some hard shit to do. It is our nature to want to fix, to mend, to heal. It’s a hard fall when you are struck with the realization that you are just you, plain and simple.
So I listened to his justifications, his rationalizations and to his explanations. I heard the fear, and the self-loathing and torture that was underlying all of it. I recognized the need he had for me to tell him it was ok, the permission he was seeking and his promises that it wasn’t going to be that bad this time. I didn’t tell him that he was wrong, I didn’t tell him his bottom was so close I could see it. I didn’t tell him that one beer was never going to be enough and that it would rapidly turn into a bottle of booze and drunken despair and shame. I didn’t remind him that alcohol has never fixed anything, ever, for anyone. He knew all of that, in the end he was saying it to me. We got where we needed to go. So I let him know I was there, no judgements, no holier than thou statements. And that I was going to be there with an open heart, no matter the time of day, no matter what he had to say.
I realized after hanging up that it was not going to be the last of those calls that I will get. There will be another alcoholic in need, in pain, in despair. And another after that. Because this disease is an asshole. And no one understands that more than another drunk. The only thing I can do is answer the phone, open the door, open my heart and pray that someone will do the same if I need it one day.
I hope he makes it back to sobriety, but I don’t know if he will. I just know that I will love him.
And you reading this, I love you, too. Because, although we have not met, I know you and you know me. And we need each other. Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough.
Have you ever had someone close to you relapse? How did you deal with your powerlessness? What do you suggest to anyone who might currently be struggling with this situation?