I’ve told some stories about my old friend, Skip, in two meetings during the last week and it’s been going something like this:
I was sober for around 5 years when my best friend, Skip, relapsed. I spent the next 2 years doing everything in the scope of my limited power to help him regain a footing in sobriety. We toured all of Michigan’s treatment centers, often driving for hours only to have Skip get us kicked out within minutes of beginning an intake assessment. We disappeared into the woods of northern Michigan, to let him dry out up there, only to watch him drink again in less than 30 days. And, as a last resort, we tried more than a few times to detox him at home, weaning him off alcohol slowly in conjunction with using benzodiazepines to keep his nervous system depressed so he didn’t have a heart attack and die in the goddamn living room.
It was during one of those home detoxes when Skip woke early in the morning and asked me to put my hand on his head. It was POUNDING and “pounding” is not just a fancy way of saying I could feel his heart beating. I could feel his heart beating but his head was fucking MOVING—it’s like his pulsating veins and arteries were damn near exploding. It was insane. Ever the teacher, he instructed me to keep my hand there as he drank half a beer and, as he guzzled, his throbbing head began to slowly relax until my hand no longer detected any movement at all.
Blew my fucking mind.
And, at the same time, it undermined the way I understood myself in terms of being an alcoholic because THIS—Skip’s physical withdrawal was alcoholism (an outright victory of my own alcoholism—I understand now—but nonetheless, that’s how I, age 26, sober since I was 20, eventually thought myself out of having alcoholism). I was drunk within 6 months and Skip eventually stabbed himself in the femoral artery with a buck knife and, full of spite and malice, painted the walls of his apartment with his own blood before he bled out and died.
So look for similarities; not differences.
That’s the advice lingering in that little parable and it’s sound advice. But here’s the deal. I’ve told this story twice—three times now—and something gets lost in translation when I use that story simply as a utilitarian means to instruct. Something is missing and its residue clings to me and makes me want to scream.
And I think it’s as basic as wanting people to know that Skip is more than a prop for me to illustrate 12 Step clichés. I loved that guy. I miss him. I think about him every single day and I just wanted to yell that somewhere and be heard. I was a witness to his life and worth on this inexplicable planet. And I hate him too. And there is something both constant and unstable about a mad rushing river that engenders comfort as one hurls profanities at the moon.