Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Hi, my name is Crawdaddy, and I'm an alcoholic."

Some of you know there's been quite a bit of drama in my life lately. I've hesitated to talk about it here, but, in the past week, it has exploded pretty seriously, as has my marriage with Crawdaddy. We've talked (and talked, and talked, and talked), but I haven't told you all what's going on. I offered Craw the opportunity to tell the story, and he took it. Herewith is what he wrote.

Hello readers, it’s me, the Crawdaddy himself, comin’ at you from beautiful downtown BigCity. Emma asked me this morning if I wanted to write a guest post to talk about where I’m at and what I’m dealing with, and I graciously accept.

Today’s topic is alcoholism.

My name is Craw, and I’m an alcoholic.

(“Hi Craw”)

I had my first taste of alcohol when I was about five or six. My parents were heavy drinkers (truth is, my father was a mean alcoholic himself) and we lived in a two-flat above my aunt and uncle, also heavy drinkers. There would be summer parties, and people would leave half-finished drinks all over the place. It was only natural that I would pick up these drinks and see what all the fuss was about. My love affair with alcohol was immediate. Fortunately, by the age of eight we moved into a single-family house and other than Thanksgiving and Christmas, the party was over. When I was thirteen, I started to experiment with alcohol again. I found out immediately that I had a much higher tolerance than any of my friends. I could drink a six-pack of half-quarts and not pass out or puke all over myself (though, I did a lot of that later on).

I was never comfortable in my own skin, and alcohol took the edge off, however it’s not easy to get alcohol on a daily basis when you’re a teenager. Going to the BigCity Public Schools made it possible and affordable to get almost any other drug, and so pot became my drug of choice for many years to come. New Year’s Eve 1977 came and there was no pot to be found, but one of our dealers had some acid, so my friends and I did acid that night and it was the beginning of a new love affair for me. I did so much acid after that it’s a miracle I’m not completely insane, in a sad, Sid Barrett kind of way.

When I turned twenty-one, I went back to alcohol because it was more socially acceptable. I still continued to take massive quantities of drugs, and I had a serious pill addiction by then as well. My father died when I was twenty-three and there are bits of his passing that I just don’t remember. Valium erased those memories forever. When my supply finally ran out, I went through three days on intense physical withdrawal, and I decided that I had a problem with pills and I stayed away from them.

I got married soon after to a nice Jewish girl, K (I was raised Catholic). Anger and resentment ruled my life, and I was viciously mean to her. I blamed K for everything that was wrong with my life, and it wasn’t long before I began to have an affair with a woman named R. R came from a family of alcoholics and enablers, so being around me must have seemed perfectly natural to her. It was mostly a sexual relationship, but I have to admit that beyond the sex there was a profound connection that even the fog of alcoholism couldn’t hide.

I lost my job in November of 1990, possibly the worst time in recent history to be looking for employment. It did, however, give me a lot of free time to indulge my favorite activity, drinking. I became a 24-hour a day drunk at that point. Any idea of boundaries I had up until then completely vanished. I had always drank to get drunk, and now I wanted to be drunk all of the time. I would drink before job interviews. I would drink before showering in the morning. I would drink instead of eating. I just drank.

K and I had divorced in June of 1990. There wasn’t a no-fault option in my state at the time, so we agreed to use mental cruelty as grounds. When we went before the judge and her lawyer asked me the standard questions (did you ever intentionally hurt her, did you ever stay out all night and not tell her where you were, etc.) I answered yes to all of them. It occurred to me at the time that I was not committing perjury, that I really was guilty of those things. It was a shameful experience.

We had been seeing a marriage counselor, and as often happens when the marriage is not saved, I continued to see the therapist on my own. I came to the conclusion in December of 1990 that I was an alcoholic. R had since dumped my sorry ass. The final straw was when I told her I would be at her house in an hour, and three days later she called me to find out what the Hell had happened. I had no memory of those three days, but I don’t think she believed me.

I decided that I would quit drinking on January 1, 1991, and I did. I never told anyone that I had quit, I just stopped. It was about a month later that I looked down at my hand and was surprised to see that I was holding an open beer. My drinking wasn’t as bad as it was before I had stopped, it was worse. In desperation, I decided to quit again, maybe a month later. This time it lasted a week, and once again my drinking was worse. A month later came my final attempt, and it lasted all of a day. Again, my drinking was worse.

I was terrified to stop at that point. I think I made an unconscious decision to drink myself to death. Clearly I had no willpower when it came to alcohol, so there was no hope I’d ever give it up. I might as well finish the story.

Around late June I have some idea that I called Alcoholics Anonymous. They apparently told me to sit by the phone and that someone would call me back. I waited for almost an hour, and then I went out and got drunk. When I came home I had a message from a Marty C, with his phone number. I threw the scrap of paper on a pile of other papers and forgot all about it.

My final drunk was the most terrifying ordeal of my life. I won’t go into detail, but it came three days before my 29th birthday and it scared me so bad that I actually stopped drinking to get drunk. On my birthday, my sister gave me a six-pack of Sam Adams (aren’t enablers wonderful people?). I drank probably one that night, and a few over the course of the next few days. On July 11, 1991, I had a phone conversation with R that sent me over the edge. Reflexively, I grabbed the last Sam Adams out of the refrigerator and was about to open it when I had what is described in AA as a moment of clarity. My whole life flashed before my eyes, and it was an ugly sight. I put the bottle opener down and said a simple prayer, “God, I don’t know if you even exist, but if you do I need help, I can’t do this on my own.”

(Emma is surely wincing here, but so be it).

Immediately, a voice in my head said, “Call AA, call Marty.” I did, and he answered the phone at 11:30 in the morning. He wasn’t even supposed to be home, he usually worked Thursdays, but on that particular Thursday he was not only home, he was sitting right next to the phone when it rang.

I went to my first AA meeting that night, scared to fucking death. I had no idea what to expect, but it wasn’t this. I saw happy, smiling people. There’s no way I’m in the right place, I thought to myself. Then a girl my age began to tell her story, and I swear it was my story. I could instantly relate, even to things that hadn’t happened to me. I have not had a drink of alcohol since that night, almost fifteen years ago. AA did for me what I was unable to do for myself. It gave me a simple program to live a good life. It taught me the value of honesty, of doing the next right thing no matter what the consequences.

If only I had listened. After being sober for a year and a half, I turned my back on AA, on the program and the people who had literally saved my life. I stopped working the AA program and began working Craw’s program. Craw’s program allowed me the luxury of fudging the truth a little, here and there. No harm, no foul, I told myself. I pointed to the fact that I wasn’t drinking as proof that I was living a good life.

I got remarried, and for a while things were mostly happy, the occasional violent outburst notwithstanding. In August of 1997, my son was born, and I was at the end of my rope. I blamed my wife for it all, and when she walked out with my son I pointed to that and said it was now okay for me to do whatever I wanted. I became self-will run rampant, a selfish person. I met Emma around this time, and somehow she saw enough good in me to include me in her life, even though early on I hurt her terribly, and owned up to a terrible lie. Truth is, I only owned up to the lie because I knew it would eventually come out, and if I wanted to be with her I had to. I kept several other lies to myself, though. In spite of repeated difficulties, we were married last year. Only she can say why she even wanted to marry me, surely she had to have some inkling that I was not where I needed to be to make a marriage work, certainly not the kind of open marriage we had decided on.

She has alluded to an outside relationship that developed earlier this year. She has also alluded to a certain amount of drama and pain. I’m here to tell you that her references were barely the tip of the iceberg. My head exploded so violently that it spilled out all over the people in my life, in a ruinous way. I was terrified that she was going to leave me, despite her assurances that she was not. Emma, simply put, does not lie. But deep down inside of me, I was afraid that she would catch a whiff of what I was really all about, and that in contrast to this truly wonderful guy she was seeing on the side that I would be unlovable. I did so many crazy things that our marriage was already crashing upon the rocks.

I started going to AA meetings again, because I knew that AA had screwed my head on once, and I was hoping it could do it again. I found that going to meetings made me feel worse, not better, but I kept going. I started to have so many epiphanies about myself that I began to name them (E1, E2, etc.). I’ve since lost track; there have been so many of them. Among them is the fact that I’ve been extremely dishonest, and that I violated the trust of one of the most important people in my life, Emma. I also realized that I still blamed myself for my terrible relationship with my father (the mean drunk that he was). I realized that I have an extremely unhealthy attitude towards sex. I decided that I needed to get right with that last one, so I asked Emma if we could “take sex off the table,” not make it an option for us, to give me the space to find my way back there.

AA meetings were still making me feel worse, though. I knew I had to get a sponsor, if for no other reason than to give me someone to talk to. I had met someone at a meeting on Saturday, and I knew he would be at a meeting Sunday night so I went there. He didn’t show up at first, but when he did I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to him. I was so out of my fucking mind at that point that I had to get outside. I was standing on the curb, in the Northwest suburbs, and I turned to face north because the breeze felt good on my face. It was snowing, but I didn’t care. All I knew was that I was in a world of pain, and I was right back where I started from only this time I wasn’t getting the sense of immediate release that AA did for me the first time around. I was desperate, and I prayed a desperate prayer, “I need a sign to show me where to go from here, something to tell me that I’m on the right path.” At that exact moment I focused my eyes on what was in front of me, and it was, quite literally, a sign. The sign said North Star (it was a sign for an auto repair shop, but that’s irrelevant). Immediately I felt the release I had sought. The words “north star” have always been important to me, a sort of reference to navigating through life.

I knew I had to own up to the lies I had been telling the people in my life. I met my ex-wife for lunch the next day, and I confessed to a horrible thing I had done to her to make her hate me enough to just leave me. It felt good to get it off my chest, and she hugged me and forgave me. Then I went to my noon meeting downtown.

AA meetings last for an hour. An hour is a long time to sit and listen to people, and about fifty minutes into the meeting my mind began to wander. I was thinking about the night before, and I had just about convinced myself that it was my imagination when I heard the guy who was talking say, “And my higher power has always been like a north star to me, a way to navigate through my life.”

I about fell out of my chair. I have never in my life ever heard anyone say that at an AA meeting. I cannot believe it was coincidence that I was standing on that spot Sunday night, facing the sign, asking for a sign, and then seeing the sign. I cannot believe it was coincidence that a man who has the same first name as I (believe it or not, my name isn’t really Craw, a shock, I know) would actually say the words north star in my very next AA meeting.

I didn’t go home that night because Emma was out and I couldn’t bear to sit at home and wait for her to return, if she did at all (I’ve rented a small studio to use as a office for my new job). She called me when she got home and I asked her if I could drive her to work the next day. I had a conversation in mind, but when I woke up yesterday morning I knew that the conversation I really needed to have with her was completely different. I owned up to the lies that I never told her about early on. I cannot tell you what those lies were, if she ever decided to share them that is her business. They were pretty terrible lies, though, if such a thing could be even quantified.

She is furious with me. Our marriage is completely on hold right now, and it’s not clear whether we will ever have a real husband/wife relationship ever again. Financially, we have to stick together. She’s basically stuck living with me, a man who violated her trust to the core, because we cannot afford to split. I can’t even pretend to understand how that must feel.

While I desperately want things to be right with us again some day, I have to accept the fact that I have no control over the outcome. The first step of AA goes, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” While I wasn’t drinking for thirteen years of my sobriety, my alcoholism was rampant, and I am coming to terms with the fact that I’m also powerless over people, places, and things, and that my life is unmanageable as a result of trying to control them.

I got a sponsor yesterday, and I’m meeting him for lunch today to talk about me and the program. I went to a meeting last night at the same place where I had seen the sign, and an old Irishman I have known since my very first AA meeting asked me if I had a sponsor. I told him I did, a guy I met at a meeting downtown. He asked me who it was, and when I told him he laughed and said he’d known this guy since he was a little kid, they used to be neighbors. Another coincidence….? I don’t know.

I’ve got a lot of work to do right now. I need to work the program of AA from the very beginning. I’m starting all over again. I have a new job, and I cannot fuck it up because Emma and I would be financially ruined. I also need to make amends, every day, to the people I have hurt. For Emma, those amends are financial, so the job part is even more important.

I’m at the beginning of a great, spiritual journey here. It’s painful, and scary, and my first instinct is to run away. But we can never really run away. Whatever the future holds, I want to be able to face it as the man I know I can be. Whether or not Emma is by my side as my wife, partner, or even just as a friend, is truly irrelevant. What counts most is what’s inside of me, who I am at my very core.

Readers, wish me well.


Blogger landismom said...

Wow. Amazing story. Emma, I'm sorry that you are going through this, and I hope you are okay (or at least on the way back to okay).

9:03 PM  

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