When Alcoholism Flowers, Everyone Can Smell It

New Orleans–I walked along the Mississippi last night, having had barbeque followed by a beignet and coffee at Café Du Monde. (Cliché, I know, but there are reasons clichés become clichés.) This is my fourth visit to New Orleans, twice as an active alcoholic, and now twice as a sober man. A few notes:

My first visit was in the early ‘90’s with the Northern New England Social Change Theater, an improv theater group I acted with.  Our focus was adult literacy, and we performed all over the country, oftentimes for library organizations—they do, after all, have a vested interest in getting more people to read.  Here, we performed for, I believe, the American Library Association’s national convention. Much of my time was spent in the French Quarter drinking, but I do remember running into an old girlfriend in an elevator. Shannon, I’ll call her, had been a sprite when we’d dated 10 years before, and now she’d become a librarian. When she got on the elevator, she told me how much she’d enjoyed our performance, and called me by name. I didn’t recognize her until I looked down at her name tag—she’d gone from a waif-like girlhood to about 250 pounds. If I squinted just right, I could see her inside all that flesh, and I remember wondering what had happened.

If I could have looked honestly inside myself, I might have asked the same question. After all, I’d transformed myself from a moderately heavy drinker into an alcoholic, guided by a need to guarantee access to alcohol. At that point, 15 years before I got sober, I just needed to maintain my supply but, little by slowly, the need to drink would overcome me.  I don’t have any great insights here (nor do I there or there or Way Over There), but I am struck how gluttony is not a secret vice, but alcohol abuse can be hidden for a long, long time. Of course, once it flowers, everyone can smell it.

My second trip was in the spring of 1995, with my wife. Without going into great detail, I’d done a lot of damage to our marriage, and this trip away from our, at that time, two small kids, was a chance to save our marriage.  (Briefly—because the reader will start to make assumptions—I’d been an absolutely selfish horse’s ass, having developed feelings for another woman. Although I didn’t act on them—at least not fully—I took an A-hole’s route and confessed my feelings to my wife, devastating her. Worse, I then climbed on a high horse of righteousness by telling her I’d been “honest” after all, so she was overreacting. The trip worked for another five years, but I know I planted the seeds of our eventual divorce that spring.)

My third trip was with a friend a couple summers ago. She was coming to town for a convention, and asked me to come along. Her story is not mine to tell, but our trip ended with her sneaking out of our room and spending the night drinking in a bar, celebrating her birthday and coming back at 6 am. I’d always thought of her as a normal drinker, but that kind of stretches the definition of “normal” beyond all recognition.

This trip, I’m visiting Roots of Renewal, a nonprofit that works with formerly incarcerated folks. So far, alcohol hasn’t entered the story, and this morning I gathered with 30 other alcoholics for an hour or so.  Think of that meeting as my way of pruning back my alcoholism, so it doesn’t stink up my life again.

2 responses to “When Alcoholism Flowers, Everyone Can Smell It”

  1. Mr. Robot, S2. Ep 9, 42:24 “I had this dream… It was good at first. Exciting. There was this beautiful woman (substitute money, alcohol, sex, drugs…). Sexy even. But then, man did it go downhill fast. By the end I was being choked underwater.” Then 44:12 “In that dream I had, when I was being drowned, it was when I stopped fighting it, I finally let go and stopped struggling so much… That’s when I survived.”


  2. My Father’s jail has many cells and everybody gets one, which of these has He prepared for me? For life is a short warm moment, then death is a long cold rest,..We get a chance to try, in the twinkling of an “I”……Eighty years,…with luck,…or even less!


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