I thought it would get easier, but it doesn’t. In fact, it gets more difficult. For some reason, it seems that the more time that passes between the day I took my last drink and whatever day I’m trying to write about the issue of alcohol abuse, the less comfortable I am with the subject.
Maybe it’s because I’ve said everything I’m capable of saying about it. Maybe it’s because of the hostile reaction I get from certain readers whenever I delve into this murky and sensitive area of the human condition.
I used to think that my status as a recovering alcoholic - drinkless for 15 years as of July - gave me a modicum of expertise on the problem of alcoholism. But every time I write about it, I get a pile of letters from people telling me that I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.
Then, too, there are the letters from people who angrily dismiss my comments as the rantings of a “reformed drunk,” a sanctimonious former booze hound who can’t drink and therefore doesn’t want anyone else to drink.
I don’t know who these people are or why they get so upset about my viewpoint. I sometimes get the feeling that maybe they’re ticked off about something else altogether and just grab any opportunity that comes along to read me the riot act.
Whatever. Here I go again. Thanksgiving marks the official opening of the holiday drinking season, and the issue of excessive drinking must be addressed.
It has always seemed to me that people who normally don’t drink much or at all suddenly start tipping a few around Thanksgiving, and then drink right through the December parade of Christmas parties and into the No. 1 drinking night of the year: New Year’s Eve.
People who drink too much to begin with, meanwhile, crank up their boozing to an even more dangerous level during the holiday season. And those who are flat-out drunks before the holidays seem to go totally berserk.
There are two kind of alcoholics: binge drinkers and daily drinkers. Binge drinkers - those who get ripped for a few days or a few weeks at a time - are especially susceptible to the lure of the holiday drinking season, for the December party circuit offers the prospect of a four-and-a-half-week binge.
I was a daily drinker. By the time I poured my last vodka and grapefruit juice onto the ground and walked into a New Jersey rehab in 1982, I was drinking more or less around the clock.
Please believe me when I say that alcohol had long since ceased to be enjoyable. After many years of drinking myself into a coma every day, booze had definitely lost its charm. One of the recovery gurus I met around that time said I was “drinking for maintenance,” which means that I was drinking only to stave off the excruciating effects of alcohol withdrawal.
Why am I telling you all this?
My purpose is simple. Today, on the eve of the official opening of the holiday drinking season, I am hoping that at least one alcoholic will read this and see that he is in the same predicament I was in 15 years ago: sick, desperate, ready to be nudged in the direction of confronting the problem.
I can remember sitting in front of the television in the middle of so many endless nights, futilely trying to drink myself to sleep, and seeing those relentless commercials for rehabs, hospitals and assorted substance abuse clinics. I remember thinking that the commercials must have been speaking to me, that they were on the air specifically to force me to evaluate my situation. I’m certain that they helped soften me up for a friend who grabbed me by the lapels, figuratively speaking, and insisted that I get help.
Back then, there was always an excuse to put it off. One of my favorites was: “I can’t quit before New Year’s. I have to drink during the holidays.”
The holidays never ended, of course. The new year brought only a renewed commitment to the irresistible misery of drunkenness.
So. For that one alcoholic who’s waiting for a nudge, for that one bleary-eyed drunk who’s yearning for a glimmer of hope in a life defined by hopelessness, here’s a bulletin: You can stop drinking now. Today. Right this minute.
You don’t have to drink during the holidays. You don’t have to wait until after New Year’s to call AA or check into a rehab.
This is your nudge. I wrote this for you. And I won’t even make you read the nasty letters.