Today I have been sober for 19 days.
Since returning from Chiang Mai I have been attending two AA meetings, more or less every day, and have started to slip into a daily routine, only broken by trips to Bangkok, as you will see below.
My first few days of sobriety were, as usual, a bit painful and I went through the familiar emotional fragilities that accompany early sobriety.
I had only been drinking for a very short while this time, although it hadn’t taken but a couple of days for the drunken blackouts to reoccur. But for whatever the reason, my efforts to wean myself off alcohol and remain sober haven’t caused me too many problems this time round (so far), and I have hung in there, at least up to the time of writing.
Yesterday, I went to Bangkok to visit a friend, Dave, who I mentioned recently in my blog, was in ICU with liver problems.
Dave has been described as a “gentle giant” by people who have come to know him . He is very tall, around 6ft 4inches, and the copious amounts of beer he has been consuming in recent years have caused him to put on a huge amount of weight and these days he must weigh well in excess of 100 kilos.
He is in his mid sixties
Dave is a very easy going person, who never raises his voice, never argues too forcibly, and in the 35 odd years I have known him, I have never known him to get really angry or to lose his temper.
He has been an alcoholic for many years, and it must have been over ten years ago that all his (then) friends rushed to hospital to pay their respects as it was widely believed, based on his doctor’s prognosis, that he would not survive his latest collapse with chronic alcoholism and liver damage.
But survive he did, although it was touch and go for a while, and during his recovery period he was as thin as a rake and photographs taken of him at the time are completely unrecognizable as “Dave” when comparing them with the enormous, rotund Dave of today.
During the past few years, it has been a regular occurrence for Dave to be rushed into ICU, detoxed, tranquilized and sent home with dire warnings that any more alcohol would be sure to kill him. But as with all alcoholics, Dave was in denial, and he even tried to convince his friends that the doctors had told him it was OK for him to drink a “few” small beers a day.
He has stuck to this fiction ever since, and even though the “few” beers a day became dozens of beers a day (as testified to by his wife), and finally to bottles of gin every day. He was still insisting that he wasn’t overdoing it, and that his alcohol consumption was very low.
As recently as a couple of months ago, I drove to Bangkok to see him on a regular basis, as he was showing signs of being very near the end. He was consuming a bottle of gin a day, plus beer, and was barely rational and unable to hold an intelligent conversation. I really thought his brain had become permanently pickled and I was preparing myself for the worst.
However, then, as on so many previous occasions, he managed to pull himself together for a while, and for a week or so, he actually stopped drinking completely. I happened to visit him at the end of one of these rare “dry” periods, having previously exhorted him to stay sober if he wanted to stay alive. At the time of my visit he promised me that he would.
While I was at his house, he sheepishly went into his bedroom, where he had a fridge, and returned with a small bottle of beer. He explained it away by telling me that he was having a particularly bad day, and he just needed a couple of beers to get through it, and swore blind that it would only be a couple and tomorrow he wouldn’t drink at all.
I told him that I didn’t believe him and that within a month he would be back to his previous alcohol consumption, unless he made the decision there and then to stop completely.
He expressed surprise at my “prophesy”, and insisted that this time he would keep his drinking well under control.
Following that visit, I called him every day, and for most of that time he sounded sober, and assured me that he was back working and taking an interest in life.
But about a couple of weeks ago, I detected increasing signs of “slurring” when he spoke to me, and then, the day before he collapsed, he told me drunkenly on the phone that he was back on the gin. I asked him to promise me that he wouldn’t drink any gin on the following day, and that I would come to Bangkok and visit with him. He gave me the promise.
The next day I couldn’t get hold of him on the phone, so eventually I went to his house in the late afternoon and found that he had fallen over, passed out and had been rushed into hospital.
I visited him the next day, and he was in a very bad state. He was already suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and the liver had now been cracked by his fall at home and was bleeding profusely. The doctors were getting ready to operate.
I drove back to Pattaya, and in the AA meeting the following morning, I told the group about Dave, and asked them all to remember him in their prayers.
There must be a “higher Power” taking care of Dave, as the next day I learned that the bleeding had more or less stopped and that the doctors had decided not to carry out any surgical procedures after all. He made further progress over the next few days, and finally, on Wednesday last, he was allowed to go home, on the strict understanding that he remained in bed for at least a week, as there was still considerable danger that his liver might start bleeding again if he wasn’t careful.
So yesterday I went to visit with him at home, and although he was still in a lot of pain, he was fully alert and able to talk seriously with me. He started by trying to claim that the only gin he had drunk recently was the one bottle on the day he collapsed. Both I and his wife told him that was complete rubbish, and that he had been on the gin for at least a week. He seemed to accept what we told him but still maintained he had no recent memory of what he had been up to.
The biggest surprise came from his wife. She told us that on the day of the accident he had been so drunk that he threw his mobile phone away, urinated on some books on the floor of his house, and worse of all, had been shouting appalling abuse at the top of his voice at his wife, and saying very horrifying and hurtful things to her. His wife told him that she could not tolerate such behaviour much longer.
So this “gentle giant” who never got angry at anyone, had resorted to vile, damaging temper tantrums when he was in advanced stage of intoxication. The disease had progressed to the point where it had spun completely out of control.
I told him that if he wasn’t careful, his wife would leave, and he would have no one to care for him. He acknowledged that this indeed was the case.
I asked him what he was going to do about his drinking. He informed me that he now realised that he had to stop forever. I assured him it was the only way forward and that if he picked up another drink, he would probably be dead within a few months. He nodded in agreement.
I also told him that if he picked up another drink, he would never see me again, and in all likelihood he would never see his wife again, and he would die a horrible, painful death, all alone.
On the other hand, however, if he really made an effort and was willing to quit drinking for good, then I would give him all the support I could muster, and would drive to Bangkok 2 to 3 times a week to be with him and encourage him in any way I could to remain sober
The next time I see him, which will be early next week, I plan to tell him that he must go with me to AA meetings, for there is no way that he will ever succeed in remaining sober without the help and support of the AA “fellowship”.
I truly believe this.