“Forty one years ago, this weekend, after three months of quart and a half a day, at just under 120 pounds, which followed the six-month stay in a Maryland State Mental hospital for the same, and no food for well over a week, in hallucinosis for most of that last week, in the same clothes for over three weeks, the same period of time with no bath, and looking like a refugee from Bergin-Belsen with leprosy, I finally got scared enough to jump in a taxi and ask the driver if there was any place in that town for drunks.
The driver spun around to see what the hell had happened to his cab, stared for several seconds, and told me ‘I know where to take you’, and I was dropped at the back door of a non-descript house in a middle-class neighborhood that I was much later to learn was one of Ralph Fox’s “Houses of Hope” in Lincoln, Nebraska. The driver told me to go in, that I’d be taken care of.
He didn’t even ask for fare – I found out the ‘why’ of that much later. I really have to wonder, now, while re-writing this, what would have happened had any other cab driver been there? I hadn’t thought of that until just now.
I really do not remember most of that next week, but a few things remain. I was horribly sick, shaking like a bass in a jazz band, terrified that I really was going to die at any minute, and didn’t know where I was.
There were a few others there, others I came to know later, Bud H., Truman, Jim, Hoyt, some others. They knew I was in deep trouble, but there was a problem – it was Labor Day weekend. Everyone with a car was doing holiday things with their families, so there was no one to take me to the State Hospital 100 miles away. I had no insurance so they couldn’t take me to the local civilian hospital, and when they tried to get me admitted to the Veteran’s Hospital the MOD who just glanced at me from about 30 feet way said ‘that son-of-a-bitch isn’t sick, he’s a God damn drunk, take him to jail where he belongs!”
They had no choice; they had to try to detox me at Hope. I remember them pushing fluids, including some God-awful mix of honey and bicarb, but mostly I remember shaking and walking, around in circles in the living room of Hope. I’d sit for a while, but then have to get up and walk around in circles. There was a TV in the room; those staying with me were ostensibly watching it while keeping an active eye on me.
After several hours I would occasionally try to pay attention to the show on TV, it was the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
Over the hours of sitting, shaking, walking, shaking, talking, shaking, some of the stories on the Telethon began to percolate through. A thought started to take shape. Most of those on the Telethon were kids, most if not all were going to die, through no fault of their own, and nothing could be done for them to prevent that.
I was going to die too, and possibly kill others as well. These kids were going to die no matter what anyone did – I was going to die because I was killing myself.
Those kids couldn’t change anything about their lives.
Maybe I could.
I have made it a ritual every year since then to spend at least some time watching the MDA Telethon – in memory, and in gratitude.
A lot happened that first year, one part of which leaves me still with one small, trivial but annoying resentment. You guys & girls who can say ‘on this date at that time in this city at that location I had my last (drugs of choice here)’ – I sorta hate you.
I can’t do that.
After that Friday night I was still pretty messed up, it wasn’t until Sunday of that weekend that I remember any substantial part of any of the AA Meetings they were taking me to, and over a week before I regained any functional control at all. It was apparently very obvious to those around me that even though drying out I was still crazier than a bedbug. They went with it though, anyway, and continued to ferry me to meetings & such.
On Monday they thought I was stable enough to get cleaned up, so they made me go down to the basement of Hope to take a shower, shave & clean up while someone washed my clothes – they were sick of smelling me. When I came back upstairs the guys in the kitchen reacted almost in shock on seeing me. Bud asked with some amazement “How old ARE you?!” I answered “26, why?”, and he broke out laughing, the others just more or less shook their heads wryly. Bud said “We all thought you were at least 60!”
Anyhow, they encouraged me to go to meetings and read the books, which I did; I had nothing else to do. I did, however, start getting into it, some of the stuff from the meetings was sort of making sense, and some of the reading was too.
But I was still me. I asked questions that were a little more off the wall than others had, and said things, my opinions on various, that made them shake their heads even more.
After maybe a month or so, and this is the beginning of the resentment, my unemployment checks from DC came in, I got three at once. I was relatively ‘rich’, for the moment. I paid my rent due so far ($25.00/week), bought some clothes, and decided I needed to take a bus 50 miles up to Omaha to ‘look for a job’. I told the guys, somewhat truly, that I’d tried in Lincoln, without success. I did. I put in a few applications with some employment agencies, but then stopped by a place I knew of from earlier years that wasn’t very rigorous with I.D. requirements (didn’t have any, all lost on preceding adventures) and asked for a coke. Waitress said they didn’t have any and I said “bring me a Schlitz then.”
I had to test this ‘loss of control’ thing I’d been hearing about, and I, thank whatever higher powers there be, failed again. Fortunately I had bought a round-trip ticket.
I slunk back into Hope that weekend’s Sunday, broke and hung-over, and somehow got away with it. I should have been thrown out, but they all pretended not to know. To this day I don’t know why they let that slide.
Now the explanation of the resentment – nobody really expected me to last, including me, we all knew I was just too nuts, so no one really kept track of the dates.
About a year later it started coming up, I was still sober, I should have an anniversary due. We all knew it was about a year – but on what day? Hell, none of us, and especially me, knew within a three week period when my last drunk was.
That’s why I always wait until well into October before picking up a chip, and why I have the resentment for you who know.
Anyhow, this is the weekend it all started, Labor Day Weekend, forty years ago, I began the climb back to some facsimile of humanity – but not on my own.
Thank you who saved my life – and gave me a new one.
Others may have done it themselves, I couldn’t, and I didn’t, I didn’t know how to.”