Monday, June 9, 2014


This summer, my friend and fellow Vermonter Gary Miller (keep an eye out for his excellent forthcoming short fiction collection Museum of the Americas) will be running a weekly writing workshop for recovering opiate addicts at the Turning Point Center in Burlington. He has asked me, a person living in his own long-time recovery, to visit in July.

Drugs did play a part in my long addictive disaster, but only a comparatively small one. Nonetheless, and though some disagree, I believe addiction is addiction, addictive behavior addictive behavior, and that that behavior is hallmarked by persistent denial that any problem exists. The phrase I could quit anytime is repeated, daily and all over the world, by people who don't have the proverbial snowball's chance in hell of quitting without help.

One has to "bottom out," to recognize that he or she faces a problem unsolvable by his or her own personal resources, before anything like light will show at the end of that hideous tunnel. We must recognize that help is available, chiefly, from those who have passed from their pitiable, hopeless demoralization into a life where hope is a reality and not a mere concept.

I don't know what I'll talk about at the Turning Point next month. I've found it best in such a circumstance to show up– and  to be honest. For one like me, that's harder than it may sound, because it's too dangerously tempting to present a neat, coherent story– which can too often be no more, excuse me, than bullshit. We drunks and dope fiends, after all, have made a lifetime out of bullshitting ourselves, telling ourselves neat and clever stories, ones that have blinded us from crucial truths.

At the risk, however, of self-contradiction, I'll offer a story here. It's from an in-progress collection of short essays, one that deals, precisely, with the curse of denial.

Old Country Song

My pal George and I have been in recovery from booze for about the same span of time. The way he tells his own story, or stories, however, has for some reason always especially resonated with me. He remembers most vividly one particular night, and whenever he does, he says his guts twist again, and mine twist too.

He was playing pool, and he reports how he’d lost all feel for cue and ball. He was shooting with this friendly Indian guy named Dee at a gin mill in Wyoming. It’s easy enough to be friendly when you’re robbing another guy blind. For the five hundredth time he’d run way over his limit of gin. He recalls that the racket inside the barroom seemed loud, then soft, like the sea when it washes in and out.  He always shakes his head, which that night had turned to mush. Again.

He kept telling himself he could play this game, damn it all, if only his normal light touch hadn’t flown south.  Of course he knew it was wrong in the first place to be in that stinking hall, what with his wife back there at the Roundup Motel with their three-year-old son. 

That morning the little boy had said, Wyoming Friday is Japanese Tuesday.  Maybe his wife had told the kid how time changes around the world.  The child was heartbreak cute and all confused.  Who wasn’t? 

By George’s account, a tiny worm, one that could bite, hid under the clack of the balls and that ocean sound. The worm felt like conscience: this had been meant for a family trip. Still, too many years would go by before the damned worm got real big and gripped his neck and sat him down, and chewed right into his pride and broke him but good.

The worm would hiss and growl beside him when that time came; he’d be holding a handle jug of booze, a gun in the other hand; he’d be thinking about putting an end to everything. 

Just a few hours before the pool game, already wasted, his shaky morals gone, he’d tried to talk a barmaid into bedor into his car, actually.  But she’d had her eye on some other dude.  So what the hell?  He didn’t want her. Not now anyhow. 

All he wanted was the lightness of touch again. At various points, he swore he’d stay away from another drink just long enough to get himself straight and get back on his game, and that would mean this mess was over. He’d be there with the family, on vacation, out west. He flat knew the change he needed was coming, and soon. When it did, he’d take his money back and then some; every time he got beat he got surer of that. It was nuts. He was nuts. So he might as well drink. He had to, of course. Christ, it was what he did. 

He was too strong for the fucking tight pockets, strong off the banks, strong each time he hit a lot-of-green shot.  And he always seemed to get stuck behind the 8-ball.  Dee, his two-hour buddy, kept on being friendly, but why wouldn’t he be?  Dee knew the touch was gone, if it ever did exist.

George had to be done with all this. Then he’d haul his sad ass back to his wife and son.  But he kept drinking, putting the balls in the rack, sticking his glass on the rail, and setting himself up for good, hard breaks.

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