25

aa 25 year chip

A little over a year ago — March 28, 2015, to be exactamundo about it — I posted a blog here entitled Through the Glass, Darkly, about attaining my twenty-fourth year of sobriety. April 1, 2016 marked twenty-five years, and as I write this I’m eight days in what I hope will be the twenty-sixth year. I don’t want to repeat everything I said last year — not when you can get it from the handy-dandy menu on the right side of this page — but I’ll mention again a couple of things that are important to us as writers and primarily as people.

The big one is that an addiction problem — substance, gambling, sex, or pick your poison — is insidious. It is the vampire that is tapping on the window of that wonderful domicile you call “me”. It can only get in if you let it in. Once you do so, it takes over your life without your even knowing it. If you think you have an addiction which has taken up residence in you there is a test developed by a brain trust at John Hopkins Hospital that will give you an idea. Go ahead and take it. The first time I took it I answered fifteen out of the twenty questions affirmatively (that’s not good). I laughed, put the test aside and kept drinking. I neglected getting a physical for years because I was afraid that my drinking would show up in some blood results. I didn’t have a problem, however. Nope, not me. I was ultimately fortunate enough to have a road-to-Damascus moment that knocked me off of my high horse and onto my brains. I was fortunate. But I should have paid attention to that test, a few days before. Take a look at it, and believe what you see.

The big problem leads to a large one. Writers like everyone else have deadlines and responsibilities. I assure you that the punch list you make for your day/week/month becomes a lot less important after that first beer or joint or trip past the casino of the day. There is a reason why there are no clocks in casinos or windows in taverns. We lose our concepts of time and of what needs to be done and yes, of what has to be done. Writing does not lend itself to multitasking. It is a harsh mistress, demanding full attention. You can’t do it while you’re feeding the vampire.

If you decide that you have a drinking problem, try an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. You would not believe how many meetings are going on around you every day; take a look at the AA website. There may be one within walking distance of you. Try it out, keeping in mind that each meeting tends to develop its own personality. Disclaimer: I never used AA. Why? It’s not important for purposes of our discussion here. I recommend AA, however, because of all of the people I know who have stayed sober using The Program. Go for it. As far as AA is concerned, look at it as calling AAA, but for you, and not your car. If your problems lay elsewhere, from gambling to drugs, there is a program for you modelled after AA, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous. If you think that you might need something a bit stronger than a meeting —and those meetings can get pretty strong — go to your physician for a referral to a rehabilitation program. So, regardless of whether you choose a sober living program like the one by Ascension House – Structured Sober Living, or you regularly attend AA, you need to get help to support you in your transition from alcoholism.

The families of alcoholics and addicts in general are often forgotten. While those suffering from alcoholism are always urged to go to places such as Pacific Ridge for their recovery, many people forget just how traumatic it can be to be the loved one of an alcoholic. If you’re living with someone with an addiction, then run, don’t walk, to Al-Anon. Al-Anon is for families and friends of alcoholics. Meetings are easy to find. You will be amazed at all of the people you will meet who are going through the same things that you are. A practicing alcoholic is the prince of lies. I have seen an alcoholic go into a loving, happy family and have everyone at each other’s throats within a week. If that is happening to you, it is not something that you have to deal with alone.

I am not trying to bring your weekend down. I want to elevate it. If you think you have a problem, you probably do. This can be fixed. I did it. I do it. So can you. You will still hear that vampire tapping on the window every night, but you’ll know not to let it in.

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46 thoughts on “25

  1. Congratulations, Joe.

    Years ago, I hosted a series of TV interviews on behalf of AA and Al-Anon due to the principle of anonymity (the organization needed a non-member to host the program). The response to the program was overwhelming even among the staff at the TV station.

    We all know someone who suffers from this insidious affliction. In fact, we all likely have a family, or extended family, member who is an alcoholic.

    Thank you for this public service post.

    • You’re welcome, Sheryl, and thank you for your kind words. Are those interviews that you hosted for TV available anywhere online that you know of?

  2. Joe, congratulations. Statistics suggest that there’s not a reader of this blog that isn’t affected by this or a similar problem, either in themselves or in a family member. Thanks for being open about it and for your thoughts on addressing it. Blessings.

  3. Thanks so much, Richard. That means a lot. Blessings to you as well.
    Re: statistics…I just checked and within fifteen minutes of me there are 25 AA meetings today. That indicates that quite a few folks out there are working on a problem. I wish each and every one of them the best.

  4. Congratulations, Joe. I have watched several members of my family battle alcoholism. Some of them lived long lives. Some, not so long.

    You used the word insidious. That describes it.

    • Thank you, Jim. I’m sorry for your relatives. The damage an alcoholic causes radiates far beyond Ground Zero.

      Your statement reminded me of something I’m starting to see in obituaries… “(Insert name) died expectedly as the result of substance abuse.” Indeed.

  5. Congratulations, Joe. That’s a huge achievement. My first husband was a nasty, violent alcoholic. I went to Al-Anon once and spent the entire time bawling like a baby. It took years for me to find the strength to walk away from him. Alcoholics have a way of convincing you it’s your fault. And I was young. I left at 25 years old. The story that followed is a bizarre, often terrifying, convoluted tale. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

    • Thank you, Sue, but congratulations to you for walking away, particularly at a young age. Some people never do. My wife — who did not know me when I was drinking — asked me at one point what she should do if I started up again. I told her to run like the wind, but to light me on fire first. I was serious, and still am. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Congratulations, Joe. That is monumental. Thank you for sharing your insight. Even today, many of the lay public believe that writers have to have substance abuse problems plus mental/emotional/spiritual issues. Thank you for being such a strong role model.

    • Thank you, Lance. I think that public expectation you mentioned — which is spot on — seems to apply to everyone in the arts, particularly writers/journalists and musicians. Ross Macdonald, a dean of the hard-boiled detective genre, made a statement to the effect that drinking doesn’t help writing, it hurts it. Just so. Thanks again.

  7. Thank you and congratulations. Nineteen+ years here, and there isn’t a day I don’t count my blessings.

    • Ann, you are welcome. And thank you and congratulations to you as well. And thank you especially for the reminder to count blessings…if I started when my feet hit the floor in the morning I’d still be going non-stop when my head hits the pillow at night.

  8. Congrats Joe. Thanks for your honesty here. Had a family member (had) who was what is euphemistically called a “functioning alchoholic.” Yes, he was, in that he held a job his whole life, never hurt anyone in the family. But his drinking made him a sad depressed man (or maybe just intensified the depression itself) and that is the memory that haunts me still…the waste of it all.

    • Thank you, Kris. With respect to your family member, I think you really nailed it when you put forth the proposition that the drinking intensified his depression. Many alcoholics self-medicate in that way. I’ve equated it to pouring kerosene on a fire on the theory that since kerosene is wet, it’ll put out the fire. It is indeed a waste.

  9. Thank you, Joe, for your heartfelt share. I’m an aspiring writer and a long time “friend of Bill W.” One my best decisions was to turn my life over and attend my first AA meeting 23 years ago. I read TKZ faithfully every day and felt moved to comment on this one. Blessings to you.

    • Blessings to you as well, Lou. Thank you for your kind words and particularly your daily visits. I’m happy that AA has worked for you, and so well. Let us know when that “aspiring” becomes “published”…we at TKZ always want to hear good news!

  10. Thank you for the revelation on “prince of lies”. A light bulb moment for me as our family gatherings, (Christmas, birthdays) have been canceled one by one over the last year. My husband had said it was my step mother’s drinking that was to blame for all the strife, I didn’t understand until now. So, thank you. Know that you have helped “at least one person” today.

    • Randi, you’re welcome, and thank you for sharing. I’m sorry that you have this problem in your life. I’ve seen families, as well as friendships that endured for a half-century, torn apart over this. Hopefully everyone in your life will find a way to come back together at some point down the road. Thanks again.

  11. Joe, I have a family member that is in denial of a drinking problem. I’m forwarding a copy of your post hoping it will light a fire under him. I worry about his possible and pending health issues. Thank you and best wishes.

    • Frances, you’re welcome, and thank you for paying me such a high compliment by forwarding my post. I hope that it helps him in some way. If he is interested in talking to me please email me josephhartlaub@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to arrange that. Good luck.

  12. Way to go, Joe!

    An addict throws a rock into a still pond and the ripples reach every shore. We are all touched, and oftentimes body-slammed, by substance abuse.

    I know a number of now-sober writers who are also friends. They have an added depth of understanding and insight into the human condition that enriches their writing and the way they touch the lives of others. They went through the dark tunnel and emerged on the other side, wiser and better able to express the human struggle.

    Although I only know you from TKZ, I consider you one of those friends.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Joe.

    • You’re welcome, Debbie, and thank you for giving me a place among your friends. I hope you know that I consider you one of mine as well.
      Thank you for your kind words and good wishes as well.

  13. Thank you for this post, Joe. I also have an ex-husband, like Sue, my first. It only took me two years to walk away, but they were the longest two years of my life! The end came when he resorted to attempted physical violence and that was enough to scare me into walking away. I also know enough about myself to be aware that I have an addictive personality, and I must be diligent every day. I live in Las Vegas, NV and at one time was addicted to gambling and smoking. I smoked 3 packs a day! I was able to stop gambling by myself, but it took me to almost die to quit smoking. I developed a pulmonary embolism that put me into intensive care. I was in the hospital on an IV to dissolve it for 2 weeks. When I got out, I tried to smoke again, like an idiot. I couldn’t breathe. I put it out, and have never picked up another cigarette. That was 10 years ago this year. I quit gambling a few years ago, in fact, the last time I was in a casino was to visit friends and family that came into town. I don’t have any problem not playing. My roommate and I go grocery shopping together, and I usually end up waiting for her, in the front of the store, where the video poker machines are. I will sit at a machine, turn my back on it, and read my Kindle. It is very empowering to abstain. Every day we say no, is a victory. Congratulations to you! 🙂

    • Rebecca, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own history. Congratulations to you as well for overcoming your own problems, particularly getting out of that relationship. With respect to your own addictions… I have had any number of people tell me that quitting drinking was easy compared to quitting smoking. As far as gambling goes, I’ve never had the urge but have seen families destroyed by it. Stay the course and thanks again for sharing.

  14. Thanks, Joe, and kudos on your sobriety. I have a cousin who’s now incarcerated after his 9th DUI conviction. I plan to visit him at the prison downstate in a couple weeks when I’m in the area on business. I’ve never been to a prison before so this will be a new experience for me. His parents are elderly and infirm, and his older siblings have nothing to do with him. He has no wife or kids of his own. Quite likely I will be his only visitor during his time there. I’m not sure what I’ll say to him, but in my letters I try to be supportive of his struggle against his addiction. Fortunately he is taking religious instruction and hopefully that will show him a better path. As the saying goes, there but for the grace of God go I.

    • You’re welcome, David, and thank you for your kind words and most of all for the kindness you are extending to your cousin. Your visit may well be a tipping point for him that makes a difference in his efforts to maintain sobriety. Prayers for your cousin. BTW, about prison…I cannot understand how anyone, after being in one — as a visitor or an inmate — would behave in any fashion other than one that would insure that they would never return.

  15. For some reason, Joe, I look forward to your posts on TKZ most of all. Now I think I know why.

    Thank you and God bless you richly.

    • Aw gee…Dave, don’t tell anyone, but you’ve got me choked up here. Thank you so much for your kind words and wishes, not just this week but every week. God Bless You as well. He has blessed me far more and far better than I could ever hope to deserve.

    • You’re welcome, Jim, and thank you for your kind thoughts. High praise indeed!

    • Jordan, thanks so much. You’re the besty of the bestest. You’re never far from my thoughts, either. Hope all is well. Let’s catch up sooner rather than later.

  16. Dr. Tom, thank you so much. I don’t know if I totally deserve your kind words — I know I don’t, actually — but thank you.

  17. Yes, congratulations, Joe! You are an inspiration to all those who struggle with addiction. I am lucky, none of my immediate family has a problem with any addiction (other than coffee), but I have watched a few cousins struggle with alcoholic spouses. My heart goes out to both the addicted and their families.

    • Thank you so much, Cecilia. It’s a special problem for the families, particularly because there’s this feeling that there should be something that they can do. And there really isn’t anything to do, unless and until the addict wants to initiate the change. You can’t quit for someone; they have to stop themselves. I’m on the fence about the worth of interventions, although I know of one person who was inspired to sign himself into rehab immediately when he heard that an intervention was scheduled for him that evening. Good luck to your cousins, and thanks again.

  18. Keep on truckin’ brother. I look forward to meeting in person some day, and sharing a nice cold lemonade!

    • Basil, that would be great. Lemonade, root beer and coffee are my beverages of choice these days. Thanks, man!

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  20. Enjoyed your post and your openness, Joe. Don’t answer this if you don’t want to but I’m just curious. Do you write characters that are alcoholics or addicts? Or is that dangerous territory for you which could open that window a crack where that vampire might get a finger hold?

    • Thank you, Diane. That is a great question. The short answer is “no.” There are two reasons.The first is that I am a little to close to the subject matter. The second is that no one has quite covered that territory quite like James Lee Burke in his iconic David Robicheaux series. I happened across the books as I was making my first few stumbling steps toward daylight — there were only four of them out at the time, so I caught up quickly — and saw myself on every page. You can’t get any better than that. Thanks for asking.

      • Thanks for the answer, Joe. That’s probably the wisest way to go. For one of my more recent projects I tapped in to old memories/feelings to write the main character who is struggling to get and stay straight. It’s the first time I’ve written a character like that. But now this project is getting more attention than any other I’ve written. (It’s a screenplay. I’d like to write the story as a novel.) I think the interest is because of the strong emotions and themes. But to keep going back there feels like I might be playing with fire. When I read your piece I wondered if and how other writers deal with this. (No worries — I’d let the story go and not write it before I’d let a project take me back there in real life.)

        • Thanks for the update on your projects, Dianne. Please let us know from time to time how things are going.

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