…and I’m an alcoholic. Last Sunday, April 1, marked the conclusion of my twenty-seventh year of sobriety. I’ve had six additional days of sobriety as I am typing this and I’m hoping for another one as you are reading this.
I’ve talked about alcoholism and sobriety before in this venue — most recently two years ago — and I’m going to do it again. If you are writing and working on your twelfth book or the first five pages of your first one you might think that four or five glasses of wine help to lubricate the creative glands either while you are writing or before you even start. Fair enough. All I ask is that you keep yourself open to the possibility that your intake — if it is regular and excessive — may be holding you back rather than helping you.
Addiction can find a home with anyone but especially with creative folks. Evict it, and it just hides in a tree in the backyard and waits patiently for an open door or window to creep right back in. It can take a while to recognize that you might have a problem if indeed you have a problem. I met a man in 1988 who told me straight up, within ten minutes of our introduction, that he was an alcoholic. “I’ve been sober for nine years!” he said. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, Nine years! Without a drink?! I can’t even go for nine days. It’s a good thing I don’t have a problem! Yep. That’s what denial looks like, and I’m not talking about the river in Egypt. It took me three years after that and a near tragedy to get myself together.
Actually, make that several near tragedies. It is a miracle I’m sitting here. I’m glad that justice is a rare thing. If justice were in great supply I would be dead or in prison or on the street, rather than waking up in a nice home in a great neighborhood and having the privilege — and it is a privilege — of sitting here writing something for TKZ and having you read it.
It took me a while to figure something out. If you are going to write you have to treat it like you would a job, even if you’re not yet making any money from your endeavors or are making just enough to keep going. You wouldn’t show up at a regular job drunk or high — not with all those employee drug tests — because you would get fired. Don’t show up at your writing desk drunk, either. You’re on the road to firing yourself from the best job in the world.
If you think you have a problem — whether it’s with alcohol or drugs or gambling or whatever — you probably do. There is a test that you can take that might give you some guidance. The argument about whether alcoholism is a disease or a character disorder has vigorous and excellent proponents on both sides. It ultimately doesn’t make any difference. It’s a problem and it won’t go away on its own. You need to take a step. What is now hysterically funny to me is that a couple of times I almost stopped but didn’t because I didn’t know how. That’s funny, in a way. But it’s also pretty sad, in retrospect. You would be surprised at how many people needing to take that important first step down the road to sobriety feel the same way. If you feel comfortable going to your physician about it, please do so. If you reflexively shy away from doing that, please try an AA meeting. If you Google “AA” and your city you’ll find a schedule. I guarantee that you will find several. Some target specific groups. Others are quite the mixed bag. I attended a meeting several weeks ago in support of a friend attaining his first year of sobriety. There were doctors, attorneys, bikers, mechanics…but we were all siblings for an hour or so. If you don’t feel up to that just yet, then email me. I promise that I will get back to you immediately, do whatever I can to help, and take our conversation to my grave.
One last thing…if you do not have an addiction but have a family member who does then run — seriously, run — to an Al-Anon meeting. Again, just Google “Al-Anon” and your city. You are almost certainly one hour away from feeling less alone. You might attend one meeting and wonder who these strangers are who lead a life identical to yours.
That’s me today. Thank you for being here. You all are the best. And keep writing. Don’t let anything — like a bottle — or anyone, including yourself, get in your way.