Breaking up with pot: When the going gets weird

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“When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.”

— Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing at The Super Bowl”

My family has what I sometimes call “The Irish Condition,” a long history of generations of problem drinkers or out-and-out alcoholics.

I was aware of this right from the start.

Born into an Irish-Catholic middle-class family in the smack dab middle of the 1950s, in Lansing, I was the third of four kids. Middle, middle, middle. 

Beyond all the middling, I found great comfort and solace in both music and books. I was a little bit precocious in both areas, and I thank my sister Linda for introducing me to books like “Manchild in the Promised Land” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by the time I was 12. Other titles such as “Flowers For Algernon” and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” were sprinkled among the series I sought out as a young boy: “Tarzan,” “Doc Savage” and “The Hardy Boys.” I gobbled them up while listening to the records my brother Tom brought home, anything and everything by the Beatles. 

Drinking was such a norm in my family that I never questioned it. Cocktails after work and late into the evening seemed to be what grownups did. My parents’ socializing always included a great deal of alcohol consumption. Most nights I thought nothing of it. But some nights the monsters came out. Mom and Dad could get into horrifically ugly verbal arguments that could go on into the wee hours of the morning. They’d say terrible things to each other. And I always had a sense that drinking had a lot to do with their transformation from loving, reasonable people into the pathetic, hateful creatures they often became after downing several Scotches. 

Meanwhile, compounding my parents’ drinking was my Dad’s depression. He was, at times, suicidal. One day, as he prepared for a car trip across the state, Mom came into my bedroom and started throwing clothes into my suitcase. 

“Your father’s going to kill himself. You have to stop him.”

I was 13. 

Next thing I was in the car with Dad and surrounded by a deadly silence as we whipped down the highway. Miles passed before I could muster the courage to say, “So, you’re going to kill yourself?” My first interpretation as a therapist. 

His response? “Your mother is an alcoholic.” 

He didn’t kill himself. 

My parents lived into their late 70s and died of natural causes. All the drama of my childhood receded as they aged, and at the end of their lives I knew they’d had an enduringly deep love for each other. But it sure wasn’t easy. 

Music and books really kept me sane through some tense days at home. 

When my high school years arrived, I had a new friend, Renaldo, who had eclectic musical tastes; he introduced me to the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. I started to buy records by Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, which led me next to the blues, and then jazz. Jazz became a lifelong mistress. 

And on the heels of jazz blossomed my interest in girls.

As early as first grade I thought maybe I should be a priest, but then realized that I certainly could not be a priest because priests didn’t marry, and I already had a first-grade crush on lovely, raven-haired Roberta. 

By the time I got to high school, my obsession with girls had peaked. Yet I was also painfully shy. In those days and in my school, guys and girls didn’t mix as easily as teens seem to mix today. But at school dances you could ask a girl to dance, and if she said yes, you could even touch her. 

If the “yes” was elation, the “no” was crushing. 

A friend of mine encouraged me to get a couple of cheap bottles of wine from a store he knew didn’t card buyers. Andrew was Greek and could pass for 18 (which was buying age back during the era of the Vietnam War). We’d go into the store, pick out a couple of fruity flavors and be on our way, chugging the bottle and then whisking into the dance. 

I was a better self after drinking. More confident, better dancer, the girls looked better, I looked better. If I got a “no” after asking a girl to dance, it didn’t bother me, I’d just go on to the next one. 

It got to the point where I would drink before every school dance. And after a couple of bad experiences with drinking too much, I started to make rules for myself. By the time I got to college, I thought I’d better restrict myself to no more than three drinks an evening. 

Sometimes I broke that rule. It didn’t occur to me at the time that even feeling like I had to make rules for my drinking was probably a bad sign. 

I didn’t smoke marijuana in high school. I was aware of it, but it wasn’t around or as prevalent as it would become even a year later, when it suddenly flooded the school I had attended. 

The first time I smoked, my younger brother initiated it.  We were listening to Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (foreshadowing!), and I kept waiting for something different to occur. Nothing did. I didn’t feel anything, and I didn’t know if I was doing it right. 

Sometime later I was out with friends and one of them had a couple of joints. We smoked one and then went to see a science fiction film in the theater. The movie was “Zardoz,” starring Sean Connery. So I must have been 19 years old. After we left the theater, we smoked the other joint and drove around town. My hometown had mysteriously shifted into a kind of science fiction landscape. Everything looked different. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

We got the munchies so we decided to stop at a donut shop downtown. As I pulled in (yes, I was the driver), I noticed three police cars in the parking lot. The little donut shop was loaded with cops! My friends kept saying, “Don’t act suspicious,” but I realized that as I floated into the store the police would immediately know what was up. So I went back to the car, then drove around the block and picked up my buddies after they came out. I was super paranoid. 

I’d already experienced so many of the side effects of weed: the euphoria, the depersonalization, the stimulation of humor, creativity, paranoia, hunger. 

I went to college and considered majoring in political science or history — basically shooting for a pre-law degree. After my heart broke in the first semester (unrequited love), I read a primer on Freud, then another primer on Jung. Next I took a psychology class and the rest actually is history. 

Here were answers, I thought, that explained myself and everyone and everything else. College was intellectually exhilarating. I was still reading for pleasure, between all the assigned readings and texts. I declared a psychology major and accrued enough credits for an English minor. And since I enjoyed reading novels so much, I started to think about writing them.

Always appreciative of the aesthetic, I also stumbled into a love of art. I took a class in art history and sat in a dark room with other students, watching dozens of slides the professor would project onto the screen while he described a new way of looking at history and culture and politics and religion. Through the prism of art. College was the best. I made a few friends and then found a girl who wouldn’t break my heart. 

After I went out with her once, she had a joint and suggested we smoke it before we made out. As much as I liked making out, making out on weed was even better, and I wanted to get high before every make-out session. Which eventually led to sex. 

I still loved to read, and I still loved music. And getting high seemed to help in both of those areas, as well. I felt like I could understand existential philosophy after smoking. I also felt a better connection with the later period of John Coltrane. In other words, avant-garde music made sense. 

I didn’t start using marijuana on a regular basis until I was almost done with college. 

I experienced the benefits many users say they get from pot. I felt like it helped me open those “Doors of Perception” that Aldous Huxley wrote about. And so many of my creative heroes used drugs: Charlie Parker, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. The Beatles. 

Many people find pot beneficial. And I did too. Up to a point. 

I tried to keep enough marijuana on hand that I could smoke it whenever I’d see my girlfriend, who had graduated and was living on the other side of the state. I only saw her once or twice a month. 

One evening I was walking with a friend back to our house off campus. It was a beautiful fall day and the leaves were falling. I had just finished up my shift working at the college library, a job I loved because it allowed me to be around books and once I finished my work I could study and get paid for it. 

I asked my friend what we should do that evening.

“Let’s get high!” he suggested.

“But we got high yesterday,” I said. “You can’t get high two days in a row.”

“Yes, you can,” he said. 

And that was that. Thus started a string of days that ran into years of getting high every day.  

I had only a few weeks before I finished my final class, an independent study on existential psychology, and left campus. Once again, I’d be living with my parents and my brother in Lansing. I was still dating Sue, the girl I’d been dating through most of college. It was a long-distance relationship, an hour and a half drive from where I was living. I was happy when Sue told me she’d applied for a teaching job in Lansing.

I got a job at a local psychiatric hospital, working the midnight shift. I thought about Ken Kesey, the author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” going through early experiments with LSD with the Army during the day and then working on a psych unit at night, writing his great novel.

The day I interviewed, the head nurse took me back into the “locked unit.” She took out a heavy set of keys, which it turned out every employee had, and led me into a room that was more like a glorified closet. Hanging on the wall were leather belts and cuffs — restraints to be used on patients if they attempted to hurt themselves or others. Or became unruly. Restraining the patients would be part of what I did in my job as a psych tech.

Unlike Kesey, I hadn’t used LSD (yet), but I started smoking prodigious amounts of weed. Usually moving through an ounce every week to 10 days. It was a stressful job, and the night shift made it an extra twist of crazy, reporting for work at 11 p.m. and punching out at 7:30 a.m. Night became day and day was night, and I lost all sense of when it was necessary to be straight for work. I started to smoke before work and after. Surprisingly (now), I was never confronted or written up for this behavior. It was 1977 and maybe people were just uninformed about marijuana. Or maybe the rest of the staff was using something, too. 

My parents went to the desert for the winter, and my brother and I lived in their home for the few months while they were gone. He worked the day shift for a car dealership. Eventually a spot opened on the day shift for me. I was excited to start working with increased staff, around the therapists and getting a chance to interact with patients when they were involved in activities. 

The night before my first day shift, my brother came home from a night out. He said he assumed I was asleep, since I would have to be awake around 6 a.m. to make my 7 a.m. start time. But to his surprise, I was still awake at 1 a.m. Watching TV and smoking a joint. 

“Tom,” I said, taking another toke, “you’ve got to watch this. Tommy Lasorda’s on Tom Snyder.”

He told me he had to get to bed and that I should too, since I had to be up so early. He said that as he went to sleep he could still hear me toking up. “Toke, toke, toke … .” (Just say that out loud while inhaling and you’ll get the idea of the sound of toking).

The next morning, he got up at 7 a.m. and thought I must have left already for work. When he walked by my room, he saw me spread out on the bed, totally zonked out. 

“Mike! You’ve got to get up!!”

Oh, shit! I got up and went downstairs right away while my brother jumped in the shower. 

As he headed downstairs he assumed I had gotten dressed and ran out the door for work. As he reached the bottom of the stairs he could hear, “Toke, toke, toke … ,” the telltale sound of me drawing in smoke before heading out the door.

That’s how much marijuana had become a necessity for me, and how it had affected, even eclipsed, my best judgment. 

The psych ward job was a profound experience. I saw psychosis up close, as well as all sorts of other psychological suffering. I developed a sense of what was and was not helpful to people. I made some good friendships among the staff and gained some very valuable training. 

Because Sue was moving to Lansing, I asked her if she’d marry me. She said “yes.” I was 22 and Sue was 24 years old. Some of my friends thought I was too young and too wild to get married. I recognized I partied quite a bit, but I thought it would all work out.

I’d intended to work “in the field” for a few months or maybe a year, and then enter graduate school so I could start practicing therapy. 

That period stretched into two years. Then three. And four. Finally, at five years out of undergrad, working at the psych hospital, I applied to get into graduate school.

This illustrates a couple of very important points. For one, I believe people who have an issue with marijuana don’t experience the kind of devastation many other addicts experience. Instead, heavy marijuana users just hit the PAUSE button in their lives. It’s just hard to get any traction, to follow through on your goals, to get motivated, have initiative, and get stuff done.

The other point is something else I was experiencing: Even though I had been a big fan of reading, I had gotten to the point that I read less and less. I had also stopped enjoying reading. This was connected to my short-term memory, which was shot.

I’d get to the end of a page in a novel and realize I didn’t remember a word of what I’d just read. I knew if I couldn’t read, there was no way I could do graduate school.

Reading wasn’t the only place memory problems showed up. I’d walk into a room only to wonder, “What did I come in here for?” or I’d be in the middle of telling someone a story, usually joint in hand, and then stop and ask, “What were we talking about?” I was baked. 

Even though my wife had been one of the first people I’d gotten high with, she soon stopped, especially since she had started teaching. She’d still have some drinks, but marijuana didn’t fit her perception of what a schoolteacher should be. I kept the degree of my using hidden, as best I could. Even though we sometimes struggled financially, I always found money for grass.

When I was 26 years old I was accepted into the Masters of Social Work program at Michigan State University. I had it together enough to recognize that I had to quit smoking pot. When I did, just as I started graduate school, there was an overwhelming craving to keep smoking. What to do? Alcohol. I did alcohol, which soon became a substitute: first a quart of beer a night, which rapidly became two, then four to six 12 oz. beers. I was consuming an impressive amount of beer.  All the empty cans were evidence of my growing habit. My wife noticed. The amount escalated. Hard liquor made sense: You could fit a 6-pack’s worth of alcohol in one tumbler.

Weirdly, I functioned well enough on alcohol to get through two years of graduate school. It didn’t seem to affect my memory the same way marijuana did. On the other hand, my drinking escalated rapidly. I wasn’t adhering to the rules I’d made myself as an undergrad. And now I was glorifying drinking, the same way I had with marijuana. 

I started to work in an outpatient clinic, an HMO in Lansing. My interests tended toward the psychodynamic approaches of Freud and Jung but pulled even stronger in the direction of a new way of thinking and treating people: systemic and strength-based work. The emphasis was on positives, instead of negatives, and suggestions that we view the individual in a larger context, being pulled by forces from larger structures around them, such as their families. 

I attended trainings by Salvador Minuchin and invested in three years of intensive post- graduate study with Family Therapy Associates in Ann Arbor, undergoing live supervision by Charles Fishman, who coauthored a seminal text in family therapy, “Family Therapy Techniques,” and was a senior trainer at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. Being exposed to this level of expertise and getting personalized feedback assisted me in becoming a competent therapist. 

Ironically, at the same time, I was drinking more than ever, and once I was out of school I felt like it was probably OK to start smoking pot again. 

There are a couple of concepts I want to introduce here. First, the idea that many therapists tend to work in their own wounds. That is, they become “The Wounded Healer,” a concept explored by Carl Jung. 

Shamanism was another role, developed by Native Americans, a healer of body and spirit who had often been wounded with the same afflictions he or she was attempting to heal.

Naturally, I became interested in substance abuse work.

Once, at the clinic where I was working, the secretaries responsible for placing people with our group of therapists wished to get a better idea of who should work with whom. So they asked us if we’d make a list of our specialties.

The next staff meeting we had a handout of the list, each therapist’s name, beside which was a listing of their interests or specialties. They might as well have asked us to describe ourselves and our lives.

My specialties were families, couples, individuals and substance abuse. 

The depressed, anxious therapist was working with depression and anxiety. The borderline therapist was working with borderlines. And so on. 

If that wasn’t enough of a clue, my drinking had also intensified.

One night I couldn’t get to sleep. I thought that if I got up (at 2 a.m.) and had a stiff drink it might help me drift off. So I did and started watching music videos on a new channel called MTV. The first Scotch went down so smoothly, I had another. Then another. Suddenly it was 5 a.m. and I realized I was having a hell of a party and was supposed to be at work in two hours. 

Sleepless, drunk, I showered and headed to work. I found the schedule of a colleague who was the primary substance abuse expert, and I wrote my name in his schedule. He came out of his office, saw my name, and laughed.

Taking him aside, I said, “No, I really need to see you.”

Tom (same name as my brother) was a short guy just a few years older than I. Puffy faced, he was a chain smoker and probably drank 10 cups of coffee a day at work. He was not in recovery himself, which seemed to be a rarity in those days. A great many therapists and counselors who worked in the substance abuse field did so following their own recovery. Wounded healers. 

Tom took me into his office and asked me what was up. I told him I was worried about my drinking (mentioning nothing about marijuana). 

Tom asked me a bunch of questions. Did I have a family history for alcoholism? How much was I drinking? Did I sometimes drink more than I intended? Did I try to stop or cut down, but was unsuccessful? (Yes, too much, yes, yes.)

At the end of his questions he looked at me and said, simply, “You’ve got it.”

Hearing that you’re an alcoholic is bad news. It’s news I’ve had to deliver to so many people since that day. 

He went on to explain that I should probably quit drinking. But I was early enough in the process that I might try to control my drinking. And maybe I should just switch to pot.

I didn’t tell him I’d switched to alcohol from pot in the first place because I was smoking like a chimney. I didn’t tell him that. 

I focused on the idea that I might control my drinking.

ASHES, ASHES, WE ALL FALL DOWN

The next seven years I spent trying to control my relationship with substances. We’d break up and get back together. We’d only see each other on weekends. We’d only go on vacation together. We would be inseparable. We’d do trial separations. 

In the field, they call what happened next “the downward spiral.” Efforts to control my use, to slow down, to stop, varying my practices. What if I only drank beer? What if I only smoked marijuana? What if, what if, what if … 

All the while, my tolerance was increasing, and I was getting ever more deeply lost in the fog of addiction.

Addiction is a funny thing. The first person you need to lie to is yourself. And the lie needs to be convincing. The relationship with your substances of choice must be protected. And that protection takes the form of “denial.” And the building blocks of denial? Justification. Minimization. Rationalization.

I had the brilliant idea that if I bought marijuana in larger quantities, I could sell half of it to friends and keep the other half for myself. I’d be smoking for free. I invested in a quarter pound of pot, four nice fat happy ounces, with the intent of keeping two and selling two.

A month later I was out of pot again. I’d smoked it all myself.

There would be occasions when it got “dry”; there was no weed to be had. So I’d substitute with whatever I could get. I bought a little wedge of hashish and was smoking it in a small wooden pipe. Big-time users always have several items of pot paraphernalia. I kept what was left wrapped in aluminum foil.

The next day I returned from work and looked for the hash. It had disappeared. I looked around frantically and asked Sue if she’d seen it.

“That little piece of aluminum? I threw it out. It was trash, wasn’t it?”

I realized that the trash hadn’t gone to the curb yet. It was in a bag in the basement. Within moments I was crouched on the basement floor, pawing through the garbage, looking for that crumb of hashish wrapped in aluminum.

Then I heard Sue’s voice from the stairs.

“I wish you could see yourself.” That’s what she said.

Sometimes I would blame my use on Sue. If only she’d change, be more understanding, and so on. At one point she got into therapy herself. I was so gratified that maybe she’d change. After a few sessions I asked what she talked about in her therapy.

“You,” she said. “And how much you drink and smoke marijuana.” That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped to hear.

Maintaining the supply was a necessity. I would have to hit up different sources. One friend started to call me “Stratus-outta-potus” when I’d call him.  For a time I was purchasing my pot from a shoe salesman. I’d got to the mall on Fridays after work, walk into the store, and he’d tell me that he had an order for me, and I’d walk out of the store with a bag of ganja inside a shoe box.

But sometimes I couldn’t find any pot. There would be dead-end calls, or maybe “try me next week” and then, “call again on Thursday.” At the end of these stretches there would be all this anticipation. I’d finally score, get it home and roll it up and take that first hit. And then, disappointment. After all that build up, I was just high again. I’d have the thought, “I don’t know what I was looking for, but this isn’t it.” I hadn’t learned yet the distinction between craving and using.

I’ve heard we desire our partner most when they aren’t present. This was true of my relationship with marijuana. I most longed for it when it was gone.

Addiction is the condition of desire, standing in the presence of absence that leads to the absence of presence. It is the condition of craving. Dopamine is associated with learning, learning to associate pleasure with use of the substance. The learning, it turns out, is important. Addiction can and is learned and habituated.

We can reduce the thing to bubbles and atoms and molecules and electrical impulses, but then where is the poetry? The sheer experience of sensuality while using? The smell of the flower top being broken up, how it clings to you like the funk of sex, the aroma clinging to your fingers. Light the match and the quick hit of sulfur on the nostrils. Lucifer’s doorbell. The space the smoke takes in your lungs, and more, how it feels to expand once there, chasing the hit with a little more oxygen to hold it down, letting it flood blood vessels, feeling the hit take and give, the lung’s reluctant exhale, the smoke tainted brown with what tolls internal passages have to pay. The light fuzziness of the high itself, the shift in senses and cognition, things brought in and out of focus at once. To me this recollection can still conjure a light craving, remembering my distant lover.

Like I said, often when I’d take that first hit after an absence there was a feeling of disappointment. The craving was the thing, not the thing itself. Isn’t that interesting?

The weird disconnect was that even as my addictions progressed, so did my career. I no longer used before work. I was gaining a good reputation as a therapist. No one knew what went on after work, except maybe Sue.

Nothing is all good or all bad. In spite of our struggles as a couple, Sue and I decided to have a child. Maggie was conceived in love and was born in 1983, after we had been married six years. Since we both worked full time, there were periods when Maggie was in my care, and some of those times I was intoxicated. I never dropped her or stuck a pin in her while changing diapers, but I was impaired. I wasn’t as available emotionally as I should have been. And there were even times I drove after using marijuana or drinking. I hate admitting it, but there it is. My addictions eclipsed my best judgment as a parent. My daughter today says she doesn’t remember any of that, and I’m not sure I believe her. I remember it. And I regret it.

There was nothing dramatic about my descent. No arrests. No car crashes. Just coming home from a long day of seeing clients, taking that first drink and then a joint, and then another, and then another, deep into the night after my wife and daughter had gone to bed, which started to happen earlier and earlier.

My addiction played a kind of hide-and-seek with me. Sometimes it was invisible. It was, weirdly enough, in the middle of the night that I’d see it most clearly. At 1 a.m., at 2 a.m., I’d get the insight.

“This isn’t right.”

“I’m in trouble.”

“I can’t stop.”

One of my friends in the field of substance abuse would sometimes appear in a TV commercial around 1 a.m., telling people to call the hospital where he worked if they wanted help. 

At times I thought I needed to tape-record myself, imploring myself to get help because I knew the daytime guy would ignore the 1 a.m. guy who needed so much help. Like Jekyll and Hyde.

But I never did.

Eventually, I did get help. And here is how it happened.

JOINING THE NARRATIVE COMMUNITY

Carl Jung suggests that sometimes events align in a way that seems beyond coincidence. He calls this “synchronicity.” The universe seems to be opening for a new possibility to emerge. I think we also call these moments “miracles.” 

I had been in therapy for a while, completely underplaying my drinking and marijuana use (I usually kept a joint rolled in the ashtray of my car for a post-session smoke while driving home.) During one of my forays into sobriety, I ran into my therapist by chance at a social event. He remarked how good I looked, and I told him I hadn’t had anything to drink for months. He said he didn’t realize that had been an issue, but I told him that it had.

Now, a few years later, I was desperate and needed therapy again. I was taking a shower and thinking about what I was going to tell him about my drinking. Because I was drinking again. Drinking like a fish. And smoking. Like a chimney. 

I knew I would have to lie to him. 

Or come clean. 

And I couldn’t do that.

A rare moment of clarity occurred. I knew if I saw a client in the same conundrum that was spinning in my head, I would know she or he were alcoholic. In that moment, I knew I was an alcoholic. 

By now I was out of the shower, overwhelmed, drying myself off and crying. I fell to my knees and prayed to a god in whom I no longer believed. Maybe my Catholic upbringing had finally kicked in. “God help me please. I’m an alcoholic. I don’t know what to do.”

I finished drying myself and started to get dressed when the phone rang.

It was my sister. We were going to pick up our brother and his family from the airport the next day, and she wanted to figure out who would drive. But in the middle of our conversation she detected a tightness in my voice.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“I’m an alcoholic,” I answered.

“I am, too,” she said. 

That conversation started a two-year process of someone else knowing, someone who got to 12-step recovery ahead of me. Someone checking in with me to see how it was going. And someone who offered to take me to my first meeting after my last spectacular, public and disgusting drunk. 

My brother and I had decided to go to see a Detroit Lions football game. I bought the tickets and, almost at the last minute, we called Dad to see if he wanted to go. Of course, he did! He even offered to drive, since he’d just gotten a new car.

I was in a phase of trying to stop drinking. And I had stopped. For two weeks. I was hoping to smoke some pot with my brother on the way down to the game, but now that was out if we were going with Dad.

So we got to the game and I bought an extra ticket. I let Dad and Tom sit together and told them I’d come and look for them at halftime. I found my seat and since I was early, I decided to go and get something to eat before the game started. Standing in line I saw a life-sized picture of the coach holding a beer with the words DRINK RESPONSIBLY splashed across the poster. 

I just saw DRINK.

I had a large beer and then another. And another, and another, and another. 

Within an hour, I drank myself into a state of inebriation.

After halftime, my brother described how I presented myself to them at their seats. There was actually an open seat next to them. I could have sat with them all along. I was in a blackout so I have no memory of what I said. My brother said I was funny. He also said I was politically incorrect. I may have been doing my Richard Pryor imitation. It’s humiliating to try and imagine what I might have said.

But I didn’t know what got a hold of me. Sometimes I’d just start binge drinking like that, for what seemed no apparent reason. 

It’s not like I’m without insight. The prodigal son … who does Dad prefer … brotherhood rivalry … all of those dynamics were at play. But the bottom line was that my drinking was out of control, as it was so often those days, but this time it was public. There were witnesses. On the way home, I passed out in the car. Dad’s new car. And I woke up barfing. I barfed a couple of more times on that long drive back from Pontiac to Lansing. 

When we pulled into my brother’s home, I spilled out onto the lawn. My little nephew asked what was wrong with me; my brother quickly covered. “He just ate too many hot dogs.”

But my sister was there, too. The one who had told me she was an alcoholic too. The one who had been going to 12-step meetings for the past two years. 

I staggered home, which was about a mile away. Still drunk and humiliated. Hard to believe I could get that drunk and sick on only 120 ounces or so of beer. But I had. At the end of the alcoholic cycle, tolerance begins to go down, not up, as your liver starts to quit. 

I was lying on the kitchen floor, pathetically telling my wife that I was an alcoholic. She wasn’t disagreeing. Then my sister walked in. She asked if I was ready to go to a meeting. 

I told her I wanted to take a shower first. 

Not now, she said, but in the morning. Then she left.

That night was so horrible. I got sick another time or two. 

Even worse: I felt a despair I had never felt. The dark night of the soul. 

How would I live without alcohol? 

I knew I had to find a way, but life certainly wouldn’t be any fun anymore.

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