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Smashing the delusion

Dean, California

It's been an interesting week.

Last Saturday, at 6:35 p.m. Pacific Time USA, I hit 23 years of sobriety. I've been sober longer than I drank, and and I've lived a number of years longer than my father, who died a nasty alcoholic death when I was still a child.

Yesterday afternoon I got a collect call from the county jail from a guy we'll call Richard. I accepted. I've known Richard for over a decade, was his sponsor for a brief time, until we figured out that I wasn't helping.

Richard's incarceration problems began many years ago when, while drunk, he broke into someone's house to steal stuff but instead fell asleep on their couch. The residents found him the next morning, snoring, and the police took him away.

Heroin or alcohol, jails and prisons were home for most of a decade. Before his recent troubles, he had managed to get all the way through his probation. Eight years on the outside, except a few weekends in county lockup.

Now he's awaiting transport to the California penal system's screening program where they'll decide which facility will be his home for the next two years or so. He's most familiar with Folsom and says that is his hope. And he asked if he could write to me and if I'd put a few dollars on his books so he could get some necessities.

I said, sure, to both. Richard is a nice guy, not dumb, doesn't hurt people when he gets stupid with alcohol or drugs. He just won't surrender, admit defeat. During our conversation, Richard thought to ask how I was doing, what was new, etc. I told him.

For the past three days, I've spent a lot of time on the phone with my son Paul's mother (my ex-wife, who lives in San Antonio and whom we'll call Pat) and with Paul's girlfriend (the mother of his son Brandon, who lives in the San Diego area and whom we'll call Teresa). A couple of years ago, Paul decided that he'd rather drink than do anything else in the world. He'd tried rehabs and churches and counselors and . . . AA, kind of.

Teresa, whom he'd been with for 13 years, gave him an ultimatum (because he was unemployed and had started stealing her stuff and selling it to buy alcohol). Stop drinking or leave, she told him. She had two kids to take care of, Brandon and a daughter by a previous marriage.

Paul began living with the homeless folks on the streets. Now and then he'd call his son, or someone would see him around town. Until April of this year (2010). Three days ago, Teresa was in the Social Security office retrieving Brandon's number. She asked if the woman could look up Paul's information. The woman did, and informed Teresa that the records showed Paul as deceased.

It turns out that on the night of April 23, Paul and his homeless buddy Steve were in a city park, drinking, and Paul got violently ill. Steve got someone to call 9-1-1 and Paul went to the hospital.

Steve told the hospital folks that he was Paul's cousin, his only living relative. The hospital took Paul in, managed to resuscitate him and moved him to the ICU where he was in and out of a coma. He died on May 5 from "alcohol-related illnesses." He had cardiopulmonary "complications," his liver shut down, and the list doesn't stop there I'm told.

Paul's homeless pal Steve signed off on what to do with the body. Paul was turned over to the county, cremated, and his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Steve also claimed what few possessions Paul had.

Girlfriend Teresa and Mom Pat now officially hate each other, for all sorts of reasons. Since they're not alcoholics, they need someone to blame for not saying the magic word or offering that one last idea or strategy that would have saved Paul from an alcoholic death. Pat is also furious with the hospital and the county for not looking a little further for actual relatives.

And little Brandon, who’s 6, is brokenhearted.

From pages 30-31 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous:

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

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