Today is the funeral of someone I was once very close to. He was someone who helped me to turn my life around and showed me that life could be fun, even without alcohol. We drank together which was generally a disaster, as we were both performing alcoholics. Yes I admit sometimes we had some fun. I think we both convinced each other and ourselves that we were having a ball but I know that at times I was dying inside.
One day he no longer wanted to go drinking. He had gone to AA. His brother in law had convinced him to go to a meeting and he had taken to it like a duck takes to water. I continued on my merry way until my world caved in, yet again.
One night when we were at work, we both worked night shift in a psychiatric hospital, we met up and the contrast between us was really marked. He looked happy, relaxed and healthy, he had been sober for around 6 months. I looked awful, strung out, haggard and coming apart at the seams, I had been trying to control the booze to come on duty.
That night he talked about how he felt since joining AA, about how he was more at peace, happier with himself and most of all sober. Although I had to almost kill myself with booze before coming to AA to stay, he at least planted a seed that I should give it a try.
When I did eventually come to AA and get sober, Michael was a huge help to me. We talked endlessly about who we were, and who we pretended to be to get by. Maybe for the first time in my life I felt that I could be ‘real’ with someone. Around AA, along with Michael’s boyhood friend and fellow AA member, Jimmy, we became known as the 3 musketeers.
Michael introduced me to a traditional Jewish tailor and I opened an account. I bought made to measure suits for the first time in my life. I began to find fun and enjoyment in sobriety that I could never have believed was possible. Much of this change was made possible by Michael, his friendship and his joie de vivre.
It was through Michael that I first met Fiona, who was to become my wife. He convinced this broken, anxious man that he could date and fall in love sober. For all these things, I loved him like a brother and for a couple of years we were almost inseparable. But one day that changed.
I suppose I saw it coming for a while. Michael became increasingly blasé about his sobriety and started taking chances with what he ate and drank. Almost inevitably one day he started drinking. At first he believed that he could control it, but it was not long before he was as hooked as ever and all his assurances about being fine were clearly nonsense.
There followed a couple of years where he would drink, his health, family life and mental state would all deteriorate. I would get a phone call, more than once at 3 in the morning, to help him. At first I would rush over there, I wanted to help but I also wanted my friend back. I would take him to meetings, sit and talk to him for hours, spend long periods walking, just doing anything to keep him from drinking. He would get sober again but he did not last very long, a couple of months at most.
The last time I saw him he had again phoned me early in the morning. I again went over to get him but this time he was still drinking. He sat and stared at me and I could feel the hostility and resentment pouring out of him. I had stayed sober, at that time I was about 9 years sober, he hadn’t and he resented it. The light had gone out of his eyes and we looked at each other as strangers. The next day I took him to a meeting and passed him on to someone else. That was almost 20 years ago.
I did not know then that I would never see Michael again, maybe if I had I would have done something different. Although when I really think about it, probably I wouldn’t have done anything different, I had tried already everything that I knew. Michael was one of the unfortunates that the Big Book of AA talks about as being “Constitutionally incapable of being honest with himself”. On that last meeting he started telling me stories of some things that he had done. I just looked at him in shock, he was telling me about things from my own life as if it was his. He could no longer distinguish fantasy from reality.
I would hear stories of Michael from time to time. He had become a shadowy figure walking the streets of Glasgow. Today he is at peace, the demons of alcohol can no longer torment him. When I think about him I want to think about my friend, my brother in sobriety, the man who helped me so much, who showed me how to live sober. I’m typing these last words with a deep sense of sadness and tears running down my face as I think of the potential that he had and squandered but I am also thinking of the friend that I lost to booze. Goodbye Michael, rest peacefully now, you are in my thoughts brother.