Farewell to a friend

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.

13 thoughts on “Farewell to a friend

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Like any loss it brings memories flooding back and it is a sad and poignant time for you. But you gave a lovely account of your friend and the importance he played in your life. He opened the door to a better fulfilling life for you but just could not sustain it himself. I wish you well and thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Today I attended Michael’s funeral. It was a day of very mixed emotions for me. Firstly I was saying goodbye to a friend, but I was also meeting up with many hospital colleagues that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years.
    Like John I drank fairly regularly with Michael, and worked with both Michael and John over the years.
    Michael was the first person I knew well who had attended AA. As Michael was getting better I continued to drink heavily, spiralling out of control. Michael saw the illness in me but I was in total denial. We wound spend many a night in the nurses home discussing alcoholism. I just wasn’t interested, and I’m afraid to say I did actively encourage Michael to drink. I take some comfort in the knowledge that Michael didn’t lift the first drink in my company.

    As my alcoholism spiralled out of control, I recall after a night shift going to an early morning bar and getting really wasted. I then drove to a local bar nearer my home, where I preceded to swallow a large amount of tablets that I had “acquired” from the ward drug trolley the night before. After another unsuccessful suicide attempt, I changed jobs to try and have a fresh start, but guess what, my alcoholism followed.

    My life has been one big “blackout” after another, and my recall is very poor.

    One day at a time I will be 18 years sober in September. I have completely turned my life around. Life is not perfect, I have everything I need. I have a fairly enjoyable job, a nice home, and a loving partner.

    The quality of life that I enjoy today is down to the beautiful fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s also down to people like John and Michael.

    John clearly demonstrated that there was a fruitful, enjoyable life without alcohol. Michael sadly demonstrated the misery, pain and anguish that comes with active alcoholism.

    Both these men were powerful examples to me. I had to choose. Who did I want to be like.

    I chose John’s path. A pathway that I have never regretted taking. I still find it very difficult to cope with people I love who can’t get sober. I can only carry a message, I can’t carry the person.

    Tonight I have prayed to my higher power to embrace, and keep Michael safe. His suffering is now over. I met Michael’s son for the first time today. The resemblance is uncanny. Michael should be a proud man, to have produced such a hansom, well adjusted young man.

    Michael and John I salute you, and like you John I am writing this with tears running down my face. I pray John that God keeps us sober for a “wee while yet” so that we might say a simple few words to help someone who suffers from this vile illness known as alcoholism.

    The following is a poem that was written by Michael, I’m not sure when. It was printed on the order of service.

    Michael’s poem

    In the darkness of the light, I breathe only shadows.
    To glimmer the reality of a day is a concept which is black.
    At night it is all so bright, to see the horrors of my reality in all the colours of pain

    A pain that is like a fire, all consuming and unpredictable.
    A fire which is internal and external, destructive and cleansing.
    To burn in the fire of pain.

    To be reborn and rise from the ashes of a new birth,
    To be free from the womb of fire, to be free from a place of evil.
    To be purified and humbled, to be grateful and patient.
    To begin again, new and happy, bright and cheerful,
    Reborn and redefined.

    Resurrected in a light of contentment.
    O’ to be enlightened.

    Sleep tight my friend. X

  3. John- I am so saddened by your loss of a dear freind who helped you recreate your life of sobriety. I can only imagine how difficult it was to have to watch Michael slip back down that slope, while there was nothing you could do since he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) heed your advice or participate in his own recovery. It is a very sad thing.

    That said, I hope that it brings you some measue of comfort knowing that you HAVE helped many others (myself included) to change their lives for the better by giving up drinking.

    Thank you for being there for us, and I’m sure Michael was grateful that you tried.

  4. It is always a great tragedy when you try and fail in helping someone.My best friend whom i had tried to help died in a car crash on boxing day 2012 as a result of overindulging on alcohol the previous night., leaving behind a beautiful 10yr old daughter.I have to see that child every day and ask myself did I do enough ?, Hand on heart I can say I did.Its a cruel disease . so know that my thought are with you in your loss and the people who Michael left behind too ,God Bless

  5. Thank you, for sharing your thoughts about your friend, so unfortunate for him and his family. It brings it home to me how serious this disease of alcoholism is.

  6. I am a woman that has alcoholism all around me and I always have. Steming all the way down my family tree. From my Scotish side. I myself stuggle at times with alcohol. When I am upset I drink way too much and never know when to stop. When I am happy I drink no more then I should. My point is that alcohism is so hard to overcome and I comend anyone who beats it and they should be proud. So sorry for the loss of another man due to alcohol.

  7. Hi John, thank you for writing and sharing such a great and moving blog. As a recovering alcoholic, It is always deeply touching when someone passes away from alcohol abuse. It is such a sharp reminder of what can happen if we make even one vital mistake in our recovery journey. Even more so when it was a friend and such an influential figure in the life of someone whos doing such a great job in helping to change the lives of so many for the better. i have no doubt you have help saved many lives through you website and helped change many many more for the better. Even though he is gone, his spirit will live on in your memories and he will have helped in a small way to make you who you are today.

    My sympathies and prayers goes out to ye x

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