I Am an Alcoholic

I am an alcoholic.
I am a painter and a priest,
a baseball player and a bricklayer,
an engineer and an English teacher.

I have built bridges and buildings,
bathtubs and brooms,
ballparks and bongo drums.

I play tennis and tubas,
the radio and the horses,
Pac Man and pinochle.

I am an alcoholic.
I live in the city and on the farm,
in Oakland and Orlando,
in convents, condos and cars.

I come in colors,
I am old and young,
woman and man.
I am defenseless, poor,
a millionaire.

I am an alcoholic.
I am anybody, anywhere.

– August, 1986

My life and jobs have overlapped with many silhouettes of gifted individuals who hide their alcohol and drug consumption. They try desperately to blend into their surroundings. Often, members of this large and eclectic population go through parts of their lives attempting to imitate “healthy people.” Yet, fear and loneliness haunt each of their days.

I’ve never been an expert at picking these people out. When I talk to those I think may be alcoholic, they discuss basketball, their jobs and the accomplishments of their kids, much like I do. Sometimes, they get anxious or nervous. Sometimes, they feel under the weather for no apparent reason. Of course, who hasn’t felt that way before?

Many of my alcoholic friends perspire more than my other friends do but, darn, I sweat a lot too. And, although I appreciate the fresh breath of individuals who have recently Scoped or Listerined, when that antiseptic smell follows them around all day, I can’t help but suspect a cover-up.

Some people I know can drink a lot without appearing to get high. They like to see everyone else with full glasses. They are generous and gregarious. Are they all alcoholics?

Recently, I had an acquaintance tell me he wasn’t going to consume alcohol for all of February (the shortest month). I’ve heard this before from him. Sometimes, he sticks to the plan, sometimes he doesn’t. Often, I don’t know.

Another friend of mine consistently misses out on her work and social engagements, even when it’s a big deal. When I ask her why, she gets defensive and tells me I’m not her dad. She’s right, I’m not.

Today, after more than 40 years of thinking I knew more about alcoholics than I did, I’m left with one overriding belief. There are many wonderful people who endure great physical and emotional pain, cause unnecessary suffering to those they love and die early while all the time desperately attempting to look as if they don’t have a very curable disease.

I’d like to whisper to each one of them to come out of their silhouette. It’s okay.