No, really. I don't want to write this one.
You know, there's a part in the 'Doctor's Opinion' in the Big Book which says "There are many situations which arise out of the phenomenon of craving which cause men to make the supreme sacrifice rather than continue to fight." Took me years to figure out what that was saying.
'The Doctor's Opinion' is in the very beginning of the Big Book, after the Forewards, and it was written by Dr. Silkworth, who worked at Towns Hospital where Bill Wilson would be admitted to dry out. Dr. Silkworth was very conversant with alcoholism, as he'd specialized in the field for a long time. It was Dr. Silkworth who introduced the idea to Bill that an alcoholic's body (brain) has a physical reaction to alcohol unique to the alcoholic -- that is, an "allergic reaction," as they put it then. This used to confuse me, since when you said "allergy" or "allergic reaction" to me I thought in terms like, oh, someone gets stung by a bee and their throat swells shut, or they eat strawberries and break out in hives, or like nowadays, the kids eat peanuts and they go into anaphylactic shock (how overnight what seems like half the kids in America became allergic to peanuts is a topic of discussion for a better blogger than I, I'm afraid). But the allergic reaction that Dr. Silkworth was talking about they termed "the phenomenon of craving." When I, as an alcoholic, start drinking alcohol, the drive to drink is not just a mental desire, it is an actual physical craving, was their theory -- and the experience of most alcoholics and drug addicts (backed up by the research done in recent years examining dopamine and serotonin levels and such in the brain) pretty much supports that idea. One component in the disease of alcoholism -- or the 'theory' of the disease, if you're an argumentative sort -- is that there is a physical element to it.
So in the passage where Dr. Silkworth talks about 'the supreme sacrifice,' I believe what he's saying is that there are times when fighting the craving to use is too much for some people, and they take their lives rather than continue to struggle with using and/or relapse.
I'm stalling. I'm nattering on about Dr. Silkworth and the phenomenon of craving because I don't want to write about H.
A couple of hours ago I was sitting at my computer, where you can often find me. Ostensibly I was writing, but actually I was playing "City of Heroes," my most recent addiction. (No, not everything is an addiction for God's sake. I just like it a lot. A Lot.) Right now it's just me and the cat, and she won't narc me out for playing when I should be writing. Well, she would if she could, she's really not a very nice cat... I'm stalling again.
So I was sitting here, and D. called. I've been sponsoring him for a while now. He had relapsed about a year ago after having a good amount of time sober, and he's really back on track and doing great, imho. But he was pretty sad/freaked. He told me that H. had killed himself.
Now let me interrupt myself right here to say something. A cynic might think this is a pretty melodramatic story. It fits nicely into the overall direction of this blog, and isn't that handy. Well, let me just say, I wish I was making this up. It would be a much better state of affairs if the facts were that I was a big effing phony, spinning some bullshit melodramatic tale of relapse and suicide to puff up my damn blog rather than the truth -- which is that a really nice guy, only 29 years old, who'd been in and out of AA for about the past ten years, decided to kill himself last night.
Now, I have to tell you, I find it repugnant in AA when people use stories about suicide to make tidy homilies about staying in Meetings and staying sober. Suicide is not a simplistic thing. So, no cautionary tale here, where I wag my finger at you and trade on H.'s tragic decision to add gravity and drama to what I'm writing. Instead, how about just the facts, as I personally know them to be true:
Smart, funny, nice, articulate, good looking kid. (I always thought of him as a kid, he had that boyish thing going on.) 29 years old. In and out of AA for about ten years. I first met him when he was maybe 19 or 20. He'd hit bottom pretty hard and got sober. After about a year he got a good job, started taking some classes at school, and got kind of busy -- as I remember him sharing it later on when he spoke about that time in his life, a little too busy for AA Meetings. Eventually he relapsed, and that became his pattern for the last ten years give or take. Maybe about a year or so ago I heard him speak at my regular Saturday night meeting. At that time he'd just gotten a year sober again. I have to say, to me he sounded really great, then. Seemed like he'd turned a corner. I won't try to quote him exactly, my memory is not that good and that would be a cheap stunt, but I recall that to me he sounded like he really had some insight into some of what drove his relapse cycle. He and I were not too much more than acquaintances, really. Friends in the way that AA allows you to be, which is to say we had both the 'ism' and the solution in common, and saw each other on and off at meetings, and occasionally around town, but we didn't really hang out together. We'd stop and say hi, catch up a bit, and go on our ways.
And last night, apparently he decided that continuing to live was too much for him, and alone in his apartment he put a plastic bag over his head and took his own life. I include that detail not to shock, but to clarify. Because for all the petty dramas and bullshit high school dynamics that can occur in AA Meetings, for all the mixed motives of some recovery centers, the vulgar vaudeville of celebrities in rehab on reality TV, the pop stars falling out of limos, or what have you, what Dr. Silkworth wrote in the mid 1930's is as true today as it was then. There are many situations that arise out of the phenomenon of craving which cause men to make the supreme sacrifice rather than continue to fight. I don't know what situations H. felt he was in that made the supreme sacrifice what he thought he needed to do. What I do know is that while he may (or may not) have had other issues operating, if you are struggling with relapse your thinking is not clear, and you don't see all of the choices you have before you, until maybe you think you really only have one choice left.
So regardless of what you think of AA, or the 12 Steps, or addiction, or recovery ... this really and truly is a life or death issue. A disease that kills. It will likely not list "alcoholism" as H.'s cause of death. And again, I will not presume to simplify his tragedy for the sake of making a point . But while alcoholism may not have been the only factor driving him -- God knows, I saw him over the past ten years struggle and struggle with it -- if it was not the only factor driving him, in my observation it was certainly a pretty powerful one.
And finally, it seems to me, after hearing a lot of shares and stories over a lot of years, although it sounds like superstitious tripe, if you have alcoholism it really is trying to kill you. And given the chance, it really will.