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Drink. Drank. Drunk.

Here’s my latest column from SLO City News. Enjoy.

He was to meet his friend for a birthday drink at McCarthy’s. Another friend joined in. The three drank and drank, and then drank some more, until they decided it was time to stop. Well, at least, to stop long enough to wander down Higuera Street to McClintock’s and drink some more.

He had a terrible headache by then, but his friends neither noticed, nor cared. They were too busy hitting on the waitress and inhaling more bourbon. He had been a heavy drinker for almost twenty years, but tonight something felt different. He didn’t want to be in the bar. He didn’t want another drink. He wanted to be home with his new wife. That’s where he belonged.

So he wished his friend a final Happy Birthday and stumbled out of the bar, trying to figure out in this post-midnight haze the best way to get over to Hill Street. He ended up walking across Highway 101, dodging traffic, proud of himself for being so daring. He had done far crazier things before, always emboldened by alcohol.

The next morning, he woke up, predictably with a massive hangover, and a bad taste in his mouth. An epiphany occurred. He decided then and there that enough was enough. Too many wasted nights. Too many damaged relationships. No more. He would get his drinking under control.

That was July 21, 1990. The last time I was totally, completely, absolutely smashed out of my mind.

Fast forward to July 21, 2007. I am on a plane, flying to Oklahoma to attend a memorial service for my cousin Ken. He died alone last week, estranged from his three adult daughters, his brother, and every friend he had. Internal bleeding was listed as the cause, bleeding caused by severe alcohol abuse.

It runs in the family. My grandfather supposedly lived in the corner bar at night. My dad only stopped drinking in 1986 after quintuple bypass surgery. Another uncle also lost the battle of the bottle at a relatively early age. But nobody warned me about our history of abuse—it wasn’t appropriate to discuss such private issues in our house. I learned about alcohol the hard way.

I lived in Tulsa the year before I moved to California in 1987 and I got to spend lots of quality time with Ken, his wife Chris, and their three daughters. The evening routine never varied. Ken came home from work. Chris made dinner. Then they plopped down in their comfortable chairs, watched TV, smoked cigarettes. And drank.

California called and I moved away. Five years later, Chris died in a freak accident, just days after Ken took early retirement. His father had died when Ken was only eight. Now this. All the pain resurfaced. Ken never recovered.

It’s as if my cousin decided to crawl into a bottle and not come out.

His drinking grew worse and worse. Ken became abusive, saying nasty, cruel things to his daughters, only to later sober up and having to apologize. They tried intervention repeatedly, but Ken remained in denial. He passed out one night and started a house fire, destroying treasured family possessions, almost dying in the process.

His daughters stayed away. His older brother gave up. Then Ken started calling me, leaving long, rambling messages on our home answering machine, wanting to come out and visit. I never returned his calls. I wanted nothing to do with a drunk.

When I received the e-mail from his oldest daughter, asking me to call, I knew instantly what had happened. This was always a question of When, not If. My initial reaction was one of relief. The pain had finally ended for Ken. His personal nightmare was over.

But I am flying to Tulsa fueled by anger and guilt. Anger for the drunk Ken became, anger over his refusal to get professional help, anger for the wounds he caused among his own flesh and blood. Anger that he never had the epiphany about drinking that I did back in 1990.

There is also some guilt over those unanswered phone calls and doors I deliberately shut because I did not have the strength to open them, but guilt should never be confused with regret. I did the right thing.

I got my drinking under control. Why couldn’t Ken? The question will nag at all of us who show up Sunday for the memorial service. I wonder how many people will attend.

Good night, sweet prince. The long day is over. Time to sleep, per chance to dream.

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  1. barry in los osos
    August 1, 2007 at 12:26 pm | #1

    Dave
    If you were on tweek instead of booze hometown radio never would have happened. Have a drink to relax some, but stay away from the tweek, its destroys everything it touches.

  2. wilson
    August 1, 2007 at 5:04 pm | #2

    “stay away from the tweek, its destroys everything it touches.”

    Seems there are plenty of functional alcholics around, but I could not agree more about the people who are tweekers. That stuff has catastrophic effects on all who dare to try it. Dave’s cousin would have never lived as long as he did if he was tweeking.

  3. karen
    August 1, 2007 at 8:34 pm | #3

    Thanks for sharing your story, Dave. Sorry to hear about your cousin.

  4. Rich from Paso
    August 2, 2007 at 12:11 am | #4

    Sorry to hear about your loss. Losing a family member is always tragic. Your cousin made it even more tragic when he chose alcohol over his family and friends. Hopefully, your cousin’s story will serve as a warning and a call to those walking your cousin’s path to stop what they are doing and get help.

  5. Downtown Bob
    August 2, 2007 at 2:33 am | #5

    Dave: Thank you for sharing your story. The humanism that comes through your writing and the occasional personal comment on your radio show is what helps to define you as a liberal. I don’t say this in a mean manner, but how many self-professed conservatives can, or do, share personal stories like you do? I am sure that there are conservatives out there who can point to someone in the conservative media who can talk and write in as highly personal manner as you do; I am simply not aware of who that would be. I do find it sad that the anonymouses who have to deride anyone like you do bring up personal stories like yours in a manner that attacks all on the left. I realize that my comment can be viewed as hypocritical since I just pointed out how no conservatives seem to pour out their humanity like you do; whatever. New Tone or Rich from Paso would be able to point out a conservative to me without attacking me, but most of the others will sling their zingers and slurs my way almost as soon as they read this.
    As for comments being deleted by Dave; how many times does Dave have to remind everyone that he will delete personal attacks or obscenity laden comments? You want to make a point here? Do so without attacking in a personal way or without a diatribe involving the common curse words.

  6. Dave Congalton
    August 2, 2007 at 3:41 am | #6

    The three posts deleted from this thread, I suspect, were from the same anonymous yahoo. Two were “humorous” references to Ted Kennedy and one was a mindless rant about my censoring the first Ted Kennedy reference and then some ranting against “libs.”

    If you tried that crap on the radio show, I’d hang up on you in a New York minute. I do not censor on this blog, but children are sent home.

  7. Rich from Paso
    August 2, 2007 at 6:32 am | #7

    Bob (you liberal pinhead— Just kidding :) ), I think the reason why you can’t point out “humanism” on the Conservative side is because you don’t listen or read Conservative people. Rush Limbaugh spoke last week about his mother and he is always is talking about his father and grandfather, which are big influences on him. Micheal Reagan always speaks on the air lovingly about his father, Ronald Reagan. Tony Snow, when he had his show, dedicated almost entire shows talking about his battles with prostate cancer. He had shows dedicated to talking with other cancer survivors and how they dealt with the disease. Laura Ingraham detailed in more detail than I was interested to know her daily battles with breast cancer and how she was dealing with the chemo and what not. To counter your claim of a lack of human interest stories on the conservative side, I have never heard of a time when Al Franken or Rhandie Rhodes spoke passionatly about anything personal like that; they did speak passionately about how much they hate Bush and Cheney. But like I said about you, I don’t listen to liberal radio (neither does much of America) so I could be wrong. It is always dangerous to make blanket statements about a group, especially one you have publically stated you don’t know much about.

  8. Anonymous
    August 2, 2007 at 3:43 pm | #8

    THANK YOU RICH!! As always, you make thoughtful & well thought out comments on this blog. It is appreciated!

  9. Rich from Paso
    August 3, 2007 at 12:27 am | #9

    Just doing my part to make sure this blog remains “fair and balanced”.

  10. NewsstandGreg
    August 4, 2007 at 12:28 am | #10

    Dave,

    Alcohol surely takes some of the best people and helps them make plenty of wreckage. Family members do their best to survive it.

    Your writing is sensitive and from the heart. Your actions and feelings are very understandable.

    Alcohol has affected the lives of practically everyone I know or worked with/for.

    When thinking of a certain deceased radio sales guy and sportscaster, I never could bring myself to tell him how much I admired his skills.

    And how much I loathed his drinking and what it must be doing to him and the people around him. Bravado and denial will only go so far.

    It would have been great to see him “make it.” One last grand accomplishment! But not to be.

    I understand he made amends and was working on recovery weeks before he died.

    My own father and other family members have been friends of the bottle, too. Now Dad is gone and I see him in my dreams.

    He does many things then, but drinking is never one of them.

    Condolences to you my friend. My prayers are with you and yours.

    –Newsstand Greg,
    member of AA since 1993.
    “It works when you work it.”

  11. The New Tone of San Luis Obispo
    August 5, 2007 at 5:31 am | #11

    Dave, Sorry to hear about your cousin. Alcohol is a deadly killer. I have booked many a person into jail for a variety of crimes. Even though they come from all sorts of ethnic, economic, and cultures they without doubt had one thing in common….alcohol use during the crime. Not 100%, but I am sure it was well over 90%.

    Thanks for sharing a well written passage.

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