Critics have been especially — well — critical of the movie When a Man Loves a Woman and, despite his Oscar nomination, Denzel Washington’s Flight. Those are two of my favorite movies, not for some praiseworthy contribution to cinematic history but for their ability to pit alcoholic versus alcohol, for their accurate portrayal of addicts constantly haunted by a liquid that gives them both pleasure and pain, both freedom and captivity.
Unless you have been in the life of an alcoholic, those films may have you yelling at your TV, “Yeah, right. Why doesn’t he just put down the drink and walk away? How hard can it be?”
Those movies contain scenes that are all-too familiar for alcoholics and their loved ones. We see it every day. We repeatedly hear the “I’m sorry.” We experience the short-lived recovery, only to wait in the wings for it all to come crashing down, at which point we are left alone in the darkness of the night or in the harshness of the noonday sun to clean up a mess that is inherently ours.
Families of alcoholics are kept prisoners in their own lives, caught between the lure of quitting and the institutionalized hope of “one day at a time.” We understand alcohol’s Vice-Grip on its victims. We fear its haunting presence, lurking around the corner to attack the weak and recovering. We know how it tempts the minds of its prey, tantalizing it with thoughts of taste, an alluring aftereffect and the promise of no more pain.
Like Meg Ryan’s and Denzel Washington’s characters, my father fought a daily battle — one which he lost more times than he won. His journal entries below show how an addict’s life is an insufferable bondage.
I was living at the Comfort Inn, drinking at least a six-pack of malt liquor (beer) since about December 7 of that same year. On weekends, I drank at least a 12-pack on Saturday and a 12-pack on Sunday.
I was off work for the Christmas holiday. The phone rang. Although I knew it would be the kids calling about Christmas, I didn’t answer because I was drinking, and they could always tell. So I stayed in that hotel and didn’t bother wishing them a merry Christmas.
When I started working nights at [the factory], I made sure to get up in the afternoon and buy my vodka before heading off to work. I’d have it waiting, already mixed with Diet Coke. And on a bad night, I would salivate thinking, “Soon, I will be home doing the only thing in my life I have to look forward to.” For awhile, I would just buy a pint of vodka, but within a week I was buying a pint and a half-pint.
I had just finished work at 4:00 A.M. on April 1. I would always lie in bed with the mixed drink until I fell asleep. The next morning — or so I thought — I awoke at 7:00, surprised that I had slept so long. But I wasn’t sure it was 7:00 A.M. of the next day. (I had just moved into the apartment and didn’t have an alarm clock, or any clock for that matter.)
I went to [a restaurant] for breakfast and proceeded to buy a Chicago Tribune. I looked at the date: Saturday, April 3, 1999, not Friday, April 2.
In shock, I thought I was the victim of some April Fools’ Day joke. But as the day wore on and by looking at other newspapers, it was quite evident that I had missed Good Friday. I still do not know what happened.
In the hospital with pancreatitis, I was on morphine for the pain for six days … It was a Friday night. My son stopped by on prom night with the girl he was taking … They took pictures, me in my hospital wear and them in their formal wear. And I said to my son with tears in my eyes, “I will never drink again.”
That night, I was taken off the morphine “cold turkey,” around 10:00 P.M. At 5:00 A.M., withdrawals gave way to panic attacks. And I remembered the bottle of booze I had in the trunk. So not even 12 hours after I promised my son I wouldn’t drink again …