Thirty days ago, I sat down with Horatio and discussed with him my thoughts on working together to overcome the disease that he may very well die from, alcoholism. This was not the first time that we had sat down like this, although this may be the first day that he remembers us doing this. In fact, I was over at his house two days before this particular discussion.
On the previous day, it was about 8:00pm when I knocked on the wooden door of his town house. There wasn’t a response, no sound of him trying to clean up empty liquor bottles, no sound of him stumbling to hide. Before I headed over there, my father handed me the key to his house. This had become the usual situation due to the lack of response from within the house after knocking on the door, which was happening at that very moment. Although Horatio would be inside, he would either be passed out, or unwilling to open the door. It’s understandable why he wouldn’t want to open the door for me, the sight of him in a state of drunkeness would make him feel shameful. Even though I do not portray a look of disappointment, I can not change how he feels about himself when somebody looks upon him after he has been drinking.
So I slid the key into the lock and entered his home. I called out for him, hoping that at least if he hears a familiar voice that he wouldn’t think somebody had broken in to his house. I could not find him anywhere. There wasn’t a sign of him on the main floor where the living room and kitchen are, nor was he to be found in the basement. I was also not finding any empty bottles, which made me curious. When I went upstairs, I found him sprawled out diagnolly across his bed, as if he barely made it there before passing out. Understanding that he was still drunk, I went back downstairs, for I knew that starting any conversation with a person with a BAC above 0.00% was hopeless. In his kitchen, I was amazed at how empty his cupboards were. A lonely package of pasta and a can of chicken soup. The refrigerator was just as bare, some ketchup in the door and a 1 liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka chilling in the freezer. I had a fleeting thought of immaturity to empty the bottle and refill it with water so that when he drinks it he would sober up. Realizing that I am not twelve years old any more, I instead emptied the bottle and left him a note saying that I was hoping we’d be able to talk.
It’s two days later and I am knocking on his door again. This time it’s 10 in the morning, but I still hear nothing from within. As was becoming the custom, I pulled out the key and opened the front door for myself. Once in, without realizing it, I headed to his refrigerator to check for liquor. To my surprise, it was empty. I then began to meander toward his living room, where a movie was playing quite loudly. As I entered the room, I could see him laying on the couch in front of the television. He was asleep. There weren’t any bottles in his immediate vicinity. I could see a couple of new scabs that appeared to be more than a few days old. One above his left eyebrow that was 3cm by 1cm in size and the other just below his right cheek bone was 2cm by 1cm. Scabs and scars had become a normal sight to see on his face since he had been drinking heavily over the past year or more.
I woke him up and he came to a groggy aroused state. He was surprised to see his brother, despite me leaving a note asking him to get in touch with me. It was apparent that he had not tried too hard on that. The conversation started out with normal bullshit, I suppose he was hoping that I wouldn’t notice that he had been on an alcohol binge. When I asked him about the scars on his face, he described being in bicycle accident on a trail in the nearby park. I’m not able to determine when he’s lying to me, so I take everything he says with a grain of salt. Besides, If I call him out on something minuscule so early in our conversation, he’d just become defensive throughout the rest of our encounter.
I’m not particularly fond of beating it around the bush, especially when there’s a looming black cloud of a topic that needs to be discussed. I open things up by explaining that my father, siblings, and I are not stupid. We know that he is in a perpetual cycle of drinking to the point of passing out, then waking and starting the cycle again. I also try to emphasize that we don’t like being lied to (holding back my thoughts on how he acquired the new scars on his face). After a rough start to the conversation I tried to explain to him that we all love him. Everybody wants to help, but nobody knows what they can do for him. We are an Irish family of independent people that refuse to accept a hand from others. Along with that, we don’t know when to give help either, and in this particular situation, we are lost in knowing what type of support Horatio needs to get better.
The conversation then led to determining what had been successful in the past for him in remaining abstinent, even for the briefest of periods. Horatio describes AA meetings that have become his support group along with his friends at church who have gone through similar troubles. Digging deeper in to the effectiveness of these groups for him, it seems that he has not been utilizing them anyway. When I asked Horatio if he had any tokens from recent AA meetings, he made an excuse about how he didn’t pick them up the last few times he went. Again, it’s a constant balance of what to believe from his mouth and knowing when to call him out on lies.
A large part of my visits with him are to gauge his motivation to take serious action against his disease. Horatio is an optimistic individual and I know that his motivation on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being not motivated at all and 10 being extraordinarily motivated) is always skewed. At this time he states it is a 9, which is relatively promising. Another factor that I use to gauge his motivation to change is his reaction to the topic of going to rehab. I never try to force it on him; I merely try to see if he is willing to give it a try. On this occasion he describes that he was looking in to it. The hang up is that his insurance would not pay for it (that’s no surprise) and that he hasn’t been working in the past 6 months, which means he does not have the money to pay out of pocket. I do not push the subject any more than that, because I know that when he is ready and is tired of the repetitive cycle of relapsing, he will finally be motivated to do what it takes to try rehab.
Since he is not ready for rehab yet, I change the conversation to what he should focus on in order to have the best hope of remaining clean. I placed a huge emphasis on forgetting his concerns in his life (finding a job, getting a girlfriend, etc.) and using all of his energy to overcome the primary problem that is causing the other dominos in his life to topple. He tells me that multiple people are trying to get a hold of him for a job, but he has not responded. Horatio thinks that if he can stop drinking for a few days, then he will be able to get a job and continue to be sober. Unfortunately, it does not happen that easily. The reason that he has not been able to hold a job and will continue to be unable to maintain a job is due to his inability to suppress the urge to get black out drunk.
Thus, with some negotiation we were able to reach an agreement. We decided that he would give me 30 days of not working on anything except for remaining abstinent, one day at a time. He agreed that he would not concern himself with finding a job, getting insurance, starting new relationships, or anything else that causes him negative stress. However, during this time he is encouraged to exercise, eat healthy and stay as long as he wants at my father’s house, which is an alcohol free zone.
After discussing this, he looked me in the eyes and gave me the strongest hand shake that I had ever felt from him. I know that in his heart he did not want to let me down. It is his strong desire to not disappoint people that eats away at him when he relapses. Thus, before departing his house, I remind him that nobody will feel that way about him if he stumbles again. We only care that he is strong enough to pick himself up again and we can start the count over.
With that said, I leave his house hoping that he remains as strong as his handshake.