I've been passing out drunk and it's getting worse

I can stay sober for a few weeks, but then have another attack. I'm starting to be truly afraid.

Published July 10, 2008 9:50AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm writing because I've understood that you've struggled with alcoholism. I've been fighting mine ever since I went through 9/11. After that, I've been more or less useless professionally -- I'm a lawyer -- and have had to resign from my job because I was discovered passed-out drunk in front of my computer. I had started therapy about six months before that, but found that I felt worse off after every session. I've been prescribed Zoloft and it has helped somewhat. I can manage about a month without drinking, but after that I end up having a manic phase where nothing matters except getting my booze on. After a week or so of heavy drinking, I start having nightmares of people jumping. After that, it's a week of not being to able to get out of bed.

I'm going through one of those phases right now. I was supposed to travel to a conference but didn't make it because I got so drunk at the airport I fell down on my face and spent the rest of the day in the drunk tank. I have since been hiding from my family, who fortunately won't be expecting me to come back until a week or so. They will notice the bump on my forehead and two black eyes though.

I don't really know what I'm asking you, Cary. I need a way out that doesn't involve causing pain to my family. Like I said, I've tried therapy (CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy], to be specific) and I'm on medication, but I still have these attacks every few months. At that time, if there's booze in the house, I can't stay away from it. It seems like this will never end. I dread what will happen if something really bad happens, like a family member dying, or the family dog, or getting fired again.

Thanks for reading.


Dear T,

As a recovered alcoholic and a writer, I play two roles. As a writer I speak freely and in detail about whatever I choose to speak of -- the details of my own life, the names of the people in my life, the places I visit. As a recovered alcoholic, however, in the press, I try to speak only in general terms about the methods of my recovery. I do this to preserve my own humility, to avoid the appearance of being a spokesman for any group, and to protect the anonymity of those around me who have also recovered. Experience has shown that this is the best approach.

So I say to you, contact me, or I will contact you, and we will speak privately of this. I will speak freely to you of my alcoholism and my recovery. I will tell you my story and help you contact some people who can help you. But I will not take a public role as spokesman for any organization or purported cure, nor will I pretend to speak with authority about your therapy or the drugs you are taking. You say they are not working for you and that is enough for now; in search of a cure we often try many avenues of therapy with varying results before hitting on something that offers steady improvement.

I can say this: I drank like that. I could go without it for a while and then I would have another attack. I know the waking up and the passing out and the bruises. I know the shame. I know the terror. I know that it gets worse.

I also know there is a way out.

This also must be said: This particular literary endeavor is, in effect, a series of overheard conversations. You and I speak directly to each other and are overheard. We speak as though it's just between us. We consent to being overheard and, moreover, to being commented upon in public. But right now, I am not speaking to anyone but you. I am not speaking to some vast audience, saying, I know this or that about alcoholism. I am speaking just to you, saying that your story has a certain resonance to me, that I drank in a similar fashion, and I hope we can talk further so that perhaps I may be of some help.

As an alcoholic, this is the best I can do. As a writer, however, who always sits apart from myself and evaluates my work and speculates on its possible interpretation, I worry this prose may seem overly circumspect. If it is, that is at least in part to make up for past indiscretions born of pride, youthful arrogance and a refusal to accept the true gravity of the situation.

So one treads carefully here. Alcoholism is tragic and fatal if not arrested. But this can be said unreservedly: Every day I witness the recovery of formerly hopeless people like you and I. This fills me not just with hope but with a bold certainty that the methods that have helped me can help anyone who is willing to adopt them.

So we will talk. There is a way out.

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