I was recently on tour, performing at some comedy clubs and visiting book stores in the US, promoting my new novel, I'll Be Here All Week. Along the way, I ran into an old acquaintance, whom I'll call John Q. We struck up the usual conversation about all things pointless, when he changed the subject drastically and hit me with this little nugget:
"So, I've been sober for over four months now."
I work in show business, so I know plenty of addicts. Something about the entertainment industry brings it out in so many people. I can only assume that it's because performers tend to have addictive personalities and working in show business gives them easier access to addictive things.
Working in the "minor league" of the entertainment industry, I've seen tons of addicts simply because I've seen tons of failure. We all know that Hollywood has its share of tortured addicts, but it also has coke fiends with Ferraris. The stand-up comedy world, however, has paint huffers who get high in the parking lot at Home Depot in the backseat of a Ford Pinto.
That said, I'm always impressed with and proud of people when I find out that they've conquered an addiction. I'm not so much a cynic that I can't appreciate how much sheer willpower and courage it takes to conquer something that has controlled and destroyed a person like only an addiction can do. Just the fact that having access to cocaine can get him a date with a porn star is enough to send a Taco Bell fry cook out seeking narcotics. The fact that it's also physically and mentally addictive seems to just be adding insult to injury. After all, it's addictive enough to get a porn star to date a Taco Bell fry cook.
With that in mind, I was very happy to hear that John Q had managed to put down the bottle and get himself sober. I immediately patted him on the back, and very sincerely congratulated him for turning his life around.
"That's great news!" I exclaimed (does anyone really "exclaim" anymore? I've hardly "exclaimed" since High School English), "I have to be honest, though, I never knew you were an alcoholic or that you had a drinking problem."
I've heard stories my entire life about people who are great at hiding their addictions. Everyone I know has the story about the calm, obese friend who is a secret crackhead (or mayor) or the devoutly religious girl who can't stop sleeping with Juggalos. I've just never seen it. Every confession from a friend who claimed to be an alcoholic or drug addict was met with a resounding "DUH". It's easy to believe when coming from a guy having a bottle of Johnny Walker at 10 a.m. while wearing clothes soaked in his own urine. John Q, on the other hand, wasn't the type to even be seen having a second glass of Chardonnay on New Year's Eve. So, how had he managed to hide the monkey on his back for so long?
"Well, I never really was a big drinker," he said confidently, "so I decided to go ahead and quit drinking altogether."
What. The. Hell?
It took a minute to register what he was saying, but I soon began to get it. John Q was actually looking for praise for essentially quitting an addiction that he never had in the first place. he ever was an alcoholic and he never had a drinking problem. In fact, he was barely a drinker at all, so he decided to just quit it all together. He was essentially the booze version of a "social smoker." The kind of person that buys one pack of Marlboro Lights and then lets it last for weeks.
Alcoholics call it "Getting Sober" for a reason. They don't "Get Drunk"; they are drunk. John Q was barely a drinker at all, so therefore did not "Get Sober." What he did was "Quit Drinking", and there is a big difference.
Alcoholics have stories. People who have a few drinks too many and wind up drunk dialing their ex in the middle of the night while listening to Barry Manilow are not alcoholics...and--quite frankly--they do not have stories.
The guy who drinks an entire bottle of tequila as a chaser, blacks out and then wakes up in another time zone, still drinking and getting married to a puppet he made out of his own sock? The same guy whose designated driver is Charlie Sheen? He's got a story. He's also likely a raging alcoholic. Yes, the story is possibly entertaining, but the affliction is not. It's the irony of addiction.
People like John Q insult people with real problems and real addictions. He quit doing something he never really liked doing all that much and wants a pat on the back for it. That's like me asking you to congratulate me because I went Low-Carb. Yeah, I cut out my bread and now I deserve a special chip I can carry around. That's ridiculous, of course, because everyone knows that chips are loaded with carbs.
I don't think of a person who woke up with the occasional headache and an empty Burger King bag next to their bed is someone who "Got Sober" any more than I think of the guy who once passed a bong at a party as a prime candidate for rehab.
But I'm sure he's out there.
Somewhere right now, at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, there's a guy asking for forgiveness because he once did a bump off a mirror at a party with some girl from his Psych class. Meanwhile, the guy next to him lost his life savings and got caught snorting blow naked with his sister in-law. The second guy wants to beat the hell out of the first guy.
Are we all so desperate for attention and validation that we'll give ourselves problems we don't even have simply so we can receive praise for fixing what wasn't broken in the first place? It's like asking someone to be impressed that you actually read Apple's Terms and Conditions. Or that you read The Scarlett Letter for fun and not because it was required reading in school.
I guess I'm supposed to be impressed by a person like John Q because he chose to not do something that so many people everywhere choose to do all the time. Instead, it just left me with the uncontrollable urge to go pour myself a stiff drink.
I'll Be Here All Week is available wherever books are sold. John Q said he found it to be addictive reading.