If you’ve read any of my blogs, you might recall one I wrote earlier about trying to be a better listener. I made that commitment, which took me in a very unexpected direction the other day.
I know a woman who drank alcohol after twenty-nine years of not drinking. She simply picked up a glass and started drinking tequila three years ago. From time to time I run into her in town. We recently chatted in downtown Jackson, CA. last weekend. How was her life was going? I knew she started drinking after years and years. I told her that her drinking was none of my business, I just wanted to know how she was doing. The woman started opening up, confiding about her drinking.
She lives alone, and apparently only a few people know what she does with her life. She trusted me, and told me that the drinking had gotten out of hand. She couldn’t stop. In fact, she told me that she planned to go home and drink after we finished talking. The woman knows I have my own alcohol cravings, and I have managed them by not drinking on a daily basis of decisions not to drink. I often think of drinking, wish I could be like other people. I accept that I have an allergy, but for me, drinking is a bad idea. I don’t drink, no matter what. I asked her if she had a similar problem like mine. She told me she didn’t even like to drink, but could no longer control herself. She felt lost in the booze. As I listened to her, my heart told me to ask her a question. “Would you like me to come over to your house right now and help you pour out that tequila?” She looked directly in my face.
“Yes.” I took my car and followed her home. We pulled into her driveway, greeted her two dogs, visited with her two cool cats, and I went inside with her. As she opened her front door, she sheepishly apologized for the house being so messy. It was messy. Clearly, her house was a metaphor for how out of control her life had become. It was none of my business how she kept house, but she felt ashamed of herself, and I felt sad she was in so much pain. We stood in the kitchen. I asked her about the booze. She opened up her refrigerator and I took out a readymade cocktail, still with melting ice.
I held the glass in my hand. What did she want to do with it?
“Pour it down the sink.” I handed her the glass, and she poured it down the sink.
“It stinks,” she said.
“Was that what you wanted to do?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. So I picked up the gallon with a third of her tequila still waiting for her.
“What do you want to do with the rest of it ?”
“Pour it down the sink.” Glug glug.
“It stinks,” she said as she poured it down the drain.
What do we do now that the alcohol is no longer in the house? We sat on dining room chairs and faced each other. I looked in her face and she started tearing up, talking about how she never in her life imagined how a substance could have such power. She said she drinking didn’t even making her drunk anymore.
“ I hate myself so much.” She confessed to herself, me watching.
“Well, I suggest we shoot for feeling neutral about yourself this afternoon. Let’s talk about other stuff until you don’t hate yourself anymore, but are feeling more relaxed. You just did a huge thing. I believe it takes amazing courage to recognize our addiction, and want to stop. Sometimes, we just need a witness to help us let go of what we know will eventually kill us. If the situation was reversed, I hope you would do the same for me.”
I stayed about a half hour after the pouring, and I did not see laughter, simply heartfelt relief shining from her face. She needed a witness to help her make her transformative decision not to drink again.
“I’ll never get back thirty years of not drinking,” she regretted.
“That’s true, but you have courage to stop today, and that is worth just as much to you and your body. It’s about the present, what you do right now, that counts.” I replied, speaking for what I tell myself everyday.
I felt honored to be part of this woman’s intimate challenge to her soul, and what felt like private conversation. We were just acquaintances, but something bigger than both of us intervened inside of her, and I heard what she couldn’t ask in words, help me pour out what is killing me. I saw pleading in her eyes, and I said words that helped her do what she felt was impossible.
She was the one who did the work, and she stopped drinking for that day. It was miraculous and incredibly courageous. Alcohol is a subtle, patient foe for some people, and it can creep up on people like me and her. I am not able to stop craving it once I start drinking. My only defense is not to drink. Hopefully my new friend will be able to stay away from it tomorrow, too. I feel privileged to listen and be her witness.