I used to shed friends as I did dirty socks. I drank and some said something about it. They pleaded with me. Don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself? When they did that, when they did what friends should, I avoided them, resentful and angry that they didn’t understand me the way they should. They I retreated from them and they disappeared. I might see them later, but I found myself walking the other way. They had done me wrong and I wasn’t the forgiving and forgetting type.
Others distanced themselves from me. I ached when they stopped calling. I got mad, I sulked, and was hurt when I called them and they found reasons to end the conversation. I badgered some of them, the ones I considered most important until they told me to leave them alone. I was inconsolable but soon put them out of my head. They turned on me, and, well, I’d turn on them.
I didn’t lose all my friends when I was drinking. A handful of people stuck with me. They didn’t enable or coddle. They were there for whenever I decided to redirect my life.
Since I put my life together, these stolid loyalists joined many others I have gathered, or who have gathered me. I consider myself lucky to have a cadre of close friends, people with whom I have contact regularly. They are the core of a larger set of relationships that surround me. They nurture me, give me hope, tell me when I’ve taken a wrong path. They argue with me and tell me when I’ve lied to myself or others. They challenge me everyday to tell the truth. The celebrate my successes.
And I am a loyal partisan. I stand up for my friends and close acquaintances. I want them to be as lucky to have me, as I am to have them.
In the nearly three decades since I gave off drinking, I have only ever lost two friends. The first was one of those men who stood by me when I was drinking. In fact, he was a drinking partner. When I stopped, he continued on and would for almost fifteen years. His brother called me one night. He said my friend had drunk himself to a standstill, I went to his house with another friend. We told him how we had quit drinking and the rich rewards we found in a sober life.
The next day, he found his way to a treatment center in Atchison. The administrators told him they could not handle him. He had so degraded physically that they sent him to the hospital. The doctors at Atchison said they didn’t have the facilities for a case as bad as his, and they transported him to the Kansas University Health Center, where he stayed two days in the ICU. For the next ten days, he received IV fluids, some taper-off drugs, and hospital care.
After he grew strong enough, he returned to the treatment center in Atchison for a 30-day regimen that included AA meetings, support groups, and counselors. He bounded out of the center a new man.
He quit drinking and as far as I know, he has not returned. For years, he and I did things together in sobriety. We weren’t quite inseparable, but almost. I could depend on him to invite me in when I stopped over when I was driving by and had a few minutes. We took long walks, had coffee from time to time, and talked on the phone almost every week.
He seemed to get the sobriety thing all on his own. I’m in need of the AA meeting, but he didn’t think that sort of thing was for him. For years, everything seemed to be going just fine. He learned lessons intuitively that took years of work in AA for me to acquire. I didn’t envy him, as all of us have our path. But he was maturing and finding more of himself, and that was good enough.
Then, it all seemed to stop. One thing I’ve learned as a sober person is that the healing and growing have to keep moving forward. Stalling or plateauing might as well be backward motion. I must always be on the lookout for being content with my development. A short distance exists between not moving and falling. If anything, I will keep exploring my inner self and maturing just because I don’t want to drink again.
My friend rented a floor in the house of his old girlfriend, someone for whom he had never given up the flame. They had been together twenty years before, and he was sort of a hanger-on wherever she went. He never would admit that he still loved her after all these years and hadn’t gotten over her. Instead, he stayed as close to her as he could and stifled his feelings. She was married and had a child and lived in the house on the second floor. She called on him for all kinds of favors and for babysitting duty. He would drop everything he was doing at her call.
As time unfolded, he gave more of his time to his upstairs neighbor, who treated him increasingly like a spouse. Her husband was often gone on business and would be weeks away from home. She worked, I think, but just part time. She depended on my friend for day care when he wasn’t doing his own work. He worked contract labor and didn’t make much money. He often had problems paying rent. She didn’t relent in demanding payment and would not count his time and effort around the house toward any kind of discount or rebate on the rent.
I was present at his house many times when she would come calling from above. We need this or that from the store, she would say. Or I’m leaving and you have to take care of the kid while I’m gone. He dutifully did whatever she wanted. He went to the store, sometimes using his own money for her family’s needs. He canceled plans last minute to care for the child. She increasingly hen-pecked him. I kept my mouth shut and figured their relationship was their business and not my own. But when this sort of thing would start, I would high-tail it for home.
This behavior on my part lasted until I began to feel as if I was taking part in this sickness and enabled him by my silence. I finally called and asked him if I come over and speak to him honestly and openly. Of course, he said, that’s the way it’s always been.
I told him that he was sick. That this relationship had leaked past the walls of the house and into my life. I couldn’t tell anymore who the husband was in the house. The woman had even become short and demanding with me. You are working yourself to death, I said, and not making enough money. You ought not accept the duties of father along with the work. If anything, the child care and errand-running ought to come off the rent.
I’m sorry, I told him. But I’m your friend and feel I have to tell you when you’re hurting yourself. You no longer go out into the city. You find no time for your friends, only her. Her husband depends on you to pick up where he cannot. You are serving but not getting anything in return, not the appreciation or the money. You can’t see what you’re doing to yourself. I can’t take part in this any longer.
I don’t know what I expected, except that I would leave and see what happened. After I finished my spiel, I stood there for a moment, waiting to see what he would say. He got angry and told me to get out. I rang him a few times after but found cold silence on the other end of the line. He had cut me out of his life.
I recognized the behavior from the old days, as I had done the same thing to people who cared about me. I alienated them or the left me. Losing my friend hurts still seven years later. I think of him occasionally and wonder what he’s up to. For as much as I miss him, I don’t regret what I said to him. I would treat any friend who started drinking or doing drugs or abandoning their responsibilities the same way. I wouldn’t be a friend if I didn’t.
I see him on occasion in the grocery store. Our chats are warm but distant. He still hasn’t forgiven me for what I told him. A mutual friend tells me that he is the loneliest, most unhappy person she knows.
What’s going to happen to him? We are getting older, approaching days when we think of our mortality. More of life is behind us than in front of us. Neither of us have the time for losing friends.