Digging Deep

Every alcoholic has their own personal rock bottom. Once you’ve hit it, it’s time to stop digging. We don’t all take that advice, of course — but then again, it isn’t rock bottom if you can keep digging, is it?

Sometimes we find ourselves losing friends, but that isn’t enough to dissuade us. Family goes by the wayside. We lose our careers, our finances are in ruins, we may even find ourselves sharing cheap motel rooms with bed bugs — or worse. For some of us, the urge to stop digging never stops; we just trade our shovels for jackhammers.

I’ve found myself in this situation before. I was never really one to socialize, so I didn’t have many friends to lose, and I don’t come from a close-knit family so there weren’t any kin to attempt to slow me down. I have lost jobs, though, over my drinking. I’ve lost my freedom over it several times. And I’ve lost more money than I’d care to imagine just for a few nights’ oblivion.

My true “stop digging” moment, though, was when my health began to fail. My kidneys and liver are, miraculously, intact. If you’re on the market for those, I’ll give you a discount, of course. The real issue I face, biologically, is the end result of years of hard drinking and terrible eating.

Every morning, noon, and night, I get to inject myself with insulin; the prize you win after a decade of drinking naught but vodka and never placing an order that didn’t end with, “would you like fries with that?”

And yet recently, as a complication thereof, I found myself in the hospital. A sad part of me was smiling as I laid in the ICU; I don’t drink anymore, but I’d have professionals repairing the damage I had done to myself. The six million (well, thousand, maybe) dollar man. I figured that someone in my position had dug as deep as one could, there were no more rock bottoms, and this was the first step toward physical improvement. I was being professionally lifted out of the hole I’d made.

I may have been done digging myself, but as one does when you’re uninsured in America, I shared a hospital room with someone in a somewhat similar medical predicament. Brian, we’ll call him. An affable guy, seemingly always in a cheery mood (as a result of constant morphine I’d later learn). In Brian I met a man who could dig much deeper and with much more fervor than I thought possible.

He was a younger guy — he looked younger than me, even, though he’d obviously put more years on his body than I had. Spent a lot of time on the phone, speaking to friends, giving and receiving updates on the minutiae of their lives. A social creature, like many barflies you’ll meet in your life. And yet his positive demeanor was a cover; he was, after all, in the hospital too.

Brian was there for two reasons: he was undergoing dialysis, as his kidneys had failed him, and he was in no way getting on a transplant list. The other? You know that neuropathy you hear about where you start to lose the feeling in your fingertips, your toes, your feet? He was there because he’d just had all of his toes amputated. All ten. And he just didn’t care.

We sat in mostly silence watching football on Sunday night. Hospital rooms aren’t festive environments for enjoying sporting events. Beyond that, I was a bit in awe — not the good kind — that someone could let things go so far. He was remarkably cavalier about the ordeal. He could no longer walk properly; he was being fitted for custom shoes. When he showered, he did so in a chair. And it just didn’t seem to bother him all that much.

Even this was not his bottom — and I was terribly thankful my bottom was not that deep. I couldn’t believe someone would carelessly allow pieces of their own body to be removed as a result of their drinking. I didn’t want to judge; it was more of an introspective issue — could I let that happen to me?

And when i’d convinced myself nobody could dig deeper than that, just before halftime, Brian looked over at me with a sly, opiate-laced grin on his face and said something that made me realize some have no bottom.

“Man, I would kill for a beer right now.”

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