Share this article

print logo

THE WHITE DOORKNOB HAD I ALLOWED ALCOHOL NEARLY TO DESTROY ME? WAS I ADDICTED TO LIQUOR? COULDN'T I DRY MYSELF OUT, AND THEN JUST DRINK NORMALLY, SOCIALLY, THE WAY OTHER PEOPLE DO?

The buzzer rang about 3:30 on that Saturday morning. I wondered as I went to open the door, what demons lurked and threatened in the hall outside. But there were no demons there, no wicked men or vicious women -- only a police officer, young, tall and lean, with a trim black mustache and watchful eyes, and I knew that he was real, and remembered that I had called for him. Called the police, at any rate; called for anyone who would protect me from the folk who plagued me.

"Mr. Kantor?"

"Yes." I stood there in my shorts, drenched with sweat, shaking, twitching, my body lost to all control.

"What seems to be the trouble?"

"It's those bastards with the circus wagons." Teeth chattering, I gestured toward the parking area outside the building where I live, in an apartment on the second floor.

"It's too narrow for them there, and they're jockeying to get out, and those damn two-decker trucks have been bumping against my windows. I shout at the men but they just ignore me, won't even look at me. They've broken two of the windows now, and I want them to stop! I want them gone!"

The officer didn't smile at me, didn't harangue. He just shook his head in sad denial. "Mr. Kantor, there aren't any wagons there. No people there at all."

I staggered to the window, looked and saw the driveway empty and still in pale light from a new moon, and then I staggered back.

"Well, they were there. They must have gone just as you came. And they stole my money, too. Three of them. Carnies. They got in here somehow, and got into the bedroom when I was out here. They found my wallet. I had $83 in it, and they took those bills and left foreign money instead. Dirty, crumpled bills from Mexico and Costa Rica. They stole my money, and I want them arrested."

"Mr. Kantor, would you check your wallet now?"

"Certainly, officer."

I reeled away to the bedroom, dripping sweat behind me, and found my wallet lying on the bed. Some viscous green stuff, like half-set Jell-O, fell on it from the ceiling as I went to pick the wallet up. I tried to brush the stuff aside; it disappeared before I could touch it. My own money was there when I opened the wallet, all $83.

Awareness came to me as I shook and teetered back to the door and to the cop. "You're right, officer, it's there."

I tried to hold tight to a reality which almost wasn't. Right brain speaking through the left; ego in tenuous command. "I'm sorry. It's there. Look, I'm a recovering alcoholic."

I'd heard that phrase somewhere, and I was proud that I'd thought of it. It sounded more respectable than "on the wagon," or "drying out." "I'm having an attack of the DTs. I'm sorry I bothered you."

He nodded. He'd figured that out when he first saw me.

"Yeah, I understand that they can be pretty rough." He paused. I don't remember if thoughts of handcuffs and of jail jeered at me then, but they should have done so. "Mr. Kantor, why don't you go back to bed and get some sleep."

"Thank you, officer. I will. Thanks again." He turned away, I closed the door, and -- leaving every light in the apartment burning -- I made my uncertain way to bed, and with ugly visions fading, I fell down into heavy, empty, dreamless sleep.

That is what I'd been seeking in the days before. I had emptied my last bottle, finished my last drink, at 8 o'clock on the previous morning -- a Friday morning, grim and gray. That final drink made it 47 ounces of vodka that I had consumed in 24 hours. (Unlike most alcoholics, I always knew exactly how much I had drunk, for I kept a record -- an honest record -- of every drink I swallowed. I'd done that for years, during all that long time when I allowed only that I was a "heavy drinker," and not an alcoholic because I could control my drinking, and proved it by going on the wagon for a few weeks every so often.) Forty-seven ounces, which was far more than my customary pint or pint-and-a-half a day; far more even than my record in the past.

Forty-seven ounces was a lot, and yet it was so little. Later I estimated my average consumption -- first monthly, then weekly, then daily -- in all the years since I first said, "Cheers!" And I totaled it. In my 56 years I had consumed -- give or take a few thousand -- some 194,714 ounces of hard liquor, or its equivalent in wine or beer. That translates into 7,606 fifths, or 6,085 quarts, or 5,761 liters.

So I finished off the 47th (194,714th) ounce that morning, and wandered off to bed, hoping I would not wake.

Three hours later I did awaken, and shrugged and sighed, knowing I was not dead. All of the frustrations that had teased me for years, the disappointments that had taunted me for months, the challenges that had loomed, seemingly insuperable, only hours before, still teased, still taunted, still loomed over me. I shrugged again, and made a face as I got out of bed. It seemed it was my task to live. A sense of shame stirred somewhere in my head, at the thought of years I'd almost let go unspent. I still had things to do, things I could not do if I were dead.

Time to go on the wagon again, and -- I was seized by a fit of coughing -- time to quit smoking, too. As I took out the garbage, the empty bottles and full packs of cigarettes, I wondered when the shakes would start, and how long they would last.

I thought I knew about the shakes. In the last 16 months, since my doctor had told me I was killing myself with booze, I had gone on the wagon three or four times, and each time I had them. It's an unwilled, unwished-for trembling caused by the body's protest against the pain of withdrawal. I was grimly resigned to that prospect. I thought I knew what to expect: three or four days of gradually diminishing tremors, three or four nights of insistent, fantastical dreaming, as the mind made up for all the light, rapid-eye-movement sleep that alcohol had smothered.

About noon, I suffered the first strong shaking as I poured a glass of orange juice, spilling almost half of it. I groaned and laughed. I made a bitter, rueful toast as, two-handed, I raised the glass to my lips, spilling even more. "To the wages of sin," I said, and thought that it was funny.

But the shaking worsened during the afternoon and evening. It was far more severe than any I had ever known or imagined. I ate a little bread and peanut butter, it was all that I could manage, and drank whatever liquid I didn't spill or splash on the table or the floor. When a friend called I could barely hold the telephone. I ached for alcohol; ached for nicotine. By 8 that evening (12 hours since I'd had a drink), I was disgusted and exhausted by my body's fierce complaint, and I thought I'd hide myself in sleep.

I left a light on in the bathroom for safety of navigation, and went to bed. I lay there, muscles and nerves at ease unless I attempted any neat and tidy action, and -- counting bottles instead of sheep -- I tried to sleep. On my stomach, on my back, on my side, I tossed and turned, closed my eyes and opened them. And then, so gradually that at first I did not notice it, the picture show began.

A large picture hung on the wall at the foot of my bed, a cityscape painted in somber colors, framed and mounted under glass. Building looms above building in that painting, and shadowy figures populate the streets below, but in the dim twilight of my room I could barely make them out. Slowly, in saturated colors which were dim and bright at the same time, soft and sharp, another picture formed instead, seemingly reflected off the glass, or else shining from deep within. It stayed for only a few seconds, and then another picture came, and another after that. Happy pictures, all of them. Norman Rockwell pictures, celebrations in Kodachrome. Boy chases girl forever through green trees. She turns to snare him. Mother nurses baby, man lifts child high in pride and the child laughs with pure delight. Scholars read, youths play ball and dream, old couples hold hands, red dawn, gold day, magenta dusk, blue night. I watched eagerly, marveling at such serenity.

Then all things changed.

The gentle colors all were harsh. The lovers fought and screamed; the boys' bats became clubs, became spears, became guns; the old people shriveled and starved; the nursing mother ate her child. I closed my eyes and saw nothing, but I could not keep them shut. When I looked away to empty spaces on the wall, foul pictures formed there, too. I tossed and shook in pained disgust. I soaked the sheets with sweat. Foul pictures confronted me, until the colors faded.

"Well, thank God that's over." My voice sounded loud in the silence. "Maybe now I can sleep."

But not in darkness. I turned on the bedside lamp. Suddenly the knob on the bedroom door began to dance. Infinitely flexible, it moved out from the door, moved up and down, bent and curved upon itself, moving as though to music I could not hear. And then a smiling young woman entered the room. How she'd got there I didn't know. I'd heard no door open, but she was there. Dark short hair and sun-bronzed skin, petite -- dainty -- but nicely rounded, she wore bright, circus-sequined panties and a bra. She gestured wide around the room, then pointed toward the doorknob, as though taking credit for its dance. She said nothing, just pointed, and I knew she couldn't speak. I started to get out of bed, but the pretty young woman, who seemed to be mistress of ceremonies, shook her head and pointed firmly at the mattress. She put her hands together and tilted her head against them. "Sleep," the hands commanded. "Sleep!" She ran, soundless, from the room, trailing streams of liquid fire, as I turned off the light.

There appeared before me then -- with my eyes wide open I saw, staring at me out of dark -- three rows of television screens, monitor-sized, with half-a-dozen screens or more in each, and each screen showed a different moving image, and each of them was foul. I saw the agony of the world -- starvation, slaughter, dreadful suppuration of disease, fouling of the waters, of the forest and the air, the twisting of men's souls -- and I saw it all in great particularity. If there were 10 or 20 bodies writhing in one scene I saw them each, could suffer with each one. The technicolor brightness was gone now, replaced by sepia, and that drab monochrome made the suffering more real.

The story on each screen developed in intricate, mute progression. If I glanced away from one to examine others and then glanced back, the action within had developed with an awful logic. This went on forever, or so it seemed.

Then slowly the images changed, became warm and kindly, at first gentle and then gay. Brightly colored pictures of an earthly paradise, which rested me, soothed me almost into sleep. The pictures and the monitors disappeared, but the doorknob performed before me once more, as though to stir me wide awake, and when I looked at the digital clock at my bedside (it was almost 2 in the morning), tiny harlequin figures danced around the luminous numbers as they changed.

My mistress of ceremonies came into the room again, her circus spangles trailing liquid gold, and with a smile and a soundless clap of her dainty hands, she brought the TV monitors again alive. I steeled myself for ugliness and it came, but it was of a different sort: horror with a purpose. All about the evil consequences of drinking and smoking -- a confusion of terrifying morality plays, of blackened lungs, bloated livers, wasted bodies. A "Threepenny Opera" without the song, without the laughter. German S.S. uniforms strutted through the cellars of Berlin. Hard-faced women offered cigarettes, offered liquor, offered themselves, and when the offer was accepted they stripped off their clothes and their bodies were diseased.

By the time the last scene faded, the dancers in the clock had turned more numbers and it was almost 3.

A band of acrobats flipped and tumbled into the room, their slippers barely squeaking on the wood floor. Though they performed with wondrous grace, their silent presence threatened. "How the hell did you all get in here?"

They shrugged, their mouths shaped laughter as they gestured toward the door, then all of them turned and pointed their fingers at me. At me, through me. I shrank, I trembled, accused, it seemed, of some dreadful naughtiness until I realized that it was the window next to my bed that was the focus of their command. Looking through the panes, I saw what I was meant to see. Ghostly, battered circus wagons were gathered in the parking lot, and beside them clustered their pale and silent crew. Roustabouts and barkers, clowns and sideshow freaks, they whispered together without sound, and all the while they stared at me.

"Get out of here!" I cried. And, turning back into the room, I shrieked: "Get out of here! You, too! You don't belong." The acrobats fled, the pretty emcee last of all (for a moment I heard her laughing in the hall), but the crowd outside grew larger, their silence louder and their gaze was more intense.

"Get out!" I shrieked again. "Get out!" They started loading their wagons with tent poles, planks for bleachers, other gear, and for a short while I thought I'd won a victory. I felt relief, until a knocking, grinding, crashing sound from the front rooms sent me trotting, tottering, toward disaster. The trucks were too high, too wide, the driveway too narrow for their maneuvers. The wagons and their cargo were bashing against the apartment walls, and two windows shattered as I reached the living room. Sullen faces stared, impassive, through broken panes of glass. "Go away," I cried in terror, "go away!"

In the front hall I heard wild laughter, and I found three roustabouts capering -- silent, waving cash, my cash, and gesturing in mime -- when I'd staggered there. "Go away. Get out!" My voice filled my ears, filled the apartment, filled the world all around, and they vanished at the sound.

It was then I called the police; it was then I used the telephone.

That Saturday morning I woke out of black, blank sleep to the friendly, homely emptiness of my daylit room. No acrobats performed for me, the doorknob was solid and in place, I heard no almost-voices from the other room, no dancers teased or taunted. (It was 8:30 a.m. -- more than 24 hours since I'd had a drink.) Looking out the window I saw only things I ought to see. Cautiously I rolled to the side of the bed and put my feet on the floor. It was solid, steady, and I felt safe enough to stand. When I did, I quaked and shivered.

"Damn!" It appalled me to remember the fancies of the night, it shamed me to find that it was difficult to stand and that the only walking I could manage was a sad, uncertain shuffle. It filled me with a sour, sardonic humor to know that this was happening to me. I made my way to the bathroom, dampened a washcloth to wipe away dried sweat and made faces in the mirror. I thought I heard whispers in the kitchen, but when I got there, there was no one to utter them. A little orange juice, half of it spilled, was all the breakfast that I wanted or could down. An image -- a suggestion of a face, a body -- flickered at the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look there was no one there.

The last hint of hallucination faded before noon. I sat still. Tremors only came with movement, or with the intention to move; no intention, no shakes. I sat still and I considered. I had hallucinated throughout the night, but now I was sane, could distinguish fantasy from fact. The policeman? He had been real. I had checked the windows and my wallet -- all intact, all whole. Those nightlong visitors and marauders had been fictive only, figments of my angry, frightened, disordered mind. And those sweet, foul movies -- lively, awful, terrifying tapes -- which seemed as clear and compelling now as they had when I'd experienced them, were also the product of my brain. Brain outraged by excess, just as my body was.

"I would have made one hell of a film director and producer."

I had to make a call, a business call. I dialed the number with wildly shaking finger, misdialed five or six times before I got it right, and conducted business with a tremulous voice. But the call was necessary, and I completed it. Good for me! Then I called friends, and shared my misery. "My God, we knew you were drinking a lot, but not that much."

It was Saturday, but I knew a doctor whom I could call at home. "Well, the DTs aren't in my territory, but with such a strong reaction, I'd think you were through the worst. Nothing now to do but sweat it out. Let me know how you're doing tomorrow or the next day."

I thanked him, shrugged and hoped, and thought about the neighbors. I figured my screaming had been real. I knocked on doors across the hall, and made painful, uncertain progression up and down the stairs. Explaining, shamefaced, what had happened, I knew that my appearance offered explanation in itself.

The afternoon passed. Cotton batting all around me, my nerve ends deadened, my own voice and the voices of others dulled and muted. The light was muted, also. Shadows without edges. I sat still and quiet, while the afternoon passed.

I waited for the night.

When they first came I hardly noticed them. Shrubs and branches outside my windows were caught in the last light of the sun. All gold-green and black. Gradually I became aware of figures standing there -- head-and-shoulders only, and in profile -- a succession of men and women, old and young, painted by shadow and sunlight, and moving in mute procession through the silence of my mind. Not looking at me, not responding or threatening, just there. "All right, so it's back again." I felt almost reckless, almost eager, as if I were awaiting further education and guidance.

The figures outside the windows slowly faded, bushes became bushes again, trees became trees, and I looked around for other witchery in the room. I found it not 10 feet away. Doorknobs again. I sat at a table near my open kitchen. A door beyond it led into the hall and that door was open, angled straight at me. The knob on the left-hand side of the door had long ago been painted white; its mate was painted black. As I watched, the white knob drifted slowly out from the door, and moved first up and then down. It was connected to its socket by a white elastic cord which, stretched to the utmost, had a reach of about one foot: one foot out, or up, or down.

My voice sounded loud in my ears. "Am I really seeing this?" The knob moved up and down a few times, then traveled straight out from its socket, turnedand seemed to look at me.

It's talking to me, signaling to me. "Do you mean maybe?" The knob returned to nest in the door, then shot straight up, jiggling at the end of its tether. As high as it could go.

"Does that mean yes?" More frantic jiggling. "All right. Up means yes, by the socket, maybe, and down is no." Affirmative, again. "This is fun!"

The knob sank slowly down. All the way. "OK. Not fun, because it's serious." Up, and it knocked silently against the door, as though for emphasis.

And so began my self-willed, self-guided catechism. Had I allowed alcohol nearly to destroy me? Yes, oh, yes! And for many years? And was I addicted to liquor? Affirmatives, all. But I loved the stuff: the rich, harsh smoke of Scotch whisky, the subtlety of wine; the ritual of sharing; the easing of tension, elevation of spirits. Couldn't I dry myself out, and then just drink normally, socially, the way other people do? No, no, no. All right then. How about just upon occasion, just once in a rare while? A rise to yes, a sinking to no, a final, dubious maybe. (They say that alcoholics always leave themselves an out.) And then I think I saw another no.

Then alcohol was left behind -- the answers were mostly self-evident to me in my shaken state. We explored, the doorknob and I, the really tough questions, the ones that we seldom ask of ourselves, and more seldom answer honestly. Was I proud of myself, of the book I'd just written and seen published, of the life I'd led? Had I cheated my children, or done the best I could? Behaved decently toward women, treated properly the loves of my life? Dealt honorably with the world? Had I failed myself, misused myself?

As the questions I asked, the threats and failings I explored, became harder, more demanding of that self which sat inside -- witness, judge and jury all at once -- the strange communion became more complicated still. The black knob on the right side of the door became active as a wicked, impish interloper, bound on mischief. It distracted me with nonsense moves, signaled yes when the white knob indicated no, and waved its dark no when the other answered yes. Resistance made visible to my eyes.

I felt a strange exhilaration throughout this process, this peculiar self-accounting. I didn't like all the answers I got, -- some of them made me shrivel -- but they seem, even now, to have been honest ones. Fresh out of questions, fresh out of lies, I found myself less admirable than I would like to be, more worthy than I'd feared.

I think it had turned dark. I know I was more exhausted than before, when the knobs settled back into their sockets, and answered me no more.

It was night, I don't know which night, when the Rev. Billy Joe knew every sentence I had ever written, every photograph I had ever made, and pronounced them all trash of the lowest, vilest, most worthless kind. He said that he could write better than I could, and better than my father before me. He had written better. He had written our books, and he filled my bookshelves with them (our books, with his name upon them), just as he filled my apartment with his adoring, dribbling, abject followers.

"They believe in me. You got to believe, too!" I chased them from one room to another, I threw them out of the apartment, but they came sneaking back. "We want your soul. Before me, you wrote nothing, made nothing, did nothing. Without me, without us, you are nothing, will be nothing. Give yourself to the Lord. Give yourself to me!"

They pounded on the locked door, they came marching in the moonlight, and sang beneath the windows. Terrible songs they sang. Praising the wrong kind of glory, the wrong kind of love. Legions of Baal, dressed in clothes from JC Penney's. They came singing, with lanternsto light them, with ladders for the windows and hatchets for the door. And they got in. Despite all I could do, they got in. They trashed my apartment, trashed my mind, pulled books from the shelves, photographs from the walls. They brought with them an organ grinder's monkey, with a dirty little hat and an evil grin. He capered to their chant and danced to their applause. I had papers on my table, important papers -- letters from my children, notes for a novel, manuscripts. The monkey leaped onto the table; he defecated on my papers. (It was then, I think, that I turned over the table, which was later found broken; it was then I upset the lamp.) Out of that foulness crawled red, black-spotted snakes. A lascar clown with a scarred, vicious face poured buckets of fire ants onto the mess. The ants streamed toward me in fat columns across the rug. The monkey waved a torch, and the drapes caught on fire. Trembling, sweating, totally exhausted, I sat down and stared at ruin.

"I give up. If you're real, if this is all real" -- and I gestured weakly with my arms -- "then the lace is gone, is done for, and I'm gone, too." Somewhere inside me sanity flickered, before it went out. "But I don't think you are real," I said. Dung steamed, snakes writhed, ants crawled, flames flowered on the walls. I saw, glowering out of smoke, the faces of the Rev. Billy Joe, his monkey, and his clown. I sat there, waiting for nothing, until it consumed me.

The neighbors grew tired of my screams. They heard the table crashing to the floor. They called the paramedics and the cops. It was bright and sunny on that Monday morning, I've been told, when they lashed me to a stretcher and carried me, wheeled me, out. Through all the foul hours that went before, as far as my remembrance reaches, I had been -- at least in some sad, shriveled sense -- myself. It had been to me, to the person in my body, to the man who writes these words, that those bad things had happened. But now all sense of myself had been lost. When the medics started to lift me into the ambulance, I am told that I remonstrated: "You can't do this! I'm the president." Later, they tell me, I used the same words when I slugged a doctor who was examining me. Some feeble, disoriented defense mechanism was still in operation, but the rest of me was buried deep, fathoms deep.

I drifted up from blankness four days later. I surfaced to pale faces, soft voices, and to white sheets and walls. Woke to blandness, which I found vaguely comforting. Slowly, almost lazily, I became aware that I was in a hospital room, attached to tubes, and that I was attended to by nurses, not harpies. I was told that I'd been dehydrated, in shock, near death, when the medics fetched me in, and I accepted that information, just as I accepted my surroundings, without any sense of wonder. Both sense and intellect were numbed, wrapped in protective coating. After a week in the detoxification ward, I spent four weeks in an alcohol and drug recovery clinic, slowly stripping that gauze away. When I came home I was myself again and yet was not myself. It took another month or more before I felt almost whole, and ready to peel away the final curtain.

For there was a curtain still wrapped around me, a curtain made up of bright, sharp images from the nightmare hours I had lived through. They did not linger in the apartment, not even the darkest closet held horror there. Rather the images persisted in memories of another place. A place inside my head where the garbled protests of delirium tremens had been subjectively experienced. A place that once I'd visited, and where I did not wish to go again.

Yet it seemed that, to make that experience, that place, that awful time, forever past, I must relive it at the typewriter -- put those memories on paper and thus be purged of them. I have done so, and those fierce images have faded into quaintness in my mind. The curtain is ripped away now. I see the world, and myself, as clearly as, perhaps more clearly than, I did before. There remains a sense of wonder at the power, the sheer fecundity, of the head-mind-brain gone wrong. That wonder persists, and certain questions as well.

The questions are not the obvious ones of parlor psychology. Why should my religious tormentor have been personified as a born-again revivalist? Simple. The nasty doings of the Rev. Jim Bakker had been reported in the papers for months. (Also, my father's father, a wicked charlatan whose memory I loathe, once toured in a revival show as the "converted Jew.") Why should the climactic part of my agony have had a religious context? Easy. As is true of many agnostics and atheists, matters of faith and virtue are of great importance to me. It is no wonder that, when sanity was threatened, indeed undone, intellect and psyche should masquerade as soul.

As for the mistress of ceremonies, the acrobats, the roustabouts and all their ghostly crew? I think my mind grabbed at any handy, colorful dressing which might serve. The neurons were hungry for images with which to clothe their complaint. But it amazes me that the answers I received in that dialogue with the doorknobs (answers, to questions about myself, which I have barelyindicated here, out of a mixture of modesty and shame) should seem even now, in sane sobriety, to have given me greater self-acquaintance than ever I had owned before. I do not understand how, in the midst of such pained confusion, there could have persisted any clarity at all.

Nor do I understand how I could have retained for so many months such an extended and detailed recollection of all that warped reality -- those elaborate and intricate hallucinations. But I did. I do not have a photographic memory. My recollections of even the key events of my life become reduced in time to only key shreds and shards of memory, each shard an image of a phrase. That is truer still of my ability to recall dreams; their fabric is torn to pieces when I wake. Yet, after days in a coma and weeks of torpor, both the pattern and the details of my delirium were handy to my consciousness. They were sharp and clear, as though the beasties in my brain, the neurons, were proud of their production, and would not let it fade.

But those are fanciful words, and I am writing here of very real physical trauma. The neurons -- axons, dendrites -- which shape, transmit and receive thought, which constitute thought, as best we know -- had been chemically affected by first the constant presence of alcohol, and then by its absence. Also, I have read that excess use of alcohol robs the mind of rapid-eye-movement sleep, in which the bulk of our dreams occur, and it is said that dreams cleanse the mind. I know that when I drank heavily, steadily, I dreamed less than is normal for me, and that when I'd gone on the wagon in the past, for the first several nights my sleep was consumed by dreams -- a nightlong phantasmagoria, unrecollected in the day. And this time I had drunk far more than ever before. With its constituent cells deprived and hurting, no wonder my psyche was scoured out with lye.

All the descriptions of delirium tremens I have encountered include the element of absolute terror. I think the basic neural screams are simply cloaked in the images most personally terrifying to each of us. But that is for the psychiatrists, psychologists and neurologists to explain someday, when they acquire the vocabulary with which to interweave the subjective and objective workings of the mind-brain.

Meanwhile, I am left with wonder.

As horrific images recede, it is the memory of the dialogue with the doorknobs that stays freshest. It is true that no taint of foulness lingers in my apartment, but sometimes when I pass that door, a glance at the white knob and the black leads me to recall that painful inquisition, and I wonder once again which answers held the most truth.

I have said that I am sober now, and I am, but I still take wine or liquor on occasion. At their wedding, I toasted my son and his bride with champagne. Once in a while I allow myself a few drinks at a party; and almost every week, on one special night, I indulge in dinner out -- with a drink or two beforehand, and with wine to grace the meat.

Therapists call that "testing" and they disapprove. With good, statistical reason: for many, testing leads quickly to disaster. As it has done once for me, but once only, and I do not think it will again. I know others who have walked such a tightrope for years, and walked it happily, taking pride in their sure balance. I also know alcoholics who never drink at all, yet keep a cabinet well-stocked with liquor to offer thirsty friends who come to call. That is a form of testing I do not yet trust myself to face. We all must find our own grasp on sobriety, and make certain it is firm. And always I remember that, when I asked the doorknobs about drinking in the future, it was the white knob which indicated maybe (or was it no?), while the black knob, the deceiver, signaled yes.

There are no comments - be the first to comment