Last week a man near and dear to my heart died. Al was a late stage alcoholic. He was in and out of sobriety and recovery for many, many years. He had a heart that was as big as it was broken.
In one of our final lucid conversations, Al asked me to provide his eulogy. I understand that his family has chosen not to have a local service and so this is my farewell to a man who wanted more than anything in the world to be of service to others.
He just wouldn’t allow others to serve him.
I was one of very few exceptions to that rule. I was his clinician intermittently for a long time. I see no point in protecting his confidentiality from the grave and more importantly, Al wouldn’t give a damn. He was able to accept my support at times because I was paid to provide it. The fact that he knew I cared deeply about him is why he kept coming back.
The first time I met Al he was in a group therapy session that I was facilitating for folks seeking to overcome both addiction and a history of trauma/abuse. Friends who knew Al well suggested he meet with me because I’m not like most counselors (he’d seen quite a few). I tend to be about as subtle as a freight train running through your living room.
Al was up for the challenge. His first words to me were, “I eat counselors for breakfast.”
My reply, “You have the saddest eyes of any man I’ve ever met.”
We were off and running from there. Truthfully, it’d be more accurate to say, “That’s when we started dancing around the truth, Al and I.
His story was simple: Al loved a good woman. The good woman died. He drank before, during, and after. Sometimes he stopped. He stopped for a year once but there’s a world of difference between sobriety and recovery. The best Al ever got was “dry.”
I suspect Al’s heart had broken long before he met her. He never allowed himself to grieve. Instead he sought endlessly to bring a smile to a million different faces in the hopes it would bring a lasting one to his own.
Happiness is fleeting. As any addict will tell you, there’s just never enough of anything to take away the pain for more than just a little while.
Al was incredibly passionate about recovery…other people’s recovery. He was an incredible advocate, supporter, cheer leader, encourager, teacher, and the very best kind of hypocrite.
Hypocrisy leaves one largely ineffective in supporting the growth and healing of survivors and/or addicts. We just won’t hear you if you don’t practice what you preach.
No one railed against powerlessness harder than Al. He would reason, beg, and plead for others to get sober and he meant every word of it because he wholeheartedly believed they deserved it.
We give away what we want to receive – especially when we’re too ashamed and too afraid to receive it. Everyone deserves recovery but that’s something Al only knew, not something he felt or accepted or allowed himself.
The progression of the disease of addiction is insidious and cruel. The man I knew in the final two years of his life was only a shell of the man I once knew
The last words I spoke to Al I stated ten consecutive times:
“There’s no choice any more. You must detox. Leave here and go directly to the hospital because if you don’t you are going to die.”
I repeated it nine more times because Al repeatedly pleaded with me, “I’ll do anything but that. Please, just tell me what to do!”
There are countless expressions that are open to interpretation. The “insanity of our disease” is not one of them.
I left Al that night affirming that I believed it was not too late, that I cared deeply about him, and that I wanted him to have a life, “second to none.”
There are no words to adequately describe the grief of losing a loved one to the disease of addiction. It’s a mix of intense sadness, raging anger, and a kick in the gut feeling of complete powerlessness. My heart goes out to you if you’re still trying to wake up from this nightmare.
I am neither immune nor desensitized. It’s simply a reality of working in the field of addiction: People you come to care about will go through hell again and again. You get the honor of bearing witness to both their struggles and victories. Some will get better and some will die.
I am mindful of the words of Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” and the words echoed by Bob & Bill, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I love you, Al. I pray you experience serenity in the next life. Blessed be.