Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Vroon! Weeee-laaah!

A few days back, I was the victim of an attempted drive-by trolling. The young fellow who posted the comment had put on his best Zaphod Beeblebrox persona in what I assume was an attempt to impress with sheer hoopiness. Oh, the irony!

Your Humble Narrator has been clean and sober since July 10, 1985. In the six or seven years prior to that date, I would have made old Zaphod look like Arthur Dent on the wagon. I have imbibed, inhaled and ingested (but never injected — I hate needles) more than any human can reasonably expect to survive; in fact, without frequent intervention, I would not have lived through the period. There were a lot of days when I had at least two heads, and they both (or all) hurt like hell. And I have experienced the sudden appearance of a molten landscape with penguins without benefit of an Infinite Improbability Drive. Yeah, I really knew where my towel was.

I was a two-four-a-day maintenance drinker. (That's 24 bottles of proper 5% Canadian beer, Newkie Brown, Guinness and/or various high-test, 14%+ homebrews for those whose experience is with three-two Bud.) There were times, though, when I needed to get drunk, so I might throw a forty of Navy rum (or, when I needed to feel high-class, a bottle of Chivas Regal Royal Salute or maybe an eighteen-year-old Islay — not that I could tell any of it from peat moss and rubbing alcohol in the state I was usually in) onto the fire. If I could find that Ol' Janx Spirit, I'd have guzzled gallons and damn the side effects. I downed eight successive 48-oz pitchers of draught in twenty minutes to win a beer-drinking contest once, after having gotten enough of a buzz on to rise to the challenge (one of the few things I actually recall is that my "crew" was already at the point of singing the three or four lines were knew of The Black Velvet Band over and over again when the temporary-duty-trip grunts challenged us Noble Aircraftsmen to a match of military skills). I had to rupture my abdominal wall to accomodate the volume, but this was for pride of service. I was quite adept at getting scrips for whatever uppers or downers I wanted (Seconal was a particular favorite), and you just know there are times a fellow needs to, um, get mellow. One also needs an occasional face-to-face with the deity of one's choice, and let's not forget about the poppy juice — everyone needs a break now and then, and it really helped with the never-quite-healed-properly-broken-neck pain. My favorite game was Morning Jeopardy!, and the correct questions were always "what the hell time is it, Alex", "where the hell am I, Alex", and "who the hell is this Alex you think you're talking to?"

The surprising part of all this is not that someone can voluntarily do that much damage to his body and his psyche, it's that he can do the vast majority of that damage while in the military, maintaining critical avionics systems that, if things go wrong, can try to force a Sea King helicopter to maintain a hover precisely forty feet underwater. When I was on my game, you see (that is, when I wasn't in a falling-down stupor), I was a hell of a tech. People were not afraid to express their disapproval to my face, but they always covered my ass. Nothing ever hit paper and stuck. At the time, I thought that was a Good Thing. I may have had to do extra duties now and again, but I stayed out of jail and (this is the important part) I was never administratively referred to rehab. Once you get referred, you have to stay dry for a year or face discharge.

Then I woke up one morning completely blind. I'd been "dead" before and revived; that wasn't a problem. This time, though, I might have to live with the consequences, in the dark, and that was scary. After what seemed like days, but was probably only a couple of hours, the light came back, and I wished it hadn't. I'd never felt that level of pain before (not even from a 1981-vintage cranial arteriogram; ask anyone who's had one what that's like). It took me more than two hours to button up my uniform shirt (timed it; hell, I was already beyond late and was trying to compute the AWOL punishment against the out-of-uniform penalty, and shaving was out of the question that day since my hands were doing pretty much what they pleased without consulting me). I managed to half-stagger, half-crawl to the hangar. Even looking and smelling like I did, and after arriving several hours late for work, it took an unbelievable amount of time and interviews with superiors to finally get my request for a voluntary medical referral to an alcohol rehab clinic approved. Losing my diagnostic skills for twenty-eight days and an afternoon a week for a year was, apparently, worse than watching me kill myself that way.

That was July 10, 1985. Nineteen years and a bit later, I still live with the damage I did. My heart and liver are largely scar tissue. The neck I broke playing Rugby drunk still causes me pain and occasional partial paralysis of my left side. (Five-ten and fifteen stone is small for a tighthead prop, even if you can push a ruddy ton uphill. Sober people that size play the wing three-quarter or, if they're smart as well as sober, sit singing bawdy songs in the stands while the monsters on the pitch get on with the carnage.) The back I injured falling (drunk, of course) from a Sea King flares up now and again, and needs traction for relief. I am prone to paranoid depression, and worst of all I can't find the little travel bag with the tin of olive oil in it. When I'm not stepping out of the shower, I really don't give a flying [censored] where my towel is anymore. I've dealt with much scarier things than the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal and lived to tell the tale.

To sum up: if you want to try to impress me with your drinking prowess or tales of chemical adventures, you can't. Whatever you've done, I've done more and couldn't be less proud of it. And if you're covering the ass of someone who has a problem like mine, the little trouble they may get into now is nothing compared to the big trouble that's coming. Stop it.


Anonymous said...

I've never been in such a state, and it's a brave thing to go so public with the story that only the closest friends really know. I'm glad you made it out of that nightmare. Well done. I hope lots of people benefit from your survival. Regards, Bruce Langner

Anonymous said...

Wow... Thanks for sharing, Stan... That's one of the things I like about following blogs... it puts flesh on the virtual people you converse with every day but never meet.


Anonymous said...

Stan, that's quite a story. It puts my youthful recklessness into perspective. I'm glad you survived it - my brother basically killed himself by the age of 32 through alcohol, street drugs, and prescribed drugs (although I think the medical system also bears responsibility for his death). Even though he was receiving treatment for alcoholism and schizophrenia and being visited on a bi-weekly basis by a communnity psychiatric nurse, the nurse didn't think to tell anyone my brother was drinking and taking his medication. The nurse didn't even notice my brother turning progressively yellow as his liver died. His personal physician never even visited him during the last year of his life, even when the family were saying repeatedly that this treatment regime was seriously wrong. The psychiatrist only wanted to listen to what my brother had to say, not the family and he treated us like we were lying. In the end my brother was killed by security guards in the hospital who held him down while doctors injected multiple sedatives into him - man with total liver failure. He died the next morning without every re-gaining consciousness. Very sad... I'm so glad a similar fate did not befall you.

Jess said...

Wow Stan... as the others said, thank you for sharing that. Any insight into friend's lives to get to know and understand them better is great, but I think we all recognize the harder stuff to say when we see it.

As for that troll, I think we can dig up some Vogon Poetry somewhere to read to them, right?

Jess said...

>>I've consumed enough psychotropic drugs to make a horse think it was George Washington.

HE took the drugs and the HORSE thought it was George Washington? Was he riding the horse at the time? I mean, saddles are pretty thick and all, probably too thick for osmosis into the bloodstream, but what do I know...

PS - the above wasn't Stan's quote. It was the trolls.

Ed Brill said...

OK, so in your first two weeks of blogging, we have learned that -
1) you no longer like hockey
2) you were homeless
3) you had some addiction challenges
4) you are a kick-ass programmer

I don't really know where you go from here. Wow.
Seriously, thanks for sharing -- I'd love to be able to write openly on my blog, but I've quickly become a prisoner of the fact that it is my corporate persona. so good for you, eh?

Ben Poole said...

Thanks for telling us the tale Stan, and kudos to you for getting yourself out of that: nineteen years of sobriety is no mean feat and I salute you.