This is Carl and Dwayne.
Two of our house “regulars.” They are addicted to booze, I feel comfortable in saying that. They are usually homeless or borderline homeless. They’re funny, very funny, and they like us. Those seem like small things, but they are not. Those are huge things. Another huge thing is that yes, they are always drunk or drinking, but not so gone that they can’t carry on a conversation. They are cognitively present, more or less. We can’t say the same for all of our guests.
A couple weeks ago, Carl came to us, talking about quitting. We were able to get him in at Renfrew to detox. I wondered if it would last. I hoped it would, but I didn’t know. Carl had been drinking a long time, like years and years. He made it through detox and was able to get in at a halfway house. I’m not sure what exactly happened there, but the gist of the story that I got was that Carl was expected to write a “testimony” to what prompted him to quit. Most individuals in the program profess to some sort of “higher power.” Carl doesn’t believe in God and didn’t want to say that he did, so he said he believed in science. So they kicked him out, which was bullshit, but there wasn’t much we could do. Carl started drinking again.
Then the flood happened.
We took him with us because he couldn’t stay in Bowness. He protested but eventually we convinced him to come with us, or rather, Steph convinced him. Steph’s love for Carl is proportionate to that of a high-velocity projectile missile. With that much enthusiasm, you could probably eat a bicycle. My love for Carl is different. Steph is like a cowboy, she comes out with her guns a-blazing. I’m more like a…..cat. A stray cat that finds you every few days and sits by you. Not too close, but close enough that you know it’s there. When all my friends told me, “One day you’ll be a Crazy Cat Lady!”, they didn’t even know the half of it.
So anyway. He started to withdraw the first night, getting the shakes and such. I think they got him some booze to last him while the flood lasted. After that, he eventually went back to detox. He couldn’t go back to the halfway house he was at before, as that tactic had obviously not worked last time, plus all the places like that in Calgary were filled up with displaced homeless people from the flood. So they found him a spot in Lethbridge. They gave him money to get a bus ticket to go to Lethbridge. With no transportation to a) cash the check, and b) get to the bus depot, he basically just ended up wandering around town for five years before eventually finding his way back to detox. But he didn’t drink. Some time later (maybe later in the week), he was back in Bowness, drinking with Dwayne again.
I was sad when I heard it, because I thought…what had to happen for him to give up? Was it possible that he just had a complete loss of hope? Because before when we’d talk to him about getting sober, he would just repeat, “It just didn’t take. It doesn’t work for me. It just didn’t take.” Maybe that was what he thought was happening. So he just gave up. It made me feel incredibly sad, like someone had died. Steph didn’t take as dire of a view. “He’ll come around once he knows how much I love him,” she said, confidently.
He came to dinner on Thursday night. He was completely trashed. I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference between trying-to-get-sober Carl and drunk-Carl. I guess I never noticed it because he was always drunk before. I didn’t know there was a difference. His eyes were brighter, clearer, he didn’t slur, he strung thoughts and sentences together. He just seemed….lighter. Drunk Carl was a world of difference, and it was hard to be around. For me. It wasn’t hard to be around him, it was hard to be around the difference. It was like I was watching him willingly go back into darkness. He said he had felt scared to come over, he was embarrassed, he was ashamed of what he’d done, maybe we would be mad at him or not love him anymore. We reassured him, and that was what was important. Even if he never un-gives up, at least he’ll know that we love him. But it’s like now that I’ve seen what Carl is like sober….I don’t know. At least he was out of pain. That’s, like, the worst consolation ever. It’s for when people die. At least they’re out of pain. They’re just words, but they carry with them something incredibly bittersweet. It’s like a knife and a hug at the same time.
Dwayne had some sort of accident and ripped some skin off his leg. Unfortunately, it got infected, and it was the grossest and most infected thing I’ve ever seen with the exception of that one time WHEN I WAS IN AFRICA. You know what Africans DON’T have? ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. Ugh, Dwayne. I love him but he’s such an idiot. He kept going on about how he could take care of himself and it wasn’t that bad and he wasn’t going to go to no hospital because they’d make him wait and he’s a big tough blah blah blah. When is he going to realize that his leg doesn’t care about how badass he thinks he is? It’s a medical issue, it requires medical attention. Anyway, he was completely trashed too, him and Carl were being really negative towards each other. At one point, somebody (maybe Newfie Mike) brought him some knives he had found in the dumpster…and he was talkin’ shit about throwing one of the knives at Jesse, and he eventually chucked one of them at Paul’s car, at which point Nicole disposed of said knives. Later that evening, Jesse made him get in my car and him and Kate took him to the hospital. It was a Staph bacterial infection, probably cellulitis. He’s supposed to go back every morning at 11:45 for an antibiotic IV drip, but I don’t know if he will.
These are my people, these are my friends, they are why our house exists. What do I have to offer them? What do I know, really know, about addiction?
I know statistical facts, I know medical facts. I read a lot of books on it, that summer Amie was with us. I know what it looks like, I know what it smells like. I can put a name on it, I can put a face on it.
Do I know what it feels like? Sort of. Sometimes. I have what they call an “addictive personality.” In my teen years I drank semi-regularly. More so when I was having issues with my family, which was often, in those days. Too often. I had a lot of things I wanted to drink away back then. Then I developed an allergy to alcohol. I’d always been a cheap drunk, but now it’s to the point where I have half a cooler and I am on the floor, my chest’s swelling up, my throat hurts, I have a migraine, and someone needs to carry me. It makes me feel so shitty that the pay-off isn’t even worth thinking about anymore. I sometimes think that God may have intervened in that sense. If I hadn’t developed an allergy, how much would I drink? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I think about it and I figure it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. You don’t want to awaken that dragon, I tell myself, and then I think of Game of Thrones and Smaug and the Hobbit and then it’s time to nerd out. Better for everyone involved, really.
Marijuana is another story. If you know me at all you know that I love smoking weed. Why do I love it? Well, because it’s fucking entertaining, for one thing. It makes everything and anything fun. It also makes everything and anything sloooow. Which sometimes is a good thing, because my brain goes so fast that honestly it’s nice to get a break from it every once in a while, but sometimes it’s like…”How am I still going to the bathroom? I’ve been in here for approximately eight years.” There’s a book about addiction called In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts (Gabor Mate), and although I don’t remember the exact quote, the author says abusing substances basically allows the user to interact with and enjoy life without any of the usual “stuff” bogging them down (hesitation, social anxiety, any kind of anxiety, depression, fear, etc.) It basically subtracts those things from the equation, not by erasing the pain, but by simply making the pain cease to matter. That’s why marijuana can be a problem for me because that becomes a very attractive way for me to live my life. Wouldn’t it feel wonderful, wouldn’t it be so freeing ? The lyrics from the song Running Up That Hill express this phenomenon perfectly –
It doesn’t hurt me.
You wanna feel how it feels?
You wanna know, know that it doesn’t hurt me?
You wanna hear about the deal I’m making?
You and me be running up that hill
if I only could,
Make a deal with God,
get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
with no problems.
But I’ve always stopped before going too overboard. I don’t know why. What stops me? I guess I’m just conscientious as shit. Not really. There have been days where I’ve been like, man, I should definitely be the poster child for being awesome at life, because it’s like 2 in the afternoon and I think I’m in my living room but I don’t actually know. I think someone just told me I’m in my living room, but I can’t remember if I dreamed that, or if that actually happened. What does “living room” really mean, anyway?
Anyway. I think I know what addiction feels like sort of, but it’s never been to the point where I’m like….I’ll trade my mom or friends for some pot. It’s more like…this flexible arrangement that I have with reality where I’m like, Hey, Reality. Sometimes you’re cool. Sometimes you’re not. I’m just gonna check out when I’m not feeling you, mmkay? It hasn’t ever made my life fall apart completely.
So that’s where I try to understand Carl and Dwayne but can’t.
I guess the important thing isn’t that I have to understand it or know how it works or have some sort of academical revelation. I don’t even have to relate to it emotionally. “Getting sober” is awesome, but it’s not the end goal. Because if it is, then I’m just setting myself up for disappointment. I am not friends with Carl and Dwayne because I want them to get sober. I do want them to get sober, but if they never do, that won’t be a colossal failure on my part or theirs. That’s a hard thing for me to wrap my head around. I always think I’m failing all of our friends because I can’t provide a good enough reason for them to want sobriety. But our mission isn’t to cure them. It’s to be with them.
Privately I think it would be easier just to cure them.
Carl, seeing me in my morning state : Oh my god, you look terrifying!
Me : Thanks.
Carl : Like Medusa! But I still think you’re beautiful, I don’t give a fuck what anyone else says about ya.
Carl : What’d you guys have for dinner last thursday?
Sarah : I made lasagna.
Carl : Oh, for FUCK’S SAKE!
Dwayne : You just HAD to ask, didn’t ya?
Carl : We’re thinking about making a dessert to bring, like pie.
Me : Oh, that’s so nice!
Carl : Well, YOU guys…I mean, all you do is fuckin’ put out.