We are now counting in weeks, and almost months, the time that has passed since a relapse. No hidden bottles have been discovered, and I have had no cause to look for them. Coincidentally, as a family, we have spent more time together than usual. Celebrating birthdays, playing board games, planning trips and just being, paying little attention to any consequences of alcoholism. Tears, worry, distress and surrender are absent.
As the presence of alcoholism fades with every passing day of sobriety, I find myself letting down my guard. Slightly but never completely, because reminders remain. The pipes that trace the ceiling in our basement, shelves with dark corners, and golf bags with ample side pockets return me to the days not that long ago when they cast the shadow and took the shape of the bottles they held. Days found just a page or so ago on the calendar hanging outside of our kitchen.
I have no interest in revisiting them, and little desire to page ahead. A few days ago, though, I did both when I found myself behind an alcoholic in line at the store. First, I noticed bones protruding from his back like wings, pointing sharply under the sweater he wore. Next, I watched as he reached to insert his credit card into the chip reader, his hand shaking so badly he could hardly align it with the machine. His pin number escaped his memory. Once and then twice. Gently, the clerk told him that he had one more try before his card would be declined.
When I saw the items he had placed on the counter, I found myself silently rooting for him to remember his pin so that he could complete his purchase. A purchase I imagined he did not want to make, but needed to – a pint of vodka and Gatorade with which to mix it. My eyes caught the clerk’s, and I knew he was wishing for the same.
This man wasn’t my alcoholic, but in that moment I cared as if he were. I cared that he get the alcohol he needed immediately and the help he should have gotten long ago.
As he exited the store with his purchases neatly bagged, I wondered how he got there. To a moment in time that was once his future, and most likely far removed from the one he imagined for himself.
Did he reach a point in his sobriety where he was so comfortable that he let down his guard? Or did the people who were keeping watch for him let down theirs? Had he given up, or were the drinks he purchased his last before steadying himself to face alcoholism once again?
I cared because that could have been Swenny. By the time I left the store, my guard was back where it belongs. Up.