I spent most of last Friday in the emergency department of a Brisbane hospital checking somebody I care about into the drug and alcohol detox clinic.
Ella was slung on one hip, a packet of potato chips bought from the vending machine and shoved into her hands for lunch. It was not, I decided, the time to be concerned with nutrition.
“When is the last time you had a drink?” the nurse asked slowly and deliberately, as if speaking to a confused, senile person. He paused, and I knew in that pause he was trying to remember what he’d told me, trying to keep his story straight, trying to pluck out a lie which would soften the blow of the hell he was in.
“Have you had a drink today?” she asked.
“Half a bottle of wine”, he replied and I looked away because I couldn’t bear to watch him lie.
My heart shattered into a million pieces there in that emergency room, because somebody I love is in love with this man. Somebody I love has suddenly found themselves living their worst nightmare. I picked up the phone and made a call I wished I didn’t have to make. There was relief at the other end. Relief that he was somewhere safe, at least. But mostly there was heartache. Deep and raw and so confronting it took all I had not to lose my composure. This was the third relapse. The millionth lie. The final confirmation that he was, in fact, an alcoholic, and one who was not getting better.
I cried when I got off the phone. I cried all the way home. I hated alcohol. I wanted to smash every bottle of it against every brick wall I could find. I hated alcoholics. I hated them for being weak and selfish, and for wasting a life they were privileged to live. I hated them for hurting people who loved them, and then I hated the whole god-awful situation because I don’t really hate alcohol and I don’t really hate alcoholics. What I hated was sitting on the end of the phone, listening to somebody I love immersed in grief, understanding the shit-fight they faced, knowing there was nothing either one of us could do to make it stop. What I hated was knowing that the world of addiction is dark and desolate, and the only hope of getting out lies in the hands of the one who is addicted.
It felt like the opposite of power. It felt helpless, like an avalanche was coming but there was nowhere to run.
And it made me understand, again, that the simple act of loving someone can be the riskiest, most painful thing we may ever encounter. In Song of Myself, Whitman wrote, “Sometimes touching another person is more than I can bear.” But we do it anyway, don’t we, because we’re wired that way. We love because a life without it would be meaningless.
Life doesn’t make sense to me a lot of the time. Human nature makes even less sense. The more I live, the more I can’t help but see that the world houses seven billion hurting people. Some hurt less, some more, but none invincible to the suffering inherent to human life. Through hope and sweat, some stand sturdy in their places. Others claw desperately at the flimsy piece of thread they think connects them to any scraps of life they have left. Others madly weave sturdier ropes to pass to the flimsy thread holders, even when they know, deep down, they’ll never finish it in time.
Over the past couple days, I’ve been glued to the computer. What to do if you love an alcoholic. What are the 12 steps in AA. Addiction rehabilitation centres Brisbane. Therapists specializing in alcohol addiction. There have been phone calls and more tears and a little bit of hope and a great lot of sadness. A net has been flung to catch these two people, formed by the hands of the few of us who know. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I do know that my hands will go nowhere until there is nothing left to hold up.
In the meantime, I’ve learned that most of the time, all we really have is the moment and the imperfect love of people.
And perhaps that’s just all there is, in the end.