Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Thinking Person's Guide to Sobriety
By Bert Pluymen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Bert Pluymen
All rights reserved.
"My name is Bert ... and, uh, I have a desire to stop drinking." The difficult words came haltingly out of my mouth. Around the room sat total strangers, except for the one good friend whom I'd asked to bring me. The strangers smiled sympathetically. I choked back tears that would soon overwhelm me in this unknown place.
My friends would never have fathomed my being here. I was a trial lawyer who had twice been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America on the recommendation of judges and fellow attorneys. Earlier, I had been named the outstanding young lawyer in Austin, Texas. I had argued and won a major case in the United States Supreme Court just two years out of law school. I had been cocounsel in the three-month jury trial over the Howard Hughes estate that eventually resulted in a $50 million payment to the State of Texas.
I had never been arrested for drunk driving, public intoxication, or anything else. I'd never hit another car because of drinking. Never had a memory loss due to drinking. Never had complaints from friends, law partners, women I dated, or anyone else about my drinking — or even about any single occasion when I drank.
So what on earth possessed me to ask my friend to take me to a meeting of anonymous people who had chosen not to drink anymore? It was because my wife of six months had just left me to spend her life with another man — and I knew that I would die if I drank enough to stop the incredible pain.
Excruciating as that experience was, it unwittingly presented me with an opportunity to have a high bottom, a good place to get off the descending elevator of alcohol. "Fifth floor? ... Thanks, I'll get off here." No sense in riding this baby to the third floor of the basement.
At the time, all I knew was that I faced a clear choice. I could either stay sober, and walk through my pain of rejection and abandonment one day at a time, or I could drown the feelings in alcohol ... and die.
Staying sober had the advantage of getting to the other side as quickly as possible, but offered no relief from the agony. Drinking offered the allure of temporary pain relief, but risked death because of the amount of alcohol required to mask the feelings. Even if I survived the attempt to anesthetize my feelings, I would be dealing with painful hangovers while wallowing in self-pity and prolonging the recovery process indefinitely.
What made me think that I was capable of reacting to tragedy by drinking so much alcohol that I could die? To answer that, I have to tell you my story.
The Fun's Just Beginning
My discovery of alcohol did not begin at home. Neither Mom nor Pop drank, unless you consider a glass of sherry during the holidays "drinking." There was no obvious genetic predisposition to my affection for the fruit of the vine.
I had been born in Holland and spoke no English when my coal-miner family immigrated to America. I was just ten. School in Holland had always been easy for me, and my first semester in America, I made all As except for a B in English. Of course, I was your typically driven immigrant child, a product of parents who gave up all they had to move four thousand miles to a foreign place, with no job or family or friends in sight.
I was a curiosity piece in my Port Arthur, Texas, grammar school because of my heritage and accent. Being a celebrity was fun, but it was also dangerous — boys would pick fights with me because I was different, the dappled horse in the chestnut herd. Teachers liked me, though, because I was courteous and made good grades. Most students accepted me, too. By high school, I was president of the student body, quarterback of the football team, and class salutatorian.
My love affair with alcohol began in my senior year, after I had played my last football game. Training and self-denial were over — now the fun could begin! PARTY TIME!
After the first few cans had acclimated my tongue, beer tasted terrific. So did the camaraderie of friends cruising up and down the Drag together, shooting pool, and going dancing across the river in wide-open Louisiana. Remember the exciting and bonding conspiracy of buying alcohol under age? I can still taste the beer from the cans we passed around — opened in celebration, and shared in friendship. The cold, sparkling foam of brotherhood!
No fun activity seemed incapable of being enhanced by drinking. The summer following graduation, we spent numerous nights playing poker until dawn. We threw ski parties on the river, with the laughter of the girls ricocheting off the bayous. Our macho football crowd even camped out and danced naked in the light of the full moon. We knew that, soon enough, our fun would end in work, college, or the military, and we were determined to celebrate our freedom and friendship before we parted.
I knew that my future lay in continuing with school. Pop was a pipe fitter and former coal miner; Mom, a housewife and part-time maid by day, a nurse's aide by night. Like their parents and grandparents, they had struggled their whole lives to make ends meet. College, for me, was an attractive escape route from this heritage. The only real question was whether to go party or study.
Knowing that I was capable of either, I purposely chose a challenging academic environment supposedly free of temptation. Rice University gave me both a scholarship and all that I had bargained for intellectually. Every student had excelled in high school. National Merit scholars roamed the campus.
The competitor in me came out in full force. I took dead aim at the Honor Roll — I had to make it. My college friends had the same ambition. We all studied feverishly, driven as much by fear of embarrassment as by the desire to succeed. Everyone was accustomed to being top dog. Some now would end up in the middle, others at the bottom. The bottom? Unthinkable!
I remember the day that the first test grades were posted in freshman chemistry. I made a 24 out of 100. I was horrified. Then I learned that the highest score in our class of a hundred students had been a 42, and the average was a mere 18. A couple of my friends had actually scored below 10.
Nothing could have done a quicker job of convincing us cocky eighteen-year-olds that we weren't God's gift to the universe after all. Until then, most of us had never met anybody we couldn't outscore no matter how hard we tried. Suddenly, here was an entire group of us feeling outgunned.
Two things about humility — you either have some or you are going to get some. I learned humility about my intelligence then, but I never dreamed I would later learn humility about alcohol.
I'll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor Is Having
Drinking in college was fun. We would study fiercely all week, then cut loose with "beer mattress parties" on weekends. Here's how it worked: A student organization would rent a barn outside the city, hire a band, and provide a bunch of kegs. We would then haul scores of cheap dormitory mattresses out to the site, lay them against the barn's interior walls on the perimeter of a dirt dance floor, and drink and dance till we dropped.
Besides relieving tension, I found alcohol made it easier to relax with a date. Raised a strict Catholic, I'd been taught that even French kissing was a mortal sin that would condemn me to eternal hell. The tug-of-war between these teachings of my childhood and the hormones of my adolescence reached a climax in college.
In my innocence, I truly believed that sex before marriage was immoral and that its beauty and significance were tainted without that sanctification. As a result, I broke down in tears the first time I gently stroked my girlfriend's breast.
In retrospect, the beauty and power of love was mesmerizing while we were virgins. We would sit under the stars for hours and stare into each other's eyes, enchanted by mutual promises of love and the belief that its magic would last forever. We would kneel naked in a secluded dorm room, bathed in candlelight, and touch each other wondrously ... lovingly ... gently, our spirits soaring in mutual love that reached out and caressed the very universe.
But of course this passionate purity couldn't last. Kids playing with matches could never dream of starting fires so intense. The raging inner conflict between faith and hormones was eventually resolved in favor of the urgings of nature, with the grateful and indispensable assistance of alcohol.
In the years that followed, I don't recall ever going on a date or making love without alcohol being an intimate part of the romantic occasion. We toasted wineglasses by candlelight, sipped champagne in front of a crackling winter fire, washed down barbecue in the hot summer sun with ice-cold beer, and refreshed the tongue with frozen margaritas after spicy Mexican food.
It wasn't that alcohol was a necessity; it just made every occasion seem that much more fun. It also made "making moves" on a date a lot less awkward.
Alcohol also lubricated our group activities. We skinny-dipped at the lake and in the university president's pool. We swam in the public fountains on Houston's Main Street and were chased out by the police. We danced in clubs, frolicked on Mustang Beach, screamed during football games, and stayed up all night while playing in a rugby tournament — all in no pain, pleasurably anesthetized by our favorite brew.
Drinking was fun, relaxing, social, ubiquitous, and virtually problem-free.
You Can Always Tell an Alcoholic ... but You Can't Tell 'Em Much
Both during high school and college, I had the occasional friend who drank so much that the rest of us recognized he had a drinking problem. One of our high school buddies, for instance, drank a case of beer every weekend during the summer after graduation. We whispered to each other that he was drinking way too much and might be an alcoholic. In college, I knew a couple of guys who drank until they were toasted nearly every night.
In such situations, we all thought the amount of alcohol being consumed was abnormal, and we made friendly comments to them about our concerns. Then we wrote it off as boys being boys, particularly when they had just relished freedom and had no parental figure around to squelch their fun. We figured they would probably tire of carousing after a while. Failing that, work responsibilities or exams would inevitably pull their chain.
I recall reading during that time that alcoholism was a disease. What a cop-out! I thought. Some guy makes a habit of drinking way too much and wants to blame his behavior on illness? Tell him to stop drinking so damn much! Nobody is forcing the alcohol down his throat.
With minor exception, most of us drank normally, at least by college standards. We would study during the week, then party on weekends and special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
No Hay Problema
But even we normal drinkers would experience some problems with alcohol. Throwing up occasionally was one. Yet there were apparent reasons for that. It didn't take us long to discover not to drink on an empty stomach. Or to learn that "beer after whiskey was mighty risky; whiskey after beer, never fear."
One of the most unpleasant sensations was to lie down after overindulging, only to feel the room spinning round every time you closed your eyes. The sole remedy was to stay awake until it passed.
College and graduate school were a time not only of learning, but also of experimenting. Simply drinking great-tasting beer, many brands of which had at first tasted lousy, soon wasn't enough. A person had to be more sophisticated, which made it important to learn to drink Scotch. But that presented a problem — the stuff tasted terrible. And unlike other liquors that richly deserved the moniker "firewater," it was not proper to mix Scotch with a soft drink.
Luckily, a friend had a proven method for acquiring a fondness. "Buy a bottle of Cutty Sark," she advised. "Wrinkle up your nose, and drink it over time until you finish the bottle. After that, you'll love the taste." And she was right. It took two weeks to finish the nasty stuff, but I loved it after that.CHAPTER 2
DENIAL IS NOT A RIVER IN EGYPT
Once out in the real world, I continued to enjoy drinking for many years. At first, it was mostly on weekends and other special occasions. Then some coworkers invited me to join them for a drink after work one Thursday. That proved such fun that we made it a regular event. A bar nearby ensured that we'd see friends we would otherwise miss. When Monday Night Football began, a lot of us guys would get together to watch, drink, and cheer. That left only Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eventually, Tuesday became a day to have a drink with a friend. And then it became, in addition, a good time to have a little "hair of the dog," for something was needed to cure the hangover generated by celebrations now running from Thursday through Monday.
Pretty soon, Wednesday night ended up a drinking night, too. I'd find myself drinking after work with friends at a bar, with a date at dinner, or with the dog while watching TV.
I might have turned into a pudge with all these empty calories, but fortunately I was fairly vain. To look good, I would lift weights after work several days a week, followed by a three- to five-mile jog around the local lake. Many days, while sweating the previous night's beer out of my system, I'd wonder just how much faster I might fly down the running trail if I weren't drinking.
Because of the drink calories and the added food I ate to counter my worst hangovers, I'd also diet occasionally to shed a few extra pounds. Although none of the diets prescribed alcohol, I logically modified their recommended regimen to include two glasses of low-calorie Chablis a day and found that I could still achieve the predicted weight loss.
During this period, I was in the early years of my legal career and routinely worked long hours. The accompanying stress created a need for the relief afforded by exercise and alcohol. The harder I worked, the more alcohol I'd consume, although during intensive projects, I'd hardly drink at all — perhaps a glass of wine or two to help me fall asleep.
In due time, the long work hours and drinking caught up with me. I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that I often felt exhausted. I was also experiencing some numbness down my arms, which really frightened me. I went to several doctors to be sure I didn't have a heart problem — and here I was only in my late twenties! Though I was still running regularly and lifting weights whenever I could, increasing my level of exercise to feel better proved no solution. Things got so bad at times that I'd want to hospitalize myself for exhaustion. It never dawned on me that this popular "treatment of the stars" might be medically indicated because of my drinking.
At the time, thanks to a lawsuit I was working on, I was chasing the ghost of Howard Hughes all over the western United States, interviewing people who had known him. It was a fascinating time — talking with John Wayne on the back patio of his Newport Beach house, discovering through Hughes's documents confiscated in Acapulco that the reclusive billionaire was an intravenous codeine addict, and listening to the then unbelievable descriptions by his former servants of a long-haired, naked, paranoid man.
When our scattered legal staff was temporarily united in the same city, I learned the art of drinking Chateauneuf du Pape, Bordeaux, and other fine wines, and to discern which bottle complemented each dish. Thoughts of buying good young wine in quantity and harvesting an excellent wine cellar years later entranced me. I even bought a couple of cases for that very purpose, no bottle of which aged more than three months! I also learned to drink gin — the best, of course. Bombay gin on the rocks, garnished with a skewer of tiny marinated onions, became my favorite hors d'oeuvre.
Excerpted from The Thinking Person's Guide to Sobriety by Bert Pluymen. Copyright © 1999 Bert Pluymen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: WAKE-UP CALL,
CHAPTER ONE: Bottom's Up!,
CHAPTER TWO: Denial Is Not a River in Egypt,
CHAPTER THREE: Now Hear This!,
CHAPTER FOUR: Your Mind Is Like a Bad Neighborhood: Never Go in There by Yourself,
CHAPTER FIVE: Thirty Minutes of Begging Is Not Foreplay,
PART TWO: RECOVERY,
CHAPTER SIX: Lie Down on Your Back and Yell, "Uncle!",
CHAPTER SEVEN: HALT,
CHAPTER EIGHT: "You're Not an Alcoholic",
CHAPTER NINE: Don't Feel Bad,
CHAPTER TEN: Wind Chimes,
PART THREE: PERSONAL & SCIENTIFIC SNAPSHOTS,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Who Are the Alcoholics Among Us?,
CHAPTER TWELVE: Ashley,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Grandpa Made Me,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Michael,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: I've Got the Bomb, When Does It Explode?,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Tony,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Wake-up Call for Women,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Jessica,
CHAPTER NINETEEN: Michelle,
CHAPTER TWENTY: Sarah Beth,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Don't Get Stressed Out in the Dark Listening to Slow Music,
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: God Created Alcohol So the Irish Wouldn't Conquer the World — and the Chinese Would,
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: Kevin,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Nicole,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: It's All in Your Head,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: Daniel,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: Where Blindness Leads,
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: What Can I Do?,
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Thinking Person's Test,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,