‘Cause I can tell you know what it’s like,
The long farewell of the hunger strike.
But can you save me?
— Aimee Mann, “Save Me”
Even considering the plethora of mental and physical abberations in my repetoire, I consider myself very fortunate. I may have an obsessive personality, but thankfully so far none of my obsessions have blossomed into addictions.
I’ve come close, though. In my early twenties I was going through my first period of epic relationship failure, so I spent a lot of time relying on my friends for support. Many of my friends were relying on Fort Lauderdale’s Rendezvous Club for their own support; hence I was spending a few nights a week at the bar.
The Rendezvous was a decent enough place, for an ex-biker bar/ex-gay bar/ex-restaurant. They had a pool table, some pinball machines, and a pretty good Jefferson Airplane cover band. But like most people in their early twenties working jobs barely above minimum wage, I couldn’t really afford to hang out at a bar that much, not even one as — shall we say — affordable as the Rendezvous. A friend’s cousin was tending bar and sliding us heavy pours and mixing errors, but hanging out with my friends still had me spending money I couldn’t afford.
Not that the simple matter of money stopped me from going, though, or from developing a taste for cocktails. Fortunately, I made two discoveries before things got out of hand. The first was the miracle of the package store, allowing me to get a bottle for the price of a couple of drinks. The second was that if I wasn’t around other people, I paid more attention to the taste than to the buzz.
Unfortunately, I also discovered that if the rum is good, I really, really like the taste. I didn’t have any problem enjoying the taste all the way through a fifth of Barbancourt every couple of days. Well, no problem other than the money. I never reached the point of borrowing from my friends, or cadging drinks from strangers, but there were a few occasions where my bills weren’t exactly paid on time.
I got lucky, though. A my epic relationship failure was replaced by a somewhat less epic but still satisfying relationship success. This gave me someone else to blow my paychecks on, and something else to do at night other than marvel at how good an aged rum tastes, even down to the bottom of the bottle. Amazingly I stopped drinking entirely, probably a matter of a couple of weeks before it became a life-long problem for me. I am thankful every day for the auspicious entry of that girl in my life, even if that eventually ended in another epic failure.
Today there are almost two dozen bottles of liquor in my house. They stand on a shelf, arranged into neat ranks and files, a tray of shot glasses and swizzle sticks and mixology guides beside them, waiting for guests to come. Sometimes I am tempted to pour myself a couple of drinks, just to help me relax; occasionally I do. However, awareness of the bullet I dodged has soaked through my brain, and I rarely enjoy it. It’s probably a silly concern, but I’d rather err on caution’s side. Dodging one bullet doesn’t make you bullet proof.
Everyone — even if they aren’t aware of it — knows a few people who didn’t dodge, people with serious addictions. I know quite a few, and sometimes it feels as though I know more than my share, but that’s just my perception. Still, the self-mutilators, the depressives, the alcoholics, the addicts: I’m compelled to help them in whatever ways I can. I’ve held friends’ hair out of the way while they vomited out a fifth of Absolut. I’ve answered the phone at 3:00am and then listened to the wordless sobbing long past sunrise. I’ve watched infomercials in the emergency room while doctors stitched up the thigh of a woman who cut a little too deeply this time. I’ve held on to heirloom jewelry for a friend who was afraid she would pawn it to feed her habit. I’ve given away my own inheritance to keep friends from being evicted. And I could go on for pages telling these stories, but to what purpose?
I’m not a professionally trained counselor, and even among professionals there is debate as to the proper course of action when dealing with someone with deeply rooted problems. So I worry: Do my ham-fisted attempts at helping people in pain cause more damage, or does knowing that someone who has seen them at a very low point still cares about them give them a little more strength, a little more hope? Is it better to try to give comfort and fail than to look away and let them go it alone? For me, it is.
And there is my shame: “for me”. How often am I helping someone because it lets me feel like I have some purpose in the world? I’m trying to help people find their ways out of desperate situations, but I’m also trying to repay the universe for my own narrow escape from alcoholism, and to return the kindnesses shown me by others during my own dark days. But while I can easily indulge in pages of self-analysis and psychobabble, I admit that in large part I am motivated by one of my own obsessions. In my optimism I see so much potential in people, yet so few ever get a chance to develop it. Whenever the opportunity arises, I have to try to fix things, to redress wrongs. I’m obsessed with solving problems, but do the problems always have solutions?
I want to save the world, but sometimes the world doesn’t want to be saved.
I want to save my friends, but sometimes my friends don’t want to be saved.
I shouldn’t argue. Sometimes I don’t want to be saved, either.