Alcoholism Part III: Dancing with the Firewater Dragon

Контент 18+ (лексика, описание употребления алкоголя)
In the United States, some years ago, I started going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. Actually, the situation wasn't as bad as all that; I wasn't on the street or ready for the scrap heap. Outwardly, I seemed fine. I was strong as a mule, thanks to regular visits to the fitness center, and I was usually able to put on a Happy Face to meet the other faces that I met. But I was divorced (again), temporarily living back at my mother's house, and teaching expository writing to a bunch of farm animals at a local community college. A nothing life. The idea of becoming an ESL teacher in a foreign country had not yet occurred to me, much less materialized as a viable alternative. Russia was just a large spot on the map.

If my drinking had begun, many years before, as a compensatory form of self-medication against private demons that told me I didn't measure up to the rest of society, and if — as it definitely had — it once seemed the miracle cure to all problems and, even better,  fed my wild Dionysian tendencies to the max — now it was just a cover for depression. I felt trapped. I was almost 50, Ph.D. in hand and at least gainfully employed — in fact leading the kind of Floridian life which many Russians might dream of —  but I was an emotional wreck. The binges were increasing. So, as many people in the USA starting looking for "The Lord" at that point, I decided to give AA a whirl.
Well, what can I say about it? Do many Russians even know what it is? In the US and UK there are many ''12-step'' programs to help people cope with a wide variety of addictions. What happens is that you sit in a room with a bunch of other people who have the same problem. After the usual opening ceremony stating the purpose of the program, etc., someone introduces a theme/topic for the meeting. Then people start 'sharing'' verbally. 'Hello, my name is Sam, and I am an alcoholic.'  (Never 'My name is Sam Clark" — that's why the call it Alcoholics Anonymous). Then Sam tells his story, and others follow him. There is a lot of humor in AA, and you get to hear some pretty wild tales. That's because, not surprisingly, people do some really f*cked up things when they are drunk. Sure, some people, women for the most part, plunge into the sobbing routine, and some people come across as having anger issues, etc., but for the most part the atmosphere is convivial. At the end, everyone stands up and holds hands and says what is called "'The Serenity Prayer", and that's it. Like the old song said, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
The main premise is that one must stop drinking altogether. For your first day you pick up a ''white chip''. After 30 days, you get another color. Six months, another color still — sort of like the different belts you can get in karate. If you f*ck up — and most of them do — you start with a white chip again. As you might expect, many people come and go. There are those who have been attending the meeting for 30 years. It is not religious, rather everyone is supposed to ask for guidance from what we are directed to call our ''Higher Power''. And you are supposed to get a ''sponsor'' — someone in the program who is not as f*cked up as you are.'  Then you should do what the sponsor says.
Does it work?  They say ''It works if  you work it."  They have a lot of saying like that in AA. But really, I don't know if it works. After I left the United States, I never looked for another meeting. I have been in Russia for 10 years, and you might well ask, do I drink?  The answer is HELL YES.
But for some reason I don't feel like an alcoholic anymore. In Russia I started from scratch and have built an extraordinary life. I make money doing a lot of different English language related things, and I work every day, weekends included. I start early and finish late; my students are my blood supply. The great guys, the terrific women — all the wonders of Moscow — all this keeps me young, motivated, and BUSY. When I come home at night I usually have about two free hours (invariably editing or writing blogs is what this ''down time'' actually means.) And during those brief hours I almost always knock back two or three bottles of strong beer. In the morning I am ''right as rain'' and ready to do it again.
So what happened to the ''alcoholism''. I said before that alcohol for many (and I include myself here, shamelessly) is the most potent medicine possible for a deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy. It is also — at least while it retains its mood-boosting effect —  a temporary cure for loneliness. I have heard it spoken, and I believe it through and through: "Alcoholism is the disease of loneliness." To me that says it all, and it bears repeating. ALCOHOLISM IS THE DISEASE OF LONELINESS.
Very few people in Moscow who know me — or think they know me — have any idea of the deep dark Loneliness that howls like a wolf inside me. They only see the outward bravado. That's how I have trained myself. Those people don't owe me anything.
Russia, on the other hand — Moscow in particular — has given me all that I have. So in a city where there are many people with severe alcohol problems, I manage very well indeed. How? By keeping busy. By never feeling sorry for myself. By accepting myself as I am. By inviting other people to depend on me and then proving myself to them. By meeting (and beating) deadlines.
By fighting like a tiger every f*cking day. By refusing to lose. The beer tastes better then, when I know I have earned it and when I know that tomorrow morning people, good Russian people, are waiting for me and expecting a lot from me.. I don't drink now because I am weak or sad. I drink because, goddamn it, I am thirsty.

===Eric Richard Le Roy===

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