A week ago, I had no idea I would be writing this sequel — but life, as it always tends to do, happens.
Last Wednesday, I wrote about drug addiction in the aftermath of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and I received much feedback thanking me for saying that, whether we want to admit it or not, drug abuse of this nature is a reality.
But there’s another serious addiction that’s prevalent in our backyard and across the country: alcoholism.
Here in Tahoe, drinking is promoted almost ad nauseam. Chamber mixers, beer gardens and concessions at popular events — countless happy hours at our local businesses encouraging post-work and post-activity cocktails; advertisements highlighting wining and dining and aprés skiing; the naming of several fundraisers with a boozing theme — the list goes on. The level of social acceptance for libations is astronomical.
For those who drink responsibly, it’s no big deal. But there are plenty of others who cannot who are suffering from a terrible and life-threatening disease.
I guarantee anyone reading this knows someone who’s in trouble. One of those people is my friend, who we, for the sake of anonymity, will call Maria.
I’ve known Maria off and on for five years. Some friends and I knew she had an alcohol problem, and while I made comments and allusions, I never pushed hard to get the point across over the years.
Maria came back into my life recently after a stint in rehab, where doctors told her that her extreme binge-drinking habits, coupled with the high levels of withdrawal she put herself through trying to quit, had nearly killed her more than once.
Scary stuff, and from what I knew, she was sober the past several weeks after accepting she indeed had a problem.
And then I saw her Sunday night at a venue in town, beer in hand, hanging around the wrong people. I pulled no punches and told Maria how disappointed I was to see her drinking again, that she was making a very poor choice that could “get you killed.”
While it didn’t seem to have much of an impact, the next day did, when my friends brought her over to my house to sleep things off. Later, after we helped introduce clarity and understanding to the situation for her, good things started to happen.
A friend offered Maria a sober place to live. We brought over another friend who’s been sober for more than a year to talk options, like where to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. We conducted an impromptu intervention, and all of us pledged to be there for her for rides to meetings and someone to talk to, day or night, no matter what.
On Tuesday, I attended my first-ever AA meeting with Maria and two other close friends in an effort to hammer home our support for her. She was scared to go, but by the end, she seemed grateful she did, and she even shared a little bit about herself during the meeting.
Afterward, I asked Maria if she’d be OK with me sharing her story (anonymously, of course) in this column. As upset as I was Sunday, it’s all about helping you, I told her, and while I’m at it, I want do my job as a human being to help others, too.
In the end, that’s my only goal with my “opinion” column this week. I want people to know it’s OK to speak up if someone you know has a problem. It’s what we did this week, and we’re never going to stop being there for Maria. Now, it’s up to her to stay on the correct path.
And for those who do have a problem, I want you to know and believe that there are people who will drop everything to listen to you and help you.
There is a website that lists when and where all the AA meetings take place in our communities: laketahoearea-alcoholicsanonymous.com/ .
Please visit it. And remember — there is always help available.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers; he may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin1MacMillan.