My friend George was one of the best and wisest men I have ever known. George was a recovering alcoholic. At the time I first met him he had not drank in over ten years, but he still considered himself a recovering alcoholic until his death about four years ago.
He told me there were only four ways for an alcoholic to go and that two were bad and two were good. The first good one was the alcoholic dies right now. Then he is out of pain and no one else has to worry with him or be hurt by his or her behavior. The second good way was to stop drinking and start working on whatever inner pain or trouble is driving you to drink. This had to be done through group work, counseling, and working on understanding what drives you.
Those were the two good ways it could end. Then there were the two bad ways. The first was that the alcoholic becomes institutionalized either in a hospital or a prison where society basically has to care for them the rest of their lives. The second, which was the worst of all, was that you drink yourself to death slowly wasting away through the years. In the end you will have destroyed whatever good you might have done in this life taking those who love you down in the gutter with you where you finally die.
He said those four endings basically applied to anyone suffering from self destructive addictive behavior. This included drugs, gambling, and even workaholics and others whose compulsive behavior was self destructive. George was a member of a group called the Adult Children of Alcoholics or ACOA. The ACOA group in Lenoir was the first to form in North Carolina and George was a founding member.
He once told me how he joined. He was staying in an apartment in Boone and was dying of pain. He had not drank in over three years, but was so depressed and full of hurt that he had been unable to leave his apartment for three days. “All I had the energy to do was to get up and go push the button to make a cup of coffee.”
He went into the hallway one day and met his neighbor Roxanne. When she saw the look on his face she asked him what was wrong. George told her he was going to kill himself. Roxanne thought about it for a second and then asked George if he was in any hurry. George said he didn’t guess so and Roxanne explained that she was going to start a new group called Adult Children of Alcoholics.
The first meeting was going to be in Lenoir the following week and she needed someone to come with her on the drive down. She said if he didn’t mind waiting a few days on killing himself she would consider it a personal favor. George agreed and went to the meeting and began his recovery. It was interesting to note that it was only after he had quit drinking for three years that he was on the verge of suicide.
George said that he didn’t begin to recover until he began working on his childhood problems and dealing with the pain and hurt he was carrying around inside. That was what ACOA was all about. Helping those that had an addiction problem work on what was causing them so much pain that they had to kill it with some form of addictive behavior. George had quit drinking only to become a workaholic. He simply replaced one form of addictive self destructive behavior with another. ACOA groups and literature are not just for alcoholics, but pretty much for anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional home or has became part of a dysfunctional relationship.
George was a real inspiration though. His father drank and beat him growing up. Worse he had verbally abused him telling him he was worthless and a failure. By the age of 16 he ran away from home and joined a construction crew finally ending up in Boone, N.C. years later.
When he went to that first ACOA meeting what he owned would have fit in a suitcase. Within a few years he had started his own tree service and construction business with 17 employees running his own heavy equipment. He owned a house, drove a Mercedes and took vacations around the world. Later he went back and got a college degree and dedicated himself to helping others through ACOA. George was an avid reader, studied Martial Arts, and was a keen observer of the human condition.
His life was a lesson that as long as life exists there is hope. One can hit rock bottom and come up out of it to a brighter day. Every ACOA meeting starts with the serenity prayer which says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Bumpy road to recovery worth it” on Aug. 1, 2007.