A Sobering Summer

By Juliet Elisabeth 08/27/15

I’ll never forget this summer, or Mark, and all of the fond memories I’ll carry with me for a lifetime.


Near the beginning of September each year, teachers in elementary school would ask my class to write personal essays about what we did on our summer vacation. This summer I lost one of the most beautiful humans I know and I’m not exaggerating because I mourn him; I mean it. 

I met Mark at the SOS meeting I ran in the years 2012-2013. The meetings ended around the time my mother suddenly died at age 65. I spent a few days at Mark’s house to grieve, cry, scream and eventually dust myself off and keep going. His mother died years ago from breast cancer. Although annoying at first, he inundated with me with ideas about recovery issues. He introduced me to SMART Recovery. I learned to stop making excuses for myself and start getting involved, start writing and make better use of my time and talents.

In lieu of an essay, I’ve written a timeline in the form of a diary describing the last few weeks I spent with Mark: 


June 7, 2015


I made a fearless and searching inventory of my life and decided I needed to leave the countryside and move into the city. I left my boyfriend and around a month later I learned Mark was going through a similar struggle. I had not seen him in over a year. I knew he had gotten another DUI and went to Practical Recovery in California. He says he’s met Tom Horvath. He says he’s met Lindsay Lohan. Mark says all he needs to do is quit drinking for good and start a SMART meeting, which are two ideas I wholly support him with.

When I finally see him face to face, I noticed his bright yellow, jaundiced eyes immediately.  

This is a guy who ran 5ks, graduated with perfect grades from UCONN, and here he is falling apart as he clutches the cause of his doom—a cheap bottle of wine. He’ll pour it into travel mugs which he calls “sippy cups.” I’m not a doctor or a nurse, nor am I an expert in “tough love.” We are living in and out of hotels; I am taking care of his 4-month-old puppy (part black lab, part border collie), and I am calling around to friends across the nation trying to figure out what to do about my friend.

Both Mark and I loathed the AA and rehab clichés. “Addicts never listen.” I think it’s fair to say this trait is not limited to addicts. In the late stage of alcoholism, there is no enabling, there is only waiting. I want to give a dying man some dignity, but I also can’t imagine one of my best friends dying.


June 16, 2015 


One of the extended stay hotels has kicked us out, blaming the dog Mark named “Amy Winehouse.” (Her middle name is his mother’s name.) I take the RTA Rapid to downtown Cleveland alone, although I have anxiety I’ll get lost. I’m also antsy and annoyed I have not been writing during this excursion. At the Frank Lausche Building, security checks my purse and I take the elevator up to the Office of Civil Rights to pick up a form to file against the hotel. I have to take the RTA back to the hotel, but with my worries about my friend’s illness my CPTSD anxiety is tripled. I have to practice self-affirmations, self-actualization, and confronting fear with action and a lot of deep breaths. 

I resign myself to watch Fox News (his favorite network) and consider pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party. I’m at a bargaining stage.


June 24, 2015


We go to an incredible arts district on the Westside. The owner of a gallery I had my start showing artwork at 10 years ago now has a space in a giant renovated warehouse. Abstracts are selling in the thousands of dollars range. I should paint more abstracts.  

Meanwhile, I research alcoholic hepatitis and bilirubin levels, which must be above 10 milligrams per deciliter. Mark, I know you’re not going to make it, but no one is dragging you off to rehab this time. You bruise easily and they do not heal. Please go to an emergency room. “We need to find a place to live,” he says. “All I need is a few days of fluids to detox.” Even I know this is not true, and all I can do is take deep breaths and take Amy for walks. We re-watch a video that runs over 20 minutes long, but it is our favorite video: Andy Samberg’s Class Day speech at Harvard from 2012. We repeat our favorite quote: “Today is a day.” It has become our mantra for over two years now.

June 30, 2015


We’re denied an apartment because of my over a decade-old felony; The felony that was a direct result of being raped and used by an abuser to steal for him. I want to punch something. I want a cinderblock to drop on me. I cry. Who cares? I chew my fingernails. Severe dread and panic set in. Mark: There is no point trying to find an apartment. Go to the hospital first and then we can search again when you are released. He makes a lame excuse as his cough persists. I’m AA-style acting “as-if,” I’m “faking it til I make it.” I’m doing my HAMS’ “cost-benefit analysis.” I remind myself of H.A.L.T.: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Mark has no trouble sleeping as I make more phone calls and Google searches about his condition.

July 5, 2015


Mark thinks it’s Monday. Yesterday, he thought it was Sunday. I tell him to Google the date. His alcoholic liver disease is affecting him neurologically. He tells me he found an apartment for us and will go into the hospital this week.


July 10, 2015


I visit Mark in the hospital. He’s certain he’ll be back home by Monday. Cleveland public transportation is not as efficient as NYC. I walk about a mile to a bus stop. Nothing is clearly labeled with routes. I have to wait nearly a half hour for a bus. I accept this challenge.


July 13, 2015


I bring Mark the candy he asked me to. I’ll visit tomorrow.


July 17, 2015


Tomorrow and the next day have past. Now it’s the third day without hearing from you. Did they take your cellphone away? I have become your official dog sitter. I’m not qualified. I forget to bring doggie poo bags on our walks. I’m panicking. You missed something magical, I reunited with Nick, who I met and fell in love with four years ago but our paths separated. I’m deep into the bargaining phase. You’re not dead. I will get my PhD. I’ll get my glasses. I’ll get the upper dentures. I will smile for you if you live. We’ll write that book together while listening to Wilco. We’ll save lives. We’ll bring more alternative programs into Ohio rehabs. You and me.


July 21, 2015


My daughter turned 9 on Sunday. Your dad and brother have driven up here from out of state. Everyone is praying for you and I’m cheering for you and I’m good in a crisis. I’ll read that book you lent me. You’re supposed to read 12 Steps to Dead. I’m still bargaining. Are you alive? It seems like you don’t want to be here, so please open your eyes. Please stay awake. Remember all the Uber drivers? You have a suspended license. I have a license but no insurance; Aren’t we a perfect match? You opened your eyes this week. Driving is the least of anyone’s worries.


July 26, 2015


Your dad had to come back up to Ohio. I remember when you brought a guest speaker from SMART Recovery to the SOS meeting; We had record attendance that night. I learned about the “hierarchy of values.” We need to fight the system. We’re supposed to be a team. You are killing a part of me. Anger phase. Did you bring me out here to watch you die? We were going to be bathrobe buddies, drinking iced tea, having longwinded intellectual debates. Writers and Rebels. Yolo.


July 28, 2015


It’s after six in the morning and my phone rings. You’re gone but how many times did some heartless, ill-informed people in AA blame you for failing until you were dead? I’m trying not be mad at the 12-step rehabs you went to. I wish you weren’t the self-fulfilling prophecy they labeled you. I am sorry you lost your choice in the matter. I am sorry nothing I could have done or said would change you.  


On June 1, 2015, Mark sent me this message: “Sometimes I think I'm too stupid and sometimes I think I’m too smart and happy.” You felt so guilty and baffled and dumb that AA didn’t work. Anything Charlie Sheen starred in, you watched. Dr. Drew’s show about celebrities in rehab, you also watched. You were as confused and baffled as I was.  

I’m not angry anymore. No denial, no bargaining, but my anxiety remains and it is also a phase of mourning. I’m strangely honored you left this gift: I was able to spend your last days with you nearly exclusively. I can use another cliché here “pay it forward” as I can never repay you. I will fight even harder for 12-step alternatives in Ohio. Let me quote from an episode of The Simpsons. Lisa Simpson asks her dad, Homer: “Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?”   

All of us who have known a close friend or family member that died from alcoholism need to re-examine the available programs, because even AA is designed for those who haven’t reached full-blown alcoholism. Drinking problems must be arrested and changed before the liver fails. I’ll never forget this summer, or Mark, and all of the fond memories I’ll carry with me for a lifetime, because today is a day that will lead to something better and greater than ever before.

Juliet Elisabeth is a writer and artist. She is also a former court-mandated attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her activist cause for 12-step alternatives in Ohio is the AARMED with Facts blog.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.