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Getting Away With It

October 31, 2018

Captain Michael Morse, retired, Providence Fire Department

You might be the one who gets away with it. You may beat the odds, and make it to old age with your mind and liver intact. There are stories of old men who smoked two packs of Lucky’s a day and polished off a fifth a whiskey to boot, and ladies who enjoyed a couple of martini’s every day until the end. Those stories, and some are actually true conveniently help an alcoholic rationalize their habit, and can keep them from getting help that will actually contribute to living a live a long, healthy life.

I was fortunate. For every one of those feel good about killing myself stories I heard I was also confronted with a dozen or more real life situations. As a firefighter in charge of one of the department’s ALS ambulances I had the opportunity to see the end stages of an alcoholic life on a daily basis. The majority of 911 calls that I responded to involved alcohol. Many were for drunken fights that ended in injury, emotionally frazzled people who were inconsolable and intoxicated, falls and other accidents that occurred directly because of alcohol consumption and more motor vehicle accidents than you could possibly imagine. But what surprised me the most was the absolute misery experienced by the elderly alcoholics.

Many lived on the streets with occasional respite from the weather in homeless shelters or prisons. Some lived in government subsidized housing; two room apartments in barely maintained high rises with plenty of like minded people to die with. More than a few managed to hold on to their homes and existed behind their walls in prisons of their own making, either depending on hired nursing care and home aids or at the mercy of family members who often were not the greatest caregivers. Nursing homes are full of dementia patients, and alcohol abuse is a leading cause of dementia.

Seeing the misery that accompanied an alcoholic life style up close and personally opened my eyes to the myth that I had been programmed to believe. I could no longer fool myself. The proof was right in front of me. There would be no crusty old man telling colorful stories to his adoring family at Christmas, or a happily intoxicated senior citizen at the cookout. There would be just a lonely old man, if I were lucky enough to survive myself.

We do not thrive when handicapped by something as powerful as alcohol. The substance is a great deceiver; it will cleverly make you feel as if everything is right with you and the world while insidiously destroying the chance you have at actually making it right. It fools you into a false sense of propriety. You actually believe that everything will work out, and you will be able to flourish is spite of your dependence on alcohol.

I understand that it is difficult to believe that things will end badly if you continue to drink. I know, all too well how important it is that you can join the rest of humanity in sharing a drink. I know that every now and then you are able to do so without getting carried away, and when you do everything seems to be under control. But what I also know, with absolute certainty that continuing to drink alcoholically will not end well, and that living without the weight of an alcohol problem is absolutely more invigorating, fulfilling and healthy than existing while hoping to beat the odds. Giving it up is hard, but far from impossible. Getting your mind to accept the changes in store is the key. My horror stories will never make anybody decide to stop drinking, but maybe, just maybe they will consider getting help.

Getting away from it is a far better plan than trying to get away with it.

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