“I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.”


way out

People ask me all the time why I talk to people when they’re drunk, to people who will repeat themselves and can be down right belligerent and obnoxious.

“Because,” I tell them, “Sometimes people need to take a drink to get the courage to even admit    they have a problem.  If a person has to be drunk to do that, to talk to me, than I’m open to it.”

I’ll never put myself in harm’s way, nor will I work the steps of the twelve-step program I’m in when they’re drunk, but I will definitely talk to them.

Olivia can talk.

The shortest amount of time we’ve spent together, not including the meetings we’ve attended, is two hours.  The longest was a little over five hours.

She’s fiercely intelligent, quick to smile and is almost as neurotic as I used to be.


I think Olivia and I mesh so well because our minds work in much the same fashion; we over-analyze everything, wish the world would adhere to our principles, and sincerely think we are the coolest people on the planet since Fonzi.

I liked her immediately.

The third time we met to talk, the first thing she said was, “You look like shit.”

“Thanks.” I replied.

But I did.

I hadn’t been sleeping well and was in the midst of a severe allergy attack, my left eye leaking profusely and my nose running.

She was blatantly honest from the beginning, telling me she knew she was an alcoholic.  She also told me she had told her husband and a few close friends but they didn’t believe her.

Olivia was always the life of the party, always smiling, and when she wasn’t drinking she was busy taking care of everyone else; so busy in fact, that she had stopped taking care of herself.

She took great pride in running a household and raising her two sons, but when things settled down and she was alone with her thoughts, she was just that; lonely.

We’d go to a meeting every few weeks and talk for hours afterwards but when Olivia was most honest was when she’d message me.  I don’t know if it was because she felt safe hiding behind a phone screen or if it was because she had drunk enough to let her inhibitions down about her drinking problem.

One night she texted, “Can I be more real?”

“Of course.” I replied.

“Truthfully, I already told you this but I just don’t know if you heard me.  You are the only person in the world I can tell the whole truth to.  And it is so freeing.  After I talk to you I feel free and it’s amazing!”

In fact, I had heard her.

I don’t know if I took it for granted because that’s just what recovering alcoholics do (we actually listen to one another) or if I just didn’t feel the need to acknowledge it, but I had heard everything she had ever said to me.  I was taught early on in sobriety that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

When I talk to someone new to recovery, I simply tell them a little bit about my story.  Then I just shut up and listen.  That’s usually all it takes.  Once the floodgates are open, so to speak, they talk for hours, as in the case of Olivia.

She continued with her text, saying, “The other day when you confessed your truth to me, I felt relieved [because you could identify with me]… I felt like I told you more than anyone I know [because I know how the alcoholic mind works, not because I’m brilliant but because I have one].  I feel comfortable with you and I’ve never felt that way with anyone [alcoholics just “get” each other].  And truthfully, I have no idea why I feel that way with you [because our brains are wired the same].  It’s like an old school neighborhood friendship, but I know we didn’t grow up in the same hood [that’s what unites one alcoholic to another-that we can instantly feel at ease because the addiction does that same thing to all of us-it takes away our sanity].  So it’s weird.  But I really like it.”

I heard a story once, or maybe it was a modern-day fable; doesn’t matter.  What matters is that it hit me like a ton of bricks, so much so that I couldn’t help but cry when I read the last line.

An addict fell in a hole and couldn’t get out.

A businessman went by.  The addict called out for help.  The businessman threw him some money             and told him to buy a ladder.

But the addict couldn’t find a ladder.

A doctor walked by.  The addict said, “Help.  I can’t get out.”  The doctor gave him some drugs and             said, “Take this, it will relieve the pain.”

The addict thanked him but when the pills ran out, he was still in pain.

A psychiatrist rode by and heard the addict’s cries.

He stopped and said, “How did you get in there?  Were you born there?  Did your parents put you               there?  Tell me about yourself.”  He left and said he’d be back next week.

Then a priest came by and gave him a Bible and said, “I’ll pray for you.”

The addict was grateful and he read the Bible, but he was still stuck in the hole.

A recovering addict happened to be passing by soon after and the addict cried out, “Hey, help me!             I’m stuck in this hole.”

Right away the recovering addict jumped in the hole with him.

The addict screamed, “What are you doing?  Now we’re both stuck in here!”

The recovering addict looked at him.

“It’s okay,” He said. “I’ve been here before.  I know the way out.”


Jay Keefe, Director of Happiness and staff writer at The Addictions Academy 

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

Published Author of “And Drink I Did”

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