Thursday, June 10, 2010


Why do I do this with my "scribblings," literally bare myself to the world using my real name? I understand anonymity and respect it, especially for women and predators. I, however, have nothing to hide, and I prefer that my readers be able to relate to the real me. If I can touch just ONE heart to let it know that it's not alone, then my purpose is accomplished.

WARNING: There is a graphic description of panic attacks, which are nearly impossible to put into words, but it could be a trigger to those who suffer from them. I suggest that section be skipped.

* * *


A world I never understood
How can a boy grow up in an alcoholic family that is a family only by the name lettered on the mailbox out front, a family that terrorizes its young with a house built of shards of glass and shifting floors and mirrors that never stand still, a family that is a minefield of lies and broken promises and broken everything, a family where faces and voices and emotions are as fluid as shape-shifters, where words slash like blue steel, where secrets are hoarded like precious jewels and then, when the boy is sixteen, he willfully turns his soul over to alcohol, to the same poison that is killing him from without, to the same venom that has been killing him from the very beginning?

To a terrorized boy who gazed into cracked mirrors, who navigated rolling floors while tiptoeing through the fragments of brokenness, whose emotions were as fluid as a shape-shifter’s without ever assuming any kind of shape, and whose soul was dying anyway, alcohol was the perfect answer because. . .

. . . for the first time in my life, I was experiencing pleasure instead of pain, a feeling that neither God nor any human being had ever been able to give me. No one, absolutely no one, knew how much I was hurting inside my mind, or how incredibly scared I was, or how fuckingly lost and how fuckingly alone I was in a world that I did not understand, that I was never ever a part of, and that I was never quite sure even existed.

Alcohol, like all my boyhood books before it, was an escape. But while reading was an escape from others, alcohol was an escape from me.

I just wanted me to leave me alone.

* * *

It didn’t work. Wherever I went, I went with me.

Me and my shadow. Two of me but never twins, never a pair and never a match, not a soul double but a soul ripped in half. Two halves more sick than the whole, each half with its own sicknesses feeding the sicknesses of the other half.

Panic. Without any warning I am suddenly overcome with indescribable terror and the little boy inside me starts to scream, louder and louder and louder, “I have to get out, I HAVE TO GET OUT, I HAVE TO GET OUT!” and I try to get out of my mind because I am going mad, I am losing control, I am puking and shitting and sweating all at the same time, I have to get away  from me some way, any way, both physically and mentally, I want to rip my head open and tear my mind out because that is where the voice, my voice, is spewing its filth at me, “You’re worthless, you’re all wrong, everything about you is all wrong, you are bad, everything you do is bad, every decision you make is bad, you’re nothing but a mistake, a freak, a bad joke,” like a tape on fast-forward but perfectly clear played at warp speed, and I suddenly know with bowel-emptying dread that there is no escape, that if I thought I was hurting and scared and fuckingly lost and fuckingly alone before the booze then I haven’t seen anything yet, big boy, welcome to the big-time and the big-top where it only gets worse, where the merry-go-round stops for no boy big or small and hold on tight, boy, because I’m dizzy and I can’t stop trembling and I’m drowning in sweat and I have to throw up again and my gut explodes and the shit is pouring out of me until there is nothing left and several agonizing minutes after the little boy started screaming . . .

. . . the panic attack is over.

That is, until the next one.

* * *

The big time, the show. Alcoholism. For twenty-five years. One of the slowest suicides in history, except my soul refused to die. It cannot die because it is eternal. I have no proof of course, nobody has proof, but I believe it all the same. Otherwise, why am I still here? Otherwise, why did I choose to live? Otherwise, why did I become the decent and good and loving person that I am now?

I make no excuses for my alcoholism. I blame no one or no thing for my alcoholism. It was not a flaw in my genes, nor was it ever a physical disease which is a lie, nor did my sorrowful growing up make me drink. No one or no thing ever forced me to drink; the decision, no matter how wrong, no matter how ill advised, no matter how incredibly stupid, was my decision alone. I am solely responsible for all of the chaos and carnage I caused to myself, both boy and man, to the girl-woman who loved me because she never stopped believing that I was loveable, and to all of the innocent people I did or could have harmed—or killed.

No excuses. No blaming. Responsibility for my decisions, for my actions, and for my behavior is mine. Anything less and I would be a lie. My hard-fought hard-wrought recovery would be a lie. My whole life would be a lie.

But I’m not a lie, and my little boy knows it. He lies within my breast, comforted, and he is at rest.

The merry-go-round has come to a stop.

* * *

The Unknown Woman
It was 8:10 a.m., July 7, 1988. I was standing on the sidewalk with my suitcase by my side, waiting for a car to take me to the airport. Walking toward me was a woman I had never seen before. She stopped and said, “Going home, huh?” “Yes,” I said. “Let me give you a hug,” she said. “Okay,” I said. “You’re trembling like a leaf,” she said. “I’m scared,” I said. “I know you are, but you’ll do fine,” she said. “Thanks,” I said. And then she walked away.

She was right. I did fine.

That was the day I completed a thirty-day alcohol treatment program in the California desert. It was the day I started my life all over again. It was the day I had my first spiritual experience.

A hug by a total stranger on the sidewalk. It doesn’t sound like much, but in those few moments the Unknown Woman taught me that spirituality is about people. For the short time she held me I felt one human soul, hers, reach out to another human soul, mine, and touch it with love, and kindness, and understanding.

Selfish person that I am, I wanted what the Unknown Woman had.

* * *

Change can only come from within; no one can fix me except me. I embarked on a years-long journey of introspection. I studied me with a mental magnifying glass, including the deepest parts of my soul where human darkness lay. And that was where I found the answer. Because of all the pain and shame during a quarter century of drunkenness, I had never forgiven myself. Never once during my life had I ever told me that I loved me.

If spirituality is about people, then I was working with a one-sided equation. I could not give my whole Self because my Self wasn’t whole to give. After several years of sobriety I had missed the major component of true recovery: That I must forgive myself. That I must accept me and love me for who I am. That, as I am, I must work on changing the things about me that I can.

I believe spirituality is this: It is acceptance, both of self and of others, purely and unconditionally. It is relationship, the giving of me, wholly and freely, to my fellow human beings whenever they need me. It is understanding, not only of the empathic kind, but also from hard experience. Only then can there be the touching of my soul to another.

Only then can I be the Unknown Man.

* * *

[For anyone who would like to leave a private comment and preserve your anonymity, email me at callahanc1 AT]

[The link to TechnoBabe's post as a keepsake for me.]


TechnoBabe said...

My dear friend, I would like your permission to refer to this post on my blog. I will wait to hear from you yea or nay. I read this post the first time and the person in recovery in me found so many childhood similarities that I was not reading this post as you wrote it: This is your story, your speaking out. I read it again and then I told my hubby about it and he read it and he kept saying "this guy can really write" over and over. I was a kid growing in a family in name only too. Your way of surviving was to turn to alcohol.I have no idea why I did not as well. I tried to drink so many times to "fit in" and one time I lost three days of my life and did not know where I went or what I did and that stopped any drinking to get drunk. Sips once in awhile still trying to "fit in". I like the way you own up to your hunger to escape, to feel pleasure, thus the drinking. I cannot even talk about the little boy within you that is at rest now. There are some amazing people walking this earth and they listen to the inner urge to reach out to strangers never wanting something in return. A hug in genuine human to human love is priceless. Your personal definition of spirituality is clean and concise and strong, like you have become. Please accept my admiration and my respect.

Charlie said...

TBABE: You are more than welcome to use this post in any way you wish—you have already done me a great favor from your shout a couple weeks ago, which elicited three responses.

I had hoped to "touch" at least one person, and it appears that I have. Thank you, TB>

Robert the Skeptic said...

My father was an alcoholic and I hated him for it and what he did to our family. But I was angry at my mother as well for trying to perpetuate the myth that we were doing fine, denying the truth for the sake of keeping up appearances. I am angry at her for allowing it to happen and pretending that they were not destroying our childhood.

My sister has chosen to cope by creating a mental altar of my father; build on complete denial about our childhood. Her lack of ethics and honesty, in the spirit of my mother's, keeps me estranged from my sister.

I was lucky, though; I didn't follow in the path of my father. I vowed that I would never drink. But then I resolved to not be my father's son, I decided that I did not have to follow in his footsteps. I can enjoy alcohol now... but like guns, I have a healthy respect to be mindful around it.

I share your childhood demons; broken things my mother loved, broken bones, broken promises, fucked-up broken childhood. Will quit here.

Jerry said...

Thank you. I have never been associated with alcoholism in any way. But I "understood" it in my 'on-high intellectual way'. You see, I have taken psychology courses...and add my interest and studies in philosophy -- so I, like so many claim to have -- not only an intellectual understanding, but now a wisdom about alcoholism. I've read the books, heard the lectures, and figured that I could turn around and counsel others on the subject if need be.

And I'm pretty sure there is a large population out there that sits on the same throne as I.

Now if I could take all those classes, those books, those lectures and fold them neatly and stick them in the back of my desk drawer, I would. Instead, if I ever felt the superior urge to counsel, I will simply pull out this post which I have printed and re-read it. Then my feeble attempt at counseling would be to hand the print-out to whomever without saying a word.

You have taught me that alcoholism is not an intellectual exercise full of veiled judgments and excuses of disease. You have taught me to shut up and just try to understand.

I too am going to recommend all to read this. Maybe others will try to understand, and maybe someone will have the need to read and re-read this over and over.

Pat said...

Charlie I can't imagine what it must have been like to endure what you have endured.
Having had a very different life I agree with what you say about spirituality.
I admire your grit and your wisdom and I'm proud to know you. Thank you for all you contribute to the blogging world and God bless.

lisleman said...

wow charlie - right now I feel kinda stupid because I just posted some news stories about some dumb drunks.

I don't know how you feel about society making fun of drunks. I do know it's a serious disease and drunken people can cause pain.

all the best and thanks for reminding of the dark side of this sometime public problem.

hope said...

I admire you for the man I've found here. The one who listens as well as talks.

Your story made me want to cry and give you a standing ovation at the end. I'm glad you've come to love you as much as the rest of us here do. Respectfully of course...none of that weird, internet stuff. ;)

Here, have another hug. Because when I needed one, you stopped by my blog and wrapped me in words of kindness and caring. Only someone with a good heart would do that.

It's true...we touch people in a positive way when we least expect it.

Tiffin said...

Charlie, sometimes there just aren't words. This has come from some part of your humanity which is common to all of us so I have a feeling it will go out and out and out to touch others, beyond what you can imagine.

Isn't it astonishing how sometimes just exactly the right moment of grace can happen when we need it to? But you have to be receptive to it, to let it in. You could stayed stuck in a destructive, negative place but you didn't, Charlie, you understood it for what it was. And because of it, you ARE ok. Really, really ok.

Fay's Too said...

You are beautiful and perfect, my friend. Thank you so much. May I also use your words?

mapstew said...

Just back from my birthday celebrations pal, and a lot of this cuts close to the bone, so I will be back soon to make a proper obversation, yeah? xxx

Gappy said...

Hello I'm Gappy. I was directed here by Technobabe.

I just wanted to tell you how your post has spoken to me. I am a recovering alcoholic and I have never met anyone else who does not subscribe to the 'alcoholism as disease' way of thinking either. All that you wrote about taking responsibility and accepting that the choice to drink was yours alone had me almost jumping up and down. Yes! That's what I think too. I will not accept that I am powerless over alcohol because if that was the truth, I'd be drinking right now.

I admire your bravery and your honesty in writing this post. I am one person who you have really touched with your words.

Brian Miller said...

popping over from techno...and glad i did. i commend you on your honesty and openness...though i am not in recovery myself, from alcohol i am from experience...i have lived through a panic attack as well so i know its touch. masterfully written...

Dave King said...

Devastating. Devastatingly brilliant.

Cinner said...

HI,I have come over from TechnoBabe. I am so glad that I stopped by, someone I love very much has struggled with alcoholism almost all of his life, I read intently word for word, thanks for a bit of hope, and thank you for your honesty. take care and be well.

DJan said...

I'm also here from TechnoBabe, she wrote from her heart in her post about you, and I am so glad I came here. As a child of alcoholics, I grew up with it, never like this. I married a man who killed himself with drink and tried to kill me too, but didn't. I married a man seven years sober, and now he is 25 years sober, and he's told me stories I could not believe. Like yours. Thank you for baring your own soul like this, which cannot help but heal not only you, but many of us...

anne h said...

I think you just saved me, in a way.
Probably just what I needed to hear.
Thank you -

willow said...

I'm popping over from Techno's blog. Excellent piece of writing. Your honesty is refreshing.

Syd said...

Thanks for sharing this. I grew up in an alcoholic home, married one and am still married to her. She is in AA and I am in Al-Anon. I am grateful for both programs. Your story is one that resonates with so many because most of us have lived a part of it.

Joanna Jenkins said...

I'm here from Techno's and I've stared at the comment box for a full 7 minutes so far trying to find the words to say how amazing and brave you are how what a master writer you are.

Big sigh. I'm blown away.


Kim Ayres said...


Manly ones, of course :)

Jason, as himself said...

Bravo! I'm here by recommendation of TechnoBabe. Very well described! It takes courage to face your own demons like you have done, and not be worried about putting them all out there either.

I loved your definition of spirituality, too.

Bernie said...

I am here via TechnoBabe....though not an alcoholic I have felt the pain you described in your panic attacks and then my experience with grief.
Your words are so powerful, you are an innspiration show us how never to give up and how an honest hug can go such a long way, never to be forgotten thank you.........:-)Hugs

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

I clicked over from Technobabe's.

You are an amazing writer. There was a lot here I could connect to - alcohol and trauma were a big part of my growing up. But I really liked the way you brought the spiritual into it.

Stinkypaw said...

beautiful. I have a teacher who often tells me: "Leave yourself the fuck alone" and I see you had to learn that lesson as well. Good for you. Hugs, mon ami

Anonymous said...

I am also here from Technobabe. It is amazing that this one post has brought together all of these people. You have certainly touched some hearts and minds with this one. I am very glad to have found you.

Mary Witzl said...

I've read this story before, Charlie, but it still gave me chills, especially the last line. I love it that a woman you'd never met gave you a hug and in doing so, helped to change your life. I love it even more that you're passing that on.

Library girl said...

Wow, Charlie. In one day I have met a woman so positive and lovely despite just 'escaping' a vicious domestically violent relationship and discovered the source of your wisdom from your blog. Makes me grateful for my relatively easy life. Thank you so much for sharing. I suspect you have touched so many.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Charlie, I am also here via technobabe, and I believe it was no accident. I’m a great believer in fate, and just know that woman who hugged you was placed exactly where she was specifically for you. The very same thing happened for me when I met my second husband. I was on a downward spiral to hell at the time, following in my alcoholic father’s footsteps. It was always so easy to blame the sickness on him, rather than take responsibility for it myself. My husband, before he was my husband, showed me that I didn’t have to drown all those horrid memories with alcohol. That indeed, the harder I tried to do that, the further away from the truth I sank.
I won’t take up space with my story here, but I do want to say thank you. Thank you so much for having the courage to share your story with us. I read the warning and thought “I haven’t had a panic attack in years; I’ll be fine.” Then, I bawled. I’m still crying. But it isn’t a “bad” cry, it’s gratefulness for getting to where I am now, though I still feel I have buried some demons deep enough to keep them at bay, thus not taking the responsibility of facing them. Your words have caused me to reconsider that choice, and it is a choice. They should all come out if I ever want to feel strong enough to love myself completely. It won’t be easy, but I feel that, (even though I don’t know you), if you can do it so can I.
Thank you from the depths of my soul.

Michael Lockridge said...

Your tale reminds me to be thankful for the quality of my own growing years. You articulate well the Hell of the alcoholic family, the price that is paid down through generations.

Granted I did not have to live through this personally, but the course of my life brought me into the field of corrections. For twenty years I observed broken families, broken lives. I cared for those who suffered the breaking, and who continued the breaking in their own lives and the lives of their families.

I saw few successes. I knew much sadness. The steady paycheck and excellent benefits came at a high psychological price. One cannot be exposed constantly to chronic suffering without taking damage.

I am now retired from corrections, and can look back with growing detachment and reap what benefits there are to be found in the experiences.

Though it may not have been a physical hug, I had opportunity at times during my career to touch a life in a similar manner. It was almost enough to compensate for the rest of the job.

I have watched alcoholics and junkies begin their "careers." I have watched their long decline. I have known many who died, never turning from the path of destruction and finding the long path of recovery. I have seen a few who fought and climbed their way out of the pit of addiction.

You have articulated well a difficult experience. Thank you for sharing.


Unknown Mami said...

You are extremely lovable.

Thank you for your honesty, openness, humaneness, and courage.

Friko said...

I read it all, the whole story from beginning to end. What can I say. Anything would be trite.

You are very brave to trust the world with your pain.

Eileen said...

I'm here by way of TechnoBabe.
I love your honest, raw emotion. And I'm so happy for you that you found your freedom.
So many times I see that emancipating ourselves from our past, and liberating ourselves from ourselves can be the biggest accomplishment and the greatest reward in life.
Wishing you continued peace,

Maggie May said...

I came here via Technobabe and found this post very moving. I am pleased and relieved that you found a way out of the turmoil.

Nuts in May

savannah said...

((((charlie)))) thank you. xoxoxoxoxox

KleinsteMotte said...

What a creative blog! There's much to learn here.

Lady_Amanda said...

Oh Carlie,

You are so brave! Way to go for standing up and telling us your story. I am sure that you have become "The Unknown Man" for someone on the internet just because of the telling of that story!

Hugs and blessings,

Mrs4444 said...

This is brilliantly written, of course, and I can relate to parts of it. I especially love that the unknown woman reached out to you; such a simple act, yet so profound. Thank you for sharing this.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Charlie, I truly believe that you have become that Unknown Man. There have been so many times when I have felt your virtual healing hug from your words. You do touch people's souls, my friend, with your spirit and your bravery and your sass. Thank you.

Pearl said...

I found this to be a very interesting post. As the daughter of an alcoholic and a woman whose every major relationship with a man (outside of her son) has been with an alcoholic, I have only, in the last five years or so, truly been able to identify what my role has been in all of it.

Self-discovery and acceptance is a rough road.


p.s. I, too, suffer from panic attacks. We have things in common, you and I.

Madame DeFarge said...

Quite simply wonderfully moving.

Wandering Coyote said...

I used to have big time anxiety attacks in university, especially one year when I was in a depression. I shared this with an instructor, who then revealed to me that he also had anxiety attacks. He told me I could skip the term paper, and just write the exam, which took a HUGE load off my shoulders. I was so grateful I cried in his office.

BTW, word verification = "dogrib"

secret agent woman said...

Here via Techno. I also grew up with an alcoholic father, one who was abusive. I drink myself, but lightly. I never wanted to walk his path not have my children walk my path. Good for you for finally breaking the cycle.

Hilary said...

Such a beautifully written expression of your heart. I'm glad that you are recovering and I feel honoured to read your story. Thanks to TechnoBabe for pointing it out.

Unknown Mami said...

I linked to you today.

Donda said...

Growing up with an alcoholic father and Bipolar Disorder I can identify. I just can't describe it as poetically. You are a word magician! Found your blog at and I am at www.dailylifewithbipolar.blogspot.comFeel free to swing by.

Eva Gallant said...

I'm here from Unknown Mami. I am moved beyond words. One of my dear friends was married to an alcoholic; I know now that I never had any idea what she andhe were going through. I feel shame that that friendship fell by the wayside years ago, undoubtedly because of my insensitivity. Thank you for opening my eyes and causing a flood of tears to pour forth.

laytonwoman3rd said...

You're a good man, Charlie C. The world is better because you're in it, touching hearts and souls in ever widening circles.

Kim said...

I just adore you are one of the strongest most in tune,real people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing , and I'm proud to call you my friend *hugs n stuff*


The Absence of Alternatives said...

This post moved me to tears, the way it did all your readers here. What moved me the most was this line, I don't know why...

"Selfish person that I am, I wanted what the Unknown Woman had."

Maggie said...

I apologize for not finding this earlier....or not leaving a note, or for forgetting. For I too am an alcoholic, and I forget everything. I don't forget being a low bottom drunk who didn't know that treatment programs existed. Today I have a few years of sobriety and a few more years of not using my or anybody else's drugs.

I kept a journal all through my drinking....illustrated, of course, and today it helps illuminate my way into the future.

Nope, I didn't find my way here via technobabe. I found a link on someones blog, and sent a few prayers your way. Still do, infact.

Stay cool, we sure do care.

Elisabeth said...

Why didn't I come here earlier?  Why didn't I see this post before, this stunning post about alcoholism and recovery? And now Charlie's gone and I'm gripped with a sadness so deep, both that he is gone, and also that I did not respond to this writing here before he went, though others have and I am pleased for that.  

Farewell again, Charlie.  Your writing will live on here and others can go on benefitting from your wisdom and from reading your beautiful words.