Quiet Desperation

There’s a message in a bottle, and it’s mixed


On a Monday in March, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock briefly panicked the city by declaring liquor stores to be non-essential businesses. He declared they would have to close and remain closed until further notice, starting the next day.

Maybe you know what happened next.

For the rest of that Monday lines were out the door at liquor stores around town. Twenty-five years ago, I would have needed a U-Haul.

Then that evening, Hancock changed his mind.

I thought about those of us who drink and drink a lot. As well as about the ones who might be triggered to relapse during a quarantine.

Have current events affected alcohol sales? Just a little.

The Washington Post reported, “The extreme worry and isolation sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is likely leading many people to increase their consumption of beer, wine and hard alcohol, experts say. A recent survey by the market firm Nielsen reported off-premises sales of alcoholic beverages across the United States have grown 55% in the week ending March 21.”

Twenty-five years ago, I wouldn’t know what day it is right now. Alcohol — specifically vodka — was my best friend. Until it wasn’t.

I’m not out of the woods: no one in recovery is. But there have been no temptations or cravings during this wild ride through the pandemic.

As for others? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s been too much for some of us. If true, my thoughts are with you.

There’s no glamour in being an alcoholic, but there have been some glamorous alcoholics.

Lord Byron, John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Ben Affleck, Dana Andrews, Oksana Baiul, George Best, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Bukowski, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, William Holden.

Holden, 63, was found dead in his Santa Monica apartment, apparently after falling during a binge and hitting his head. He was found two or three days after the incident.

There is a misconception that J.D. Salinger saw Holden’s name on a marquee for the 1947 film “Dear Ruth” next to the last name of his co-star, Joan Caulfield, and that’s where the main character in “The Catcher in the Rye” came from. However, Salinger had written a short story in 1941 about an alienated teen named Holden Caulfield.

I am not entirely sure why I have not relapsed. After all, the conditions are perfect for what I am: an isolation drinker.

Isolation drinkers drink at home, alone. That’s me.

It’s a seemingly perfect way to wallow in the disease (if that’s what it is). Until when? Until an isolation drinker runs out of alcohol and then it’s the worst.

I walked for miles to get a bottle. Each step was necessary and each step was humiliating. Necessity won every time.

If this were a meeting I’d tell my story. It’s not unusual: lots of help, therapy, research, meetings, help, therapy, determination, meetings and luck.

Luck? I’m lucky to be alive. I’ve thought about it and I think about it every time I read about someone like Amy Winehouse.

Like her or not, that girl could sing.

If I had checked out 25 years ago, I wouldn’t be sitting here doing something I love, writing, with someone I love nearby.

I’m not about to tell anyone to quit drinking, especially right now. The illusion of alcohol’s benefits might be too great. I just hope anyone who has relapsed makes it to the other side of this alive.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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