An update on my neighbor, for those of you who are familiar with our trials and travails over the past few years which I delved into in graphic detail here.
I realize that I never adequately explained our prior relationship – the one we had before he became so chronically alcoholic and started doing things like exposing himself and saying weird shit to me. We were close, close friends. He was the kind of person you just immediately knew you had something in common with. We spent HOURS talking, and when he got married, I became good friends with his wife and we three spent a lot of time together talking about everything and anything. OK, we were usually drinking excessively also, but I honestly didn’t realize until about 7 years into our being neighbors that he was an alcoholic – and only when he told me that I’d never seen him sober. Never. As in 7 years of being his neighbor. That was a real shock to me, and he only admitted it to me then because he was starting to have some serious health issues and the very beginnings of some crazy alcoholic dementia episodes.
Needless to say, things went downhill pretty rapidly for him after that. Then there was the exposure incident and the fence incident, etc. I spent a few years being extremely pissed off at him and his fucking addiction. I hated the addiction that took my friend away from me and I hated my friend for letting it happen. I watched his former showcase of a home and yard deteriorate at the same rate as his mental status; what was once a beautiful, 150 year old house with gorgeous landscaping became a mess of peeling paint, sagging porches, and unmown weeds. He became well-known down at city hall for the constant mowing citations. The only time he left the house was to make his twice daily beer run – 9:30am and 3:30pm, like clockwork. We stopped speaking completely after the exposure episode and his physical appearance went from well-groomed alcoholic to the more traditional, disheveled alkie look.
Last November, something quite miraculous happened: My neighbor went to a detox and rehab facility.
One Saturday afternoon Ken informed me that the neighbor was leaving the house and getting into a car with a duffel bag – definitely an unprecedented event because nobody ever visited him, not even his own family. His wife spent most of her time at work, or at the stables riding her horses. She still loved him, but couldn’t stand his addiction. For him to leave the house for anything other than a 5 block jaunt to the Quickie Mart – well, it just wasn’t a normal occurrence.
“I’ll bet he’s going to rehab.” I said hopefully.
“Naw,” Ken said, still peering through the break in the curtain, “he’s got a 6-pack of beer with him.”
“Honey,” I said in my Miss Know-it-all voice, “NOBODY goes to rehab sober. ”
Of course, as is usually the case, I was right (God, it’s such a burden being right ALL THE TIME!). Drunken neighbor completed 30 days of rehab and has been sober ever since (6 months). Last week we talked for the first time in a long time. He was outside painting his house (!) and I was out watering plants, and I got to say some things that I’ve wanted to say for a long time – about how glad I was to have my friend back and how much I had missed him. He didn’t exactly apologize directly for his very bad and hurtful behavior, except to say that he knew he’d done some things that were terrible and that he didn’t understand at the time that what he was doing and saying was unacceptable. That the alcohol had distorted his version of reality so much and that he didn’t realize at the time why everyone had abandoned him. We smiled at each other and went back to our respective chores. I felt relieved and happy to have a friend back. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get back to the way things were – our relationship suffered some irreparable damage because he victimized me at a time when I was extremely vulnerable and frightened of the world. Even though I know it’s something he wouldn’t have ever done as a sober person, it affected me terribly, for a variety of personal reasons.
I hope he can stay sober, I really do, but I know the statistics are against it. Relapses happen more often than not and sobriety is a daily uphill battle. If he starts drinking again, he won’t live much longer; but right now I have an old friend back who is reveling in the joys of home maintainance and gardening again, and who seems happier than he’s been in years. It’s a gift I’ll gladly accept.