Excerpts from High Bottom Drunk

Order High Bottom Drunk     High Bottom Drunk is so beautifully written and touches me so deeply that I have been caught somewhat off guard.  Diane H.

    I finished High Bottom Drunk this past weekend, and it is one of the very best books I've ever read. The story made me look at myself a lot. Being in love with an addict/alcoholic is difficult at best, but your book has inspired me to believe that there is hope.  Trish S.

    As a chemical dependency counselor, I feel I have just finished reading the most in depth, diagnostically correct study of the disease of chemical dependency and the resultant character defects that go along with it that has ever been written.  CB

    This book really hit a nerve. It gave me insight into spirituality, a term that I've struggled with for all my sober years. [Now] I FINALLY get it!! I would recommend this book to anyone, sober or not. Lori


From the Introduction

I knew from our first meeting that Steve Campbell was good story material, and I wrote the first few pages of High Bottom Drunk not long after our first visit. When I told him what I had in mind regarding his story he laughed out loud. "Yeah, right," he said. "Like there's anything interesting enough about me to put in a fucking book." I assured him that there was. "Yeah, whatever," he said with a dismissing wave of his hand.

I began sharing the High Bottom Drunk manuscript with Steve when I was two years into the project, about six months following a very significant turn in his life. When he realized the extent of my work he was dumbfounded.

"This is unbelievable, man. I mean, I knew you were kind of working on my story, but this is a goddamn epic. Look at this. I don't even remember telling you some of this stuff."

"It's fiction, Steve. It's a novel," I said, smiling.

He laughed. "A novel, huh? That's a good one. Man, what are all of these people going to think when they see this? Holy shit, what's my mom gonna say?"

I said, "Just tell them the truth. It's a novel. It's fiction. It says so right there on the opening pages of the book."

Steve caught his breath, got his feet under him, and shook his head slowly. "Well…I guess you know what you're doing," he said.

"Does it scare you?" I asked.

He looked down at the manuscript in his hands and spoke softly. "Yeah, I guess it does. I mean, there's just so much of it, you know? And it's so damn graphic."

Fortunately, Steve's doubts concerning High Bottom Drunk faded quickly. Within a couple of weeks he had gathered enthusiasm for the project and had climbed on board to support it. He helped edit some of the more difficult parts of the story. He convinced me to leave myself and our relationship out of the story line altogether, suggesting instead that I simply tell the story from the viewpoint of an invisible, omniscient observer.

"Ah, sort of a God-like J. D. Salinger hiding in the shadows, huh?" I asked.

"Well, isn't that pretty much the way you see yourself?" he replied.

I didn't ask him how much, if at all, he was kidding.

From Chapter 1

High Bottom Drunk, if nothing else, is a nice, catchy little phrase. I dropped it on a university psychology class a couple of years ago, and one student said it made him think of a lush with an oddly placed body part. I caught the image, and despite myself, I had to smile. I informed him that while the term does refer to a particular type of alcoholic, it has nothing to do with human anatomy. Genetics, perhaps, but not anatomy.

Steve Campbell could have been a high bottom drunk poster boy. His abuse of alcohol and other drugs caused problems, which in turn caused suffering, but the problems appeared pretty minor within the context of his successful life.

Steve graduated college. He worked hard. He made good money, paid his bills, and provided for his family. He never got arrested. Never shot dope. Never even fell into the proverbial punchbowl. People liked and respected him. Some called him a golden boy. No one called him an addict.

Steve knew he drank too much. He even got down on himself about it from time to time. But like all good high bottom drunks, he rationalized, justified, and minimized his alcohol and drug use to the extent that he continued to use in relatively good conscience.

During the course of his seemingly inauspicious drinking and drugging career, Steve only one time really experienced the worst nature and fullest extent of his problem. That was not the night that a cop gave him a stern warning instead of a DWI. It was not the evening he acted like an idiot in front of his best friend's parents and was asked to leave his friend's home. It wasn't the night that his wife caught him in the downstairs closet with one of her best friends. It wasn't the morning he awoke at 4:00 o'clock in a field behind a country western dance hall with puke covering the front of his shirt. It was not the day his three best friends confronted him about his escalating alcohol and drug use. It was just one summer day when he drank too much alcohol and mixed it with too many drugs.

On that day, Steve humiliated and degraded himself and put his life directly in harm's way. Luck, or perhaps it was grace, forgave him and let him off the hook. The experience left him feeling lost, alone, confused, and afraid. It convinced him once and for all that he had to change the nature of his relationship with alcohol and drugs. It did not convince him to quit drinking and using, but it brought him to that threshold.

From Chapter 18

Steve awakened with a crushing headache and with Dixie, still asleep, snuggled up next to him in his own bed. He looked around the room, moving his head as little as possible. He looked at Dixie and realized that he had no recollection of having been with her the night before. Indeed, he had no memory of leaving the bar or being in his house. No memory whatsoever.

He closed his eyes and tried to trace his steps. He remembered ordering the third round and drinking straight from a pitcher. He vaguely remembered putting quarters into the jukebox and dancing with Carla. He recalled placing his hands on her hips as she moved with the music. He faintly remembered standing on a chair, holding a pitcher of beer into the air, and proposing a toast to someone or something. Himself, perhaps. Then nothing; the rest was a complete blank.

Steve looked at his watch. It was 11:15. He put his hands over his face and rubbed his eyes and forehead. Then he carefully leaned up on one elbow and looked around the room again. Nothing appeared out of place. Their clothes lay on the floor by the bed. Two warm half-full beers and the tail end of a joint sat on the nightstand.

He slowly maneuvered his body into sitting on the edge of the bed. His head pounded; his body ached. He shuffled into the bathroom and then into the kitchen, where he downed four aspirin and a glass of cold milk. When he slipped back into bed, Dixie opened her eyes.

"How do you feel this morning, party boy?" she asked.

"Like hammered shit," he answered. "Worse than that if there's such a thing. What the hell happened?"

"What do you mean? What happened when?"

"What happened last night? I can't remember much past the second round of beer."

"Well, you missed a pretty wild time, then," she said, yawning into her hand. "Too bad you missed it, too, because you were without a doubt the life of the party."

"Oh, great," he said. "What the hell did I do?"

From Chapter 34

"Carla, I want to ask you something, and I want you to give me an honest answer. Do you think I drink and use too much? I mean, have you ever thought I was out of control? Dixie thinks I have a problem with it. Do you? Tell me the truth."

Carla looked at Steve for a moment and then said, "I really don't know, Steve. I mean, I know you like to party. Hell, we all do. I guess we've all seen each other a little over the top a few times. I can't honestly say that I've ever seen you totally out of control, though. Not any more than anyone else anyway."

Steve nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right. I gotta tell you, though, it was pretty bad yesterday. I almost wrecked my truck several times, and it took me all day long--ten goddamn hours--to drive 170 miles. I don't know; maybe I should just cut back, or maybe quit everything for a little while and let my system get good and clean and then see how I feel about it. What do you think?"

"Steve, I wish I knew. I'd love to have the answer for you, but I just don't. For one thing, I'd hate to talk you out of something that might be right for you. I mean, we'd probably all be better off if we didn't drink or use drugs, especially those really toxic ones like speed and cocaine. I've thought about it before--not for you, but for myself. There have been days when I felt bad about what I said or did the night before, and days when I thought I should cut back. I've never seriously considered quitting altogether, but I have thought about needing to use better judgment."

"Really, Carla? Now that surprises me. I don't think I've ever seen you so loaded that you were out of control.  Tell me; when did you feel that way?"

"Well, I can give you a couple of examples. One was that night when there were six or seven of us doing shots and bongs, and I took my shirt off and stuck my breasts in Carlos' face. Remember that?"

"Yeah, but hell, I just thought that was funny. You know, we were all laughing and playing around. I never thought about that as being out of control or being a problem."

"Well, I did. I thought about it a lot. For one thing, it embarrassed Carlos, and I felt terrible about that. For another, it embarrassed me. It wasn't about being naked. You know me; I'm not modest, to say the least. The point is that I wouldn't have done it if I had not been drunk. I mean, it's no great big deal or anything. It's just an example of feeling bad about something I did when I was drinking, you know?

"The other example that comes to mind right away is the same kind of thing. Remember last Thanksgiving, when I let Tucker spend the night with me? I regretted that the moment I woke up the next morning. And again, it's not about having sex. Hell, you know how much I love sex. It's about the decision to sleep with Tucker. You know as well as I do that he's not my type. He just happened to have the right equipment in his pants when I was too drunk to use better judgment. That was a wrong decision for me. It was a compromise of my values. If it had been you, or even Dixie, I would have felt great about it, but it wasn't. It was Tucker. See what I mean?"

Steve laughed. "Yeah, I do, but hell, Carla, if I went that route, I could probably come up with a hundred examples of times when I've done stuff drunk that I'd never do when I was sober. I mean, it's like Friday night. I planned to relax and get a lot of sleep. Guess how much I got. Zilch. And I know it was because I was too fucked up to stick to my original plan, which, by the way, was a very good one. Then yesterday morning, I got in my truck and headed home when I couldn't even walk a straight line, much less drive one.

"And I know you remember last year when I announced to the world that Dixie and I had slept together. You know, I could have lost a very good friend over that little screw up. I never would have done that when I was in control of myself.

"Anyway, not to change the subject, but you'll never believe what I did earlier this morning. I called my mother, who's been in AA for about ten years, and asked her about AA meetings. She turned around and had an AA guy from here in Austin call me and invite me to go to an AA meeting with him tonight. This was all at 7:00 AM."

"Yeah? Well, are you going to go?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I told him I might meet him there. I don't suppose you'd want to go with me, would you?"

"Umm, I don't think so, Steve. Nothing against AA, but I don't think it would be my bag. What the hell, though, maybe you should do it. I mean, what could it hurt?"

After Carla left, Steve walked into the bedroom, where he culled five small roaches from the ashtray. He peeled away the old paper, dumped the contents onto a sheet of new paper, cleaned away the burned edges, and rolled the residuals into a skinny joint. "AA," he thought. "I wonder if you can smoke pot and still go to AA."

From Chapter 52

Steve quietly slipped out of Rachel's bed and tiptoed downstairs to the living room. He picked his jeans up off of the living room floor and slipped them on. Then he sat on the couch in the dark and made himself small. He wrapped his arms tightly around his legs, pressed his thighs against his chest, pressed his heels against his butt, and rested his face on his knees. He felt guilty, sad, and afraid.

Images of Kathy filled his head. Words, phrases, and ideas from Cally and the Big Book and AA meetings flooded his mind. Spiritual disease. Spiritual experience. Spiritual awakening. God's will. Self-will. Self-will run riot. Willingness. Rigorous honesty. Surrender. The spiritual life--not a theory--we have to live it.

He heard a noise behind him and looked up to see Rachel. "Are you okay, Steve?" she said in almost a whisper.

"Yeah, Rachel, I'm okay. I'm sorry if I woke you."

"That's alright. I didn't know whether to come down or not. I was afraid that you might have left without saying goodbye."

Steve reached his hand out to her. She took it and sat down next to him on the couch. "I wouldn't do that," he said. "I just woke up with stuff on my mind and couldn't get back to sleep."

"Do you want to talk?" she asked.

He took a deep breath. "I don't know; there's so much floating around in my head that I wouldn't know where to start."

Rachel remained silent.

"Rachel, I'm afraid that I can't do this recovery thing, that I don't have it in me," he whispered. "It's too hard. It's too much. It's more than I can do. I think I'm not good enough or smart enough or strong enough for it. I want to go back to the way things used to be. Not the bad things, but the fun and easy things.

"Earlier this year, I would study in the morning and work in my shop in the afternoon. My buddies would drop by. We'd shoot the shit and laugh and drink beer and get stoned and have a good time. I'd hang out at The Roam In and shoot pool and get high and bullshit with the regulars. There wasn't any pressure to grow or change anything. The so-called 'spiritual life' was a theory, one that James and Tommy debated in fascinating, intellectual terms. There was no need to surrender anything to anyone. Willpower was a positive thing. And rigorous honesty was something for nuns and nerds."

Rachel snuggled closer and laid her head on his shoulder.

"Rachel, I think I lied to you last night. I lied to myself, too, but I lied to you more than I lied to me. The truth is that I am in a relationship with the woman in Austin. Her name is Kathy Morris. I met her in my treatment group. We went to an AA meeting together the next night, and we've been hanging out together ever since. We've slept together a couple of times. I told her Friday night that I thought I was falling in love with her.

"We've never talked about seeing other people or not seeing other people, but I think that's just a technicality. I know that if she had slept with another man last night, I would feel very, very hurt."

He turned his head so that he could see Rachel's face. "I'm sorry, babe. I really am."

Rachel leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. "I probably I did the same thing, Steve. I don't know exactly how I knew it, but in my heart I knew there was more to your relationship than you admitted. I mean, I knew it before I even asked, which means I knew it before we ever took our clothes off.

"The truth is, though, that it probably wouldn't have made much difference to me anyway. I wanted last night to happen. I longed for it, selfish or not, self-centered or not, rigorously honest or not. And regardless of what that says about my recovery, I don't regret last night. I'm sorry that you do, but I don't."

Steve slipped his arm around Rachel's shoulders and said, "It's not that I have regrets about being with you, Rachel. The things I said last night about my feelings for you were absolutely true. I loved being with you. It was wonderful.

"The thing that has my stomach in knots is all of this recovery stuff. Living the spiritual life, rigorous honesty, positive growth and change. I mean, here I am with perhaps my dearest friend, who I love very much, doing what we've always done with each other--giving of ourselves, making love, sharing from our hearts, and I feel almost overwhelmed with guilt to the extent that I want to run away and hide. I mean, what the hell is the spiritual life? What is rigorous honesty?

"If you had said last night, 'Steve, I know in my heart that you're in a relationship with that woman in Austin. Therefore, I don't want you to sleep with me unless you can, with rigorous honesty, tell me that being with me tonight is more important than being faithful to her,' I would have assured you that that was the case. And it would have been the truth. Now, this morning, I'm sitting here feeling guilty and feeling like I can't handle the rigors and rules of recovery.

"Honest to God, I love you, Rachel, and I wanted more than anything in the world last night for us to make love and spend the night together. Honest to God, I care a lot for Kathy, and I feel as though I betrayed her by being with you last night. Honest to God, I wish that you and I still drank alcohol and smoked pot and could put on a nice little Sunday morning buzz right now.

"Damn it, Rachel, I feel like I'm going nuts. Right now, I just want to blow the whole recovery thing off. I'm not cut out for this. This isn't who I am."