knew from our first meeting that Steve
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.
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
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."
fiction, Steve. It's a novel," I said,
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?"
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."
caught his breath, got his feet under him, and
shook his head slowly. "Well…I guess
you know what you're doing," he said.
it scare you?" I asked.
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."
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.
sort of a God-like J. D. Salinger hiding in
the shadows, huh?" I asked.
isn't that pretty much the way you see
yourself?" he replied.
didn't ask him how much, if at all, he was
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
do you feel this morning, party boy?" she
hammered shit," he answered. "Worse
than that if there's such a thing. What the
do you mean? What happened when?"
happened last night? I can't remember much
past the second round of beer."
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."
great," he said. "What the hell did
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
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
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?"
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."
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
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
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."
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?
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?"
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.
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
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
Well, are you going to go?"
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?"
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?"
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."
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
of Kathy filled his head. Words, phrases, and
ideas from Cally and the Big Book and AA
meetings flooded his mind.
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.
heard a noise behind him and looked up to see
Rachel. "Are you okay, Steve?" she
said in almost a whisper.
Rachel, I'm okay. I'm sorry if I woke
alright. I didn't know whether to come down or
not. I was afraid that you might have left
without saying goodbye."
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."
you want to talk?" she asked.
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."
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
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
snuggled closer and laid her head on his
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
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."
turned his head so that he could see Rachel's
face. "I'm sorry, babe. I really
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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."