My Alcoholism Revealed My True Friends

College Friends Celebrating Drinks in Hand

When people live through trauma, they often talk of how the experience shows them who their true friends are. I have always thought of that as quite sad. I’m not sure why, but my mind has always focused on the many friends who deserted the afflicted in his time of need. I have always looked at it all wrong.

 

My alcoholism and my decision to discuss it openly has led me to find out who my true friends are. And it has been among the best experiences of my life.

 

Never did my love of alcohol flourish as it did in college. Sadly, my education took a back seat to my fraternity life, and my fraternity life centered around alcohol. There were huge weekend blow-out parties, and there were beers after studying a little on a Tuesday night. There were themed dances organized with other fraternities and sororities, and there were guys-nights filled with junk-food, movies and booze. There was bar hopping and associated hazy memories and questionable decisions, and there were lazy Sunday afternoons watching football and nursing hangovers with the hair of the dog.

 

I had something like a couple hundred fraternity brother during my four years in college. If ever I wanted to drink (and I usually wanted to drink), I could always find someone who was ready to go.

 

From those couple hundred brothers, there was a crew of six of us in the same pledge class who did just about everything together. As the years drifted by after graduation, even four of those five faded slowly out of my life. We all got jobs and started families, and our importance to each other naturally dissolved. It’s not sad, it’s just part of growing up.

 

When I came out as an alcoholic in January, I heard from a dozen or so of my fraternity brothers – mostly in the form of social media likes or brief comments of support. But two of my brothers have gone a lot further – two from my crew of six.

 

One of my brothers who reached out was not a surprise. DJ is the only one with whom I have kept even a distant relationship alive. We exchange Christmas cards, text a couple of times a year and talk very rarely. DJ was not as surprised to learn of my addiction as he was to learn of the pain and suffering that alcoholism carries with it. Like most – my pre-alcoholic self included – DJ didn’t understand alcoholism until now as he experiences it through my explanations. DJ called just a few weeks ago because something I wrote that he read compelled him to check on me. That is different. That is meaningful. He didn’t call to tell me of his job promotion or new address for the next Christmas card. He called because he couldn’t stop thinking about me. That might be the best phone call I have ever received from DJ. Without alcoholism, that phone call would not have been possible.

 

Andy’s contact since my coming out is far more surprising. Andy married his college sweetheart just like I did. When they divorced, my wife and I sided with Andy’s wife and cut him out of our lives. That is one my and most regretted decisions and greatest mistakes. Marriage is hard. Relationships between good people fail everyday. Andy was once one of my very best friends. It was never my job to judge. It was my job to support my friend when he needed me. I failed. I turned my back on him because I lacked empathy until I battled alcoholism.

 

Andy contacted me through social media after reading my blog. Now he is a regular contributor in my blog comments. Andy doesn’t just give limp, meaningless attaboys. He challenges my thinking and supports me in my mission to end the stigma associated with alcoholism. He still calls me Mr. Salis, which is an inside joke from college, and I smile everytime I read his feigned formality.

 

Andy supported me when I needed him even though I deserted him when he could most have used my friendship. Maybe Andy’s divorce helped him find empathy, or maybe Andy’s just a better person than I am. Either way, I am lucky to have him back in my life as one of the true friends my alcoholism helped me identify.

 

After college, I met an Irishman who led me on an exploration of the pubs of St. Paul, Minnesota. John and I worked together. We drank together. We got married during those years, and we started our families when our friendship was strong. John calls me Bubba, and I call him Pods – another inside connection that traces back to a series of jokes we learned from the steel workers at the mill where we trained together in Kentucky in the late 90s.

 

Pods tells me he looks forward to Wednesday because it’s the day many of my blog posts are released on the world. There is nothing somber about my communications with John. He doesn’t mourn for me or ask how he can help. He treats me like an equal. He banters back and forth with me until we are both laughing and completing each other’s sentences. He recently enjoyed a trip to Ireland – a repeat performance from a trip Bubba and Pods took years ago. He didn’t shy away from telling me tales of drinking and adventure for fear of triggering me to want to drink. He treated me like a strong man who would want to hear of his friend’s adventures. He was right.

 

Bubba and Pods live a thousand miles apart, and we don’t get together much anymore. But I look forward to the next time we do because I know John loves me for me, and he couldn’t care less about the drink in my hand as long as I remember the punchlines to his jokes.

 

My wife and I have spent the last 15 years in the whole grain bread business. The bond we have with some of our fellow bakers and business owners is indescribable. We have experienced up and downs that can’t be appreciated unless you’ve been there and done that. We’ve also drank together. Most of the best drinking times that were sprinkled into my years when addiction was taking control were enjoyed in the company of my bakery buddies.

 

Some of these relationships standout to me as I manage my recovery. Mark, Ainley, Matt and Marin attended the sermon I gave about alcoholism in June. After church, they came back to our house for lunch. I expected the conversation to turn to business or our kids or summer vacation plans – anywhere a superficial relationship goes in polite company. It didn’t.

 

We talked about the stigma associated with alcoholism for three hours. They asked my opinion and shared theirs. They sat on the edge of their seats while my wife shared how my addiction had infested her life. They told of the horrors of alcoholism in their lives – friends and loved ones who suffered. We had deep and thoughtful conversation – not just about trauma of the past but about hope for the future – my future, their future and even our society’s future. We laughed and we cried together. Above all, they encouraged me to keep going.

 

My friend, Cheri, is one of my very best bakery buddies. She is not an alcoholic, but she understands the disease well because it hits very close to home for her. We used to meet every few months for a beer to stay connected. I always got the sense that Cheri could take or leave the beer, but that our connection was important to her. Now we meet every few months for coffee and an ever more meaningful connection. I was right. The beer didn’t matter to Cheri. What did matter then matters even more now. Cheri regularly contacts me about my writing. Just like my other bakery friends, her feedback is strong and consistent. She always urges me to keep writing, keep talking – just keep going – and I love her for it.

 

The encouragement of my bakery friends is, in large part, why you are reading these words. They are at the top of the list of my true friends as revealed to me by my alcoholism. But they are not alone. Brian is a customer who comments on my writing in profound and deeply personal ways. Nancy and I share a weekly hug at church because she knows…she just knows…and our connection has gone from cordial to vital. Kevin thanks me and tells me to keep going. Bill is twenty years my senior and is my most consistent social media supporter. Kelly and I are trying to find ways to work together to end the stigma.

 

These and so, so many others have revealed themselves to me as my true friends only because I faced my addiction and revealed it to the world for all to see.

 

If I was given the chance at a do-over where I could avoid the devastation alcoholism poured down on my life, I don’t think I would do it. I wouldn’t do it because my life would be so superficial and devoid of true connection without the pain and comfort and knowing and camaraderie shared with these beautiful, loving, gifted and generous true friends of mine.

 

Want to know something really interesting? Not one of the people I’ve identified is an alcoholic. I have received wonderful, cherished support from the recovery community, but that has nothing to do with the love received from these true friends. They don’t support me because they understand debilitating alcohol-induced depression. They don’t encourage me because they, too, have medicated alcohol-induced anxiety with alcohol. They don’t love me because they have been there and done that. The truth is, I don’t know why they give so much to me. But I have an idea why.

 

There is nothing more healing and soul reviving than connection. My connection with my true friends is as fulfilling as any experience in my life. I suspect the connection must scratch an itch for them, too. If so, I am eternally grateful for these mutually beneficial relationships brought to us as an unintended consequence of alcoholism.

 

I know who my true friends are, and that is not meant to disparage the many relationships in my life that have, for one reason or another, not yet developed fully. It is not meant to be a dig.

 

Knowing isn’t sad. Knowing is a blessing.

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10 Comments
  • Reply
    Mark Jewell
    October 24, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Matt,
    I always look forward to Wednesday with Matt. I’m feeling the need to respond this week.

    First, I can imagine it was pretty damn effortful to uncover and realize these insights. They seem a bit out of the ordinary from what I have read from others struggling with this disease. I’m appreciative of your willingness to dig through your memories and soul to dredge them out. Perhaps even mildly impressed!

    Secondly, it is a good reminder about the importance of the connections in our lives. Especially with tamping down our judgement and having empathy.

    As I’ve said Matt, one of your strengths is making what you write about relatable regardless if one is an alcoholic. This is a killer example of this.

    You used your painful circumstances to help me relearn an important lesson in life. Thank you.

    Heres your attaboy!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      October 24, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      Surviving alcoholism is like a flashlight on things that I think all humans endure. You relating – even though you are not an alcoholic – is the greatest compliment!

  • Reply
    Andrew Neis
    October 24, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Hello Mr Salis! 🙂 First off I gotta say that I love the picture included in the blog this week. What a bunch of handsome fellas. 🙂 Second I agree with Pods as I look forward to reading what you have to say every Wednesday. You lay it all out there, without reservations, or BS, or sugar coating, and that is what makes it so compelling. Last I wanted to say that you you did not fail. It was a different time and poor decisions were made. I don’t fault you for not supporting my actions that occurred. Plus you never liked any of my choices when it came to being with someone else (remember you liked Cyndy over Paula and were mad at me about that as well :-)). Never the less I did try to reach out once you moved to Colorado multiple times but was not able to get in touch (I was kinda cyber stalking you I guess). I am very happy that we have been able to reconnect, no matter what the circumstances were that brought it all back. One thing that has stuck with me over all these years, and will always be, was one night back at the house you and West were going through a bottle of something, and blasting Bon Jovi through the stereo. You invited me in and then proceeded to tell me about this certain song he had called “Blood on Blood’ along with the meaning behind it and how much it meant to you. That always stuck with me, and that is still how I feel. Here whenever you need me sir! And I have no problem critiquing any of your writings 🙂 I proofed my mom’s two books that she published so I have some experience. Anyway, ‘Blood on Blood’ Mr Salis!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      October 24, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Blood on blood is right! Thanks for understanding, forgiving and encouraging me. Also, what two books did your mom publish? I am very curious.

  • Reply
    Cheri Miller
    October 24, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Write on, my friend! Every post is a conversation or a little more understanding and empathy at my house and I look forward to them whenever I get a chance to read them each week. See you soon for coffee and cherries!!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      October 24, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      I can’t wait!

  • Reply
    Matt
    October 26, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Matt-
    As you well know I am no writer so leaving a comment takes me out of my comfort zone, but for you I am happy to try. Your courage, willingness and ability to write about the really difficult parts of your life so that others can see, very clearly, into it with all of its beauty and horror is so enlightening. You allow people who don’t know, and could not possibly otherwise know, see what this disease does to you as a human being and the people you love. Marin and I talk about how you have widened our view, and how we are better for it, as are many many others. Please keep using the gift you have and keep helping others. We are blessed to be part of your true friends.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      October 26, 2018 at 8:51 am

      I think you write beautifully! If I didn’t know you so well, I would never guess you are an accountant/finance guy. Thank you so much, my friend!

  • Reply
    Ainley Doyle-Jewell
    October 26, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Matt, your blog brought tears to my eyes. As you know, I have family members that have died from the disease. I have family members that will die from the disease. Mark and I have always thought wonderful things about you and Sheri and your family. The integrity that you guys have towards health, community, family and friends have always been a guiding principal in my life and I love you guys for that. You have a unique gift! I don’t sat that lightly and you shouldn’t take it lightly. Not everyone has the ability to articulate feelings and life experiences. I am so grateful for your healing and your ability to be insightful. Sometimes God puts burdens on us that nobody else can handle and has a purpose for us even if we prefer something different. I believe that you have been chosen to lead. Lead people to understand addiction. Lead people to heal from addiction.. Lead people to have compassion and empathy. Lead people to be part of the solution. God bless you and your family! I am proud to be your friend! I wish I could articulate my feeling like you do…you have a gift, my friend. Use it!!!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      October 26, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      You articulated a smile onto my face and a tear to my eye. We love you, Ainley!

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