What I received was an envelope containing my completion papers from the D.U.I.L. program; the two week, confined, state sanctioned, alcohol education course that I spent two weeks and one Superbowl Sunday at which I will never forget.
It's just about the last thing I need before I can go to the registry and attempt to wrangle my driving rights back from the clutches of the Commonwealth.
It's also somewhat of a report card which gets sent to both me, and my probation officer.
When I was there I encountered three kinds of people.
There were the people like I am now; people who desperately want to change their way of living; people who are asking, begging, and pleading for one more chance to show Massachusetts and the rest of the world that change is indeed possible.
Then there were the people somewhere in the middle who feel like they screwed up and were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They won't quit drinking but they will cut back. They'll probably make it through the 2 years of having a breath device on their car which can detect the slightest bit of alcohol in a person's system. If they fail this device's procedure twice in 30 days, and are deemed by the registry courts to be guilty, they will lose their license for ten years.
Can you say "I'd like a bus pass that's good until two thousand eighteen?"
And of course there were the people who got picked up at 8am on discharge Sunday and were blacked out before the cassette flipped over at the end of side one of Street Survivors.
And each one of these very different type of people got a two page document in the mail.
The first and most important page is the one that says when the program was completed and whether all fees have been paid for.
The second page outlines the person's participation level, their attitude, and their motivation.
It also lists recommended follow up treatment and has a space for comments from each person's individual counselors.
From page 2.
"Mr. Johnson's State of Change appears to be Action" (recovery speak for voluntary abstinence). He has a level of acceptance and willingness to change his drinking and/or drugging behavior and is in the process of taking action to be sober and drug free e.g. A.A. attendance, counseling, etc."
It lists me as exhibiting "above average" participation. Having a "positive" attitude. And having "High" motivation. This last evaluation point, my Aunt pointed out, is quite an ironic choice of words.
She's a funny lady.
Page two goes on to say: "Mr. Johnson would benefit from continued addiction education and treatment, individual and or group counseling and obtainment of a self-help support system."
Fair enough. But I have a feeling my counselor doesn't know exactly how deep I've been digging in my psyche, how many people I've been sharing it with, and what the general consensus has been from my peers.
When people who engage in excessive substance abuse start to listen to the inevitable screaming in their head and start to open the door even a crack to the possibility of cessation, there are the usual fears.
"How will I be able to hang out with my friends if they are using?"
"Will I become somebody I don't recognize and will I like that person?"
"Will I be able to enjoy myself in situations where I have always used my vices to feel comfortable?"
And of course, "Does it make a damn bit of difference to me or anyone for that matter?"
This last point is rhetorical of course, but I have to say I asked myself the question over and over and over again.
It's so easy to be a nihilist in the age we live in.
It's also very easy to excuse yourself from the table of life, go to your room, and slowly rot out your insides utill the alarm goes off. Especially if nobody cares, as it were.
But people do care.
People who you may not even know. People who know you by your reputation only. People who you may have knocked over on your way down the stairs at a party. And when I say "down the stairs" I don't mean that you meant to go that direction. But such is gravity.
People who paid money to see your band play and then wished they had spent it on a movie. Even a bad one.
"Some nights this guy is really on, but you never can be sure what kind of show you're going to get. Let's get outta here. I think they're doing karaoke at the bar down the street."
Hmm...I hate those kind of performers. Amateurs.
People who may have seen you make an enormous mess in a house that you didn't live at and witness you acting like it is the hands down funniest thing that has ever, or will ever happen in the known universe.
Like I did.
I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have gotten to this story, if at all, if it hadn't been for my friend and musical brother in the resistance, Mark Schwaber.
Mark is an amazing all around musician. Singing, songwriting, guitar playing, bass playing, you name it this guy can do it and do it well.
Mark and I came up in this same music scene over the last 18 or so years. We've seen each other on different stages as well as in varying stages of consciousness. I want to say we had drinking contests but that would be too easy.
We ran record breaking sprints to blackout. Coach was always so proud of us.
Yeah, it sounds like fun I know.
He listened to those screams in his head a bit earlier then I did; about 6 years earlier.
I remember what I thought the day I heard he had quit.
"Wow, Mark Schwaber, on the wagon. Well, it happens to the best of us. All in good time, I suppose."
And I drank a pint in his honor.
And then I went to the bar.
But we shared many nights drinking, laughing, drinking some more and falling down.
I'll let Mark tell this part of the story.
This is from his most enjoyable "Feedback" blog on Mass live which is part of the local newspaper online section. The setup for the story is that Mark's band Hospital had just finished opening for local heroes Sebadoh and we were all at the after party.
Take it away, Mr. Schwaber:
At some point a gigantic bag of popcorn was gently tossed against a wall. Still sealed. And as anyone that has drank from 6PM 'til 2AM can testify, it was beckoning us to eat it. Problem was, no one could open it. It was huge. I mean huge. It had to stand at four feet. It was one of those COSCO type things.
After a good three minutes (that felt like an hour) Mr. Johnson decided to interrupt the delicate popcorn purveyors and injected a bit of instant hilarity. Following a barbaric Yolp! I noticed that Freddy had lifted the giant bag over his head and with one swift motion of both arms he ripped the bag in two. Sending its contents throughout the dining room that a few of us were huddled within. The popcorn hit every wall in the room. And most comedically, at least one hundred kernels were suspiciously stuck to Mr. Johnson's dreadlocks. He looked like the world's only rock and roll popcorn tree.
Throughout the next few hours, I essentially made a meal out of it. Never eating a single kernel from anywhere other than Alex's hair. While I'm pretty sure he knew I was doing it, he remained silent to the act. It drew some quizzical looks from the onlookers, but hell, I've never been out to gain anyone's approval.
So as the hours passed, and the crowd dwindled to thirty or so, I once again took a little snack from the few remaining kernels that AJ's dreads donned. Finally he acknowledges it. His head slowly turns. His eyes glazed, but knowing. Most would laugh. But not AJ. His face was the poster child for deadpan.
"Will that be all?"
"Yeah, I'm good." I responded, as if I was the customer looking for a check from the waiter.
Without missing a beat, or casting a smile, the incredible comedic timing of Alex rears its head.
"That will be $4.99. You can pay at the register."
It's a damn good thing that some people back in the 90's carried expensive camera equipment to after hours parties.
I mean, when something like this happens, you just have to get a picture almost immediately right?
I love the one kernel in freefall. Freaking Pulitzer prize winning stuff there.
An even more amazing part of this story is that I was initially not allowed to enter the club that night to see Mark's band, Hospital, or Sebadoh play.
The club owner was at the door and he took one look at me and told me to go home.
He said: "Go home and sober up and come back in a couple of hours."
I even got Jason, the bass player of Sebadoh, to try and talk his way into letting me in. And I barely even knew the guy. He tried it and it didn't work.
So I went back to the Market St. house and drank some whiskey and tried it again.
I don't know why or who was looking out for me that night but he let my sorry drunk-ass in.
But it's now almost ten years later.
A lot of people have begun to look at me in strange and unfamiliar ways.
They tell me how they feel about things that I have done. That always used to scare the living piss out of me.
I hear it from my friends, I hear it from my family, and I hear it from strangers.
I heard it today while I was shopping at the market for pork chops and chocolate bon bons.
"Love your blog Al. Keep up the great work. You have a special talent and it's a pleasure to read your stuff."
So, when the counselors write things like, "Mr. Johnson would benefit from continued addiction education and treatment...and obtainment of a self-help support system."
I think they don't know me as well as they should.
Because if they did, they'd know that I already am benefiting from exactly that.
And I've got it in spades.
But it would be really difficult to get you all to come to the registry with me on Thursday.
So I'll just let you know how it goes.
A big thanks, of course, to Mr. Mark Schwaber. You can find the links to his "Feedback" column as well as his website at the end of this page. And a special thank you to Alexis Doshas whose info you can find there as well.
Oh, and I have another important story which he figures prominently in. But I'll save that for a date in the not too distant future. It's a good one, I can assure you. I'll get to it soon enough.
All in good time.
Thanks for reading.