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Field notes of an American alcoholic in rehab – Fox News

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2022 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotes displayed in real-time or delayed by at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Factset. Powered and implemented by FactSet Digital Solutions. Legal Statement. Mutual Fund and ETF data provided by Refinitiv Lipper.
Retired Army intelligence officer Dale King on helping his Ohio community fight the opioid crisis.
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better” 
– Samuel Beckett 
Most books and essays about alcoholism and recovery are triumphant tales of success meant to inspire those still suffering under its baffling compulsions. It’s a kind of sincere testimony that promises you can do this. This isn’t that.  
I can’t promise that anyone will be all right because I don’t know if I’ll be all right. Rather, this is a dispatch from the trenches of treatment. As honest an accounting as I know how to give of what rehab is really like.  
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD’S MIRACULOUS ‘WHOEVER’ POLICY
As I write this in my marble notebook, I am a stereotype, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, dry just a few days. It’s a chilly morning for Southern California. I put the Beatles on. My 11-year-old recently discovered them. In his greenest youth he thinks Paul, not George, is the best of them. It’s wonderful to see your kid’s taste grow. 
This is my second stint at Miramar, the treatment facility. Eight months ago I first stepped through these doors. The impetus, well the immediate impetus anyway, was my merrymaking at the February 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.  
I won’t bore you with all the details, but it ended with me in a parking lot of a hotel party, on my phone, doing a live appearance on Newsmax, drunk as Falstaff, and refusing to put out my cigarette. The next day I found out some of the Newsmax guys thought it was a hoot. My bosses at the Federalist, where I was the New York correspondent, well, less so. 
About a week later I was summoned to Washington, D.C., by my friend and then boss Ben Domenech. Ben and I took a long walk through the cozy red bricks and historical monuments of Alexandria, Virginia. 
FILE – Ben Domenech on Fox News Primetime in 2021. (Fox News)
He showed me Robert E. Lee’s childhood home, we talked of our favorite books about World War I. Then on a bench before the sun-sparkled Potomac he told me, “We are sending you to rehab.” I said, “OK.” My resistance was gone. And off I went to sunny California.  
It’s such a small choice. It’s just a little liquid in a glass. The most normal thing in the world as it has been since long before the Romans. 
The intake was a shock. A tough-as-nails former addict – most of the employees are – took all of my belongings. Then he took me to a bathroom and did a strip search. After a litany of paperwork I was returned the possessions I was allowed to have. No phone, no laptop, even my Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue cologne was gone. I met my roommate, a former Marine who had been badly banged up in Iraq. He was wonderful, a fellow Catholic and basketball fan. We promised to keep in touch after, and did for a week or two. I hope he’s doing better than I am today. 
When I got back to Brooklyn after 30 days I lasted another four months sober, vastly longer than I had ever gone in 30 years. Then one night at a party, again at CPAC, which seems to be my alcoholic Achilles heel, I thought, “I can have a drink or two.”   
It’s such a small choice. It’s just a little liquid in a glass. The most normal thing in the world as it has been since long before the Romans. And it wasn’t like in the movies. I did not Jekyll to Hyde in an instant. But over the next four months, in fits and starts of frivolity and shame, I was a drunk again. I now realize I always was and always will be. 
Then one night in late November I was alone in my Bay Ridge dwelling, fabulously drunk and high on a moderate amount of mushrooms. I was crying. I was angry at God. I demanded of Him that he show me my mother, who died 25 years ago.  
On my knees, eyes closed, I saw the figure of a black-veiled woman. I pleaded for the veil to be removed. It wasn’t. When I opened my eyes I saw a framed cover of the New York Post, my own words blaring from its iconic tabloid form reading “It Needs to End Now.”  
The cover story, from May 2020, had been about COVID lockdowns. Now it took on new meaning. I begged the Blessed Mother to help me. 
*** 
The core of addiction treatment and recovery is the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, expressed most fully in its central text known as the Big Book. The tome, in its style and approach, is quintessentially American. Like rock ‘n’ roll, blue jeans and freedom, it now spans the globe in its influence. But one cannot read it without feeling its roots in the United States. Almost every example of a man who cannot stop his drinking is a businessman, or car dealer, something along those lines. Written in the late 1930s, capitalism bristles and bubbles on every page.  
The most challenging of AA’s famous 12 steps is the fourth, a fearless moral inventory of our faults. It is no surprise that this is expressed with an analogy to business. It reads, “A business which takes no regulator inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-and-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values.” In this, the Big Book expresses something of a basic American paradox. 
Financial success, the American dream, monetary security are set against spiritualism, religion and the need for a higher power that is central to the AA approach. Thus, as Shakespeare put it, the word is set against the word. This is a pendulum sway that marks the entire history of the nation. Material gain giving way to religious revivals and great awakenings.  
There is no pill or vaccine for alcoholism, not an effective one, anyway. This is a bit odd given the condition’s preponderance in the world. It would sure as hell be a path to billions for its creator. Instead, the most successful solution or treatment, by far, is of a metaphysical flavor. On the one hand this is not a matter of faith, the millions of recovered addicts are real, you can count them. Yet, on the other hand the means of their recovery itself is belief in an unknowable higher power and a lot of talking and self-examination. It’s vague. And maybe that makes sense. It is almost impossible to explain to one who is not an addict what the inability to control substance use feels like. I won’t really try. The best I can do is tell you what brought me to California this time. 
*** 
When I woke up from my bottle-driven battle with God there was a text. It was from Tom Sauer who runs Miramar. “Dave, I’m going to put you on the next plane out here. You need to come back.” it went on to say, “Don’t make me come get you.” I had prayed for help and it had been granted. And yet, I negotiated. After all, that is the great talent of the addict. I would go to AA, get a sponsor (an adviser of sorts who usually has a good amount of time sober). These were things I had not done after returning to Brooklyn the last time. And for two weeks it worked. Until it didn’t. 
I had been covering the Ghislaine Maxwell trial for the Daily Wire, an odd job for me as I am decidedly not a reporter. A failed six weeks on the national news desk at the New York Post in June had proved that. 
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits at the defense table with defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca while listening to testimony in her sex abuse trial, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in New York.  (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
When the editor-in-chief called me late one Friday afternoon to fire me it was a tremendous relief. No more one-sentence paragraphs devoid of anything approaching my style. No more editors cutting Jack Kerouac references from my breaking news stories.  
I knew it was a bad idea. I also knew I had already made up my mind. In a very real way, making the decision to drink is the same as having a drink.
It was a Thursday and that night I was to attend Reason magazine’s holiday party. This left me a problem. No laptops were allowed in the federal courthouse, so I needed a place between there and the East Village to type up my notes and file my story. You know where has WiFi? Irish bars. 
I enjoyed a pleasant meander up through Chinatown and Little Italy, cultural environs not dappled with too many bars. Two thoughts tangled within me as I smoked my brisk New York gait northwards. I knew it was a bad idea. I also knew I had already made up my mind. In a very real way, making the decision to drink is the same as having a drink. A warm rush of endorphins floods the mind just knowing the elixir will soon course through the old veins.  
Half an hour later I was ensconced in a bar, right next to what used to be the Bowery Poetry Club, my artistic home from 2004 to 2015, in the days before journalism when I plied the boards as a theater artist. And there I was. Jameson neat, me writing, like some black-and-white vision of James Joyce, mounted in my mind since childhood. It felt right. It felt perfect. A few hours later I was mindlessly drunk, Uber flying back to Brooklyn and bed. Just days later I knew I had to go back to California. 
*** 
All of the clients – we aren’t called patients – at Miramar are military veterans, except for me. All but a sparse few, one at each stint, is a man. These are tough guys and I know they were skeptical of me at first, hell, I’m skeptical of me, but ultimately and quite intimately they are accepting, something for which I have the most sincere and enormous gratitude. The foundation of that acceptance, the grounding of words upon which it was built, is the shared experience of addiction.  
They have a brotherhood of war which is foreign to me, but addiction is its own brotherhood, or as it is more commonly known in the expansive parlance of recovery, a fellowship. With these soldiers, sailors and Marines I share a different knowledge and recognition of carnage. 
Together we would share group therapy and meals, do outings and go to meetings in the evening. I’ve never taken a drink on a day when I have attended an AA meeting, even one of the glossy, impersonal Zoom variety. It feels like a magic trick, and I am at a loss to know why it is so. When I returned to Brooklyn in April, I obtained my five months of sobriety without meetings or a sponsor. I thought it was all fine. 
I had believed my relapse at CPAC in July was the result of a trigger, many actually. Things I thought were gonna happen weren’t happening during those two days in Texas. I felt spurned by the love of my life, I felt uncomfortable on stage, which had never, ever happened before. To top it off on a more positive note my beloved, adopted Argentine national soccer team took down Brazil in Brazil to lift its first trophy in three decades. I was the emotional equivalent of a popcorn machine. 
There will always be triggers. Life’s landmines proliferate under the solid ground of sobriety as quickly and suddenly as they do beneath the quicksand of mind-numbing inebriation. 
Today these triggers seem irrelevant to me. There will always be triggers. Life’s landmines proliferate under the solid ground of sobriety as quickly and suddenly as they do beneath the quicksand of mind-numbing inebriation. I now believe my mistake last time was eschewing the program, the company of my fellow addicts. Going it alone wenteth before the fall.  
I have a dim but flickering hope that if I avoid that mistake this time the result will be different. But maybe not. Maybe I will do everything right, or think I am, and still slip headlong, highball glass in hand, into the well-worn quagmire of alcohol. And it’s not the fear that is the most terrifying. It’s the hope.  
*** 
The lack of privacy in rehab is very difficult. There is a reason adults don’t go to summer camp. But it serves a purpose. The record-setting decibel level of my roommate’s snoring, for example, was not going to change so adjustments had to be made. Ear plugs and a mild sleeping agent helped, but mostly my body just became used to it, as if, unconsciously, a new habit was being formed. Soon we would both arise bright-eyed, he’d look at me and say, “Let’s go smoke one, baby,” and so we would, fast becoming good friends and co-mayors of the smoking room. 
There is a saying, in fact in the world of addiction – there are enough sayings to fill all the fortune cookies in Chinatown – it says, “Treatment is not recovery.” Treatment, or rehab, usually of a 30-, 60- or 90-day variety, simply creates a foundation for the client to build on at home in the habitat of their own devices. It has an arc. It starts with detox, a few slow days or a week as your body adjusts to the lack of your DOC (drug of choice). After that, the days get busy, filled with groups, individual therapy, exercise, doctors’ appointments, and a cavalcade of assessments. On my first day they asked me if I had anxiety. Puzzled, I looked at my case manager and said, “I live in Brooklyn.” 
The leading players on the stage of rehab are your fellow clients. Each has different humors and foibles. Sometimes there are scenes of intense, extremely personal one-on-one conversation. Other times, as a group, you hang out, breaking bread or breaking balls. One night, in a dark alley outside a closed Refuge Recovery meeting, one of them teased, “Don’t be scared, Dave, we’re all ex military.” To which I quipped, “I don’t know, I saw how that whole Afghanistan thing worked out.” They laughed. I knew they’d laugh. No filters are given or expected. 
Along with this main cast of characters is the supporting actors, the staff. They tend to be uniformly caring and wonderful, but they break down into two distinct groups. Those who are recovering addicts and those who are not. The latter group are called “normies,” a term I despise on at least three levels. First, it’s disgustingly cute. Second, it’s a bit condescending to those of us who are apparently “abnormal.” And finally, who the hell wants to be normal? If one is being brutally honest, the former addicts are easier to deal with and at least feel or seem to be more helpful. They are after all a part of the fellowship in ways the normies never can be. Under the eyes of the latter one can feel like a case study, or experiment, or even worse, an object of pity. 
*** 
Tom, who it turns out didn’t have to come to Gotham to get me, came to the recovery game through two passions. His father was an alcoholic, and as an Annapolis grad and Navy man he wanted to help veterans who are disproportionately represented in the addict community. He is big, blond and gregarious, and he has a dog who is also big, blond and gregarious. Most importantly, though, he runs Miramar the right way, with a sincere respect for the clients that flows down through the staff. I am given to understand this is the exception, not the rule, in many treatment facilities. 
A normie – there’s that horrible word again – Tom arrived at his decision to focus his life on addiction treatment in part from listening to Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and guy guru, speak about plunging the depths of our own traumatic experiences to find one’s mission or quest in life. Tom had a realization that his is to help rescue his father in the form of other souls broken by addiction. The result is a terrific treatment community. 
Rehab is, at its most basic, a community. Just like AA, it is centered on seeing ourselves and our experiences in the mirror of others who have endured the like. It also reflects, at its best, the nation in which its principles were founded. Toward the end of the original Big Book appears this passage regarding the alcoholic; “The very practical approach to his problems, the absence of intolerance of any kind, the informality, the genuine democracy, the uncanny understanding these people had were irresistible.” 
Yes. The ideals that have led to the recovery of alcoholics in their millions are the ideals of America. Always imperfect, but always striving. 
*** 
As weeks pass a gentle monotony sets in at a rehab facility. Repetition of events marked now and then by the departure of a friend or arrival of a new one. Now and then it occurs to you that you haven’t woken up hungover, that, aside from the odd ad during an NFL broadcast, booze has not been constantly on your mind. In large part that is because in the treatment of alcoholism, alcohol itself doesn’t come up all that much. Instead, the focus is on deeper causes. Guilt, shame, joy, trauma, anger, excitement. Almost no alcoholic I’ve ever known, and I have known plenty, can truly live a placid and pleasant life of quietude. They do not tend to creep into the jaundice. 
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Now is the hazy, subtle Pacific dawn settling on my last few days away from home. At the start of a trip to treatment, whatever its proposed length, time seems to have little meaning. You are there, simply and fully. You have given control of your life to others as you have given it to drink. Laid out before you, 30 days appears as a vast ocean with limitless horizon. By the end it is a trickling stream of ticking hours, it’s opposite shore an undiscovered country. Like Lewis and Clark, and York, and Sacagawea you stand aware of a great challenge, but also warm in the hope and gentle touch of the supreme Disposer of all events. 
Alcoholism and addiction in general magnify myriad aspects of the general human condition. But perhaps none of them as strongly as the complicated and often paradoxical question of free will. To acknowledge one’s alcoholism is to deny free will, at least in one discrete area. For all the miles of books, and papers, and studies extant I cannot rationally explain why I cannot drink like others do. But trust me, I can’t. And yet, what I might be able to do, what I have done for some stretches, and what others of my ilk have done for longer, is not drink at all. 
At the bottom of all the jargon that is simply a proposition that makes no sense. For us alcoholics, free will can only exist after we fully admit we don’t have any. The only concept that can square that circle is God. Only through Him can the mutually exclusive exist in symbiotic harmony. From the most ancient concept of the higher power to today, God is He who can see all that was, is and will be, and yet somehow, that still leaves us choices.  
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I see the planes now, on group walks to the broad beach of Western solace, so different from my boardwalks of Atlantic shores. I hear their hum with book on lap in the courtyard. From John Wayne airport they edge out over the ocean before gently easing east. Now I want to be on one. My face turned away from California and its dreamland qualities back to the ferocious real of glass and steel.  
I read that they made a movie of the Beatles’ famous rooftop concert. My son wants to go see it. I want to go see it with him. That will be a nice day. And if, through the grace of God, I can string together more nice days, and some not so nice ones, then maybe things will really be all right. 
Right now, all I know for sure is that I am an alcoholic. But if I choose it, I do not have to drink today. And for now, that is enough. 
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM DAVID MARCUS
David Marcus is a columnist living in New York City and the author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation.” 
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