Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’


Flight (2012)

April 7, 2013

Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Quick Thoughts: Flight hit home for me a bit. Being an alcoholic myself–one that has been sober for nearly three years now–I couldn’t help but relate to the path of self-destruction that Denzel Washington’s character Whip Whitaker had created for himself: the complete lack of self-control, the walls his family has put up, the delusion, the denial. Of course, the decision to make this character the pilot of a major airline makes his story worthy of a film. Watching the movie, I was wondering how much of it was based in reality. Was it a true story? The answer is… not really. While Whip’s decision to invert the plane during the incredible flight and crash sequence was inspired by true events, the character of Whip Whitaker himself is a figment of screenwriter John Gatins’ imagination–or more likely, a loose translation of someone the writer actually knows.

This is one of those films where the hero is quite the opposite. There’s no protagonist in this movie. I can’t imagine too many people rooting for Whip Whitaker. He’s despicable. Aside from his alcoholism, he also abuses drugs, womanizes, and is generally crude and overbearingly filthy in his diction. Perhaps we want to see him sink so low that he finally sees and admits the errors of his ways, but that’s it. About 90 minutes into the movie, I turned to my girlfriend and said: “This movie can’t possibly have a happy ending.” There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this person.

While I found Flight to be entertaining–seriously, the flight sequence is jaw-dropping–and the best depiction of alcoholism since Leaving Las Vegas, I did walk away with some serious questions. Whip’s flight crew is all too familiar with his antics. He’s sleeping and partying with one of his flight attendants (a fellow substance abuser) and it appears this is no secret to the rest of the crew, particularly a devoutly religious woman that has known Whip for years. My question is, knowing who this man is, why on earth would these people get on a plane that he’s flying? I understand enabling and co-dependent relationships–believe me–but I can’t understand constantly putting your own life and lives of passengers in immediate danger. This man is piloting planes drunk while reeking of vodka (as his co-pilot later points out). Who in their right mind is letting that happen? Also curious, Whip’s toxicology report comes back with a .24 BAC after landing the plane, getting extracted from the wreckage, and possibly transported to a hospital. In other words, during the crash, Whip was probably sporting a BAC over .3, which is well into black out territory. Of course, this is the portrait of a “functioning” alcoholic, but come on. And… my comments on the ending I will post below*.

Despite these concerns, I was still pleased with Flight and thought it tackled alcoholism quite well. The crash sequence is legendary and Denzel Washington gives another great performance.

Replay Value: Worth watching again for sure.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Denzel received an acting nomination and Gatins a writing nomination. Surprisingly, the visual effects team was snubbed.
Nudity: Quite a bit during the opening sequence.
Grade: 7/10 (Must See)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 79% Audience: 76%
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Recommendation: Highly recommended, especially to those who have dealt with alcoholism in their lives.


I felt like this movie couldn’t possibly have a happy ending and while I suppose I was satisfied with the way things wrapped up, I didn’t really buy it either. Whip Whitaker ultimately breaks down and admits the truth of his alcoholism–a scene that brought tears to my eyes–right on the brink of lying his way to freedom during his testimony. All he has to do is tell one more lie and he can go right on living his destructive life. So what sparked his change of heart? He has the perfect alibi: the woman he spent the night with before the crash has passed away, she’s a known alcoholic, and he can say that she drank the two bottles of vodka that had been found in the wreckage. But instead, he admits that he drank those bottles and suffers all the punishments that come with that admittance. Why? Do we really believe this man, that has chosen alcohol over the relationships of anyone close to him–wife and son included–would choose this moment to come clean? Presumably to protect the honor of a dead woman he had a casual sexual relationship with? I’m sorry, but this would never happen in real life. Alcoholics are incredibly selfish people and I really believe that 100% of alcoholics in that situation would choose to lie and protect their freedom. Perhaps the close call with extensive jail time would be enough to spark a change, but Whip Whitaker doesn’t take the fall there. Ever.


Another Alcohol Post

June 21, 2009

As a recovering alcoholic I don’t make it a habit to go out too much, but my conviction is so strong that I do go to the bars with friends once in a blue moon. This past Thursday was one of my co-worker’s 21st birthday, so a group of us went out to celebrate with her. Despite being surrounded by drunk people and alcohol, I never feel tempted to drink myself. I just enjoy a couple of O’douls and think about how much I’d rather be at home watching a DVD, but sometimes I feel so isolated in my sobriety that it drives me crazy if I don’t get out with some friends once in a while. Unfortunately, social interaction in my age bracket almost always involves alcohol and I usually find myself in situations most sober people are advised to avoid. While I strongly agree with that logic and even offer it to people in similar situations, I simply don’t apply it to myself. Honestly, if the events of the past 3 months of my life don’t drive me to drink, I can’t imagine that anything will. My mind is made up and it’s not something I’m concerned about.

Anyways, to continue with my story, one of the girls I was hanging out with was planning on driving home after the bar closed. This was the second bar we had attended that night, and I didn’t think anything of her driving when we switched bars, but this time it was pretty clear that she shouldn’t be driving. Her speech was slurred and she was having some problems even walking straight. I told her I’d give her a ride home or call her a cab, but I got the “I’m fine… I’ll be okay” line I’ve used so many times myself in my lifetime. After pressing further, I got hit with “you’re the one that’s got two DUIs, why would I listen to you?” Here’s a better question: why wouldn’t you? I don’t want to see anyone go through what I’ve been through… and I certainly don’t want someone to die after I couldn’t convince them to find another way home. I don’t want to ever have to live with that kind of guilt. It’s so frustrating being able to see the big picture and to be able to realize the severe consequences of such minor actions. Lots of people think “I’ve driven home drunker than this and I’m always fine.” Yeah, that’s probably true, but do you realize how many times I drove drunk and never had anything bad happen? In 10 years of having my license and 5 years of being able to legally drink, I got one DUI and one Hit & Run. I can’t even imagine how many times I’ve gotten behind the wheel of a car with alcohol in my system… that’s an extremely small percentage. Also, one time, two weeks after my DUI, I got pulled over in downtown Seattle completely wasted. I was so drunk I barely even remember interacting with the cops and I woke up the next morning in my bed still wearing jeans and found a business card in my pocket with a hand-written note that said where my car was left. Even though I was more drunk that time than I was for my DUI or my Hit & Run, I never got into trouble for this incident. I can only imagine how different my life would be today if I got booked for two DUIs within a couple weeks of each other. So yeah, out of hundreds of times driving drunk, I had a potential problem only three times. Some people might get away with it for their whole life. However, it only takes one time and sometimes the stars don’t align for you. Things just go bad… and when they do, they can be tragic. One of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver when we were 14. Two of my buddies from high school were killed in 2002 when their friend got into an accident while driving with alcohol in his system. It really makes me wonder how I ever reached a point where drinking and driving was an acceptable thing for me to do. I guess once you hit 21, it’s really easy to make that excuse to drive home. Again, I never listened to anybody, so why would anybody listen to me? Well, because I understand the consequences of those few times when you don’t make it home without hurting yourself or someone else and I’m sober for Christ’s Sake! I’m not trying to be a nuisance, just trying to save people I care about from fucking up their lives with one little mistake. It can be a pain in the ass to get a ride home and have to track down your vehicle the next day, but believe me, the $10 you spend on cab fare is a lot cheaper than the thousands it will cost you if you get a DUI or worse.


My Nephew Is An Alcoholic.

June 18, 2009

So this past week, my sister’s stepson fell from a third story apartment balcony and broke several bones, lost six teeth, and has to have his jaw wired shut. On top of costing his parents a tremendous amount of money in hospital bills, this incident is going to affect his personal life in a serious way as well. I don’t know the exact details but he’s not going to be able to get the apartment he was planning to get this summer and I think I heard something about him not being able to go to school either. I imagine he won’t be working anytime soon, so making money for himself is not in his near future. He initially lied and said he wasn’t drinking at all, but later “admitted” he had a few beers… which in alcoholic speak means “I was fucking hammered.”

When I first started hearing claims of my nephew’s budding alcoholism I scoffed at his accusers thinking of everything I’d been through, trying to downplay his situation. However, over the past year or so, it’s become increasingly hard to ignore the seriousness of his problem. Just like me a couple of years ago, the stories just don’t end. And the stories are all horrifying and awful. Just like me. I believe dude is only 22… when I was 22, I definitely already had a drinking problem and despite several warning signs, I wasn’t ready to admit it to anyone yet… including myself. It looks like he’s in the same boat right now. In fact, when I was 22, I went with my family to Las Vegas for my brother’s 21st birthday and got so drunk and out of control one night that my sister was so mad that she bought me a plane ticket home the next day even though I was supposed to be staying with her in L.A. for the next week. If you don’t count my stint as a professional poker player or a few periods of unemployment in 2006, that was the last real vacation I took… roughly five years ago.

I currently find myself in an awkward position because for some reason that I can’t explain it just clicked in my head at some point that I can never drink again and I fully realized the consequences if I do: death or jail. Yeah, that may sound dramatic, but I don’t think many people that really know me would disagree. My inability to handle my alcohol and my decision-making skills after drinking lead to serious trouble… 90% of the time. I actually consider myself lucky to be alive today and that I managed only two encounters with law enforcement is a minor miracle.

I now have no doubt that my nephew’s problem is every bit as serious as mine was. The question is… how do you get someone to realize that their future will be dark if they continue down this path? I knew long before I quit drinking that I had a problem. I was in the denial phase for many years, but even after I realized I had an issue, I still kept drinking for quite some time. My nephew hasn’t even reached that stage yet. One would hope that something as crazy as falling off a third story balcony would be somewhat of a wake-up call but the fact that he lied about and downplayed alcohol’s involvement just goes to show that he’s still hiding something… and if he’s hiding something, he’s not ready to change. So how do you get him to that point? Talk to him? Reason with him? An intervention? Nothing anybody said to me ever made a difference, so why would it for him? If anyone ever tried to pull an intervention on me, I would’ve been so angry I might have punched someone. Even hitting rock bottom wasn’t enough to make me change. From May 2005 to June 2006: I dropped out of college 10 credits shy of my degree in Creative Writing at The University Of Washington; I quit my job to play poker for a living; I got a DUI in October and totaled my car; I got rehired at Sprint and after calling out so many times due to alcohol and gambling-related reasons I just quit instead of calling out again because I was certain I was going to get fired; I got a job at a casino as a security guard and the casino would front you your paychecks and mine would be spent two weeks before I even got paid; I got so drunk at my place of employment one night that I got kicked out by the floor manager, but I hung around outside the building for a few hours and when that guy got off work, I got into a fist fight with him… for whatever reason, I still had my job, but I quit instead of having to look at everyone I work with the next day; I couldn’t afford my rent, got evicted from my apartment, and finally moved back in with my parents in May 2006 with -$700 in my bank account, all my bills two months past due, and unemployed; back in Bremerton, I got an interview with Verizon Wireless, but the night before, I didn’t sleep a single minute and drank until about 7am, and showed up to my interview intoxicated.

One would think all that would be enough to make me be like “hey… you got a problem and you need to fix it.” I had clearly bottomed out… but I didn’t stop drinking. In 2007, I lost an average of $400 a month playing poker drunk. But my highlight was when I went to a Mariner game with a buddy and I was so drunk I threw up in the Beer Garden in front of everybody standing in there. I ran into my old roommate from Seattle and convinced him to go gambling with me. I threw up in the taxi on the way there. At the casino, I ran into someone that owed me $3000 and miraculously he handed me over $1000 of it right then and there. Not only did I get $1000 I wasn’t expecting, but when the casino closed at 6am, I was up about $200 on top of that. Most people would call it a night… but after drinking 2-3 beers over the next hour (only true alcoholics know WA state starts serving again at 6am), I just went a couple blocks up the street to Club Hollywood to play in their $2-$40 spread game, much deeper stakes than what I had been playing. I remember trading shots of sake with a dude at the table, but I was so tired and drunk, that I was passing out right at the table and after walking into the casino with about $1500 on me, I walked out of it around 2pm with $0. Around this same time, I was driving home drunk from the Clearwater Casino and got to my parents’ house at about 3 in the morning, got out of my jeep while it was still in drive and watched helplessly as it plowed through their garage. Finally in December 2007, I got arrested for the second time… this time for a Hit & Run. Once again, I was at All-Star Lanes playing poker… I was losing and I needed more money, but their ATM machine wasn’t taking my card, so instead of walking across the street to WaMu, I decided to drive there. It was super cold outside and my windows were frozen over and I didn’t have the patience to wait for them to defrost… so I just started going forward… right into the car parked in front of me. No big deal. I just put my jeep in reverse, backed up a bit, and started going forward again and hit the car one more time for good measure before making it out of my parking space. I parked my car in the mall parking lot and ran into a couple of my co-workers who tried to convince me to get a ride home with them. I wasn’t having it and walked to WaMu instead, got the money I needed, ran across the street, picked up something at the gas station, and finally got back to All-Star Lanes, by which time I had completely forgot that I even hit the car in the parking lot. However, after sitting back in the poker game for about 15 minutes, the sight of a couple of police officers quickly refreshed my memory and I found myself being taken out of All-Star Lanes in handcuffs and on my way to jail for the second time.

I had plenty of time in jail to marinate and think about the seriousness of my condition. I knew that I had to stop drinking and I finally convinced myself to quit… for a while.. but even then, I don’t think I was committed to it. I had to take my second alcohol evaluation in two years and tried to lie as much as possible about my usage, but the dude saw right through me and told me I was going to be attending alcohol treatment for the next year and that it was going to cost me roughly $3000. I remember crying as I realized how much of my time and money was about to be committed to that shit. Even then, I wasn’t committed to quitting. However, at some point early on in my treatment program, it finally clicked in my head and I accepted the fact that I was never going to drink again. How I got there, I’m not exactly sure… but it happened.

So how do I get my nephew to that point? I’m seriously concerned for his well-being and I strongly believe that his path has the same future mine did: death or jail. So far, he has been lucky enough (or unlucky?) to avoid any jail time. For me the prospect of facing jail time pushed me over the edge. I’ve been there..twice… its not fun. I don’t want to ever go back… and if I need to quit drinking to avoid a return trip, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I haven’t drank in 544 days and the improvements in my life have been dramatic. Every aspect of my life has changed for the better and I developed an overwhelming sense of optimism about everything, something I haven’t felt in a loooooooong time.

So James… if you read this, I’m sorry for airing you out… but it needs to be said. Take a look at yourself and think about where alcohol has gotten you over the past several years and see if the positives outweigh the negatives… they don’t. It’s not even close. I know you’re not ready to accept your problem yet, but it exists. I know nothing anyone ever said to me could have changed me and I didn’t change until I made that decision for myself… but I’m laying this out there for you anyway. You keep going in this direction and it won’t stop until you’re either in jail or someone is dead. You might be able to live with the former, but trust me, you don’t want to be the cause of the latter.