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July 12, 2011

Born Lucky: 25 Years.


You'd act weird, too, Jack, if you hadn't had a beer in 25 years. And there would be days you'd feel resentful. But you'd at least have this: the gift of knowing, every day, exactly who you really are.

On July 12, 1986, around 1:30 AM EST, on F Street N.W., I had my last drink. Probably a beer--likely a Heineken. But no one really knows. I still miss beer. Like right now.

By "last drink" I mean my last beer, Heineken, Bass Ale, Guinness, Jameson, Scotch, Bourbon, vodka, Bombay gin, red wine, hooch, intoxicant or inebriant of any kind. (Now I don't even like alcohol to be in food, even great food, and "cooked off", as the waiters keep saying.) Where this happened was a wonderfully depraved Irish bar my friends--i.e. cocky litigators, journalists, Hill workers, network news people, and serious degenerates with serious jobs--and I really loved. It was midway between my house on Capitol Hill and my job on Eye Street.

Like all Washington, D.C. bars, it had straight-up trial lawyers, deal lawyers, politicians, writers, students, professors, diplomats, and a novelist or two. But this was no "fern bar". It was whispered that the IRA raised money and ran guns through the place. It was common to see people in suits asleep on the floor. The waiters and waitresses had brogues from places like Tralee and Cork. The day bartenders were belligerent--and often drunk by noon.

My kind of saloon. Perfect venue for the last drink: an amazingly grace-less bar. As a goof, we'd often tell tourists we met on Saturdays that it was a "family" restaurant, and that everyone sang wholesome songs at the place on Saturday nights starting around midnight, when the place became a real problem for even the people who worked there.

Not fights--just odd scenes: like word-slurring diplomats dressed in bathrobes and cowboy hats, and reckless pols with Irish surnames openly fondling au pair girls named Brigit or Maeve. Or an editor for a D.C. newspaper furiously charging in from the summer humidity to "claim" his notoriously independent wife, and seeming to grip a small firearm. No one notices him or it right away; the crowd is well over-served, and hours ago the help had arrived at that special campground beyond the sun.

Last days of Bombay. So the venue I had chosen was "perfect". Despite my mission early that morning, the place was still somehow exciting in its dark, edgy, and irreverent fun. But there is nothing remarkable about why I quit. No huge losses yet (sure, I could see them coming). I had a great job, and was headed toward a partnership. My childhood had been lucky--and fun. I could not have asked for more loving parents, siblings and friends. Nothing to drink about. I just liked it way too much.

Born different, I guess. It isolated me, even with people around.

That isolation, and knowing that drinking had somehow separated me from the rest of the Universe, was enough. It's a lucky, and unusual, break to have that suddenly hit you. Sure, it's hard to quit doing something you love, and nine out of ten times you're pretty good at--even if it's killing you. You may experience for the first time "exclusion", albeit a somewhat self-imposed one. You're still a boring white collar WASP--but finally in a real minority. You never thought that would happen. You feel left out. But you learn a few things, too.

I still miss beer, almost every day. Yet lots of people, including adventuresome trial lawyers or reporters with one dash of the wrong DNA, do finally give up booze, drugs or whatever else controls their life, so they can tap into and use the gifts they have--and grow. I was lucky.

Not to just wake up--but to have the problem in the first place. If you hit it head on, you grow in ways you would never grow if you did not have "it". That is what people can never get. And they shouldn't. So I don't try to explain.

Born different, maybe. Born lucky, too.

Thanks, Bud, Fritz, Larry, Ev, Valerie, Helen--and Jeremiah Bresnahan.

Posted by JD Hull at July 12, 2011 11:59 PM


Well written: you should have been a writer.

I had an unfortunate experience at the weekend. An aquaintance who came to my party turned out to have a "problem."

Drunkenness is very selfish. You immediately turn yourself from a contributor to a liability to those around you, which they are required to bear whether they want to or not.

Posted by: Ruthie at July 13, 2011 05:09 AM

You could be wrong, though, RB. Many problem boozers are rarely flat-out drunk. It's a long-term thing most people don't notice--not about showing up drunk at a party.

Posted by: Hull at July 14, 2011 07:10 PM

Did not see this originally. Thanks for re-flagging on the Twitter. Good work, as usual when you dig in.

I have been reflecting lately on how long 25 years is and how quickly it goes. When you were weaning away from beer, I was sitting for the bar, so I've been practicing law about as long as you've been steering clear.

In those for whom it works, sobriety appears to be a rich gift. It's all mysterious to me, as I am by nature a light drinker.

I get that part of the value comes in living deliberately and setting boundaries which naturally differentiate you. Interestingly, the same dynamic marks religious communities and ethnic people. (None of that is bad, to my way of thinking.)

So congrats on a major accomplishment. That is noteworthy.

Posted by: David Sugerman at July 23, 2011 06:43 PM

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