It’s funny how bartenders always tell you to drink up. When you’re lost to it like I was, you always drink down. Down beyond accepted everyday things like a home, a job, a family, a neighbourhood. You drink down beyond thinking, beyond emotion. Beyond hope. You drink down because after all the roads you’ve travelled, that’s the only direction you know by heart. You drink down to where you can’t hear voices anymore, can’t see faces, can’t touch anything, can’t feel. You drink down to the place that only diehard drunkards know; the world at the bottom of the well where you huddle in darkness, haunted forever by the knowledge of light. I was at the bottom of that well for a long time. Coming back up to daylight hurt like a son of a bitch.

The first thing you have to realize is that what you need to survive is killing you. That’s the tough part. There’s relief after a few big, hard swallows. Everything gets endurable. You can actually convince yourself that things are going to be okay even though you know in your gut that they’re not likely to. So you fess up and try to stop. Stubborn bastards like I was at the end come to believe that we know enough about the weaning to be able to handle it ourselves. We cut down. We measure. We time our shots. It never works. We’re always just as drunk as we always were because the only way to really stop is to stop. That’s how I wound up in the hospital. The seizures hit me and I collapsed on a sidewalk in Winnipeg. They had to strap me down because the withdrawal terrors got real bad. I saw things I can’t even begin to describe and I was reduced to an incoherent babble and thrashing about. After five days of enough medication, I calmed down. I held down my first solid food after seven days. I sat up in my bed after eight.

The social workers told me about the New Dawn Centre. They said it was the best place for Native people to get help. It was on a hundred acres or so of land north of the city, and it was calm and restful. I resisted at first. But the doctors told me what a mess I’d made of my body and how another bout of drinking like I did would likely kill me, and for some strange reason I listened. I don’t recall wanting to listen. I just did. When I got here, though, it was all about getting strong enough to leave. I was as addicted to leaving as I was to the booze. But the funny thing is that as my head got clearer, so did my recollections, and it spilled out pretty much on its own. Getting to the part about that long, dark downward spiral let me surface into the light for the first time in a very long time. I don’t know if I was glad for it. Not at first. I felt as though I stood there blinking before I could move.