My name is Bob Aronson. I went to work every day wearing a suit. I had been a popular radio and TV personality in another market, Press Secretary to a Minnesota Governor and was now the first Anchor for Morning Edition on the Minnesota Public Radio Network headquartered in Minnesota’s twin cities. I was a major market radio host and newsman and that’s no small feat. For all intents and purposes I was a respected member of society. I had one small problem; I was also an uncontrollable drunk. Following is but one day in the life of an alcoholic.
I’m telling this story because alcoholism and addiction is one of the greatest destroyers of human organs. My long term addiction to alcohol and cigarettes (I quit smoking in 1991) quite likely contributed to my need for the heart transplant I received in August of 2007.
Addiction is horrible, it is a terrible existence and the addict is powerless to stop it without help. The craving for the drug, whatever it is, is stronger than any force you will ever encounter. It overpowers reason, common sense, logic and even the love of family. It destroys your moral code, your sense of ethics and even your hygiene. You begin to live your life for the drug. It is your best friend.
Those of you without an addiction will have trouble understanding this and I’ve heard many of you say, “Just use some will power!” O God if it were that easy. I remember an addiction counselor telling a group once, “Using will power to conquer addiction will get the same result as trying to use will power to control diarrhea.” She was so right.
Following is but one slice of a long life of alcoholism. It is the day, 30 years ago, that I stopped drinking. This not the worst story I could tell, those aren’t even fit to print, but rather this is the most significant because it marked the beginning of my sobriety.
I should point out, too, that once a drunk always a drunk its just that some of us drunks are sober.
On July 17 of 1982 I awakened early in the morning with a splitting headache and nausea. I stumbled through the bedroom covered in my own vomit to make it to the bathroom. Kneeling on the floor before the toilet I retched over and over again but there was nothing left in my stomach. Its contents were on and around my bed and my t-shirt and underwear.
When the retching stopped I stripped and stepped into a cold shower that felt like a million icy pinpricks. I thought I smelled sauerkraut in the house but none was cooking, the odor was me. I stunk. I scrubbed my body as hard as I could but not having eaten in several days my strength was at a minimum and taking a shower was wearing me out. You see, I wasn’t just suffering plain old flu, mine was a special flu that I brought on myself…it came out of a bottle marked Vodka 80 proof. This was the granddaddy of all hangovers.
Freshly showered and shaved I descended the staircase to the first floor of our home to find it empty. A terse note on the kitchen table told me my wife had gone to see some friends. “So what” I thought. “I’d rather be alone anyway.”
Descending yet another set of stairs I found my way to the basement where behind the paneled walls I had built a secret compartment that housed my best friend, a quart bottle of 80 proof cheap vodka. You see, when you are a drunk you drink for effect not for taste so why waste money when after a couple of swallows you can’t taste anything anyway.
I removed the bottle from its cobwebbed hiding place, cracked the seal, removed the cap and put the opening to my lips. As the clear liquid burned its way down my throat, I felt rescued. The effect was almost immediate, I felt good again and didn’t give a damn about anyone but me. Another couple of quick slugs and I was even better but by the time I got to the top of the basement stairs the alcohol hit me harder than ever before. Because I hadn’t eaten in days and was not getting rest my resistance was down and I was drunk immediately.
In my addled brain I thought, “Another drink will fix this,” so I made my way back to the basement, recovered the bottle and literally crawled up the stairs into the kitchen where I fell into a kitchen chair uncapped the bottle and took another long slug. In the few brief moments I had been awake I had already consumed a half quart of vodka.
My mind was mush but somehow I remembered the night before, when we were to entertain my boss and his wife for dinner. My wife had never met them so she was a little anxious. I told her not to worry and busied myself with preparing our outdoor barbecue dinner. Our garage was detached from the house so while I was out messing with the grill, I made a few trips into the garage for a rendezvous with another hidden bottle. About 45 minutes before our guests were to arrive I had quite a buzz going but found a way to sneak another long swallow after which I told my wife I was going to lie down until the company came.
Flashback now to my opening sentence because that’s the next thing I remember after lying down. I went upstairs and passed out. My poor wife was left to entertain people she had never met and, I was told later, made up the excuse that I had gotten very sick and had to go to bed. She entertained them for the evening while I slept the sleep only a drunk can know.
As I sat at the kitchen table, the realization of what must have happened made me realize how low I had sunk and I polished off the quart of vodka to somehow assuage my guilt. Here I was with my head the table, drunk again, remorseful and needing another drink but my stash was gone. I had no more and knew I could not drive — hell, I could hardly walk.
Reluctantly I picked up the phone and dialed my brother. I told him I needed help because I thought I was an alcoholic. He drove me to a treatment center and that’s when my life began anew.
I need to pause here for a moment to offer thanks to some people who gave me a much needed break Bill Kling, founder and President of Minnesota Public Radio, Sally Pope Kling his wife, Rick Lewis, who then was the VP of News at MPR and John Merli, the News Director.. They not only allowed me time to recover but to come back to MPR and continue to work. Thanks Bill, Sally, Rick and John. And…of course my brother Terry who took me to treatment. All of you will always be in my thoughts and prayers.
Within a year I started my own communications consulting business which I am still practicing.
If you are an addict, think you might be or know someone who needs help here are some resources.
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.
You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at email@example.com. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.
If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to firstname.lastname@example.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.