They called him Sleepy Steve. I was at the party after a fraternity initiation a few years ago. There was concern about a friend and brother. He'd apparently drunk himself into such a stupor that those about us with some medical training had concerns. His immediate brothers (he was from a different chapter) said not to worry; he does this all the time.
The party was winding down. The few people left wanted to go out. I was not one of them; so I had the privilege of watching Steve. He was on a couch, I in a chair next to him. He had been the one who drank the earliest, drank the most, and acted inappropriately as proceedings were coming to their conclusion, long before the party where we all intended to tie one on. His friends were mostly amused; this was Steve.
His shirt lay in such a way that I could see the slightest movement with every breath. I imagined how a mother might have hung on every one. Knowing a bit about alcohol, I wondered what break, what tragedy or story about himself brought him to this state time and again. Though we like to hope that the circumstances will change and the man outgrow the pain and confusion that drives his younger self to such excess, my experience is that - without some help from the outside - all that usually happens is a moderation of behavior to hide that which is so obvious today.
Neither graduation, nor a job, nor marriage and a family will fill the void he is using alcohol to fill. There is only one way, and that is to make peace with oneself, to confront doubt and insecurity, to find that which there is to be thankful for and build on that.
I am reminded of this today because I just received news of another brother who has passed to the stars as we like to say, a bright and beautiful human being who was going to be a doctor. I don't know if he finished college even (he was a few years behind me), but I remember him being too fond of the bottle. It was only on weekends, he'd aver, but we all saw the signs. I had wondered about him from time to time. Last I'd heard, he was working in the college dining hall. I'd thought about contacting him when my sister headed out on her ten year journey to become a doctor, thinking that if she could do it, so could he.
I'd thought about it, but I didn't do it. Now another dream has ended, a once bright future foreclosed. I don't know if Mike drank himself to death, or if he had gotten his act together and died from other causes entirely. But I do know that for at least the time I knew him, he missed who he was to others and the love that the people around him had for him. He could not see in himself the greatness that we all knew was there.
As far as I know, Sleepy Steve still walks this earth. My guess is he has no idea how great he is, and instead of getting the contribution that he is to this world, he's stuck in some crap story about how he isn't enough. I'm no expert in this field, but I'd guess we've all got a Sleepy Steve somewhere in our lives. In our own way, we might even be him, one of the legion of the walking dead who can't exactly be happy, who don't deserve to be happy, because of some circumstance in our lives - neglect, divorce, abuse, suicide, the failure to meet some expectation - or rather the story we tell ourselves about it.
So this is an invitation to Sleepy Steve, or perhaps the Sleepy Steve in me, to take some stock, make a list each morning of what you have to be thankful for, thank people, get their love for you, set your doubt aside for a moment and act boldly anyway. I promise you you won't look any sillier than you do when you are a few drinks in, and you might actually cause some miracles in this world.
For the friends of Sleepy Steve, be his friend dammit and don't let him get away with his shit. If you do, all you have to look forward to is another buddy who went too early to his grave because he couldn't get out of his own way, and you didn't take the initiative to help him.
So many of my mentors suggest that it is important to take stock of the things one is grateful for that I figure it's about time I share some of mine: