It’s an idea. It’s a dream. It’s a nightmare.

Illustration: Daniel Stolle

Everybody here’s got a story to tell,
Everybody’s been through their own hell.
There’s nothing too special about getting hurt,
But getting over it, that takes the work.

It’s just a matter of a time.

Seconds, really. In a matter of moments, all the pain will be over.


That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway. That’s what I’m drilling into my cerebellum: This will be quick. My brain is a fully sprung coil, stretched and useless. I lack any potential energy. I have no bounce, no drive. I wander the length of the Hoover…

Confession time: I have a serious book-buying problem. It’s never come with the consequences or soul-shattering fallout that my drinking problem did, but it’s three times older than my battle with the bottle. My shelves are crowded with more books that I’ll ever read in my lifetime: hundreds of paperbacks, autographed editions, gently read classics, high-minded sci-fi, low-brow trash, biographies, short story collections, anthologies and every single James Bond novel ever published. Whenever I move, my boxes of books are the real back-breakers. Still, I keep collecting. I have zero control when I’m let loose in a used bookstore. I…

I don’t believe in ghosts but I absolutely, unquestionably, 100% believe in being haunted.

Neighborhoods, vehicles, an office building, some random intersection, old emails, archived Facebook messages, scattered photographs, esoteric landmarks from my life — it doesn’t matter. I’m routinely haunted by my alcoholic past. In any given week, I’m staring at some reminder of an unkept obligation or a broken promise, thanks to my drinking. Getting sober didn’t suddenly give me a license to ignore the past or feel absolved by anything I did when I was drinking. Not at all. You see, I have these long, black stretches in my memory where there’s just nothing at all. But I know something’s hiding…

This Is Us

Boxes of Funko Pop figurines on shelves.
Boxes of Funko Pop figurines on shelves.
Photo: Paul Butterfield/Getty Images

“Oh, that’s so cute,” a co-worker says, pointing over my shoulder.

“What’s that?” I absently ask, finishing up an email or a spreadsheet or something equally unimportant.

“That little blue alien guy,” she says. “Did one of your kids give you that? A gift for Daddy?”

I spin around in my chair to follow the gesture. Instant dread. Behind me, poised on a shelf is a neon-blue Tron action figure, all white-veined and ready for combat on The Grid. Battle disc and all. I’m not even that huge of a fan of the movie Tron. But there he is anyway.

So, the first memory of my father goes something like this: I’m probably four years old, we’re living in a trailer park, and I’m on the floor of our living room with Dad and we’re watching “Star Trek” — the old one.

It’s on our big Zenith TV and at four years old, this show is larger than life. If you remember the old “Star Trek,” you’ll remember that during the credits, the Enterprise used to hurtle toward the screen between “Starring William Shatner” and “Leonard Nimoy” and such. Well, every time the Enterprise came at us, my dad would…

An excerpt from the acclaimed alcoholism memoir BOTTLENECK (East Shoreway Recovery)

“Bottleneck” cover by artist Jason Lichtenberger

The idea of suicide didn’t just arrive in my head out of the blue. It didn’t announce itself one day like the Kool-Aid Man suddenly crashing through a wall, going “Oh yeahhhhhh.” The idea visited me like a storm migrating across the plains, building and growing until the thunderhead just couldn’t hold any more weight. I knew it was coming. With laser precision, I knew all the precipitation it was going to bring. But you sort of assume it’ll evaporate before it actually comes. Maybe it’ll just dissipate. Slow-rolling…

I got sober 10 days after New Year’s, which means I’d made a half-hearted resolution to stop drinking and then spent the next 10 days drinking everything in sight. I kept my foot on the drinking accelerator through the holidays and crashed through just about every trust, relationship and commitment I had. When you’re at the end of your drinking career like I was, I think you gather a certain amount of terminal velocity. It’s like you’re a satellite crashing back down to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere. I didn’t have an end date in mind — I just…

Excerpt from Bottleneck (East Shoreway Recovery, $16)

When you’re armed with an English degree and a thirsty liver, marriage suddenly seems like a pretty good idea. Carrie and I had been dating for a few months again. She wasn’t sold that I’d gotten everything out of my system — and she was right. I always had a delayed sense of fun. When most everyone was settling down in their careers and families, I was still trying to squeeze the last few drops of irresponsibility out of the dishrag. …

“Merrymakers at Shrovetide” (Frans Hals — circa 1616, oil on canvas)

I was massively hungover in the dead of winter, wandering the halls of the Cleveland Museum of Art. It was one of those hangovers that wouldn’t go away: stuck on my brain like the ghost outline of Scotch tape on a countertop. No matter what I did — no matter how hard I scrubbed at it — there it was. I drifted from one room to another, alone, listening to my iPod. My friend told me there was nothing better than listening to music alone on an iPod in a museum. He was wrong. Drinking at home was infinitely better…

“Saved” in air quotes.

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: I’m not cool, I never have been and I never will be. In my active drinking, this fact absolutely haunted me. I tried Way Too Hard in my 20s to muster any shred of coolness. Fox Mulder Cool. But I always came up short.


Coolness eluded me like the details of a dream when you first wake up. I burned so many calories trying to say the right thing and dress the right way — all while looking like I didn’t care. But being cool never looked good on me in…

Paul Fuhr

Author of the alcoholism memoir “Bottleneck” and many articles on addiction, as well as creator/co-host of the music & recovery podcast “Drop the Needle.”

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