Biff America: Offering help, not judgments
This story, is factual, and needs to be told. But that said, for a reason that will soon be clear, I have changed the subject of the story’s name.
It was mid-August when Mark M. contacted me to ask for help with his “serious coke problem” (his words). I was saddened but flattered. Of course, it is a tragedy that an otherwise happy and successful man would feel a need to seek help for an addiction. But I was happy that, of all his friends and family, he would choose me to unburden himself. He was obviously ashamed; otherwise why send such a personal plea in a text message.
I thought long and hard about writing about my friend’s struggle; but if this column can help one person, then I’m sure Mark would approve.
Mark’s admitting his problem was courageous and a surprise. Our relationship is fairly athletic-centric. Mostly we ski and bike and occasionally meet at the gym. We don’t socialize all that much after dark. Mark, like me, enjoys his whiskey, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen him drunk. But upon reflection I remembered a more aggressive and ambitious attitude during our rides and ski tours, with Mark always wanting to go further and faster.
When I got his text message asking for help, after my initial shock I also had a “look on the bright side” moment. I know drugs are damaging to your heart, so in addition to giving my pal some added energy, I’m just happy he didn’t have a coronary when we were out there in the wilds; carrying him out would have given me a hernia.
I re-read his text message. “Dude, I have a serious coke problem. You once told me you had one, too. I need some advice on how to deal with it.”
Clearly, his shame prevented him from engaging me in person — either face-to-face or on the phone — but I was reluctant to write back in case someone in his family stumbled on the message. So rather, I called and left a message that would sound innocent to anyone who happened upon it. I, of course, didn’t want to incriminate him (or me). So I indirectly told him that I know many who had a similar problem and that, though it might not be easy, I could point him in the right direction.
About an hour later he wrote again and said, “Call me as soon as you can talk, I have to take care of this thing.”
‘It will be fun’
A little background on my friend. He has enjoyed a very successful career in both public relations and media. But it was also a career filled with pressure and stress. Before I called I vowed not to judge him.
When he answered the phone, we at first made small talk, caught up and planned to get together the following day. But, the elephant in the room was his problem and I felt I needed to at least broach the subject.
Finally, I said, “Hey man, I’m sorry you are having that problem. You just have to get some help and get on it.” He replied, “Yeah I know, but before I pay someone, I’d like to try to fix it myself. I read some stuff online — kind of like home remedies — that might work ” To which I replied, “Hey, if it is so bad you asked for my help, then you should talk to a pro. What are these home remedies?”
I nearly dropped the phone when he said, “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m going to try chili mixed with ammonia and juicy fruit gum.”
I tried to remain calm, supportive and nonjudgmental but I would feel terrible if my friend hurt himself by trying some stupid cures he got from the web. “Don’t do anything; I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
Again, I’m not kidding about the ammonia.
I had not seen Mark in a few weeks but he appeared thinner and a little pale. “You haven’t done anything with chili pepper have you?” I asked. “No” he said, “I thought I’d wait for you. It will be fun.” He added, “Let’s go,” and headed toward his house.
He stopped abruptly, pointed and said, “There!” — “Where?” I asked — “There!” he repeated. I looked where Mark pointed and there were several huge piles of dirt scattered around his landscaped yard. Mark M.’s backyard had a serious “vole” problem. To those fortunate to be unacquainted with the pesky rodent, voles ravage a garden or yard by digging tunnels and leaving pile of dirt.
In Mark’s original text to me his autocorrect changed “vole problem” to “coke problem” and the confusion went on from there. The good news is the ammonia was for a vole-hole — not a nose-hole.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores and online.
Session 2 of the three-part series focuses on finding a publisher and making sure it’s a good fit.