Last evening I watched a perfect study in hitting “bottom,” FLIGHT.
A few details to frame the story: a pilot, played by Denzel Washington, brings an airliner in massive mechanical failure to a brilliant, 99.9% impossible landing. Six of 102 passengers die that include two crewmembers.
The crux of the plot: the pilot is an alcoholic in classic denial, to the point of tipping two flight-size bottles of vodka into his orange juice before entering the cockpit at the start of the fatal flight, which opens up a plethora of legal ramifications for the airlines company. Resolution focuses on the airlines trying to save their pilot from prison, and the company from massive lawsuits for the civilian deaths.
The landing of the plane is truly riveting, but more compelling is the journey of the pilot hitting “bottom.”
On the verge of a free pass as a criminal investigation is about to conclude, something within the pilot snaps when he is asked whether one of the dead flight attendants, known to have been in rehab for alcohol abuse 16 months before, may have been responsible for the two empty vodka bottles found in the trash can on the plane.
ON THE VERGE OF A FREE PASS, NO PRISON TIME, NO RECORD! The pilot freezes. Haltingly, he notes to the interrogator that the flight attendant was helping belt in a little boy when the plane crashed. He has already perjured himself, denying his own alcoholism and drinking within three days and on the day of the flight. The mask he has been hiding behind year after year suddenly falls.
Stunningly, he comes clean when he cannot tell one more lie. He confessed to drinking the two bottles of vodka found in the trash, to being drunken three days before and on the morning of the flight, and concludes, “I am drunk right now. I’m an alcoholic.”
That’s hitting bottom. No more lies. No more excuses. No more denial. Pure and simple coming clean — wholly unnerving to this mother, with an offspring twenty-plus years into alcoholism, twenty-plus years of skidding along one “bottom,” then another that would seem to be more than enough for a bright, sensitive person to “get” the reality of addiction, the veracity of seeing it for what it is.
The scene transforms from the pilot’s confession to prison, where he has been telling this story to a group of AA inmates. He has been incarcerated for 13 months, and faces 5 to 7 more years. What happened to the airline executives who were trying to protect him and the company and themselves is unknown and beside the point, but there is no mistaking the “bottom” line. The pilot tells the inmates that for the first time in his life he is “free.”
Just much is “enough?” There are as many answers as there are addicts. And for every addict there are friends, loved ones, parents asking that very question, wondering how long and what will it take for addiction to reach “enough.”
“Where there is life there is hope,” I relate in Chapter 1 of IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU — EXCEPT WHE IT IS, and frequently throughout the book. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news that sent this mother to bed unnerved is that it takes as long as it takes.
May this book help other parents with that wait, on this journey with their daughters and sons.