A woman calls the office Monday morning to tell the boss her husband won't be in because he has the flu. She's lying. The boss suspects she's lying. John is drunk.
In such a situation, a wife is making a mistake, says Allan Luks, an alcoholism professional who has just edited a book of 18 short stories, "Having Been There," aimed particularly at family members coping with an alcoholic.
Luks advises the family to stop making excuses. If there's going to be a recovery, the alcoholic must realize the negative aspects of his life are coming from liquor, he says.
He suggests the family help the alcoholic confront his problem. "Look what's happening to you," John's wife could ask. "Do you want it to happen? It's your decision."
If she's lucky, John might answer, "I'll speak to somebody about it."
That, says Luke, is a breakthrough. If he seeks treatment, "maybe he'll recover . . . and maybe he won't." For alcoholics who are still with their families, the success rate of treatment is 60 to 80 percent, he says. For all people in treatment, including those who have broken with their spouses and lost their jobs, the figure is only 25 percent.
Luks, 37, executive director of the New York City Affiliate of the National Council of Alcoholism, was in Washington to attend the recent National Alcoholism Forum at the Sheraton Park Hotel and to promote his book, published by Charles Scribner's Sons (189 pages, $8.95).
Its poignant and readable stories all deal with some aspect of the struggle with alcohol. There's one child who, on learning his father has crashed the car, asks. "Mommy, you're not going to get a divorce from Daddy like you told him the other night, are you?"
There's the housewife, bored with her tasks, who takes a nip with every load of laundry and eventually ends up on the floor.
And there's the recovered alcoholic maneuvering herself through the perils of a cocktail party to the sanctuary of a cup of coffee.
With the exception of two or three, the stories do not end optimistically.
"Let's say the endings are mixed," concedes Luke, which is often the case with alcoholism. "It's not a book to be spiritually uplifting."
Alcoholism is a complicated illness still not well understood by the general public, most of whom when they drink, "drink happily," he says. What is offered in Luks' stories are insights into the alcoholic's personal struggle.