The Grateful Drunk

I don’t know if you can plead your own cause for sainthood, but I’ve decided that God intends for me to one day be known as St. Dan, Protector of Drunks. For whoever ends up defending my cause, your challenge will be locating reliable witnesses, since nobody’s ever around when you help a drunk—including the drunk. He’s just a floppy humanoid meat puppet with a singing voice; my job is only to get him somewhere he can safely transform back into an actual human being. There’s no tax write-off for this kind of charity, so I’d better get something on record now, before my cause is officially opened up.

One case occurred on a balmy Friday night not long ago, involving a pedestrian who was three sheets to the wind and speaking in tongues when I drove past him. He was just stumbling along a downtown sidewalk, using “parking meters for walking sticks,” to borrow from a Tom Waits song. Whisky vapors wafted around his head.

I asked if I could help, and he said he was trying to get home. Where his home was took a looooong time to ascertain, due to his ever-spinning internal compass needle and the fact that he had trouble pointing his finger along a horizontal plane. Eventually I realized which apartment building in the city was his, and that it was about ten blocks in the exact opposite direction from the way he had been going.

He was a likeable old guy, though—a friendly drunk (as opposed to a sad drunk or an angry drunk), and he had lots of amiable non sequiturs for me as I pushed his legs into the passenger side of my car.

I drove us the ten blocks to his building, an old place that had been nice once, back in the 1960s. With his arm draped over my shoulder, we shuffled together up the steps of the apartment building. We got inside and began a slow climb up several flights of stairs, a task which would have been arduous for my new friend if he hadn’t slept through most of it. When I finally got us to his floor, I thought my lungs were going to careen out of my trachea and into the face of the heroin dealer standing idly in the hall, which would have served him right for selling illegal drugs.

Honestly, I was beginning to feel nervous at this point. The hallway was a dirty mustard color, and the doors all looked like they were about to burst open and reveal armed gunmen, like in that old 1980s arcade game, Elevator Action—remember that one? The point is, this was a scary building, and I was being led into its dank yellow innards by a man who wasn’t even one hundred per cent positive that he lived there.

Then he stopped at a door—I don’t remember the apartment number, but there might as well have been three brass sixes nailed over the peep hole. There was no fumbling of keys—he just reached out, grabbed the handle, and pushed open the door.

Waiting immediately inside was total blackness. The drunk started kind of aiming his body in, and I was clearly needed to help guide him—but I could not see anything. There could have been Thuggees waiting inside, or rats, or snakes, or a pit—there was no way to know. I clicked light switches and nothing came on. But we couldn’t just stand out in the hallway all night—I would end up shot in the head for certain, or addicted to crack.

So, in we went. I was enveloped by darkness. What’s more, it was completely still—no movement of air, no low buzz of a refrigerator or whir of a ceiling fan, because utilities had likely not been paid here in a long time. This apartment was very little more than a cave, an elevated burrow for a forgotten man to crawl into when the liquor bottles were empty.

He mumbled and burbled, reaching out for a mattress that I couldn’t see and didn’t know was there until I was practically walking on it. My man, my adopted drunk, sunk down on to it with a slow sigh of relief, a relief I couldn’t share because I strongly suspected there were other humanoids crouched in the dark waiting to shank me or, worse, offer me a sandwich. I began backing away from the mattress and toward the doorway, squinting into the blackness of the apartment for signs of danger. That’s why I barely acknowledged the affectionate squeeze the old drunk gave my hand as I retreated. “God bless you,” he whispered, “God bless you…”

He really meant it, too, I realize now. As sad and ridiculous as his life was, he knew when someone was helping him out. We all know that feeling of being at the bottom and then seeing the hand come down to pick us up, and it reminds us of God.

And of course I know that I’m not really that drunk’s benevolent superior—I am him. The vices I’ve nurtured throughout my life do not include chronic alcoholism, but they are just as bad and mostly worse, and they have landed me in excruciatingly uncomfortable and miserable circumstances, requiring immediate help from God and everybody around me who has ever breathed the name of God. But you have my permission to strike that from the official record—I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my future canonization.

Dan Lord


Dan Lord is the author of By the Downward Way (SalvO, 2014) and Choosing Joy (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). His articles have appeared in Crisis, National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency, and Fathers For Good and he is a national speaker on various topics. He blogs at That Strangest of Wars.

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  • chaco

    It probably goes contrary to our initial judgement of a particular encounter ( perhaps that fputs it into “The way is narrow” category) but if we look at the Beatitudes ie; Blessed are those who sorrow…, Blessed are the poor in Spirit (not independant with no need of God or others) etc., maybe being around such people is a good way to be blessed. Just a thought.

  • Peg

    I see God’s hand in all of your actions.  Thank you for sharing just one of the ways of Christian love.  How happy you must be, following the Holy Spirit like that!

  • Pray to Matt Talbott

  • Guest

    It is amazing how stories like yours always make me think of how humble Jesus was.  He always hung out with some of the worst of society’s sinners and pointed out that they will enter Heaven faster than the rest of us.  In St. Faustina’s movie, a poor young boy showed up cold and hungry. She fed him.  Many of us wouldn’t even open the door to a stranger much less invite him in to eat and get warm.  God bless you for this because there are many people who look down on a drunk or someone not like themselves and fail to see Jesus in these people.  I pray and hope that I can have the courage to use your good example.

  • cephas2

    Please consider becoming a Pioneer – this involves giving up alcohol  – it is called ‘the heroic sacrifice’ and saying the Pioneer prayer twice daily:

    For Thy greater glory and consolation, O Sacred Heart of Jesus. For Thy sake, to give good example, to practice self-denial and to make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks.

    We will never know (until we reach heaven), please God, how many men, women and children have been helped through this great endeavor. 

    Pioneer Total Abstinence Society of the Sacred Heart.

  • Brian Kelly

    Thanks for writing this

  • catholicexchange

    Thanks, Brian, and thanks to everybody here for your kind words and enthusiastic response. God bless! -Dan

  • Carl64

    me, me, me

  • Prooney

    Trolly troll troll

  • Carmlrose2702m

    Thank you Dan for your courage to share.will keep you in orayer.

  • Mmmmm

    On the surface this seems to poke fun at canonization. While I laud your efforts, I propose that, in the future, you write such and article within the framework of a good Samaritan rather than sainthood. All of us are called to be saints and all who enter the Kingdom shall be saints but let us not be so arrogant as to presume the Pope will even consider any of us for canonization. “Pride goest before a fall.”

    God bless you for your good works and your fearless consideration of the oppressed.

  • a writer

    Relax Mmmm, if you can’t read between the lines and see the profound humility of this story, you totally missed the boat.  Pride was nowhere to be found.

  • Annie

    Really, really, that is what you have to say. I thought it was very well done, and the fact that he probably did risk his life to a point, it was appropriate.

  • Guest

    I wish I had your courage.

  • Willys One

    I did. Blessings.