When I heard Monday that Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia was leaving the team to enter rehab for alcohol addiction, my immediate reaction was, "Good grief, couldn't he just wait a month, and then go?"
That was my knee-jerk response as a Yankees fan, and it is, in retrospect, an embarrassing and stupid one. I'm also a recovering alcoholic and I know better. I know from my own life and a thousand stories how crucial it is that Sabathia go get help immediately -- in the brief window when his addiction has somehow let up on him enough to allow the man to make a change.
Quitting drinking is easy. If Sabathia is like most alcoholics, he quit every morning for years. That's part of the tale that nearly every alcoholic who shares his or her stories tells: "I would get up every morning, every single morning, head aching, guts boiling, not knowing what I said or did or what the consequences would be, and I would swear 'never again, I'm done with drinking.' But most of the time, by quitting time my mind would have changed. I'd feel a little bit better, good enough to have the first one, and then it was off to the races."
But sometimes, very rarely, a moment of clarity happens. It's another phrase, another part of the story most ex-drunks tell. "I just . . . this one morning, I'd had enough, and instead of just deciding not to drink that day, and then drinking anyway, I decided to get some help so I could make it through that day without a drink."
And if you don't seize the opportunity, if you don't make that day THE day, you might never get another shot. If you don't make that change in that moment of clarity, it fades. The next day you feel a little better, and really, what could one drink hurt?
In between my first stab at quitting in 1996, which lasted about 90 days, and my current spell of sobriety, which began 12 years ago, I promised myself I would quit drinking every morning, viciously sick and hung over, for seven years.
Sabathia reportedly had an ugly and drunken few days in Baltimore last weekend, and then that moment of clarity. It was certainly not his first set of ugly and drunken days. No one decides to go to rehab unless he or she is truly, totally at the bottom.
Sabathia is the ultimate gamer. He never quits, never wants an extra day off, never wants to come out of the game, never turns away from a challenge on the mound. The pain he must have been in to decide to absent himself from his teammates on the eve of the postseason, a postseason he fought like a cornered mountain cat to be a part of, is staggering. I don't even want to think about pain like that. I want to turn away.
How did he find the courage to tell his manager and his teammates and his family this thing, at this moment? He did, and I call that a gift. Hopefully, it's a gift he's able to use to its fullest extent.
He is now, to twist a sports phrase, miracle-eligible. I know nothing about the particular rehab he went to or what it espouses. I and the people I practice sobriety with find the 12-step model a great one, but I don't claim it's the only one.
I hope Sabathia gets help that works for him, that makes him see he doesn't have to live that way and that he never has to drink again. I am, again, astonished at the courage he showed (and sickened by the level of pain it indicated) in being able to walk away at this moment to go try and get well.
I always loved him as a player, even when his pitches were getting hit hard. There is just so much toughness in him, with no excuse ever offered and no quarter ever shown.
Good luck, man. Knock 'em dead.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.