After struggling with alcoholism for years, Robert Clark Young is now a published author who has been sober 26 years.
Young can now be found on Amazon's Hot New Releases list for alcoholism books for Thank You For Keeping Me Sober, published in February.
Young, who also authored One of the Guys, has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Imperial Beach since moving back to his hometown three years ago to care for his aging parents.
Now you can find him working on his next book about eldercare.
Young sat down with Patch for a one-on-one.
Patch: Why did you write these books?
Young: Over the years I've known quite a few people, some of them I drank with, who are no longer with us. So I've always been struck by that. And a few years ago, I thought one of the things I'd like to do is start exploring who gets sober and who doesn't get sober and who lives and who dies.
It's always been quite a mystery to me, especially since some of the people who are gone are just such intelligent people, such bright people, you know, including my friend Dr. Bill Kent. I've known a lot of bright people, been in Ph.D. programs and stuff, studied literature and writing, and he was probably the smartest man I ever knew. And he drank himself to death. So obviously intelligence doesn't have a whole lot to do with who survives and who doesn't.
Patch: Are you concerned you could ever relapse and drink again?
Young: Well you see [AA], it's kind of like a bed. Like a big comfortable bed. And if you're in the middle of the bed you're more comfortable, whereas if you're at the edge of the bed, you're less comfortable. And if you're in the middle, you're less likely to fall off the edge.
So both things: You're more comfortable and less likely to fall off. But there have been other times though when something goes wrong in my life and I can't handle it and I get real active 'cause usually you have to get pushed to some point of pain before you get more motivated, so then I get more active. But during those times when I was less active, I didn't drink.
Patch: So you were sober when you taught English in Egypt?
Young: I was in Alexandria and there were no meetings there, so I would get on the train a couple times a month and go to Cairo and I met some of the expat people in recovery there and they had meetings in English so they had meetings there and that's where I celebrated my third year sober.
Patch: So your colleague there…
Young: Bill Kent. Yeah he taught with me there in Egypt, an English class, and he'd be drinking in the teachers lounge and falling off the couch, taught his classes drunk. But you know a lot of the students, they were kind of naive about Western culture the way we are about theirs. And they would always call us Mr. by our first name. I was Mr. Bob. And they would say 'Mr. Bill, very strong cologne today.' Well that's not exactly a cologne he's carrying around in his pocket. That's something else going on. And so the first part of the book is about meeting him in Egypt and trying to help him, because by trying to help others is how you really help yourself even if the other person drinks or doesn't drink or whatever happens.
Patch: For each of these three guys, you said there was different reasons they did not get sober. What do you feel were the reasons for each of them?
Young: They were three very different people. One of them, Philip who I knew in Houston, was the one who was most involved in sobriety. He actually had extended periods of sobriety. And was working a program. And [he was] a very talented calligrapher. And as I describe in that volume, there's a couple pieces of calligraphy he made for me.
One of them is the 11th step, which is kind of curious because he never got to the 11th step. But the 11th step was his favorite step. He would always tell people "I love that step."
The first guy, Bill Kemp, was a very smart guy, probably the smartest guy I ever knew. The other two, my friend Jim—he had a business degree from USD, he had a law degree from Santa Clara University and he worked as a pimp when he was in law school to get himself through law school.
So they're three very different guys. With Philip, I often felt like there wasn't always someone home, which is ironic cause he's the one that got furthest in sobriety. But talking to him, whether he was sober or whether he was drunk, or whether he was getting sober or he was getting ready to slip, it always seemed like there was a part of him missing, someone not entirely home, you know?
Why didn't they get it? That's really the question: Why didn't they get it, which I can't answer.
Cause Philip worked it and didn't get it. Jim tried to work it and didn't get it. Bill never had much interest in working it, but he was a genius. The guy spoke 15 different languages. You know he'd go to these consulate parties in Alexandria and he'd be delighting everyone and entertaining everyone with these jokes in whatever language, 'cause there would be people there from all over the world. He'd tell a joke in Italian to these people and French to these people and German to these people. But as smart as he was, the denial you know… I found him impenetrable on this topic. The others would engage me on this, but him I found impenetrable.
It was the intellectual ego. In his case, I'd say the intellectual ego had a role in it, but I can't say definitively that's why he's dead. I've got intellectual ego myself and I'm here, not that I was the intellectual he was. But so I can speculate about these things—but it doesn't give me a definitive answer. It's still a mystery to me: Why me? Why not these guys or this guy over here? I can't answer that.