I felt very alone and scared for the first two weeks, and then a change started to come over me. Okay, I thought, I've done what I have done. At least now I know my problem. I will be the best damned "recovering alcoholic" imaginable. I will put my life back on track. I will go back and honestly explain my problem. I've made a mess out of success. Now I'll make a success out of this mess.
So after a month in rehabilitation, I returned home with all the fervor and contrition of a true convert. It would be a new life, filled with honesty and purity. Yes, the problems were serious, but I was facing them directly. No, I wasn't "cured," but I knew that I had hit bottom. Surely, the worst was over.
I was totally wrong—much worse times lay ahead. The next year, 1990, would hold the greatest shock of all. It would hit me like a sledgehammer. But before that giant earthquake, I confronted a series of significant tremors. I was being warned, it seems, that the apparent afflictions—alcoholism, bulimia, rage, blank spots, suicidal tendencies—were not the "real problems." The real problems were deeper, so much deeper, than I could have ever imagined.
At an all-staff meeting, I informed the Asia Society of my alcohol addiction and treatment, summoning as much calm directness as I could. I will always remember the warmth of some of the longer-term staff members, especially building operations director George Papamichael and switchboard operator Elaine Hutchison, who gathered around and gave me hugs afterward. Then, with the full support of my board chairman, John Whitehead, I decided not to fly to Hong Kong; instead, he presided at the opening of the Hong Kong center, introduced Henry Kissinger and the other dignitaries, and fully represented the Asia Society. On the very night that the Hong Kong center was inaugurated, a dream I had worked so hard to realize, I was attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in White Plains. And for the next several months, I attended those AA meetings every night, "sharing" my story and concerns, receiving encouragement from other "recovering alcoholics," including my very caring "sponsor."
In spite of my efforts to show a resilient spirit, I could not escape a rising sense of inner foreboding. That dark mood was captured by the rise and fall of my first novel, Cinnabar, published in the same eventful year of 1989. Cinnabar was a mystery thriller featuring an unsuspecting Columbia University professor who inherits a mysterious red lacquer box from his dead wife that lures him into the swirling world of modern China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
It seemed like a good idea—a mental break from my rigorous professional life and yet another way to bring China alive in unconventional fashion—but, in retrospect, I have almost no memory of how the book emerged. All I remember is sitting down at the computer, over a few vacation periods and some long weekends, and transcribing what already seemed to be written. So Cinnabar was composed in a strange stupor, perhaps a prolonged series of my mysterious blank periods. At the time, it seemed odd, but not alarming.