Sailing at night, alone in the eerie cockpit red glow, I could keep the boat moving easily on course, but I fretted about what was "out there." The radar would spot vessels, but what about floating objects like the dangerous containers dropped from freighters? What about the dead whale reported over the coast-guard radio? (It would surely do huge damage to a sailboat surging along at over eight knots.) What else was out there? Every few minutes the sea around the boat lit up with long green flashes, frightening even after I realized they were my sweet dolphins streaking through the phosphors suspended in the seawater. I remembered a terrible scare a few years earlier when an idyllic sail from Montauk to Block Island was interrupted with an ear-piercing explosion of air and water behind the boat as a nuclear submarine surfaced barely a quarter mile off the stern. Could monsters of the deep, natural or man-made, suddenly consume Renaissance?
It dawned on me that what I really feared was not "out there" but rather "in here," deep inside myself. At night, the total darkness of the ocean and the inescapable quiet sitting forced me to confront feelings and memories. I no longer had my alcoholic anesthesia to block nighttime thoughts. I pondered stern phrases from my family: "be strong, boy . . . where there's a will, there's a way . . . take stock . . . honesty's the best policy . . . God helps those that help themselves . . . if not to your family, you owe it to yourself." It's true: we were solid WASPs long before the term was invented.
"What the hell's your problem?" I shouted into the darkness of the North Atlantic. "What's your real problem?" A few months back I was certain I'd found the explanation for why my successful cultivated self-image had been wrecked on the shoals. It was alcoholism, of course. I had learned through bitter experience that for addictive souls like me, alcohol destroys everything in its path.
I was living proof of the devastating impact of white-collar alcoholism. I had totally lost the sense of professional purpose, and had even screwed up my quest for an alternative career path. My anger and rages had done untold damage to friends and family. Now I was struggling successfully to refrain from drinking again, and knew that should be seen as a significant accomplishment. I recognized, from my rehabilitation experience and from a lot of reading, that the recovery process takes a lifetime and does not promise instant happiness. But the initial surge of feeling like a perfect recovering alcoholic had worn off months before. The glorious escape of Newfoundland was receding quickly in my stern wake; the dark reality of New York City loomed just over the bow.