The Transylvanian Sommelier Always Drinks The Wine! He’s A Man! He’s Proud of His Wine!

I don't think I was at my best when I interviewed Sandor Mezei, a man in his early 40s, with blond hair, piercing blue eyes, firm handshake, fit body. It was the summer of 2011. I was finalizing my field documentation for The Scourge, my book on drinking in Transylvania. Editing the interview now, almost two years later, I wish I didn’t ask him leading questions. It wasn’t proper journalistic etiquette. I talked at times over him. Terrible. But somehow I feel they fit our rhythm then.

Sándor Mezei: Do you want me to tell you about my life in relation to alcohol? If this is your question, then what suddenly comes to mind is that all my life I was preparing to become an alcoholic. My whole life is about that... Throughout my development, I was being prepared to be an alcoholic.
So now, after one year in the rehab therapy home, I say, it is important to have it carved on my memory that I'm primarily an alcoholic. Now I am no longer afraid so much of this word. For me, it’s very important to reiterate that the overall picture of my situation is that I'm an alcoholic. I’d still live that life were I not to have almost died of alcoholism, I would still be living the same way I did for 20-30 years because on the surface my alcoholism is seemingly a success story. I’ve always actually been pushed upwards and not downwards by it; I never ended up moored in the gutter but was always propelled to a new opportunity, a new career path, a new job opened for me. I always carried forward, and when conflicts or failures occurred, then I left them behind and after a small drawback, like reduced circumstances and some malaise, distress, I rolled into a better situation.
I think I could have gone on living my life on earth in this manner until my death.
But what happened was that I became emotionally very dissatisfied with what was happening to me. I did not understand why I needed to drink until I passed out, until I didn’t know what was going on with me, and lost consciousness. Neither I, nor anyone else could understand why that happened to an apparently healthy, successful person like I was. The question was what can be done? No one, neither I, nor those around me could tell me what can be done. What's the solution? The first response was to stop drinking alcohol, but that didn’t work, so then the diagnosis was that I am dependent on alcohol. I can’t say no to it anymore, using just will power doesn’t work. Do you understand me?
E.V.: I assure you I understand, even if I can’t speak proper Hungarian. When I don’t understand I always ask, be sure of that.

M.S.: My quest for an answer went only to the extent that I asked myself the question, but I kept on drinking, I did not move onto acting on anything. Then when I did start acting on it, it meant that I was admitted to the psychiatric ward a few times, in the closed ward, because I was already very ill from a lot of alcohol consumption. The medication didn’t prove to be a solution, aside from softening the edge of some anomalies of the environment, it was no solution. So I stayed the same person mentally and emotionally, my personality didn’t change, and spiritually I stayed unchanged.
Actually what happened was that though I was abstinent for a longer time, my way of thinking about myself and the world did not change in the least. Interestingly enough it was one psychiatrist who suggested to me that I wasn’t in need of psychiatric treatment but I needed a different kind of solution and there was a place I should check out, in the town of Magyar Ózd. He couldn’t say exactly what was happening there. I was very angry with him. A doctor who recommends something, but he does not know what he means exactly.
Meanwhile, my immediate family looked into it and found that it is a rehab therapy home. I went there, with their help, for I was in a very dilapidated condition. I could barely walk, barely think. I was much closer to death than to life. Mentally and physically.
There I started a spiritual development that enabled me to shed my inappropriate self-centered behavior. The rehab therapy home helped me to launch into a new spiritual development that was arrested at the age of 16-20. I think this is what my story is about: when I started to drink my spiritual development stopped, and after a while it started to unravel, under the devastating effect of alcohol. I became isolated and when I became a professional alcoholic my tools also became pro. I was a better and better actor on the stage of life, so that I could cover that I was only an emotionally immature child in need of help. To this I needed tools, like wearing masks. I trained myself to manipulate my environment. This way I could achieve a greater social standing. Thus I was a hotel manager, or I took public figure roles, I was a local government representative. These roles I took on were very good tools to cover up my vanity, desires, doubts, lack of confidence and lack of self knowledge. From this safe height I could look down on those who indicated to me that something was wrong. I simply looked down on those who indicated to me that they would like to share my problems with me. From up there I could keep them at bay, get rid of them. I have no time, I'm busy. If they were my friends or co-workers, I’d indicate to them that they were in no position to talk about it. I’m the one to give the advice, but you do not.
Simply put, that was it.
While now my life is not about living for other people’s expectations or my own desires, but I deliberately live my days dealing with the problems of my everyday life. I find fulfillment in feeling and holding onto being humble. I can feel and catch myself when I am about to lie. I can feel and catch myself when I am about to manipulate the person I speak to. It’s often a very difficult task because it actually means to permanently watch myself. This is impossible, to live so consciously. Therefore it was good that I ended up in a Christian community because it helped to bounce around various conceptions of God. It helps me to see that I will never be perfect, to see how sinful I am. I never understood it... this notion of sin… They always told me that we are sinners, we are sinners. I told my Christian friends that you are so very stupid. How can you always whip yourselves saying that you are guilty? But I can see now how prone to mistakes I am as a human being, and I'm never really going to be perfect, to be God. I am a human being, but I strive to live responsibly up to the best and most beautiful of my own value system.
After I came out of the therapeutic home, I worked in a riding stable. I was a groom. I dealt with horses, but didn’t ride them, only groomed them, took care of the horses and the stables. I was dealing with race horses. After that I worked briefly in a landfill. We transformed the garbage dump ground to being eco-friendly. This was a very interesting job for me. Now it looks like talks are underway to go back as a staff to the foundation that manages the rehab home where I was a patient.
E.V.: If you could help me, Sándor. You express yourself very nicely, but it would be good if you could trust me and give me some examples or stories. You said that you lied! For example, when, how? Why did you think you had to manipulate or lie? Were other people not interesting to you? I do not understand.
M.S.: Neither do I.
E.V.: People were not nice to you?
M.S.: I felt that these were laws and rules that everyone followed but they just don’t talk about it. There are games, we lie to each other, we pretend to be nice, we flatter each other. Every time I was honest, or every time I had a different opinion than others, I felt that rejection... [E.V. phone rings]
E.V.: Do you think people treat each other honestly?
M.S.: No. The effects hurt me spiritually. I felt they were too hard and too hurting on me. I did not know what to do. How to behave. How do you defend yourself in these conflict situations? I had no idea what I could do, what I should do. When I was 20 years old I got out of my spiritual and parental protective cocoon, I looked like a 20 year old guy who can stand on his own two feet, but I had no idea how to live. How to get all that: acceptance, jobs, contacts, I had no idea what to do. I started to function by pretending. I started to think and behave like I imagined other people might do. Obviously, it is not possible to know how other people think, but I created a framework for myself. I imagined that this was okay and so I began to operate exactly as if this was the normal. It was not normal because everything I did was done by forcing myself and this mask exhausted me over the years; this apparently natural and calm behavior completely exhausted me. It so exhausted me that I did not know who I was anymore. I also did not know why I did it, especially when I started to drink alcohol and I was under the influence. Then I became totally confused. I already used to drink for a week hiding somewhere and I went back to my workplace and behaved as if nothing had happened.
This rehab therapy home helped in that we surveyed my problems, I set up my priorities, and like in a computer we erased those images, self-images and feelings that piled up there. They accused and burdened each other. I thought since I ended up with this problem because of people, well then, people might just help me find myself again, that is, help me develop a healthy self-image, of who exactly I am.
This is called group therapy.
E.V.: This is all very interesting, and it’s grand that you can be such a psychologizing intellectual, but it’s not what I came to you for. Could you be specific? For example, tell me when you were a teenager when you realized you weren’t able to express your opinion without repercussions. Then I’ll understand better.
M.S.: I was often insulted in my life.
E.V.: Tell me about a specific situation.
M.S.: Once someone wrote an anonymous letter... I was a schoolboy. They wrote me a letter in which they wrote down that I'm not somebody that mattered, just a nobody really, but I am who I am only because of my parents. My parents were influential people. At that time they were active in the community. My grandfather was the school headmaster. My father was a popular district veterinarian.
E.V.: This was where? In Kolozsvár/Cluj?
M.S.: In another neighboring county, a town there. This letter really hurt me.
E.V.: Why did they write that letter to you? Because of something you did?
M.S.: It’s been 30 years since I don’t know why they had to write this letter. They told me why, but it did not sink into my soul, so I would stop grieving over it. So much I took it onto myself, that for years it troubled me that they offended and humiliated me. I could not tell anybody because everybody said, “Let it be! Stop it! It's just a stupid letter. Maybe it was not even meant for you but for your grandfather or father.” I could not leave it to that, but I brooded over it and this feeling, this feeling has been inside me for years. I cannot solve it; I cannot get rid of that feeling.
There were many similar stories in my life with which I did not know what to do. They pained me and made me feel that I was not good enough. I thought, “I'm not a good companion, neither a good student, I don’t have the skills to live my everyday life. I'm a worthless person, rejected goods, a loser.” Living like this really hurt me, but I did not know what to do with it. Meanwhile days passed, weeks, months, and as I saw that one of my friends or a professor insulted me saying that, “You are not a good student because your money paid your way and not because you are capable, or can do it on your own...” Such a categorization knocked me down, and I did not know what to do with it.
My hypersensitivity probably didn’t let me work off these tensions.
Alcohol was easier to reach, wine and beer. It’s all little things, but if you do not know where to deal with the little things then it’s like the Tetris game. The pieces come in, and if I know how to handle the emotional keyboard then I know where to place the various shapes of pieces as they keep on coming, if not they move faster and faster, and pile on top of each other.
This is just one example of why I became an alcoholic. Most important perhaps is that I turned into a man that was cuddled and hypersensitive and was suddenly expected to be a good student...
E.V.: Were you interested in the university at all?
M.S.: Interesting question because it seemed I was interested. I did not know what really interested me. I studied history in Budapest at the Eötvös Loránd University. I did not know if I really cared for it. I was sent there by my grandfather, a very strict man. And I went. They said I won’t amount to much if I don’t make something out of myself. In order to become somebody, you need a graduation certificate.
This was hammered on me like a strong fundamental truth. Therefore, from the very beginning I always felt that I should be somebody. As you see, self-government representative, hotel manager, but inside I was utterly empty. The therapy home filled this emptiness, it specifically helped me, now at my age of 40, with those competencies, skills and tools I needed for living. By competence I understand motivation, the ability to talk about my feelings, to communicate. This can be developed within group therapy if I am serious about myself. If I admit that I have a problem, state what are my problems, after that I can set up a set of values to work on my problems.
E.V.: I lived… I don’t speak Hungarian perfectly because we lived in Romanian villages. My parents were agricultural engineers and were placed by the state in a Romanian village. When one day my brother came from school beaten up and crying that the kids cursed him, "Hungariass bungariass, spear in your ass!" my mother was very afraid. So we didn’t talk anymore Hungarian, we switched to Romanian. When I went to Hungary as an undergraduate student, an old lady told me, I lived in a dorm, “What do you mean to come and steal workplace from the Hungarians?” I came to attend university, I attended American Studies. It really hurt. I wanted to also be again Hungarian, I truly would have loved to have been also Hungarian, but they didn’t take me in. I guess I had this feeling too like you that I wasn’t good enough. Have you ever thought that these people were in the wrong and not you? Was your pride so devastated? I cannot imagine that your parents wouldn’t help you be proud of who you were.
M.S.: My parents always helped. This is precisely the problem. My parents pulled down all the obstacles in my childhood. I didn’t have to fight for anything, to strengthen my selfhood, to become strong, to experience success. I bore the same name of a great man and so people really loved or really hated me. Therefore, I lost my sense of self worth, because I never knew who they loved: the great man Sándor Mezei or me Sándor Mezei Junior. I always had my doubts. I lacked a healthy self-esteem, and when I was attacked, the little that I had was very quickly destroyed. You said that you lived in Budapest and how that was. For a long time they called me names, saying I was a stinky Romanian, though I’m an ethnic Hungarian. Besides, they said also that I was a spy... This in the early ‘90s! But this was not the point, but that they labeled me and I could not stand up to their judgments. They disturbed me, I felt threatened and I collapsed under their weight. I never showed this but I nicely stepped out of the situation. I dropped out of the university, and my workplace, I began to flee, always defensively retreated when such conflicts arrived me.
E.V.: You never quarreled, you were always a polite gentleman, you fled.
M.S.: Later, when I had a political career then obviously...
E.V.: This was also in Hungary?
M.S.: No, this was here. Obviously, we swore at each other. I was a tough debater, but I’d collapse at home. At home I mourned these open and hard confrontations. I did not see that I'm caught in a worthless system that I should get out of because it was not good for me, but I rather felt that I lost the battle, the war. They didn’t acknowledge I was in the right.
E.V.: Give me an example of such a battle. Specifically.
M.S.: I was working for a senator. I believed that the senator, despite the fact that he belonged to my community, being a Hungarian, that he is not a good senator. I collected evidence to tell those who may have the influence to decide if this man was to further be our senator or not, to prove to them that it would be nice to do things differently. I told him to his face that he made a bad senator. He told me not to forget it, that I worked for him only because he was friends with my grandfather and our name sounds good for the community, I mean my name. Besides, I am an underling. I still maintained that he was not fit to be a senator. I'm not saying what I did was the appropriate way to communicate... But the retaliation that my colleagues and team-mates started against me within the system was very harsh. It was brutal. They asked me to resign and not the senator, but I did not resign. Finally, it turned into an internal battle. Again, I felt that I was the worthless one because 20 other people said that I was no good. I couldn’t really stand it. Yet, I won the battle because things developed in such a way, that I held my position in the group and I even went up hierarchically along the elections, but emotionally I collapsed.
The senator eventually didn’t become a senator.
But by then I didn’t care, I was very much battered and hurt because of the conflict. I got out of it as a very hurt man though I won the battle. I was very wounded. Of course I never knew whether the road I took was the right one. I was a totally godless, a total atheist. I had no moral foundation.
E.V.: Why did you choose a political career?
M.S.: I really liked it. I always got involved in politics. I always had a lively colorful life. I was a people’s person and was involved in the community. They always asked me that since I can express myself well and we had a value system to convey, then I should represent it. But it's also true it was the best scene for me to wear freely and openly my masks. In politics one is free, even more, such masks must be worn. I really liked this. I liked even the high power voltage related to achieving it. This excitement about getting social status or how to achieve my goal is similar to the excitement of heavy drinking.
E.V.: What's the excitement when you drink?
M.S.: What was the most exciting was to get to that safe place with two or three bottles of wine. I drank until I felt that I'm emotionally in such a safe place where no one can hurt me because thoughts stopped coming. I did not have to deal with my feelings. I did not have to answer my questions assaulting me from within but I just drank these three bottles of wine and this radiated a very good, pleasant, safe condition.
E.V.: Where did this happen? In society?
M.S.: Never. To feel that, I always had to go away, to be completely isolated, alone. In perfect security.
E.V.: Four bottles of wine?
M.S.: Yes.
E.V.: Then what would you do?
M.S.: After I had four bottles I needed more, because the dependence is about never having enough. I first started with 2-3 glasses, after that 5-6 glasses, then I mixed it with beer, but then I said that if I was to poison myself, then I'm going to drink only good things. I started with half a bottle, then a bottle, two bottles, four bottles...
Mainly wine. Very fine wine. I had a favorite. There were several favorites. My life story’s piquancy was that I was a winemaker for a few years. I seemed to be a cultured wine drinker, a sommelier, wine classifying, so on, I dealt with wine tasting activities. I owned a wine cellar. I could nicely surround myself with the instruments of security, and with wine. Obviously, I never made my drinking public, because then I couldn’t be a wine taster, I couldn’t be a wine dealer. It would have been in conflict with the code of ethics and so I was doing this secretly.
I must have been successful because I was always looked up to. There was a demand for what I sold. That’s how I also got my last job as a hotel manager. They asked me to take care of their wine tasting activity at the hotel. This was a success for me since I got a little over $ 1,000 salary and I managed a nice five-star hotel. In another county.
E.V.: It didn’t occur to you that the whole wine tasting society, the sommeliers were like this? Maybe you're not alone?
M.S.: I once told this in my circle of sommeliers, and they said I was crazy.
“How could you even think that we're alcoholics? This is not true.”
I said, “Okay. Let's try it: do not drink for three weeks!”
“Well, this can’t be done. This is our profession, to drink.”
I said that, “Our profession is to taste, not drink.”
They said, “The Transylvanian sommelier always drinks the wine, because he is a man, because he is proud of his wine, because he is Hungarian.”
I said, “Well, come, come, this is rather cuckoo. We are sommeliers or men because of this, because of this we are Hungarians?! What kind of value system is this?”
“Well, Sándor... something in what you say doesn’t sound right, you’re doing something wrong.”
E.V.: Very charming all this. Did you tell them that you drink alone?
M.S.: I tried to find answers. I suggested, among others, that “Are we alcoholics or not?” I did not know the definition of alcoholism. Does it have to be defined? Was I the one to define it, or someone else? “Together maybe we can get the answer to this?!” I was told that... “No, no... Out of the question, are you crazy?”
E.V.: I don’t understand how you went about it. You needed 4 bottles of wine, but not every day. You could disappear for a week, not on vacation, without any scandal?! Without them looking for you?
M.S.: By the end I’d disappear and they went looking for me. They were completely shocked to see me for three weeks working perfectly. I’d work 20 hours a day. To the English speaking guests I’d answer in English, in German to Germans, and in Romanian to Romanians. After all that, they kindly said, "You get not 50 Euros, but 70 Euros, because you are a pro. You are doing great." I was a perfectionist. I worked and worked, but I did not deal with my feelings, all that was inside me.
I worked like a machine.
Yes. Once I said that, “Now I’ll go down into the cellar and lay down.” I selected the finest wine, I tasted it, and though I knew I could never stop when I’d drink alone, “There will be no trouble now because I’ve strongly decided I will not drink.” I took a sip and after that I thought, “I’ll just drink one glass because there will be no problem. After all, I deserved it.” I drank the glass of wine and then I said, “Drink one more, so that this fatigue, this stress appeases a bit.” It didn’t appease even after five glasses. After the tenth glass I began to be angry about this, about that! “It’s only me who does the work! I work a lot! They don’t understand me! My boss told me this and that! That this is this way and that one that way! He always has to boss me around! My wife is angry because I'm not taking care of the children! There are so many expectations, and yet I'm doing everything right! I bring money home, I function well!”
I had to drink oh, to relieve the tension. Then I lost my self-control, and negative feelings welled up in me. I went to the bathroom and I remember that a dog passed me and I kicked him with all my might. Someone called on me why I kicked the dog, and I was ready to strangle that man. “What is this?! He dares to yell at me?! I'm doing whatever I want.”
I lost complete control. Little things hit me and it got worse and worse. All of these small things were negative, all against me; everything I had done was my fault! I lost control and suddenly I found myself packing. “I now have to vanish, so I can drink quietly because I cannot stand this tension.”
All the therapy at the rehab home is actually about how I actually can survive tension. I have never lived through stress, or realized that a conflict has a beginning, a middle and an end. It can be addressed. I never lived through a conflict to get to its end until I was 40. A conflict can be solved emotionally, can be closed with other people. Previously I didn’t say anything and I stepped out of it.
E.V.: The others didn’t even know that you’re in a conflict with them...
M.S.: Of course not. Or how they offended me. At the hotel I saw how much they do not understand me, because when I went back after a week and I asked for one more chance, I got the chance. Even more, they were very happy I was back. My salary went from $1,000 to $ 1,100. I was the one who said if you want me to come back you need to pay me more. There was no humility in me in spite of...
E.V.: Why should it be? You worked a lot, like a machine. I think you were really stressed out, you're right. Only unfortunately you decided to drink…
M.S.: Humility to me today... Humility is about how far I can go without hurting another. If I crossed the boundaries, I can ask forgiveness from him. I think that's humility.
E.V.: But they hurt you too, and they didn’t ask forgiveness from you.
M.S.: Yes. I now know what my part is in a conflict situation is and where his part starts. If he crosses my boundaries all I can do is tell him that, and that I will not be partners in this situation. By saying, “I think you are unfair or you hurt me,” I not only find what I’m feeling, but I also express it and shake it off. I’m relieved. I deal with the feeling, I express my feelings.
It's a great thing, because I have not done it once in 40 years.
E.V.: Now I’ll ask personal questions. Tell me when you do not want to answer. Because I cannot imagine that you could ever be in love. Yet you were married and your wife didn’t realize you were incapable of love? How was that?
M.S.: I always confused love with sex. I confused my lust for love. It created a great turmoil. I had a lot of relationships in which the main communication ended in bed.
I could not make a distinction between love, respect for other people, and my lust. They bled into each other within me.
E.V.: What kind of women did you pick?
M.S.: Beautiful ones. Who were impressive. Who I was able to influence and signaled back after I slept with them that, “You won, you're above me, you’re a man.” I had to get validation that I am a man. Subconsciously, maybe what I longed for was spiritual validation, but I had no procedure other than how to get her into bed, how to conquer my partner. My wife became my wife... She could be my wife because she is also a broken person. She comes from a family where the male model was... She did not know that men can be otherwise than the 2-3 men she grew up with: her grandpapa, her father and possibly another man who was his mother's partner. She didn’t think that a man may function differently. In addition I was good at showing people my mask. I demonstrated very well that I wasn’t a hurt person, a man full of mistakes. I am a perfect, well-functioning, highly-paid man. In four months I conquered her. A mere hello in four months turned into marriage. Do you understand?
E.V.: No. When you disappeared to drink she did not notice?
M.S.: She did not know that I drank.
E.V.: How could she not know?!
M.S.: Because we didn’t live together. The relationship was such that I was in Alba/Fehér County, and she in Cluj/Kolozs County. From start I was careful that this should be a long distance relationship. I did not want to get close, to full intimacy with her, but kept up the pretense that we must live separately since my work was good, I’m making good money and so we can live better, we can become strong economically. She trusted me...
E.V.: Why didn’t she move there?
M.S.: She was tied to her work. She has a very good job to this day in Cluj/Kolozsvár and loves her job. Besides I lived in a small town that she did not like. Then I persuaded her that, “If your job is good and you love Cluj/Kolozsvár, you stay there and I stay here.” There were times that we met daily because the distance between us was only 75 km. I slept in both places.
E.V.: When you drank for a week, where would you go to?
M.S.: Most of the time I went to the vineyards, somewhere where there is forest and water. It was important to be alone, so no one would disturb me.
E.V.: Was there a small cabin there?
M.S.: Not necessarily. At times I just took my car. For days I slept in the car.
E.V.: Didn’t she notice after a while?
M.S.: For a while she did not notice. Of course after awhile she did.
E.V.: And then...
M.S.: Then the question was raised what happens, but obviously she thought she was worthless. She cannot relate to me as a real woman and wife, I believe she rather thought that what was happening was because she was not good enough in bed or she was unable to provide me what I needed to stay sober. Then she hurled the whole thing on me, that I was the one with the problems and not that we had the problems. She shifted the blame on me; she piled the whole thing on my head, indicted me, accused, scolded, yelled, and divorced me in the end.
E.V.: You already had children?
M.S.: Yes. A girl.
E.V.: Did you know your child?
M.S.: Sure.
E.V.: Did you try, that she should not have the same feeling that you had?
M.S.: Meaning?
E.V.: The way you grew up. You always had the feeling that you should prove yourself. Is your little girl the same?
M.S.: I'm in a good relationship with my children since they were small. Today they are my best friends, my 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. They are the foremost people in my life. The deepest relationship is and was with them. I handled them very well except when I lost my self-control and then I hit them, kicked them. One morning they made me so very angry… They were noisy and I wanted to sleep. I was tired. They made me so angry that I threw my son against the wall and I kicked my daughter.
At that moment I saw that I am in very, very big trouble, that I can’t control myself.
E.V.: The wife didn’t see this?
M.S.: She was not there. I love my children. Since they were small, starting with infant care to kindergarten I dealt with them, but when I had the urge to drink, then I had to vanish immediately. There were times that my daughter was in my care and not in my wife’s. I was a very good father, but after awhile I had to leave them with my sister for three days because I got totally smashed. For three days I could not take responsibility for my children's sake, nor for myself, let alone that of my children.
E.V.: When did it happen when you said that you could not walk any longer?!
M.S.: Physically I couldn’t. Neurologically... My nerves were completely torn down from excessive drinking. I couldn’t pay attention to who was speaking. I watched and fell asleep, nodding... I’d doze off. I did not understand what they said. I had to pay my utility bill and instead of going to the payment office I went to the police. I had directional problems. Even when I wasn’t drinking it didn’t matter because I was in shambles, decrepit. I was not able to get out of bed. I could not work. I lost my job. They saw that something was wrong. I grew fat. I was 104 kilos/324 lb. Now, as you see me, I'm 78 kilos. I had an extra 40 kilos.
E.V.: You ate a lot.
M.S.: Haphazardly.
E.V.: Then what happened suddenly when you went to the doctor? On that particular day? Did anyone visit you? Did your sister take you to the doctor?
M.S.: At dawn, I tried to hang myself.
E.V.: Was this the first time, or you tried before?
M.S.: I did not try before. And I failed...
E.V.: Because you were too heavy? Sorry.
M.S.: I think I didn’t really want, only my alcoholic self... Alcoholism is such a beastly, swinish business, that will make my hands and my mind, my soul, say that there is nothing else any longer, and the best thing is death. I took two of my belts and tied them together, and threw them over a tree branch, but since they were two belts it didn’t hold... My head jerked out and banged against the ground. This shook me up a bit. I said that, “Things are not good. Absolutely. They should do something with me because I do not know what else to do!” I ended up at the psychiatrist...
E.V.: So, did you call the doctor? The ambulance?
M.S.: No. My sister. She lived across the street. My wine cellar was opposite to her house, across the road. I got into the psychiatric ward, then I came out. I took medication and I began drinking over them because I still had to get drunk. It was even worse. There was no prospect as to what could be done. Nobody understood anything. Neither I nor my sister nor my wife who had divorced me by that time. The only positive thing that happened was that I concluded I was still alive because there was divine intercession. This is what I still think and this is good for me to think so.
E.V.: You insist on that...
M.S.: I insist on that but I do not say that this is the only truth. I live with it this way: God’s good sense of humor insists that for the rest of my life here, I have to do something, anything, with myself. I like this idea.
E.V.: Describe to me how it was in the psychiatric ward? How did they behave? What are they doing there? How many days were you there?
M.S.: I do not like talking about it. In a psychiatric hospital they lock you up and give you medicine. They locked me up with a key because I am not reliable.
E.V.: Where do they lock you up? In a room alone?
M.S.: They lock you up in a hospital wing which is labeled: Closed Psychiatric Ward. There are six rooms and a corridor.
E.V.: With bars?
M.S.: Obviously with bars. Each county capital has one.
E.V.: Rehabilitation?
M.S.: No. The Closed Psychiatric Ward. The psychiatric hospital also has an open ward where they have ‘lighter’ patients. The closed ward handles people who do not have self control. I was once in such a psychiatric ward for two weeks and once for 30 days.
E.V.: What's it like there?
M.S.: They give you medicines...
E.V.: You vomit? How's that? You have withdrawal?
M.S.: Some have withdrawal, but I never had it. It really never happened to me.
E.V.: Three weeks and nothing?
M.S.: No. None in 40 years. I never had any trouble, any withdrawal. I've always had problems while I drank: I broke in a sweat, bloodshot eyes, I threw up, I peed on myself, and even soiled myself.
E.V.: My brother drank. Unfortunately, he drank until he died. 30 years old. I understand what you say. This therapy was successful. You said that when you went to Ózd, you were furious at the psychiatrist.
M.S.: The rehab therapy home is all about going to group therapy. No one told me anything. I went to Ózd because on my life’s strategy chess board game, I thought that, “This is my last move. Medicine does not help me, I cannot help myself. The environment cannot help me. No one can help me.” I went to the rehab therapy home expecting someone to help me. Not what I could give them, but what they can give me, so I could stop drinking. I did not understand what this whole thing was.
E.V.: How long it took you to figure it out?
M.S.: Four months.
E.V.: During those four months, what did you do? Sulked?
M.S.: I waited grimly. Manipulated my surroundings.
E.V.: With what?
M.S.: I said that, “I feel good today, I’m balanced and relaxed. Meanwhile, I was not balanced and relaxed, I was tense, but I did not want to talk about these tensions because then I’d have to work on them. Then the group would have to talk about why I was tense. I did not understand that if the other is stupid, crazy, what else was I to say besides that he’s stupid, crazy. Or the other is a Gypsy. Or the third is repulsive.
E.V.: You labeled them and were done with it....
M.S.: Sure. Of course. I despised them. Why do I need all this? Nothing is going on here!
E.V.: You were the best thing there.
M.S.: Of course. All I saw was that it was a rundown place, that they prayed a lot, that a lot of dicks tell me that this or that way is the way, a terrible place. So I started to improve my comfort. For example, when we had to work something and were left unattended, I took the lead. I became the little boss over that daily task.
E.V.: This is what you were good at?
M.S.: Sure. Suddenly I notice that everybody does as I say. I nicely sat down and they’d come to me. I told them how to do it, but that was all that was going on. I did not feel equal to anyone. I told them, “I love you and respect you,” but I had no idea what love is. I did not know for 40 years, what it means to "love".
I could have gone on living as I just described.
E.V.: What happened? Something happened since you lived to talk about it now. There was a smarter guy than you?
M.S.: It was a friend of mine, another client, who once told me that if I went on behaving like I behaved outside.... If I do not want to change, then I can just be there for my nine months and that’s it. He said to me, “Sándor, if you still behave like when you were out, the only difference being that you don’t drink, when you go out, you’ll drink again, because there you can do so.”
Well, I said, “You're not normal. You don’t know. You’re only a client.”
I saw that they always signaled me to be myself, not to carry my mask. “Put it down, you don’t need it.” I did not know how to do it. What is the technique to take off my masks. “Well, this is me, look at me... Look at me, this is me. I don’t need to take off any masks. I do not have to behave differently because this is how I’ve always behaved.”
I didn’t understand in 120 days how can you remove them. “What should I do to change? How can someone change who is always the same?” I didn’t understand this. Then I thought that, “I'll leave now. Work on what?! I’m to stay 9 months here. Well, there is nothing I need to work on any longer! Isn’t it enough that I came in, four months have already passed, I'm fine now.”
E.V.: Meanwhile, you missed drinking?
M.S.: Not so much. No. What I missed was to express exactly how I feel. I missed how to convey to the others how stupid they were, but to do that without taking the responsibility.
E.V.: To say it nicely? I don’t understand.
M.S.: To avoid getting back what I would say to them.
E.V.: You wanted to hurt them?
M.S.: Yes. I thought it would be nice to hurt them, but without the responsibility of doing so. Simply, it would feel good to hurt the other. I always had the status, it always allowed me, to hurt someone. But those who I hurt, could not hurt me back.
E.V.: Why did you need to hurt someone else?
M.S.: This is how I perceived that life went. Punishment and pain, be it psychic pain, always affect people. If I can manipulate the situation then that’s good for me because I am the master of the situation.
E.V.: When did you realize that you can be the master by joking, or love.
Not with love, because love is a big word.
M.S.: It’s a big word! When I hurt someone at the group, or I took something from someone, since I thought that it was allowed to do so, I never got back from them stuff like, “This is not good, this is not allowed, this is so wrong,” but someone in the group stood up and said, when he did this to someone else, what it meant to him or what it meant to the other. Suddenly everyone started to tell stories about how this was so bad. They didn’t say what a fool I was, but how bad that was for him. I wasn’t attacked.
E.V.: They pitied you.
M.S.: I asked them, “Are you on this together, conspiring against me?”
E.V.: They pitied you?
M.S.: They knew already that if they had a good influence on me and I felt safe there in the group then I could bring out a lot from my inside, and the group could work on it. I could expose my problem and the group could work on it.
E.V.: Saintly souls were they?
M.S.: I'm not saying they were saintly souls.
E.V.: Everyone wanted to work on you?!
M.S.: Not everyone wanted. A few people wanted. These few ones had an effect on me. These few people.
E.V.: I understand that when you wrong someone, you do yourself harm.
M.S.: I realize that, but it became easier to talk about intimate things. About what alcoholism entails. That I stole, something I never confessed before, or that I could not fulfill my sexual desires when I was drunk, even if I paid for it, that for months now my sexual satisfaction was feasible only through self gratification. When I started to expose this they stood up and said, “Worse things happened to me.”
We became completely vulnerable to one another. We showed how vulnerable we were and I no longer felt the need to attack them, nor that I was attacked. From then on, after I exposed myself, I could work. I began to piece together the puzzle, this domino, of who I really was. This then went for 8 months.
E.V.: The end was that you came out and became a stable groom.
M.S.: The end was that I came out after that and did not work for three months.
E.V.: But first you wanted to go back to work in the hotel industry...
M.S.: Yes, to look for something within my profession. I think it is important that... although in Romania it is very difficult to be choosey, you don’t have many options really. I felt it was important that I had to apply the skills I mastered at the rehab treatment home. That’s why I went to work in a horse stable.
E.V.: How did you find that work?
M.S.: By accident. I never thought that I would ever work in a riding school. It was important to me that I accepted, tolerated, and had the humility, that I am employed, so to speak, as a stable handyman... to experience that. If they tell me to clean up the horse dung in the stable, then I need to know not only what that mean to me, but also live through it. I never had such responsibilities before, my situation was always good, I always had a good job with good finances. This is why I was stuck in the drinking situation. What also connected me with my employer is that I saw he was an alcohol dependent person. It was great to see what masks he wore, how he operated. It was good to be around him. It was good to be honest with a man who was not always honest with me. It was great to be with a man who was my boss and not my friend and I tried to make this relationship work, to see how human one can be, how honest one can be in a relationship. Can such a relationship have any depth? I think that I am what I can provide in a relationship.
After this job I went to another place, somewhere near the border, because I had a friend with whom I had so many conflicts in the therapeutic home. He was a very tough, difficult man. He invited me to work with him for two weeks on a landfill, where the city collects trash. We lined it with foil, that is where the garbage was put in the ground, we insulated the hole and turned it environmentally friendly. This was a two-week job. I searched for workplaces to see if I could stay sober in a difficult situation, if I can keep to the values which I now uphold, because it is easy to just talk about how nice it is to be good. But how does it feel being good in a difficult situation? What's it really like when is very, very hot? When I do not know whether I’ll get a salary or not, when there is no water on the farm, and when you still have to work at another job before and after working hours to make ends meet. How does it feel when the man with whom I work doesn’t (exactly) communicate in the same language as me, or when he crosses my boundaries and he is much tougher than me, and this actually helps me define myself, find what I need to work on next, what I need to deal with, where I stand, because my sobriety is above everything else. My first priority is to stay sober. Only after that come the questions: Where do I work? Who do I work for? How much do I work for?
The first is to stay sober.
E.V.: And you could pay child support?
M.S.: The child support works like this: I'm part of this broken family. We're together. There is no intimacy between me and my ex-wife. There is no intimacy, the kind you find in sexuality or physical contact, but I am present in my family. I spend all my free time with them. Often I also sleep in the apartment, but my wife asked me not move in with them, only be involved in the child-rearing, housework, which I gladly do and so I live in rented lodgings. It is not an easy matter to get the money for all this, mainly because I live in Romania...
E.V.: What came after the landfill?
M.S.: After the landfill I was offered an administrative position at the foundation where I got healed, where I used to be a patient. At the Bonus Pastor.
E.V.: Do you think your marriage will come together again? You put efforts towards that?...
M.S.: I do not put efforts, my goal is to feel good in my skin and uphold my responsibility towards my children and show my true self to my ex-wife. Who is the man who has fathered our children. It’s not my mandatory intention that this has to end in marriage or to be on good terms. I wouldn’t like to have such an objective, or such a project, because that will push me back to showing off my good side, to pretend again. It’s important for me that I should be every day the old Sándor Mezei, sober at age 20, now in my 42 years of age. That's my priority. It is important that approach: that conflicts are really gifts, what lessons can come out of them, what can I get out of them, how far can I go in a relationship, what can I give in a relationship without expecting something out of it, and how can I enjoy myself? How long will this be? What is my life about?
E.V.: Well, certainly not about rubbish pits and stables... I trust that you are talented. But you are now keen on punishing yourself.
M.S.: How am I punishing myself? This may seem farfetched, but I say, it was a gift that I worked in a stable and a landfill. It was such an adventure, those two weeks or those seven months... Do you know why it was an adventure? Because were I not an alcoholic, then I now never would have lived to know what kind of relationship I could create with five horses.
E.V.: Like what?!
M.S.: Like what?!
E.V.: [Laughs] Well, they’re horses...
M.S.: No... Living creatures... Animals communicate... Two long months went by until I realized how animals communicate. When I came out of the rehab I didn’t know how to communicate with animals. It was a very good life experience. I found out where my boundaries were, how much more I can take. How it is to live with an alcoholic boss? For me this was extremely important because it kept a mirror in front of me, of how I might have appeared in other man’s eyes. The landfill was good that I knew it was only for 2 weeks. I have now 10 friends from there with whom I keep in touch. They said how easy it was for me, I was done in two weeks, but they still have to work 3-4 months there, in rain and heat, 40-45 Celsius degrees... Do you understand? For me it was only a two-week project. I could get out of it after that. But for them this is their way of life. For me it was an adventure.
So I don’t punished myself. I’m privileged that I could get an entry there, experience that life, and then get out.
E.V.: Maybe I didn’t express exactly what I meant, I’m trying to think thru what you’re telling me. Maybe you were slumming. [Laughs] Why am I so mean to you? Ridiculous. Sorry.
M.S.: I think I understand what you say.
E.V.: I agree with you, as you said, these were adventures and experiences you accumulated. But wouldn’t you like to be a hotel manager again? Or a politician? If this was what you were really talented at then this will be the real fight. With yourself. You know, living New York City comes easy to me, but it's hard to be here. It’s very difficult for me here. I always have something to hide. I’m Romanian and Hungarian, but I'm also a bit Gypsy. I’m not allowed to tell Romanians and Hungarians that I’m a bit Gypsy. Also Hungarians wonder why I speak Hungarian so strangely. Then when Romanians hear I’m a bit Hungarian, they harp on why Hungarians want political autonomy here. There's always something.
You said we wear masks. I think not. I think we are made of many personalities. A man has several personalities. We’re like a diamond, multi faceted. It’s difficult to process all this, because, you're right, we live in a society in which there is constant tension. Always you have to be loyal to one of them, but then to the other one too.
But hey, they still manage to live together, so it is not as dire a situation, but often I feel that I cannot be myself here. I thought that if I go to another country I will have a different life... My life is different indeed, but I think that you have to do that which you have a talent for, to make more money. You went thru big changes. My respect and admiration. I went thru such things myself. Fate. Children are proud of you. Don’t you want to earn good money again? Even if not just for them?
M.S.: Of course I do.
E.V.: You’re overdoing it with these slumming gigs.
M.S.: I think about what you’re saying. I want to stay sober. The truth is that I have fears that I might relapse. I think my sobriety is separated from non-sobriety by only a thin layer, a membrane. How strong this membrane is depends on how I think and how I live. Therefore, I'm willing to subordinate everything or renounce everything for this. My craving for money is not as great as the wish for sobriety. This is the priority. It is the Alpha and the Omega of my everyday life.
I always lived well, always was looked after, and from such a protective environment, always been carried around on a tray, I fell on my ass. If I can now see from the bottom up how things work, if I will be once more up there, I will value it very much and I will be able to stay there.
I feel very rich. I feel that being sober and being able to express myself, and seeing how good this is for other people, well, it's fantastic. This is enough for me because I'm only Sándor Mezei. I’m not a deity...
E.V.: Well, that’s exactly it, you’re Sándor Mezei.
M.S.: Yes, but I was looking for Sándor Mezei for 40 years. For me this is a huge gift. That I found myself. On the other hand it’s quite addictive, you know? As if I’m in the escalator comparison, since you’re saying that I’m too critical, that I'm torturing myself. The escalator goes down and I'm on it running upwards because down there where it goes is a darkness in which I cannot see the end. For me, at this operating speed of the escalator, I always have to run even faster to go upwards. Every day I must find the means, I have to find myself because if not my feelings stagnate, and I will relapse. Because I'm not “normal”. I’m a dependent person, and I have to learn to live with it. It’s not always good, but this is my path.
Since I was 18 years I always had a sexual partner. Whoever wore skirts, I bedded and slept with. Before marriage and during marriage, on the account of my very confused functioning. It’s been two years now since I don’t have anyone. Do you know how hard it is to live my manhood this way? Do you know that sometimes I'm willing to give up my sobriety? Were I to talk to the devil, I sometimes feel I’d say I'm willing to give anything for sex...
E.V.: Honey. [Laughs] Please don’t get offended if I laugh.
M.S.: I'm not offended that you laugh. I'll tell you what I struggle with: I have real daily problems. These problems may take over, and then I might relapse. If I relapse even with one drink I don’t think I'll be able to stand on feet again. The last time I could barely walk, or think. So then how can I solve my everyday problems if I reach only once for a glass and drink.
E.V.: Isn’t this boring? If you are a hotel manager... Your job was stressful. Couldn’t you adjust the workplace, so you could work in comfortable surroundings.
M.S.: Do you know how I entertain myself? What is my hobby? How I can turn a boring situation interesting.
E.V.: Alright, but this takes you only so far.
M.S.: I have this job with myself as Sándor.
E.V.: How long will you go on like this...
M.S.: As long as I feel that I should change. What was that about when I was a stable groom for seven months? What was that about when I worked in a landfill for 2 weeks? Now, it’s a challenge to work with the foundation. Not much good news from there either. They told me how many problems they have, how much work there is and how small the pay is. I feel motivated to test myself, what I can give in this situation.
E.V.: What will you be?
M.S.: I will coordinate the volunteer groups and the administrative work associated with volunteers. I’ll also be working in the fundraising office.
E.V.: You’re saying you speak foreign languages...
M.S.: Well, I'm not saying that I speak foreign languages, but I can communicate whatever I want.
E.V.: There something that annoys me about you.
M.S.: Yes. This is what my ex-wife says, “Sándor, there is always something about you that annoys me.” I’m joking. Are you saying that I do not live up to my abilities?
E.V.: At the moment.
M.S.: I think too only for the moment.
E.V.: My ex-boyfriend is what’s annoying me in you, about you. We talked that he comes to America, but then his youngest son became sick with schizophrenia. He gave up on the dream of living together in America. He had to stay here. He renounced life, this is very annoying. I could not have imagined that a man can self-destroy. Of course, he had an obligation to the child. He is only waiting for death now. Terrible to see this.
So, what I’m saying, sure, you lead an interesting life. Trying to make it interesting even when it is boring. Why don’t you want to live vibrantly?
M.S.: I tread gently because I don’t think it’s good for me to become successful quickly and have success bombarding me. I don’t feel safe enough yet. I think I sense what you're saying, that I could be a little more radiant. But that’s what I am now.
Do you know what is fantastic for me, what is success?
If the word boredom doesn’t show up in my diary.
If I take my children on the bus, and they suddenly open up and my daughter says how she likes Péter, but that she is only a little girl, and finally, that our friendship can survive. Or my little boy's hands clasping around my neck. For me it's like for another man enlisting in the French Foreign Legion, or telling friends over a beer that he slept with Cynthia. If I were a normal person and not an alcoholic, maybe I would have never lived so intensely. Do you understand? It seems to me that by slowing down my thrilling colorful life, the small experiences are grabbing me deeper and have the same intensity were I to be an active and bustling man. There is a doubt in me that you rightly so sense now, “Is this good how I live my sobriety? Is this road really good?”
E.V.: For sure it’s good. I’m just provoking you.
M.S.: I’m delighted that you provoke me because I see that I’m stuck in Romania, and am under-stimulated... I’m in an utterly poor environment…
E.V.: I have nothing against Romania...
M.S.: I'm saying that too that one who wants adventure, must come to Romania. I had so many chances in life to go to America, Sweden, Israel, go to Hungary, but it didn’t happen eventually.
I live now with what I have to deal with now.
E.V.: Yes, but there is more to life than this. Eventually you might own your own hotels.
M.S.: How may I address you?
E.V.: Ella.
M.S.: I am 42 years old. There is a 35-year-old couple, friends, I worked in their hotel. They were the owners of this five-star hotel at the age of 35. There is a small airport next to the hotel, mountains, lake abundant in fish. They also have 8 extremely well running companies, dozens of employees, and a cheese factory. Now they’ve divorced. There were unspoken tensions, ignored emotional problems. You understand... They have hotels, there is money. Theirs was such a success story because they started with cheap shoe smuggling from Bulgaria. But it’s more important to me how rich I am spiritually, because then I might better appreciate when I will make money. I'm not sure. My problem is I'm not sure if reality is how I see it and not rather how you see it.
E.V.: All I'm saying is that you can aim to change the conditions in the workplace. What you were going through, that stress level, was real. Too much work. Why can’t you decide how large should be that hotel? Who do you work with? What kind of people are they? The fact that they were successful financially, does not mean that it was a good enterprise.
All I want to say is that I want to live and be myself. I do not want to be afraid.
My ex-boyfriend was too scared to be himself. He renounced his life. You can be more. It's like squeezing a Mercedes engine into a shitty Trabant. It will not work.
M.S.: Neither the Mercedes, nor the Trabant have a soul.
E.V.: Okay. But you know what I mean.
M.S.: I understand, but what I’m saying is that my spiritual foundation is more important than my budget. Once this is done then I can build on it. If I think only about business, it’s not sure that I'm mentally strong, that I can keep the business going. That’s why I gave you the hotel example. A lovely couple, so rich, their two kids so beautiful, how much I envied them, that I had to work for them as a manager. I said, “I had to ask more money from them. I'm going to get more out of them!” I even lusted for the woman. I envied their happiness, that it was not mine...
But it is not this way anymore. All that has changed.

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, fight against alcoholism being one of them, I’d be ever so grateful.



  1. Interesant interviu, foarte tulburator. Parca exprima spleenul romanesc. Mi-a placut!:)

  2. multumesc. cind ma gindesc ca a stat in cumputer mai bine de un an, imi vine sa ma pun la colt pe graunte drept pedeapsa. ideea era ca le public pe toate in bloc.

  3. haha, stai linistita, esti iertata;)