On May 6th, 2012, I developed a nasty tooth abscess overnight and woke up in the morning with my face doing its best impression of a fucking beach ball. The boyfriend and I had gone out for dinner the night before with a few friends and I had done it up pretty hardcore. Having pre-gamed before leaving the house, the many carafes of wine at the Greek restaurant down the street did a number on me and instead of OPA!, I was screaming something more along the lines of SDLJKFHHGS. At this point in my drinking career, I had been heavily consuming alcohol since October 2008 which marked the end of my three years of previous sobriety.
As I began to come out of my stupor early Sunday morning, the pain was excruciating. I audibly began moaning and went to the bathroom and stared in horror at myself. Not only did I have one of the worst hangovers I have ever experienced, it felt as if someone were driving a knife into the side of my head. I knew something was terribly wrong but I returned to bed like I always did and rocked myself back and forth trying to will away the pain and suffering. My boyfriend feverishly searched the internet on his phone for directions regarding what we should do. The obvious answer was to go to the dentist but it was Sunday and there were none nearby that were open. The emergency dental places in the city said to either come all the way in OR go to an urgent care/emergency room so they could at least treat the infection. He tried desperately to get me to get up, get dressed, and go. I refused. For hours I lay there in agony because the hangover was so paralyzing that going anywhere at that moment seemed absolutely impossible. I was also terrified about what else the physicians might find out about me and what my boyfriend might be able to deduce from their examination and response to my condition. He was furious with me and after loitering around the gates of Hell for what seemed like eternity, I finally got up and put on clothes.
Somehow I made it to the urgent care and they proceeded to do a normal check up. The doctor and nurse made no effort to hide their terror and seemed borderline disgusted by me. The tooth, which I knew was going to eventually give me problems, was massively infected. My blood pressure was dangerously high. So high that when the nurse took the reading, she looked like she was on a really scary rollercoaster with the ghost of Whitney Houston. She took it FIVE times to confirm the reading and immediately got the doctor. They gave me medication and made me sit still for a long while until it came down. They asked if I drank. I told them not really. They gave me a look that said, “GIRL, PLEASE.” I’m certain I still smelled like shitty bar floor from the night before. They weren’t well equipped to do anything more than triage my situation and I left with a prescription for antibiotics, Percocet, and blood pressure medication. They told me to get in to see a dentist and primary care physician immediately. Which I didn’t do.
Once home, I took a few of the pain pills along with the antibiotics, did a lot of crying, and secretly vowed to get sober because I knew that all of my problems and my inability to take care of myself and my health were a direct result of my disease. Even then, I knew I was an alcoholic. I had spent enough time in recovery previously to not have any delusions about what was actually going on.
I coasted through the first week of “sobriety” high as a kite on pain killers and the infection subsided thanks to the antibiotics. I was so fucking proud of myself that I wasn’t drinking alcohol as I sat glassy eyed on the couch eating pudding and staring at my belly button while in a glorious opioid wonderland. And then the prescription ran out. Luckily, the alcohol withdrawals had already passed for the most part and I hadn’t been on the painkillers long enough to develop a dependency. But I suddenly found myself ACTUALLY dry and not at all happy about it.
Somehow I made it through two entire months without alcohol. I wasn’t doing any work whatsoever on the actual problem. I wasn’t blogging, I wasn’t going to meetings, and I wasn’t touching base with others to remain accountable. I thought I could solve every problem I had by simply keeping alcohol from going down my throat. Even though I had gone through the recovery process before and knew what “dry drunk” meant, I had entirely forgotten how sobriety actually worked. Relapse DOES erase a great deal of visceral knowledge. You can know something in your head but you do forget what that knowledge feels like in your body and in action. I thought I was doing amazingly. I was going to the gym, I was dropping some weight, my blood pressure readings were going down, and I didn’t feel hungover all of the time.
And then it was the morning of July 4th and I was sitting with my boyfriend in our living room feeling good and clear headed and I said, “Let’s make some drinks and celebrate!” He agreed. You’ve got to realize that he had no idea that I was an alcoholic or perhaps didn’t fully comprehend what that meant in the first place. I’m sure he knew my drinking was weird sometimes but I don’t think he had the insight to know that something needed to change. He just thought that I had some health issues and I was being responsible and cutting back.
We made margaritas, watched movies, ate badly, and smoked cigarettes on the front stoop. I distinctly remember sitting there thinking to myself THIS DOESN’T FEEL GOOD. THIS DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT. THIS ISN’T MAKING ME HAPPY RIGHT NOW. I’M GOING TO DIE SOON. I’M GOING TO DIE.
Completely terrified that it was back inside of me, I proceeded to drink even more. That terror turned back into apathy. And I stayed drunk for almost another TWO YEARS before celebrating my TRUE independence day of April 14th, 2014.
I don’t consider this instance a relapse. My relapse started in 2008 when THE SIX YEAR HANGOVER began. This was a blip. This was textbook example of getting dry, not getting sober. I stopped drinking out of an immediate and pressing fear for my health but I never stopped with the intent of stopping forever. My fucked up logic assured me that I would just lay off until my health improved and then I would start back up drinking NORMALLY rather than alcoholically. Over the past 80 days, I look back at those two months without alcohol and desperately wish those months could have been these 80 days and that I would be two years sober now. But our stories have a way of writing themselves sometimes. Not even direct evidence that I could stroke out or have a heart attack at the age of THIRTY was enough to get me back in the program for good. And that’s terrifying to me. Terrifying enough to hold you all close and keep going.
This Friday, I plan on celebrating myself and my escape and independence from a monster like none other. And I hope you’ll do the same.