HOLIDAY SHOPPING

The goddamned holidays are back, you guys, and I’m actually pretty excited this time around. I’m going to be hopping on a plane with my puppy dog to fly across the country to my home state of Arizona where the people are absolutely fucking bonkers and the government hates gay people and Hispanics. I’m a little bit of both, so returning to the place from which I fled is always a bittersweet event. Fortunately, gay marriage was just legalized in The Grand Canyon State so progress is being made. Politics aside, I am very much looking forward to the week-long trip during which I will be able to spend some quality time with my fam-fam.

At this very time last year, I was in a state of anticipatory dread over the impending return home. I would monitor the calendar daily and attempt to pick the most appropriate day to stop drinking in order to dry out just enough to be able to carry on a conversation without looking and sounding like a freak. My family and friends were all under the assumption that I was still sober after having started my first go at recovery in 2005. For me, a return to Phoenix didn’t mean resolving to make every effort to moderate. It meant complete abstinence. It was not a situation in which I could drink without blowing my cover. I would be dependent on my family for transportation and housing. Even if I weren’t, they surely would be able to identify the telltale signs that I was using again. So, for years I boarded the plane hungover (the attempts to sober up a bit before leaving never worked) and flew the six hours to the dry, dry booze-free desert. I would white knuckle it the entire time and long for the moment when mom would return me to the airport for my flight back to New York where I would immediately stop for a vodka soda once clearing security.

Last Christmas was different. I was unable to remain sober during that visit despite all of the possible negative consequences that could befall me. It was a very real and scary manifestation of how my drinking had progressed over the course of six years. It began when I arrived at JFK before my departure. Already hungover, I stopped for beers. The thought crossed my mind that my mother might be able to smell it on me when she picked me up in Phoenix, but I dismissed those concerns quickly once the warm buzz began to set in. And then the deafening obsession began to howl.

I purposefully neglected to purchase Christmas presents prior to leaving New York with the idea that I would be able to sneak away and do some “shopping” at nighttime when mom was in for the evening. After some minor questioning about why I didn’t come prepared, the keys were handed over and I went about my merry way. The most inconvenient thing about the whole plan was that I actually had to go fucking Christmas shopping. I hastily moved through big box stores giving little thought or consideration to the items I was choosing for those that I supposedly cared for the most in life. Gift cards. Socks. Scented candle. Tampons. Ho, ho, ho.

I threw the bags filled with manipulative deceit and tinsel into the trunk of the SUV, drove to the nearest grocery store, and walked toward the liquor and wine section. I avoided the liquor store and opted for a grocery so I could quickly run to produce section and pretend to be examining an avocado if I happened to see someone I knew. Liquor stores have no avocados to hide behind.

I decided against hard alcohol because the smell was too easily identifiable. I knew mom had poured herself a glass of wine earlier in the evening (just one). WINE. I hate wine but… She won’t be able to smell it if she’s been drinking it herself. I’m a fucking genius! Wine it was. But the bottles are so big. And loud. I’ll need more than one and they will surely clank against one another in my bags of very sad presents. Wait. What’s this?! Wine inside of small cardboard boxes?! With twist-off tops?! Easily collapsible containers that I can smash down and hide the empties in my suitcase in my bedroom?! PERFECT. I’ll take ten.

I brought the bag of wine cartons to the vehicle and put them on the passenger seat next me.

WHAT AM I DOING?

I got back out and went to the trunk, retrieving one of the depressing bags of obligatory gifts. I put it in the front seat along with the wine cartons. I took the wine cartons out, one by one, and shoved them in with the gifts so I could easily sneak them into the house. I drove home with my hand resting atop my brilliant plan which sat next to me whispering sweet nothings into my ear. DRINK ME. I’M WINE. I’M CUTE! I would get home, walk in the door, announce that I had presents to wrap, and disappear to do so. And drink. Then I’d slink from the bedroom and into the bathroom thinking I was finished imbibing for the night, and I would brush my teeth. I’d then return to the room and decide that I wasn’t done. I’d drink another box of wine. Then back to the bathroom to re-brush. And back and forth several times.

But before I would do all of the above, I pulled the SUV over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. I was about 30 feet from the house, 30 feet from being able to easily start my evening of isolation as planned. But it wasn’t soon enough. I wasn’t close enough. Without any thought process preceding the action, I reached into the bag, pulled out a box of wine, twisted the top. CHUG. CHUG. CHUG. Ahhhhhh. I put the empty back into the bag. I pulled out another, twisted the top. CHUG. CHUG. CHUG. Ahhhhh. Ok. Now I’m ready to go inside and start drinking.

I started the engine and drove the remaining 30 feet to the curb in front of the house. As I unloaded my gifts, a cop car drove by very slowly apparently on patrol. He waved. I waved back. He drove away.

I did my wine thing that night, felt like shit the next morning, and spent the rest of the trip filled with resentment and anger. I resented the fact that I couldn’t repeat the process the following night. I resented the fact that my mother would have a glass of wine here and there even though she asked if it would bother me and I said no. I was angry that I couldn’t be a big fat fucking alcoholic and let it all hang out. As a result, I wasn’t present. I missed the one opportunity I have each year to connect with my loved ones. I missed the entire thing.

With 8 months of sobriety under my belt, this year will be different. It has to be.

Looking forward to loving, feeling, embracing, and soaking up every little bit of joy that I possibly can.

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9 comments

  1. Oh my dear man. How could you write this poignant blog? Right as I am preparing to go home next week? I have been going through the same gyrations – I won’t bore you with the sordid details of my own twisted journey towards sobriety, but suffice it to say I’m not there just yet. But I saw myself in your words. I have been having the same conversations in my mind with my drinking. When? Where? How much? Will they notice? Does it matter? I feel very sad and very small all of a sudden. Thank you for being real. Thank you for sharing your true story.

  2. Oh my gosh! Reading this brought back some painful recovery memories, but that is exactly what I needed to stay on this sober journey…love, love love

  3. The holidays are a difficult time. I am glad to read that this year feels better for you! It makes me hopeful that things will feel better in time! The holidays have brought up all sorts of triggers for me. I hope they go by quickly!

  4. You put into words “the deafening obsession” in such a moving way. Thank you for sharing your private experiences and your gift of writing with all of us. I am 14 months alcohol free for this holiday and I am excited with how much less anxiety I feel, and how much less of the obsession you describe, leaving room to actually enjoy/be strong during this season!

  5. Great to hear from you John! Miss your posts bunches. Have a wonderful holiday visit with fam. I am looking forward to the holidays for the first time in a long time as well. No hungover Christmas Day for me this year. I’m excited to be present in the festivities for the first time in a long time.

    Loads of love and wishes for safe travels! Take care of yourself.

  6. My first sober Christmas. In my life. Had my first Christmas drink at 5 years of age, Johnny walker. Anyway, went to my first family Christmas thing, and the first thing my sister inlaw says is “oh, you’re not drinking? Go on, have a whiff of mine!” Isn’t that precious? How do you say “no thanks, but I can punch you in the face, how about that, eh?”

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