Maybe you feel like this doing recovery? I know I do.
Maybe you feel like this doing recovery? I know I do.
Let me get this straight. You want me to wake up at 5AM without a hangover, pack up a rental car with suitcases responsibly packed a day or more in advance, then drive 3 hours through the beautiful terrain of the Hudson Valley until I reach a cozy bed and breakfast in a house built in the 1870’s? Fine. I can do all that.
I suppose you also want me to stroll lightheartedly through the quaint vacation town, browsing antiques and old bookstores for hours on end, and I also suppose you’d like me to do all of that without spending a moment plotting, scheming, or obsessing over how I can convince the boyfriend that 10AM isn’t at all too early for a celebratory glass of something.
You’d like me to luxuriate luxuriously on cafe terraces while sipping espresso and eating a delicious, flaky pastry filled with tangy, tart lemon curd, chewing slowly, not wanting the mouth orgasm to end, watching the peaceful wanderers wander by in pursuit of the same contented Sunday afternoon.
And finally, you’d like me to end the day with a delectable meal at a lovely restaurant, all without having chugged a tallboy before leaving the house. You’d like me to decline the wine list, only order stupid food, and leave completely satisfied with what was one of the best meals I’ve ever had? Then you’d like me to cuddle up with the boys, watch movies, and drift off to sleep by 10PM, waking up by 6AM the next morning fully rested and hangover free, ready to start another day of peace and tranquility without the constant chaotic chase of that next sip, that next dip into a dive for a whisky/beer combo to propel me forward miserably.
You want me to have a sober vacation, but more importantly, you want me to LIKE IT?
That’s exactly what I did over Memorial Day Weekend.
It was marvelous.
I took this very same trip in the fall of 2013. It was a disgusting mess. I packed the very morning we left because I was too drunk the night before to get anything productive done. I drove with a pounding headache, not feeling normal until we made it to our destination and were able to grab lunch (a beer with a side of sandwich). I stumbled through the day, counting down the hours until dinner would arrive and heavier drinking could begin. Fuck antiques. Fuck strolling. Fuck serenity. Me want vodka. ME WANT DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.
In 2013, we made stops at liquor stores all weekend long, him sitting in the car while I ran in to buy large bottles of things for us both to drink, as well as mini-bottles he didn’t know about that were just for me. The minis would be stashed in my suitcase so I could stealthily sneak away, downing a few here and there, hoping to keep the levels in the “public” alcohol bottles located in the kitchen from dropping down too quickly, thus concealing the true quantities I was actually consuming. Side note: These empty minis would be found one year later in the same suitcase as I packed for another trip. I would sneak them out of the house to the trash, the shame flooding back as fresh as ever.
That trip in 2013 was total misery. I was in a constant state of sloppy, painful drunkenness peppered with extended periods of sloppy, painful hangover. The drunks and the hangovers blended seamlessly with one another until I was never able to tell if I was okay or not okay. Nothing was enjoyable.
When we returned home that year I felt as if I had been through hell. I needed another vacation to recover. And drink more.
I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT EVER AGAIN.
I can live. I can stare at the sky and smile. I can savor time, tastes, smells. I can become consciously aware of sun on my face, of the antiquity and inevitable history built into old objects that I hold in my hand. I can feel the goosebumps running down my spine as my boyfriend grabs my fingers and squeezes while we wander down cobblestone streets, stopping for extended moments to admire the architecture and manicured gardens.
Before I got sober, and even for some time after I put down the drink, this all seemed impossible. During early sobriety I could hardly comprehend watching a movie on Friday night without a cocktail. I’m supposed to SIT? Stare? Watch? That’s IT? You must be out of your goddamned mind.
But I made myself sit there and watch the movie. It sucked. It still sucked the next time I did it, too, but less so. The only way anything started to make sense again was by LIVING. Experiencing. Trying. Being uncomfortable without grabbing for my medicine. When they tell you not to give up before the miracle happens, that actually MEANS something. Actively choosing to endure the discomfort when every cell in your body is screaming for a drink? That makes you stronger. That is lifting weights with your sobriety muscles. It hurts. You’ll be sore the next day. But you’ll never get stronger without it.
If you’re struggling, just know that with some time and effort, you too can be the most boring person in the Hudson Valley. You’ll love it.
I wake each morning at exactly 6:20AM. My boyfriend immediately rolls out of bed at the sound of our shared alarm, and I pretend to still be fast asleep. He leaves to shower while I lounge luxuriously in our California King, ignoring the fact that my bladder is absolutely going to burst at any moment, filling me with pee. I endure the pain, doing my best starfish impression until he returns.
Anywhere between 6:40AM and 6:40AM, he re-enters the bedroom with soaking wet hair, the twenty minutes seeming to have vanished almost instantly, because time is speeding up, moving exponentially faster with each passing day. It’s true. I promise. Water seems to boil faster now, even when I watch the pot with all of my eyes, including the third. I find myself grasping at days, weeks, and months as they disappear without a trace. Twenty minutes gone. Poof. Time to shower. I snatch my phone and grunt, then I say FUCK, or SHIT, or BITCH, or a combination of those words as I stumble to the bathroom. I’m exhausted, but at least I’m not hungover anymore. Fuck that shit. Fuck that shit, indeed.
I have developed a morning ritual of brushing my teeth while standing in the shower. I like how freeing it feels to allow the toothpaste to bubble and spill from my mouth without fear of it dripping onto my shirt. I like being able to verbally fight with my imaginary boss about things that haven’t happened yet. I foam at the mouth, spitting all over the walls as I tell him off. I wave the toothbrush for emphasis, sometimes wondering what I would do if I actually got into a fight with him and I didn’t have the toothbrush with me. Once I’ve won the argument (and I always do), I either put the toothbrush down in the soap holder thingy, or I re-purpose it as a microphone so that I can properly sing pop songs to Miss Loofah and her friend Neutrogena.
Nighttime teeth brushing is a little more normal. I stand in front of the shoulder height window and look out at the night sky. I often get lost in thought as I stare out at the twinkling lights of The Freedom Tower. It’s miles away in lower Manhattan and visible from this vantage point only during the winter months when the trees have lost their leaves, the view entirely unobstructed. There is some sort of cheesy analogy that goes here: something about my own freedom and the soaring height of the tower itself, blah blah blah, dog fart.
If I turn my neck a little to the right and lean forward ever so slightly, the light of an undressed window glows on an adjacent wall. The window belongs to a kitchen, and the light is almost always on, even in the middle of the night. It’s close enough to allow me to reach out and high five the person who lives there if they decided to stick their arm out. Most nights I see no one, though. The stove is covered with cooking vessels, each in its own varied state of filth. The counter next to the stove houses liquor and wine bottles of all types, mostly the cheap stuff. Many are missing their lids and corks. More than a few are entirely empty.
I once saw a mouse scurry across the mess, sending me into a downward spiral of rodent paranoia that only subsided when I learned that the apartment next door was in an entirely different building, separated from ours by a thick concrete wall. Besides, I’ve never seen droppings in our house, so I’m sure that we’re fine. Still, a coffee bean on the kitchen floor is enough to give me an ISTHATMOUSEPOOP heart attack.
I always look in that window. Every night. I can’t help myself.
The man that lives there must be in his mid-forties. While I’m always hesitant to label any other person as an alcoholic, girlfriend is almost certainly an alcoholic. Totally. And if he’s not, he is the most alcoholic version of a nonalcoholic that I have ever seen in my entire life.
He often leaves for work around the same time that I do. A quick glance and I can see the misery in his eyes as he hoists his overly worn JanSport backup up and over his baggy flannel shirt. He is on his way to a local bookstore in Manhattan where he works as a cashier. I know because I shop there. In fact, he has processed my transaction on two different occasions, and neither time did he recognize me as his neighbor despite the fact that we’ve lived next door to one another for years. He handed me my receipt and told me to have a good day.
I’ve seen him coming home from work, too. I ride in the back car of the train because it’s often easier to find an empty seat. I also believe strongly that in the event of a train accident, the further back, the better. He is almost always nursing a can of hard lemonade, or a beer poured into a Big Gulp cup wrapped with a brown paper napkin. He speaks loudly to strangers, befriending tourists who seem to regret initiating conversation after a few minutes of his rambling bravado. He seems like he wants a friend, but I’m certain his world has continued to shrink in size as mine has slowly started to expand.
Him and I were secret drinking buddies back in the day. We’d stay up late at night knowing the pain we’d feel in the morning. I’d hear him being rowdy on the other side of the wall, and I knew that I wasn’t entirely alone in the destruction I was causing. During my worst years, before getting sober nearly one year ago, we often left home at the same time with deadly hangovers. As fucked up as it sounds, I took slight comfort in seeing that someone else was also suffering. While I didn’t take pleasure in his disease, I did feel ever so slightly less alone in the concealment of my own slow suicide. I wasn’t the only one going down.
I’d see him again on the way home. He’d openly sip his beverage of choice while I sat a few feet away craving mine. At least I don’t do THAT. I’d compare myself to him, and even though I would be at a liquor store just moments after exiting the subway platform, I wasn’t as bad as he was because I somehow managed to wait until I got home. I would never drink on public transportation. Wait. Except for that one time when I drank a beer on the train, but THAT WAS DIFFERENT. I didn’t HAVE to do that. I just thought it would be fun. It’s not the same thing AT ALL.
He blares classic rock music from his living room on weekends. I don’t notice it as much now that I’m sober, but I would roll my eyes and complain to my roommates back when I was actively drinking. He would hoot and holler, saying bad shit about Obama and Miley Cyrus, obviously drunk at noon, and I would bolster my denial by congratulating myself that I hadn’t sunk so low as to be plastered during the day like him. Poor guy. He can’t even wait until 5PM to shakily pour himself a civilized drink like I did, and by civilized I mean a half glass of chugged warm vodka. I would NEVER drink during the day, though. Wait. Except for that one time when I felt sick and thought it would help. And then the next weekend when I did it again. This was different, though, and as long as I didn’t become the type to blare music with my windows open, him and I were nothing alike.
I know now that we are exactly alike, at least in our illness. The only thing that separates us now is my recovery. I’m getting better as he continues on helplessly. He is now a continuous reminder of where I was, and where we were, together, as strangers.
Now that I’m in recovery, I attend twelve step meetings in the neighborhood on occasion. While I don’t go as often as I should, I always scan the room for my neighbor. He’s never there. I see him later in the day stumbling down the street, or I hear him making carelessly loud noise next door as he continues to be held captive by this fucking monster.
I’ve always been one to personify my disease. I often think of it as a physical and conscious being that lives inside of my brain, now securely locked in a boarded up closet. I have to be vigilant and check the nails securing the boards daily. I have to make sure that he isn’t able to get back out. To see this very same monster roaming free in the life of my neighbor, separate from me, but still familiar and present, is absolutely terrifying. How unfair that I made it out alive, and he continues to suffer.
Where is the justice in this disease? It doesn’t seem to exist, and because I cannot help him get better, I can only absorb the terror I see in his pained face, allowing the empathy I feel for a stranger to be emotionally synthesized into courage, strength, and hope for my own continued path of well being.
I’ll continue to scan for his face at the meetings, and I’ll try hard to stop violating his privacy by glancing into his opened kitchen window, but if I can’t resist and I continue to sneak looks into his obviously difficult life, I hope that one day the kitchen counter might be empty of the used up bottles. I hope one day he wants this.
Nine months sober and 6cm dilated. Feel like I’m giving birth to my life again. It’s pretty good, and I’ll name her Cathy.
So much has changed in such a relatively short period of time. It has been 3/4 of an entire year since this whole journey began. When I think of the time that has elapsed, it somehow seems to have passed by insanely fast and terribly slow all at the same time. The days and months begin to fly by at a warp speed while the emotional progress seems to crawl along imperceptibly, like thick sap down a tree. We always seem to measure our progress by marking days, months, years, but the work that we do doesn’t seem to comfortably fit into the container of man made units of time. As life begins to resume its normal breakneck speed, I continue to feel as if I’m hobbling along while everything and everyone passes me by.
A simple question pushed to the forward of my mind after hearing it several times on The Bubble Hour: Is this true?
Is it true that I’m being left behind by my peers and that I can’t have a successful career because I’m taking it easy right now? No. The success and accomplishments of others do not deplete some imaginary success pool that will somehow dry up and become empty by the time I’m ready to swim in it. Success doesn’t work that way. The world will not suddenly run out of opportunity for artists to present their work. No. It is not true. Continue taking it easy.
I’ve had to slow down quite a bit over the past six months. I’ve had to explicitly state and enforce boundaries for myself and for others. I’ve had to pull back creatively, socially, and return to a simpler state. I felt as if things were falling around me, and while never once did I come anywhere close to drinking, I knew that something just wasn’t quite right.
Things are better now. If we’re using these man made units of time to describe and mark our progress, I’d say that I feel six months sober now rather than the nine that it actually is. What I mean is that at around six months, when my friend passed away and everything went to shit, I mentally and emotionally feel as if I reverted back to an earlier place, like the floor fell out from under me and I slid all the way back, like I was in some fucked up emotional live action game of Chutes and Ladders.
I am grateful for these nine months. I am grateful for the practice I have had in managing and coping with difficult things. And I’m grateful that I managed to keep alcohol from jumping down my throat.
I think the most surprising of all of the changes is the fact that I just don’t think that much about alcohol or sobriety anymore. At times, that is quite a relief. It seemed that toward the beginning I was constantly thinking about not drinking. I’d be walking down the street and just think, “I’m walking down the street. I don’t drink anymore,” or I’d be falling asleep and think, “Going to sleep without having drank tonight. I don’t drink anymore.” It was CONSTANT. But now there are entire days that go by where I barely consider it.
I recognize that this relief from the obsession of alcoholism and recovery can also be a curse. There is a very fine line between accidental apathy and the prolonged blindness that takes hold leading up to a relapse. Remember, I’ve lived it. So I’m working on inserting myself back into the fold in various ways to keep myself plugged in, connected, and aware of my disease. It takes a concerted effort to make recovery a part of your life, and I definitely could do a better job at it.
Still, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write about recovery or my experience. It isn’t for lack of trying. I’ve sat staring at a blank WordPress page many times over the past month wondering what it is I had to say. The truth is, I’m living a somewhat calm and basic life these days. I’m reading voraciously. I’m spending time with my dog and boyfriend. I’m going to work and attempting to pay down debt. I’m just BEING without alcohol and without very many thoughts about alcohol or recovery.
But I think I could stand to have a few more thoughts about my recovery than I currently do. For these reasons, I’m going to get some meetings in. At the very least, my Sunday morning. But perhaps more. I also think I’m ready to start meeting with someone regularly to begin unpacking stuff more deeply. So fortunate for comprehensive insurance that will help me with that.
Overall, I’m GOOD. I feel fine. But I know I can feel even better and I’m ready to work on that.
Getting into some heavy shit lately, you guys.
I’m trying real hard not to give up my daydream while being slammed at my day job. I’m presenting one of my plays at the end of October and have gone into full production and marketing mode. Also, there are changes needing to be done to the script. I was also accepted into a writing group and will have biweekly deadlines which require me to bring work to the group to be read and receive feedback on. I ALSO have a big itch for a new show that I absolutely must start working on soon while the ideas are fresh in my mind and before I talk myself out of writing it.
I wake up every morning excited (usually) about what’s on the horizon. My artistic mind is emerging from a six year coma and it is hungry to be used. I have to keep notes constantly because ideas and images and characters keep flooding my head and won’t go away. I can’t just LISTEN to music anymore. Every song I turn on ends up generating more ideas. I’m extremely PUMPED and grateful that my vodka soaked brain is GONE GONE GONE for good.
This is all good news, right? RIGHT?
Well, yes. As it stands now, certainly. Very good news indeed. It means I’m waking up and finding joy in what I once did. Nothing wrong with that. But there is a very fine and almost undetectable line that I’m hyper-paranoid about and I have to make sure that I do not cross it under any circumstance.
About a week ago, my company put out a press release about the upcoming production and I got a fair amount of blurb level press from various sources who published small pieces about the show on their websites. That’s good for me, good for the company, and good for the show. You can’t make theatre without an audience and press is how you get an audience.
I couldn’t help but notice some old feelings resurfacing: Elation, pride, euphoria, excitement. None of these feelings are inherently bad things. There is nothing direclty wrong with being proud of the work you do and happy and excited that people are noticing it. My problem is not the experiences of those feelings. Rather, I struggle desperately with how I purpose those feelings; what I do with them and how I use them in unhealthy ways.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears recapping for those who perhaps missed the older posts. A major flaw in my last extended period of sobriety (2005-2008) was that I WAS NOT IN RECOVERY. I did an outpatient program, started feeling good, and dived head first into making art. I became so consumed with writing, rehearsals, giving interviews, and running a company. That was my recovery and it wasn’t recovery at all. I had huge, gaping, empty holes in my spirit and my entire being was wrecked and ravaged by a disease that had almost killed me in the fall of 2004. I was only 23 years old at the time and I can’t quite remember my rationale for not pursuing a program of recovery that would begin to repair my extraordinary injuries. Maybe I thought the outpatient program fixed it all? Who knows.
I started down a very dangerous path of seeking validation outside of myself. People would come to my shows. The press would cover my shows. More and more people became aware of the work I was doing. And each and every time I felt one of those emotions as a result of my artistic pursuits, I stuffed them into the bloody, rotting empty spaces that I never bothered to fill or correct by doing the crucial work that recovery requires. My success told me that I was OKAY when I was anything but. I never learned how to love myself. I never bothered to identify why I had these holes, what was missing that was causing them, and what I needed to do to fill them back up in a healthy way. Instead, I just kept working hard. I kept getting noticed. I kept getting praised. I kept feeding my ego with every article, review, email of congratulations, and grant received. I kept stuffing square pegs into round spaces and expected them to not only fit but to stay in place and make me whole for the rest of my life.
It worked for a while. For three years I walked around conveying a level of self-confidence that was exhausting. When there was a lull in my work or I was in between shows, I could feel those square pegs slowly starting to ooze out of the round holes. I’d push them haphazardly back in. I’d duct tape them into place by sitting down and churning out countless pages of a new script. I’d make plans for a workshop with actors just to feel busy even when artistic impetus for new work wasn’t there. The work that I loved to do had slowly become a drug and had replaced the substance that nearly took it all away. My art was no longer an accentuation of my being. It was all that I was. And because the artist underneath the surface was so irreparably damaged, the work never reached its full potential. Put simply, I was a fraud.
When my relationship of eight years collapsed, each and every wrong shaped peg came exploding out of every matchless hole at the same time. I went into overdrive and tried working even harder hoping I might be able to stuff them all back in, but now the holes were getting even bigger because of the trauma of losing love and stability. No amount of artistic work was going to be enough. After three years of sobriety (dryness) I found myself at a pub after rehearsal one night with a glass of hard cider. I had no conscious thought of drinking before I walked over there and sat down. It wasn’t premeditated. I just walked over and started drinking. It was horrifying.
I drank. And drank. And drank. For six more years.
You can understand my trepidation as I try to form a new and healthy relationship with my work. I’m still getting those feelings of elation and pride and excitement. It still is a high to have a play received well or noticed, but I’m doing more than rolling around carelessly in those emotions. I’m in RECOVERY this time. I’m speaking to other addicts. I’m writing these posts for myself and for others to try to connect to. I’m learning something new about myself every single day. I’m facing my biggest fears and unpacking the damage to see what really has happened and what really needs to be done to fix it. I’m placing my hand carefully over the round hole and dismissing the square peg because even though it’s there, it’s entirely wrong for this specific problem and will never fit the way it should.
Seeking validation from any person, place, or thing is NOT going to fill me up and heal me once and for all.
Working diligently on getting to know myself will.
If everything I know was to fall away and leave me alone tomorrow, what would happen? If my art, my job, my love, and my shelter were suddenly taken away, would I survive? Would I stay sober? I can’t answer that question, but I know I stand a much better chance of weathering a storm with this healthy foundation.
This time is different.
Here’s how it went down:
Nah. It might feel like it now but I’ll breathe and things will settle.
I remember bad mornings before I was an active alcoholic. They were annoying and stressful, but they didn’t carry the same doomsday/burn the shit to the ground/everything is fucked tone that they now have now that I’m through the thick of it and back in recovery. It’s amazing to me that my brain dives so deeply into complete despair and panic when something bad or stressful happens. I know everyone has shitty days and that it’s just part of life, but I realize and acknowledge that the level of anxiety and the severity of my mood shift when these instances occur is just not “normal”. Or maybe the feelings are totally normal but they just feel so abnormal and extra-terrifying because I’m not used to feeling them? I know there is a major disconnect between what I feel and what I’m supposed to be feeling because I run these things by my boyfriend and he’ll tell me if it sounds like irrational overreaction or a normal response. I’ll tell him what happened and tell him exactly what is going on inside of me and ask him if my reaction is normal or if it’s a recovering alcoholic reaction. Because sometimes I can’t tell what is REAL and what is a symptom of my continued recovery. Is this anxiety normal-human-being-I’m-alive anxiety, or is it girl-you-still-trippin’-and-got-the-PAWS anxiety? I don’t know sometimes. And that REAL or NOT REAL thing totally fucks with me. I don’t take boyfriend’s feedback as gospel, but it does help to hear from someone who is a bit more grounded.
And what about the bad days when I was still drinking? TOTALLY different kind of terror. The series of events above would have completely shattered me. I’m not exaggerating when I say that while I was at my worst, the thought of having to handle a situation like this would have paralyzed me completely. Bank card fraud would have elicited the same reaction in me that would have occurred if an ax murder started trying to break down the front door of my house. I would get the same fight or flight response and it felt like my body and mind were preparing for death. I would have still handled it back then, but I would have been shaking. I would have been scared to talk to the person on the phone. My voice would be quivering. I would feel completely destroyed and ready to self-destruct. And then I would drink. Maybe not right away. I would hold the feelings down as best as I possibly could until it was feasible to just get drunk and not think about them anymore. And then the whole situation with the bank would have become much less threatening and I would think, “What was the big deal?? See? Everything is okay now.” Until the next morning would come and something even more shitty would happen. Alcohol is tricky like that.
Going on five months and I feel exponentially better and more healthy than I did before, but I still struggle with real life situations that offer challenges or complications. I have to very deliberately stop myself when the panic sets in and ask the question: IS THIS REAL or IS THIS MY HEAD NOT QUITE SYNCHING WITH REALITY YET?
Missing a friend’s birthday party tonight and feeling pretty shitty about it. It starts at 9:30PM and is being held at a bar and she’s booked a DJ. The old me (stupid drunk asshole) would have jumped at the opportunity to go. I would have pre-gamed before so I felt socially prepared to mingle and would then arrive and very quickly pour an entire bottle of vodka down my throat. I would have danced even though I would have looked ridiculous. I would have talked to strangers and hatched elaborate plans with them to become the best of friends. FIND ME ON FACEBOOK! I’d talk about collaborating on art projects with people and completely not mean it or forget about it the next morning. And the worst part about it? I’d be at the friend’s birthday part for all the wrong reasons. I’d be there because I wanted to be drunk. That would be my priority. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have cared about or loved the friend, but alcohol was always and forever number one.
Toward the beginning of my recovery I was declining all invitations to do anything remotely social for a few different reasons. First, I was afraid that I would drink. Being around friends who are very merrily imbibing is a recipe for disaster in the beginning. I would also decline the invites because the social anxiety that I would feel without alcohol in my system was just too much for me to handle at the time.
This particular invitation decline has troubled me a little bit. I said no like I typically do, almost automatically and without thought. But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to question whether or not I’m falling into a pattern of unnecessary isolation.
I can tell you without any doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would NOT drink if I were to go to the party tonight. It just wouldn’t happen. First, everyone knows that I’m a drunk in recovery. I told them all. And I did that specifically for accountability and because I’m no longer ashamed of it. Second, I would be with my boyfriend who absolutely would NOT allow me to consume alcohol. He’d probably body slam me and pull my hair and scream a lot.
So why am I still refusing to attend functions if I am so certain that I would not drink? Anxiety. I don’t want to deal with that awkward and uncomfortable feeling that bubbles up when it’s time to converse with other people about who I am and what I do. I know that if I absolutely had to, I could. I wouldn’t die. I might say ridiculous things. I might be caught off guard and not listen appropriately. One time someone asked me how my job was going and I said, “YES.” I might make a complete ass out of myself and sweat and feel totally out of place… but I wouldn’t drink.
In very early sobriety, I dealt with so many uncomfortable emotions and feelings that it was perfectly acceptable to stay miles away from any kind of social function. Even if it were going to be an alcohol free event, it makes perfect sense for an addict in early recovery to avoid those feelings of imagined inadequacy and anxiety. The need to protect your headspace from any kind of unnecessary trauma and stress is just as important as avoiding booze.
But when is it time to venture out? When am I ready to bite the bullet and accept the fact that I might feel shy or awkward but it’s my friend’s birthday and I should be there? When am I crossing the line from a valid practice of self-preservation in sobriety to an unhealthy and potentially harmful practice of fear avoidance and self-imposed isolation? Put simply, when am I ready to force myself into situations where the only fear is OMG I MIGHT FEEL WEIRD.
Don’t get me wrong. If I had any inkling of a concern about my ability to remain sober in a social setting, I wouldn’t be the least bit conflicted. But as I mentioned, today I am secure in my very strong belief that I have the tools to stay clean and that a relapse would take much more than me walking into a bar to drop off a gift, eat some cake, and say a few hellos. But how many months, years, am I going to keep myself locked up?
I think my biggest concern is that by excessively avoiding uncomfortable situations, I might end up in a dysfunctional pattern where the very tools I’m using to protect my sobriety end up stunting me even further in terms of relationship development and social skills. Maybe I need to feel the awkwardness a few times before it becomes less awkward?
There are some specific types of situations where I’m able to manage fairly well. Business meetings, for example. Last night I met with a few friends about an upcoming production of mine. The purpose of the meet up was to talk shop and start making plans for the formation of a band that is going to play in the show. If you insert purpose and intent into a meeting, somehow my brain switches gears and I’m no longer overly concerned about what I’m saying or how the meeting is going to play out. We were also seated at dinner which also seems to calm my nerves a bit. There is an activity happening. We are collectively consuming something (food) and the pressures to perform socially aren’t as urgent.
What it boils down to, I think, is that I’m still extremely insecure and in the process of relearning how to just BE. And I think the only way to really start to work out these sober muscles is to get out there into situations that perhaps I’m not entirely comfortable with. Still, the questions remain: When am I ready to do that? How do I know if I’m unnecessarily isolating? Am I protecting my sobriety or am I protecting my fear of pain and discomfort?
The conclusion is that I’m not going tonight because I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m getting to the point where I really need to grow up, be a big boy, and go sing happy fucking birthday.
I love lists. To-do lists are my favorite. I’ve been known to make to-do lists that basically list other kinds of lists I need to make. For example MAKE GROCERY LIST, MAKE LIST OF BOOKS YOU WANT TO READ, etc. And when I’m making to-do lists, I’ll often write down a list item that I’ve already recently completed and then cross it off just so it makes it on the list and there is evidence that I finished the item. It might seem pointless, but having that initial checked off task motivates me to keep going. I’ll do something and think SHIT. THAT WASN’T ON MY TO-DO LIST and then add it to the to-do list and scribble it out. Whatever makes us feel OKAY, right?
I recently read a post in The Booze Free Brigade that suggested making a list of the things I wouldn’t be able to do if I were to start drinking alcoholically again. And by “drinking alcoholically” I just mean “drinking” because there is no other way I am able to drink.
So. If I were to start drinking again…
What about you? What would you not be able to do if you started drinking again??? Hmm??
I’m back from Cape Cod. I am EXHAUSTED. So I’m going to post but I refuse to take responsibility for typos and grammar shit so if misuse of commas makes you crazy, it’s probably best of you close your browser now and call Michelle, your therapist. Tell her I say HEY.
I think back to all of the various trips I’ve taken in the past and I can’t come up with one memory of me returning home feeling rested and renewed. There is so much stress that comes along with traveling and I have a really hard time letting go of it. Stupid stuff like WHAT IF THE CAR RENTAL PLACE DOESN’T LET ME HAVE A CAR AND TELLS ME TO GO FUCK MYSELF?! or WHAT IF THE TSA FINDS TONS OF GUNS AND HEROIN IN MY CARRY ON BAG WHEN I GO THROUGH SECURITY!?!?!
It probably doesn’t help that I tend to not be able to sleep the night before leaving for a trip so I start off exhausted and then that exhaustion breeds more exhaustion and each day gets progressively more and more exhausting until I’m delusional and listening to Garth Brooks on the way to Provincetown, waxing poetically about the glory days of 90’s country music. That happened. And I loved it.
So. We woke up Saturday morning EXHAUSTED from packing shit into a suitcase the night before. Then we paid a car service to come and pick us up to drive us to the place where we would pay for another car to drive from New York City to Cape Cod. Once behind the wheel of a vehicle after taking public transportation for so long, you really begin to wish you had your own car again. For those that don’t live in a large metropolitan area where owning a car makes absolutely no sense, you basically end up existing in a bubble and take trains and busses only to places that are within close proximity to your house. It’s a blissful dream for an alcoholic because you don’t have to worry about DUI’s or getting behind the wheel of a car. You can get anywhere and everywhere with a Metrocard. Suddenly having the freedom to fly down the road and stop where you want is absolutely INCREDIBLE. You suddenly want to go EVERYWHERE. You see a TJ Maxx off the highway and say something stupid like OMG TJ MAXX! I NEED UNDERWEAR AND SLIGHTLY IMPERFECT PANTYHOSE and then veer off at the next exit grinning from ear to ear.
Traffic was horrible. It took us 8 hours when it should have only taken 4. My little puppy dog got car sick and started yakking all over the place but then calmed down about halfway there. We got to the house earlier than our friends and waited for them to arrive. Once they did, we spent some time visiting and unpacking and settling in before leaving for dinner.
On the way to the restaurant, boyfriend told me that while I was in the bedroom getting situated, one of the friends had asked him about drinking again and wanted to make sure that I was comfortable if they were to have a glass of wine at dinner, etc. The drinking thing was already addressed weeks before the trip happened so I was a bit surprised that it was brought up again. Always having my back, the boyfriend assured me that he wasn’t trying to cause drama but thought it was important that I know that there was apparently still some apprehension on their part about what I was and wasn’t comfortable with. So as soon as we sat down at the table, I immediately brought it up with the intent of getting it out of the way as soon as possible so it didn’t become a thing. I told them that they are free to do as they please and that I’m totally fine. Dinner proceeded as planned and nothing was awkward about it. Nobody drank but I didn’t really expect them to since they had their two young children with them and were driving. I figured they would kick back with a cocktail later that night once we all got back to the rental house.
We went miniature golfing after dinner. The six year old girl was a major cheater! I tease. But seriously. She was such a cheater. After golfing, it was off to eat hot fudge sundaes. Then back to the house for the night. I braced myself and was prepared to have my seltzer water while they got buzzed at home. I was confident that I’d be able to hold my own and enjoy my friends regardless of what they were doing in terms of beverages. I was totally ready. And then something funny happened: No one drank.
In fact, no one drank the entire time we were there. The rest of the trip marched on by. We took the dog to the beach. We went to Provincetown and did some shopping. We ate out several times. And we hung out at the house together. But somehow, no one swung by the liquor store. No one cracked open a beer. No one had ANYTHING. And it sort of pissed me off. I’m not going to lie. It made me self-conscious. It made me feel like there was some sort of spotlight on me and my sobriety. And it made me feel guilty and worried that I was causing other people to hold back and not enjoy their time the way they wanted to.
I don’t know if any of that is true. It probably isn’t. The other couple was staying on for five more days once we left so maybe they figured there was plenty of time for drinks. When I look at the schedules we kept, drinking didn’t really seem to fit in anyway. We were out and about a lot with the children and the dog. We got home late and everyone seemed ready for bed at fairly early hours. It would be very easy for me to just chalk it all up to the fact that they are just normies. They don’t need it or think about it or obsess over it. But I couldn’t help but think to myself that if it were me on vacation and I wasn’t an alcoholic, I would be drinking CONSTANTLY. But that’s the problem. And it’s not one that they seem to have.
I think for my own edification and to help me understand this a little better, I’d love to be able to ask them at some point down the road exactly what they were thinking, if anything, while we were there. I have no idea how my openness about my recovery impacts other people. I suppose time will tell and we shall see if similar invites come up.
They were absolutely wonderful, though. They didn’t seem the least bit put off or annoyed. And I’d really like to think that it just was a complete non-issue. But there is a small part of me that worries that I was being patronized at the expense of their own enjoyment and that there were stifled feelings of resentment that maybe I couldn’t sense. Then again, isn’t that just being thoughtful and considerate of your friends and their needs? Maybe that’s what they were doing?
I think the best thing to do at this point is to just accept the trip for what it was: A good time with good friends that left me exhausted. There is no need for me to strain myself trying to get inside the heads of others because even if I could, I have no control or power over their feelings or thoughts.
The trip also made me realize how important structure and schedule and routine are to me at this point in my recovery. My head does weird things when there is that much free time. I absolutely have no regrets but it was much more emotionally and mentally draining than I thought it was going to be and I think I’ll wait a while longer before I take another.
Lastly, I want to mention this restaurant I went to called Not Your Average Joes. They had a ZERO PROOF drink menu that was a collection of specialty, fancy non-alcoholic mocktails. It was so fucking awesome to have options other than Diet Coke, iced tea, and water. Look!
“I really want to do something in radio, I think. Like I want to be Howard Stern or something fucking cool like that,” he said.
The kid couldn’t have been more than 17 years old, 18 max. I had no idea who he was and I don’t think I even bothered asking his name. It was probably on the CVS name tag attached to his uniform: khaki cargo pants and a navy blue polo. He was driving me in his extremely dirty vehicle to a Walgreens about ten minutes away so I could buy a box of nicotine gum and I was starting to feel a little weird about being in the car with a stranger who probably just recently got his license.
My phone rang and I answered.
“What’s taking so long?” my boyfriend asked.
“CVS keeps their nicotine gum behind the pharmacy counter and the pharmacy was closed so I’m going to Walgreens. It’s like right around the corner,” I said.
“He said he’s going to Walgreens?” the boyfriend said with a tinge of concern, relaying the information to our friend Samantha.
Samantha had invited us to her house in New Jersey for drinks and dinner on the very same weekend that I quite impulsively decided to quit smoking. After several cocktails (5? 6?), I had chewed my last piece of gum and was suddenly losing my mind and craving a smoke. I excused myself to take a two minute walk to the shopping center around the corner to buy some more Nicorette which both Samantha and my boyfriend were completely agreeable to. They even gave me the task of also stopping to pick up a bottle of tartar sauce for the soon to be ready fried fish.
“Samantha says Walgreens is one town over. Like 15 minutes away by car! How the fuck are you getting there? It’s too far to walk!” the boyfriend shrieked.
“It’s actually only like 10 minutes. We’re almost there,” I coolly replied.
“We?? Who is we?!”
“Me and the kid from CVS. He said he would drive me to Walgreens to get nicotine gum,” I said as I listened to them discuss my escapade in very worried whispers. I was entirely dumbfounded as to why they found this to be so troubling.
“Is everything okay?” the kid from CVS asked, one hand on the steering wheel and the other picking a zit or something.
“Yes. Sorry. Hey. Tell Samantha I’ll be back soon! We’re pulling in now. Just fucking relax,” I said.
“Hurry up,” he said, “And the tartar sauce.” CLICK.
What happened inside of CVS leading up to this little joy ride is somewhat blurry. I remember walking around the pharmacy area looking for the nicotine gum and not being able to find it. I remember a store clerk telling me that the pharmacy was closed and that it was behind the counter and locked away. I remember getting loud and telling them that quitting smoking is no joke and that they might be responsible for people lighting up a cigarette again and do they really want that on their conscience? Do they?! I remember the store clerk getting on the phone and unsuccessfully trying to get ahold of the pharmacy manager who had the key. And finally, I remember the store clerk asking another store clerk (the kid) to take his lunch break early and drive me to Walgreens.
Let me pause here to point out a few things about this story that simply astound me.
First of all, why the FUCK was I so concerned with not smoking a cigarette? I was a drunk asshole! Taking the smoke away wouldn’t change that. Why did I not simply buy a pack of cigarettes and try to stop again once I was able to regain access to nicotine gum? I had consumed the equivalent of half a bottle of liquid poison and had been drinking nonstop for 3 years straight without ever making such a bold and outlandish attempt to stop. But in this instance, I absolutely WAS NOT going to smoke. I didn’t care what it took. I could be a raging drunk alcoholic (and I was), but a fucking cigarette smoker? NO GODDAMNED WAY. NOT ANYMORE.
Second, I’m certain I smelled like Mayberry’s Otis Campbell, and instead of Andy Griffith coming to arrest me and put me in that fake jail cell, these clowns were offering to get into a car with me and do me a favor?! What on earth were they thinking?? I really feel like going back to that CVS and finding those store clerks and telling them just how reckless and dangerous they behaved by allowing an obviously drunk stranger to get in the car with them. I mean, I’m not a mean drunk and I know I would never intentionally cause anyone any harm, but I’m also a big brother with two younger siblings, and I would absolutely smack the shit out of them if they ever did anything as dangerous as this kid from CVS.
Lastly, I have a lot of shame about the whole thing. I feel horribly guilty that I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to decline the offer and not put this kid in a situation that I’m certain his parents wouldn’t approve of. I feel like I need to apologize to him, to his mom and dad.
“Are you drunk?” he asked as we pulled into the parking lot of Walgreens.
“Not really. I had a few drinks with friends,” I replied.
“I got drunk last night. It was pretty cool,” he said in that “bro” kind of way.
I should have told him to be careful or he’d end up like me. But I didn’t. I bought my nicotine gum, he drove us back to CVS, I gave him $10 for gas and his time, he went back to work, and I started walking back to Samantha’s house chewing and feeling better now that I had my fix. I was ready for another drink.
At the time, my life seemed to be irreparably out of control. Everything was broken. I couldn’t go one day without alcohol. I was compulsively destroying myself at a very rapid rate. But somehow my mind had decided that if I could just control this one thing, it meant that all hope was not lost. It meant that maybe there was a chance for me to one day get myself sober again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but quitting smoking in the midst of my active alcoholism was my way of screaming out to myself. I was leaning over and looking down at myself sitting helplessly at the bottom of my dark, alcoholic well.
You can do hard shit, John. You can stop drinking. You can.
Somehow I did manage to stop smoking even though I kept drinking. And it took another three years before I would be not only smoke free, but alcohol free. It took three long, hard, miserable years once that tiny seed was planted before I found the willingness and strength to try getting rid of alcohol next. But there is no gum to chew for this monster of an addiction, is there?
I got back to Samantha’s and walked inside. They looked equally concerned and relieved that I was back.
“Dinner’s ready,” she said. “You forgot the tartar sauce, didn’t you?”