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.
I haven’t been going to in person meetings lately. I hesitate to put this post down on paper. Not because I feel badly or guilty about not going to meetings but because I worry that it will be perceived as advocating against AA or any other group assembly for recovery. That’s not it AT ALL. I know how crucial meetings are for so many people with this disease. And I’m not at all discounting them or insinuating that perhaps I don’t belong in them because I’m some special kind of magical addict that isn’t like YOU. No, no, no no.
I’ve wanted meetings to be crucial to me, too. I love the idea of being in a room with other people like me and feeling connected to them. But try as I may, I just can’t seem to get there. I just don’t feel that connection like I do with the wonderful people I’ve met and chat with online. And if we are going to be together in person and stand in solidarity together off of the computer, I want it to be in a normal situation like sitting in my living room sipping coffee, eating cookies, and talking about sobriety while occasionally yelling at the television which maybe plays in the background on very low volume. Or I want to meet a group of you at a diner and share a plate of fries and laugh hysterically and get SHUSHED for being too loud by Rhoda, the bitchy but charming waitress that has a giant mole on her cheek and a serious 2 pack a day smoking habit. Or maybe we can make a pitcher of something refreshing and non-alcoholic and go to the park with our dogs and lay in the grass and talk about how amazing it is to be sober and free. Finally.
I want to incorporate recovery in my NORMAL LIFE. And I find there to be something very inauthentic about having to congregate in a makeshift room to take in information and stories in an organized and scheduled format. Inauthentic isn’t the right word. Scratch that. I just have a hard time reconciling the clinical nature of the whole thing with my spirit. Going to meetings feels like training for a marathon on a treadmill in a non-descript gym rather than running around outside in the gorgeous open air. I’m sure it progressively works, but I long for a way that is more alive and beautiful and kinetic and engaging. I’m not sure I can listen to HOW IT WORKS read inaudibly and robotically one more time. I’m not sure any of the people around me want to hear it read one more time, either, because it seems that no one is listening but instead are anxiously awaiting their own opportunity to speak. I know the structure is partially in place to help new people but if you really want to help new people, make sure they can hear what you are reading off of the laminated index card. And maybe inject a little positive enthusiasm into your voice so they don’t assume that you are carrying out some god awful chore and would rather be doing something else.
I’ve been told that I just haven’t found the right meetings or the right people. I’ve been told that those things that I want and those connections with people that continue to live and breathe outside of meetings are FOUND in meetings. I can totally see that. You go to some meetings, meet some nice people, and BAM. We’re eating fries at the diner and Rhoda is being an asshole and telling us to shut the fuck up. Heaven. So I kept going to meetings as suggested but felt like I was being somewhat deceitful. I didn’t really WANT to be at the meeting. I wanted to meet cool sober people so we could then go have our OWN meetings with GOOD coffee and BEAUTIFUL ART on the walls instead of crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary crying blood or some shit.
During the first month of recovery, I heard a lot about the people who seemed to resist meetings. Am I one of those unreachable souls? They thought they were different. They thought they didn’t need it. But for me, it isn’t that. I do need what recovery programs offer. It isn’t what is in the cup that bothers me. It’s the cup itself. The cup is, like, plastic. And a weird olive green color. And it has a messed up lip on it so when you take a drink, you dribble down your shirt. And it smells like no one ever washes it. I WANT A CRYSTAL WATER GOBLET THAT SPARKLES IN THE SUN AND TEMPORARILY BLINDS OLD LADIES WHEN I TAKE A SIP FROM IT. Institutionalized anything has always created in me a feeling of being stifled or unable to be who I am. I sort of wonder if the same thing is going on here.
I have also had a very hard time finding my safe place in recovery meetings. I noticed early on that women were slipping away into their own female only meetings and then men were doing the same. I tried an all men’s meeting and felt very uncomfortable. Sure, we were all together with our shared issue BUT as a gay man, it’s very hard for me to feel connected, understood, and embraced in a room of mostly heterosexual men. Minorities will understand. Women will understand.
I suppose the next step is to try out some of these LGBT meetings which I haven’t done yet. Maybe that will be the thing that makes this all start to click. Because I do want it to click. I do want a place to go and connect and grow and share. But I’m not sure that the right people in the right room will be enough to overcome my distaste for the structure and oftentimes robotic container that the message comes in.
I’ll keep trying, though. Because while my ego is still a little bit out of control, over three months of sobriety has at least brought me to a place where I am willing to accept the fact that maybe I could be totally wrong about the whole thing. NOT LIKELY. But maybe….
Woke up this morning feeling lovely. The sun was shining after a disgusting and rainy day the prior morning. And though it was dark and dreary yesterday, I still managed to have an upbeat day. I still said FUCK and SHIT a lot on the way to work as I got splashed by rain water from cars driving by, but it didn’t dictate my overall mood. And today the rain is GONE! And it’s FRIDAY. I can’t believe I look forward to Friday now. Some Fridays I have plans. But the empty Fridays are the ones I look forward to the most now. I look forward to swinging by the grocery store after work without any idea what I want. I walk around filling my cart with various non-alcoholic beverages, fresh fruit, chocolate or ice cream if I want to be bad (and I always want to be bad). I’ll swing by the drugstore and maybe grab a new kind of lip balm or a box of tea I’ve never had before or both. Maybe I’ll pick up a magazine if anything looks good and possibly a movie from Redbox though I typically rent from On Demand. I might grab the dog a new toy or a special kind of dinner to see how excited he gets when filet mignon is on the menu instead of kibble. Essentially, I fill my night up with options. Then I go home, get in my pajamas, order dinner, and sit safely in my bubble filled with all of the awesome things I like. I remember the first Friday sober. It was awful. The second and third Friday weren’t so hot either. A general feeling of uneasiness, anxiety, not knowing what to do or how to relax. And then that all lifted.
Got ready for work and opened my front door. This is a photo taken directly from my front stoop:
Those are the catering trucks for the filming an episode of the CBS show Unforgettable starring Poppy Montgomery which is shooting DIRECTLY in front of our home. I saw an episode of Unforgettable a while ago but I forgot. (GROAN) There are two responses that a person might have when their life becomes invaded for an entire day by union stagehands. You might become angry and annoyed and throw eggs and underwear. OR. You might get really excited. I got excited. I’m a writer, specifically for theatre, but would love the opportunity to write on a comedy series someday. So to me, these kinds of things make me giddy. And as I walked from my front door to the train and passed all of the trucks, dressing rooms, and chain smoking production assistants, I experienced quite a few and some very fucking bizarre emotional responses and thoughts.
First, I noticed that the signs said they’d be filming until approximately 10PM tonight so they’d be around when I got off work. Out of nowhere and obviously without any active participation of my own, the following thought flashed through my mind for a split second:
OH COOL! SO WHEN YOU GET HOME, YOU CAN HAVE A FEW COCKTAILS AND THEN MAKE A DRINK IN A PLASTIC CUP AND WALK AROUND THE SET AND TALK TO PEPOPLE AND SEE IF YOU CAN NETWORK AND MEET PEOPLE!
Okay. WHAT THE FUCK? Tell me how my head goes from seeing a film shoot to planning a night of drinking in 2 seconds? They are not at all related. My wires are severely crossed. I have no desire to drink. But the mere excitement of something happening out of the ordinary immediately caused my mind to seek accentuation. Excitement begets the need to be even more excited. Because excited on its own is never enough. I laughed out loud and also felt my face do this weird contorting thing and I’m sure my expression was equal parts amusement and OH MY GOD, REALLY? It passed. And none of those things are going to happen tonight, obvsies.
The next thing that I felt was a brief and disturbing pang in my soul. It was one of regret, shame, and the feeling that my life has already passed me by. I KNOW THAT’S NOT TRUE. But the sight of seeing mass amounts of people living their dreams really got to me. I live in an amazing city of opportunity and I’ve wasted six years of my life doing practically NOTHING. And all of my peers have passed me by. And it will never be mine. None of that will ever be mine. Nauseated, I stopped myself and thought something along these lines but I’m paraphrasing because all of these flashes of emotions and thoughts happened VERY fast:
YOU ARE 32 YEARS OLD. YOU ARE TALENTED. YOU ARE NOT ON ANYONE ELSE’S CLOCK. THERE IS NO RULE BOOK THAT SAYS YOU MUST HAVE ACCOMPLISHED X, Y, Z BY A CERTAIN AGE. YOU ARE GETTING STRONGER BY THE HOUR. BY THE DAY. IF YOU STAY SOBER, ALL OF YOUR WILDEST DREAMS CAN COME TRUE.
And then immediately following that, I saw…. THEM.
There is this gay couple that moved into a corner house about a block from mine. They purchased their home. I rent mine. They have an immaculately landscaped yard that people stop and stare at. Mine is disgusting and mostly cement. They seem to be wealthy or at least well off enough to never have to leave their home for work. I sometimes have a hard time paying my bills and put in 50+ hours a week at the office. I’m not proud to admit this, but I have spent almost 2 years in my disease walking past their house scowling in disgust at their seemingly perfect life. I’d roll my eyes every time I’d see them in their yard working on things WHICH IS EVERY SINGLE DAY. I mean, isn’t it DONE BY NOW? One time I saw one of them on their hands and knees trimming grass with a pair of FUCKING SCISSORS. Like. Blade by blade. Everything about them made me sick to my stomach.
I realized that the interior of their home is being used as a location for the film shoot. Which means they got paid a shit ton of money to let the show use their house. And the familiar feeling of disdain and, yeah, jealousy, came washing over me once again.
Ever since getting sober, my attitude has changed a bit. I still find them obsessively overbearing about the look of their property and wonder why they sometimes sit in their window watching people walk by. I think it’s because they want to see others admiring their work. But I’ve gotten a lot better about it. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t care anymore. But I care a lot less. And that’s progress. But seeing the attention they were getting put me back momentarily where I had been. For two years I stumbled past their home from the liquor store with my bottle of vodka shooting dirty looks in their direction. How awful of a person had I become? No. NO. I didn’t become an awful person. I was a good person displaying symptoms of a terrible disease. I still have a lot of shame about how affected I was by this happily married couple. And here it was again in full force.
Why did I care so much? Why do I still care a little? It’s a few things. First, I think I’m embarrassed/ashamed/regretful that I didn’t keep my shit together. Their life was a reminder of where I could have been if I didn’t derail. And AGAIN, I must tell myself that I’m not living on anyone else’s clock. My journey is my journey. Second, I think it is a product of me not practicing gratitude for the things I do have. I’m working on that now and am part of a lovely gratitude group online. There are days where it feels stupid to make a list of the things I’m thankful for but when I do it consistently, I find myself amazed at the awesomeness around me and don’t covet or desire the riches of others quite as much. I mean, I still want a nice house, a nice yard, money to ease financial worries, and a job doing what I love BUT I don’t want YOUR house, yard, money, or job. And I don’t have to be mad at you for having it. And I don’t have to be mad at myself for not having it YET.
As I walked by their house, one of the men looked up at me and smiled. I think I was in mid-anger/disgust. But in a split second, I forced a smile and waved. And that action soothed my soul. And as I walked past them, that anger and disgust faded. And I was left with a clear mind to process why I felt the way I did and what it all meant and that those two men were a lovely couple who worked hard and are proud of what they have together. I mean, they are still fucking asshole freaks. Who trims grass with scissors?!? But they might be nice asshole freaks. Who knows? I’ve never bothered to find out.
And here I am at work drained but hopeful. A very intense two minute walk, a glimpse into the dark places that still exist, and a replenishment of strength and hope that MAYBE if I keep at this, I’ll be in a writer’s room someday preparing a script for one of those shoots.
Happy Hump Day, everyone. Hump it out. And as I always say, be careful not to pull your back out.
So last night boyfriend went out with a friend. She invited him to see a movie and I completely expected them to swing by a wine bar for a glass or two afterwards. I had the normal psycho thoughts like HE’S MAKING PLANS LIKE THIS BECAUSE HE HATES THAT I’M SOBER NOW AND THINKS I’M BORING AND HE JUST WANTS TO DRINK! or HE’S GOING TO FALL IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE ELSE WHILE DRUNK AND REALIZE WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO HIM IS BEING WITH SOMEONE THAT KNOWS HOW TO DRINK MARGARITAS WITHOUT THROWING UP ON OTHER PEOPLE’S HAIR! or IF HE REALLY LOVED ME HE WOULD CHANGE EVERYTHING FOR ME AND NEVER EVER EVER TOUCH ALCOHOL AGAIN BECAUSE EVERYONE NEEDS TO START BEHAVING LIKE AMISH PEOPLE SO I FEEL SAFE AND COMFORTABLE!
The truth is, this is only the SECOND situation in almost two months where he had a drink. And neither of those two times were in front of me or in our home. And not only was he respectful about it, he didn’t even come home wasted! What kind of person only drinks two times in two months AND doesn’t make it a point to completely obliterate themselves?!? If it were me, my mission would be clear. If I’m only drinking twice in two months, I’m going to get disgusting. I’d most likely wake up with my mouth tasting like chicken taco and cupcake and I’d realize that I had something really weird pierced like my knuckle. But not him. He just had two glasses of wine which I’m sure when poured together would not even come close to the fishbowl I would have poured for myself. And even though he did nothing wrong, I turned off the bedroom lights at 10:30PM when he still wasn’t home yet and proceeded to go to sleep even though I wasn’t tired that way when he got home he’d have to deal with darkness and me not interacting with him. WTF? I guess I thought THAT WILL SHOW HIM FOR DRINKING WINE WITHOUT ME!
And that’s really what it was about. It was about me being pissed the fuck off that I can’t do that. That he can and I can’t. And what’s even more ridiculous is that I DON’T WANT TO. But I’m mad that I don’t have the option to. And as I lay there in the dark, I realized WAIT. I DO HAVE THE OPTION TO. It will totally kill me and put me in the ground. But the option is there. This is about me. I need to stay in my own yard. As long as he isn’t doing anything to directly compromise my sobriety and is being supportive, I have to start focusing on myself. He eventually came home and climbed into bed. I didn’t say a word. I am so fucking stubborn. It’s gross. But I’m working on it. I woke up this morning and for a moment I had decided to still be mad. But as he left the bedroom to use the restroom, I yelled STOP IT to myself. When he got back, I put my arms around him and asked him how the movie was. I chose reality. I changed the tape in my head. I turned the wheel and headed in a different direction. And it was great.
Last night also got me thinking about accountability. My boyfriend obviously knows that I have a serious drinking problem and that I’m a recovering alcoholic. But for nearly six years, he didn’t know that. Because I didn’t tell him. Sure, he may have thought it was weird that I sometimes went to sleep on the bathroom floor. He may have occasionally tilted his head in confusion when he’d find puke in the sink that I didn’t clean up because I didn’t even know I had puked. Okay. He knew. He knew I had a problem. But until he said something or I said something, I was accountable to no one. SOOO MANY TIMES I tried to moderate or stop drinking completely in private without him knowing. And during the week it was fine. But then Friday would come around and he would say something like, “Let’s go get a drink. This week was crazy!” And if I were to have said, “No. I don’t want to,” then he would have asked why. And I would have had to tell him. And the game would be over. And I wouldn’t ever be able to drink in front of him again.
If I were still hiding this disease, last night would have been different. I would have used his drinking as an excuse to do my own. I’d have stopped after work and picked up some stuff. I would have proceeded to get wasted. And I would have gone to bed and pretended to be asleep exactly like I did last night but for totally different reasons. I wouldn’t want him to be able to tell how drunk I was. Even though he would have been buzzed from his 1-2 glasses of wine, it would be nothing compared to the wreck I was.
But all of that is gone. All of the shadows are illuminated. The scariest thing was making the decision that enough was enough. Going to him and telling him meant I could NEVER drink in front of him again. And the need to protect my ability to continue living in my addiction kept me silent for six years. Even though I wanted sobriety and health, it didn’t matter. What if I decided I didn’t want sobriety in a few months? 6 months? A year? How would I ever tell him, “Honey. I was wrong. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m fine. Let’s go for dirty martinis.” Even though I was sure this disease was killing me and I wanted out, I chose the OPTION of being able to drink over peace. And any attempt at moderation or abstinence was completely futile without the accountability I have now.
Now, he would be FURIOUS with me if I drank. And this isn’t to say that I’m not drinking because of him. But none of this became real until I made it real. God bless any of you that were able to get sober in secret. Even if you eventually told your spouses or lovers, I am in awe that you could put together more than a week or two in private. The longest I went without the boyfriend being in on my secret was about two months. Yes. I had two months of DRYNESS during my six year relapse. It wasn’t sobriety. It was May 1 – July 4th 2012. Boyfriend thought I was just trying to be healthy and lose weight. He did it with me. Then Independence Day hit and I said, “Okay. That was good. Now let’s go make drinks.” And we did. Because HE DIDN’T KNOW. If I tried that shit now, OH HELL NO. He’d throw a TV at my head.
So what was I really saying by trying to get sober in secret? FOR ME, I was saying, “I don’t want to drink anymore. And I’m not going to. But I might want to and I need to protect myself from that person in case I do want to pick up again.”
There are so many people that I need to become accountable to. Not because I HAVE to. But because I want to. There are friends I haven’t told and I know for a fact that they will be FINE with it. So what’s holding me back? The thought that if I fuck this all up and start drinking again, ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE WILL KNOW AND SEE ME DOING SOMETHING HORRIBLE TO MYSELF. The difficulty I have making myself transparent is my disease doing the talking. It’s my disease trying to crawl into dark corners I have yet to expose. It is hoping it can hide away in crevices and holes and maybe I won’t notice.
I’ve determined that the only chance I have at living this life in the long term is to thoroughly and forcefully shine light into every single hiding place. That handful of friends over there that doesn’t really know my boyfriend or other friends? They need to know I’m an alcoholic. Because if they don’t, they are the people I will run to when I’m ready to relapse. Everyone needs to know. In the same way that everyone knows you need oxygen to keep from dying, everyone needs to know that I need sobriety. Because if they don’t know, they will watch me pour liquor down my throat until they are standing at my grave wondering what the fuck happened.
I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I’m not sure when I will go completely public. It could be a few months from now. Or maybe a year. But until I do, I’m choosing a life that is just to risky for my own good.
I’m a double agent. Hm. No. Let’s be real here. It’s more like a triple agent. The fucked up web of lies, deceit, and isolation caused by my disease has turned my life and the people in it into the equivalent of a giant fisherman’s tackle box. Or like one of those plastic containers that keeps your pills separate from one another. There are people from my past that don’t know people in my present. And purposefully so. There ARE people from my past that DO know people from my present and keeping their interactions to a minimum has always been very exhausting. You see, there are things that people from the past know; things that people in the present do not know. And vice versa. It has been a constant struggle keeping people in their compartments and only opening the lids to their sections when necessary. There are other people that I sectioned off where the lid has been kept closed for years. The relationship may be dead for all I know. Friends that have faded into memories. Friends that probably wondered what happened to us or why I disappeared. Maybe some of them can deduce why. Maybe some of them don’t care why.
While I know I’m not really ready, I am very aware of the mess I’m going to have to eventually clean up. And a fucking Swiffer ain’t going to cut it.
My descent into wild and wonderful world of alcoholism started in 2002-ish at the age of 20 when I was just a precious and cute little arrogant asshole. The disease progressed rapidly reaching physical dependency and medical crisis in 2004. Without getting into the details of my hospitalization itself (that is its own post), let’s just say I nearly died at a very very young age (22). My sickness was blatantly public and everyone in my family knew what had happened. I got sober, developed a new circle of friends, artistically explored my sobriety in a very public way, etc. I was an advocate for recovery and no one hesitated talking to me about my own experiences or their own concerns with their own questionable behavior.
Then in 2008, I very casually and without much fanfare, relapsed. Here’s a post about that. My relapse coincided with the end of a relationship and a professional opportunity which required relocation. This is when my life began to fracture and compartmentalize socially and the various sections where I kept certain people began being born. It has gotten quite complex so to break it all down, here is a guide to various social vestibules in my people pill keeper container of a life:
I’m trying to take it easy on myself. I need to work through these things at my own pace and keep reminding myself that this is not a race. There is time and right now I need to heal physically and deal with the immediate fallout and trauma. But it’s so very hard when you’re on the phone with your mother and you almost blurt out, “I’m 45 days sober today, mom!!!” before catching yourself and thinking, OH SHIT NO I’M NINE YEARS SOBER. NINE YEARS. It’s very hard to be watching a medical show with your boyfriend where they mention pancreatitis and you have to pretend like you don’t know what that is even though it almost killed you. It’s agonizing to have to FUCKING PRETEND that recovery is a new thing to me and that I’m learning concepts for the first time. How incredibly stupid does that sound?? When talking to my boyfriend, I actually think about how I’m phrasing things so I don’t give away the fact that I’ve been through this before and that I already know the drill. I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far. I feel good about it. So good in fact that I almost tell friends things like, “No PAWS symptoms all week, Linda! HIGH FIVE, SUGARMAMA!” Then I bite my tongue. Linda doesn’t even know about me and my problem yet. Also, I don’t actually have a friend named Linda so everyone stop picturing Linda in your head. It’s a waste of time.
I had some people tell me a few weeks back that I should just tell everyone and anyone. People talking to me like I don’t know what it means to be proud of my sobriety. People talking to me like I’ve never walked this walk or assume that I know nothing about advocacy even though I’ve done this all before. And I just have to be okay with that and not let it bother me. Ego shedding underway. They don’t mean anything bad by it and they don’t know me. They’re just trying to help. But just between us girls, know that I DO know what it’s like to proudly scream about my sobriety from the rooftops. I’ve done it. I’ve had that. And if you’ve never experienced it, just know that it feels fucking amazing. And I want it back. I’m going to get it back.
Last night I faced my first social situation that included people other than my BF. He had written a play over the course of a ten week class which culminated with a presentation for invited guests featuring single scenes from each student’s play. It was an event that I assumed would be low stress and one that I should have little to no problem handling. He invited some of our friends to attend as well and the plan was to grab a bite to eat afterwards. Easy peasy, right? Not. A. Big. Deal. The people he asked to come are people I already know fairly well and there should be no reason for being apprehensive about seeing them. But if you’re anything like me, it obviously cannot be quite that simple. As the day of the event approached, I became increasingly paranoid.
I did everything I could while sitting at work to minimize my irrational fears. But while Anderson Cooper (my logical brain) kept trying to talk me down, the ticker tape of insanity kept scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It read: ….OMG OMG YOU HAVE TO GO TALK TO PEOPLE…. OMG OMG THAT COULD MAKE YOU DIE MAYBE…. OMG OMG NO YOU WON’T DIE BUT YOU MIGHT GET EMBARASSED BECAUSE YOU COULD SOUND DUMB…. OMG OMG WHAT IF THEY ALL DRINK.. OMG.. SHIT.. OBAMA APPROVAL RATING AT 62 PERCENT.. OMG HUH? WAIT, WHAT?…OMG MAYBE I SHOULDN’T GO… OMG KIRSTIE ALLEY REGAINS ALL 60 POUNDS SHE LOST AND UNREST IN THE MIDDLE EAST…… and so on and so forth.
I told myself to shut up. Then I asked myself, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?”
And then I answered myself, “You really want to know the answer to that?”
“No, not really, “ I replied to I.
“Too late,” me said. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You are going to walk to the theatre space and on the way you are going to encounter horrible things like rain and crowds of people also walking to places. You’re going to get all sweaty and disgusting because it’s so humid outside and your hair will start to curl and look absolutely disastrous. You’re going to look at yourself in the reflection in the elevator doors as you ascend the 15 stories to doomsday and you are going to attempt without success to make yourself look presentable. When you walk in the room, everyone is going to look at you and scream obscenities because you look so terrible. Out of courtesy, they are going to ask you questions about how your day was and what was going on with you. Because you’re still mentally foggy and often get tongue tied, you are going to reply to them by saying something terribly embarrassing like, ‘I don’t know what my life so I stupid alcoholic hahaha I stupid dumb man shit fuck sorry I like gorilla so do you have banana? and need to pee BYE!’ Then you are going to run out of the room as they throw their shoes at you which is a really big insult in some countries. You are going to cry in the bathroom, splash water on your face, and sneak back into the room as people give you death looks and wonder who invited the incompetent addict. Then more small talk after the reading where you might say, ‘These is good plays, huh!’ while everyone rolls their eyes. Then you’ll go to the restaurant where everyone will order sake or draft beer or chocolate martinis while you sip Thai Iced Tea in the corner of the booth and slump down in your seat hoping no one asks you any other questions or notices you are there. And as they all get more and more drunk, they will completely forget about you. You’ll excuse yourself to the bathroom but no one will notice or care. When you get back, they will all be gone having moved on to another location without bothering to tell you. You’ll make the commute home wondering where your boyfriend disappeared to. That’s what your night is going to be like if you stay sober. ENJOY!”
Some takeaways here:
I had worked myself into such a tizzy that I honestly considered not going. My BF has been amazingly understanding and although he might not like it, he would let me out of this if I really needed to avoid the situation. But I made the decision to proceed as planned because if I never allowed myself to feel uncomfortable, how would I ever get comfortable? You get sore from lifting weights but get stronger. You run further and for longer periods of times when training for a marathon even though it hurts and is uncomfortable but your endurance improves. You do strange impossible things that feel foreign with your fingers when first learning the piano but eventually muscle memory takes control and it’s a breeze.
I HAVE TO GO THROUGH THINGS. Not around. Not over. Not under. THROUGH.
I got to the reading, small talk was had, I didn’t sound like a caveman, people seemed happy to see me, and the discomfort and apprehension slowly faded. At the restaurant, everyone other than me and BF had something alcoholic to drink. I had Thai Iced Tea. People sipped their sake slowly like total assholes. CHUG THAT SHIT I thought. But it’s their sake and they can do what they want. Someone asked me why no cocktail and I said, “Because the Thai Iced Tea here is amazing!” This satisfied them. The guy next to me finished his sake and then ordered a beer. ATTA BOY I thought. IT’S ABOUT TIME. I made note of these thought processes and reminded myself that this is why I can’t drink. The conversation was easy and enjoyable. No one got trashed. No one suggested more alcohol or another stop. And after some hugs and promises to connect again soon, we were on our way home.
“Let’s pretend I had some drinks tonight,” I told the BF. “What would have happened is this: I would have had my few drinks but would want more. I wouldn’t have listened to what anyone was saying because I would have been so consumed with getting something else. And right now as we sit here on the train, I’d be obsessively checking the time because we’d have to stop at the liquor store. Or 7-11 if it was closed. And I’d go home and have that extra drink or two or three. But I didn’t have those drinks and this night was awesome. I feel so free. I can do anything and not think about THAT.”
He seemed proud if not still slightly confused. It’s hard to get normies to fully grasp what goes through our heads. But he’s working on being there for me as much as he can.
We were out late and I woke up this morning EXHAUSTED. But I had a smile on my face. I had a good time with good people. I felt something I haven’t felt in a long while. I felt connection and joy. I felt cared for and valued as a friend. And I really can’t wait to hang out with my friends again.
Something clicked last night. I’m really doing this.
I remember a time when I was active but trying to cut down. I was having a few drinks at a bar in Soho before attending a film screening with some friends. I thought I would be perfectly fine putting down a couple. In my head, I approached the situation with the expectations of a normal drinker which is absolutely insane because I should have known better but I was always trying to live in the skin of my peers who had completely functional relationships with booze. If Sally can do it, so can I goddamnit. Forgetting the monster that lived inside, I took those few drinks. At first, the burning vodka went down smooth and warmed my belly. My blood suddenly became hot and calming like I was standing under the stream of a steaming shower on a freezing cold winter day. It wrapped its arms around me and made me feel safe, euphoric, and grateful for life, friends, and good times. Perfection. But not for long. The initial glow soon wore off and I could feel the beast stirring from his slumber. I remember thinking OH FUCK. As the others finished their second (my second was already gone) and the film start time drew closer, IT started. The veins in my neck began bulging and throbbing as the searing, hot, alcohol saturated blood coursed through my body like a freight train looking for a way to relieve the building pressure but finding no escape. Extra salty sweat begin pouring from every pore and in an instant, I was completely drenched. My eyes went from perfectly white to bright crimson red and seemed to protrude from my face to get a better view of everything in the room. Looks of panic flashed briefly on the faces of my company. Hair began growing from every follicle on my body converting my already moderately furry exterior to the coat of an animal that would surely be coveted by wealthy Upper West Side ladies who lunch. The alcoholic blood flooded every muscle in my body and the muscles began to grow larger and larger until finally my shirt completely ripped open. Buttons flew off and one hit the bartender in the eye and immediately blinded him and sent him running and screaming down 6th Avenue. I roared like the hungry lion I was and began throwing tables and chairs at innocent and unsuspecting real estate brokers just looking for a calm place to unwind. My friends screamed bloody murder and pointed with shaking fingers as they backed towards the door of the bar desperately searching for an escape.
“WHAT HAPPENED?! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?! WHERE DID OUR FRIEND GO?!” they screamed
In a voice that sounded like a deranged Cookie Monster on steroids, I screamed back, “MUST DRINK MORE VODKA! TWO NOT ENOUGH VODKA FOR ME, STUPID!!! NEED FOUR VODKA OR FIVE VODKA. SIX VODKA IS GOOD FOR ME BUT NOT TWO VODKA!!!!!!!!! I DIE IF ONLY HAVE TWO VODKA!!!!!!!!”
At this point, I was directly in their faces and roaring so loudly that their hair blew in the wind tunnel created by the noise I was making and pictures began falling from the walls and people ran screaming in all directions not even bothering to grab their purses and briefcases and coats. Finally the bar was entirely empty and I was alone. I grabbed a bottle of Grey Goose, lumbered to a stool, poured another drink, and stared at myself in the mirror behind the rows of bottles. I truly was an animal. A handsome animal, but an animal nonetheless.
In reality, we actually paid the check and left the bar without incident. I did spend the better half of our second drink trying to figure out a way I could order a third without making us late and also without drawing attention to myself or giving any indication that a third was actually NECESSARY for me and not just desired. I resisted the temptation and instead just sat there stewing and anxiously dreading the next few hours in the dark without the luxury of more alcohol. Incidents like these quickly taught me the importance of securing a drink or two before the actual drinks at the bar. And possibly even bringing a little bit of something in my bag if necessary. But in this situation, I had done neither. About halfway through the movie, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and actually LEFT THE MOVIE THEATER and walked swiftly next door to another bar, ordered a whisky shot and PBR, downed both, and returned to the theater and showed my ticket stub to get back into the film. And believe it or not, about 15 minutes later, I actually considered leaving again and doing the same thing once more. I didn’t. But as soon as that film was over, I peace’d out and went back to my neighborhood where I stopped for three 24 ounce beers at the grocery store since the liquor shop was closed. I spent the rest of the evening drinking properly and reading about the movie we had just watched in case it ever came up in conversation since I didn’t really pay attention to a second of it. And now I can’t even remember what movie it was.
THIS is the story of a single attempt at moderation. THIS is the story that I could retell hundreds of times over and all that would change are the settings, the people involved, and how creative I got in making sure my beast was fed. I think back and I would say that I am ashamed but in all honesty, it’s so crazy to me now that shame doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am ASTOUNDED. I am DUMBFOUNDED. I am AMAZED. How did I possibly have the energy to go through this over and over again for so many years?
I haven’t been sober for very long this time around. 38 days so far. But I’ve already learned so much. And I’ve already come in contact with some people who have asked about moderation as an alternative to abstinence. And all I can really say in response to them and to those occasional small nagging urges I get to pick up a beer (JUST ONE, I SWEAR. JUST ONE) is this: REMEMBER YOUR BEAST. He never goes away. He’s always in there. He’s always ready to kill everyone, EVEN YOU, to get what he needs.
I’ve been having a lot of anxiety lately about my wedding day and how I’m possibly going to get through that whole day/night and honeymoon without having a single drop of alcohol. It seems impossible. It’s really freaking me the fuck out. What makes this whole thing especially bizarre is the fact that I’m not even engaged and there is no wedding scheduled. I look at the boyfriend and think, “Hm. We’re probably, most likely, going to get married eventually.” That thought alone makes me anxious but then I start playing through our wedding in my head. Surely I will need a drink as I’m getting dressed and prepared to be delivered to the church. I don’t know who would deliver me to the church and I say church but I honestly don’t know where gay people go to get married so church is just a placeholder here. Maybe we get married at Disneyland. That’s pretty gay. I don’t know. The point is, I’ll need to be pretty smashed to be able to stand up in a penguin costume and waddle down the aisle with hundreds of people staring at me like I’m the bearded lady. Well, maybe not hundreds. Maybe like 40-50 because mama ain’t rich. I’m referring to myself as mama here, BTW. And let’s say I can make it through the ceremony without being shittyfaced. Fine. But what about the reception?? What about when all of those assholes raise a glass and say something awful and embarrassing about me while pretending it comes from a place of love? “I remember when you used to put on mom’s dress and pretend you were Maude. You were such a little freak. NOW DRINK, FREAK. DRINK!!!” Surely such an uncomfortable situation requires a bit of lubrication, right? And what about when the boyfriend turns into a monster and violently smashes a piece of wedding cake in my face as cameras flash and people laugh and the cake goes up my nostril and makes me choke? That’s supposed to be funny and cute but how in the world am I not going to get pissed off at him for acting so fucking childish if I’m not drunk? Obviously a bottle or two of champagne would turn such a weirdo tradition into FUN FUN FUN. And if I’m sober, I guarantee you I’m going to have choice words for the douchebags that decide it’s totes adorable to throw rice at my face as I run to the car. And I really am not going to be happy with the person who chooses to tie aluminum cans to the back of my vehicle. Feeling like you’re being chased by a maniacal tin man is OH SO ROMANTIC, right??
Although I’m not tying the knot anytime soon, these are the things my mind does when not focused on today. The present. I remind myself that this is all about incremental progress. Get through today without drinking. Then eventually get through a few dinners with friends without drinking. And so on and so forth until life without alcohol is just as enjoyable. Even more enjoyable, maybe. So I’ve heard. So I hope.
I was looking at the boyfriend and I thought to myself, “Oh my God. I told you I’m an alcoholic. I can never drink in front of you again.” Whoa. As if there was a possibility that I could drink again as long as it wasn’t in front of him? Big problem there. I corrected my thinking. “I can never drink again. I mean, I can. But I won’t. Because it will kill me. And I want to be alive.” The idea that I momentarily viewed my boyfriend as a roadblock to being able to drink again really freaked me out. Then I started thinking weird things like, “Ok. But what if I decided I AM going to drink again. What will I tell him? How will I convince him that I’m not an alcoholic after all so he won’t get mad at me??” Oh boy. NO. STOP. And the really crazy thing about all of these thoughts is that I DON’T WANT TO DRINK. I really, truly don’t. I have no desire to go back. But the moment I stop living in the present and start living in the future, my entire groove gets FUCKED. Like royally fucked. And I start seeing the future as miserable and void of fun and enjoyment. And that makes my present go from bright to dismal in the blink of an eye.
And so the goal is and has always been.. TODAY. That’s it. TODAY. NOW. THIS MOMENT.
Easier said than done, I know.
On the way home from work last night, I was totally in the present. I was mentally fantastic, inspired, and calm. Then I got a text that one of my friends had swung by the house to talk with one of my roommates. They would most likely be there when I got home. I went from being in the moment to living in the very near future. Just being fast forwarded TEN MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE totally disrupted my thought process. I started playing it through in my head. I’m going to get home and he’s going to be there and we’ll have to talk. I haven’t talked to this friend since I got sober. I’m worried I don’t know what to say. I’m worried that I’ll seem awkward. That I’ll be uncomfortable. He’s going to be able to tell that something about me is different. He’ll wonder what’s wrong. He might have beers with him. He has on occasion brought beers with him as a friendly gesture and we would all crack one open while chatting and I would sneak away sometimes to down a shot or two because I always have to make sure I have had more alcohol than everyone else. Oh, God. Please don’t let him have beers with him. There is a bar on the way home. If I just stop and have a beer really quick, I’ll seem normal. I won’t be uncomfortable. That’s all it will take.
STOP. What. The. Fuck? How did I mentally and emotionally digress so drastically over the past six years that the thought of mere small talk and chit chat with a friend became a horrifying thing that made me want to drink? But I didn’t drink, obviously. I got home and the friend already had left. And I think I would have been fine and after a few moments I would have realized that my fears were irrational and everything would be okay. But it’s absolutely astounding that something so mundane can suddenly wreak havoc on my brain.
Sometimes you’re forced to think about the future. A friend’s birthday party is coming up. The holidays are about to arrive. There are circumstances that bring us out of the now and into the tomorrow. We can either panic… or we can plan. We can either recoil in fear… or reassess. But there is absolutely no sense in imagining situations that have not and may not even happen.
I really need to stop trying on wedding dresses before I’ve been proposed to. It’s absolutely no good for anyone.