recover

A TALE OF TWO ALCOHOLICS

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.

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I WANT TO BE IN THE PICTURES

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:

Image

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.

30 DAYS: THIS IS SO HARD. THIS IS SO GOOD.

I went to bed last night after learning that People Magazine had just named me the world’s most gloomy and self-deprecating asshole.

“What’s wrong?” the boyfriend asked.

“Nothing,” I snapped as Hell’s bells chimed and echoed in my imagined version of reality.

I was now in the third awful day of severe PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) symptoms and I was beginning to worry that the feelings of doom, hopelessness, anxiety, and worthlessness, would never lift. Nothing I did seemed to work. I drank the fuck out of my nighttime tea, emptying the mug to the very last drop, and then proceeded to wring out the teabag into my mouth like some cracked out version of Judi Dench. I took a hot shower and had a stern talk with myself and exfoliated the shit out of my face rubbing way harder than I was supposed to. I drew smiley faces in the steamed mirrors when I was done and then erased them violently because SMILES ARE STUPID and EVERYTHING SUCKS and FUCKSHITGODDAMNITCOCKSUCKER. I did NOT get sober for this, you guys! I got sober so I could ride unicorns through fields of diamonds and puppies. I got sober to become one of those weirdos who likes to put on chunky shoes, climb giant mountains, and eat a KIND bar at the summit as I weep tears of joy and take in the view of a vast sober playground that is planet Earth. I got sober to be so outwardly happy that just glancing at me would make people throw up and slap their mother. But obviously that wasn’t going to happen so, fuck it, I’m going to bed. And I did.

Fast forward to 7AM this morning.

I opened my eyes and the sun was shining through the blinds that I had left open the night before. The beams of light seemed joyous and excited just to be beams of light. The birds outside were chirping per the usual but their song sounded cheerful today. Usually I’m ready to kill the birds because they are so annoying but today their music was perfectly soothing and not overly obnoxious or repetitive. My puppy stared up at me from his bed, eager to join me on mine for our morning cuddle. I sat him on my chest and he licked my face and everything felt perfect. So very perfect. Then my closet doors swung open revealing a 30 person gospel choir and they began to sing This Little Light of Mine as five very fit spandex clad interpretive dancers flew through my bedroom door and proceeded to dance with such happiness that I just had to get up and join them. They guided me down the hallway and I climbed into the shower as they tended to my every need and washed my hair, clipped my nails, brushed my teeth, plucked my eyebrows, and pampered me like a king. While still singing, they dressed me, handed me a cup of coffee, and ushered me out the door to face my lovely day. I skipped down the street whistling as animated blue birds pursued me and flew around my head chirping happily. Today was going to be a good day.

While on the train, I checked my sober app even though I knew what it was going to say.

30 DAYS SOBER!

Putting 30 days together seemed impossible a month ago. Putting 30 days together seemed impossible LAST NIGHT when I was already on day 29 and feeling miserable. But it is possible and it does happen and eventually the sun begins to shine again and the pain begins to lessen a bit and all of your efforts become worth it. I went from despair to celebration in a span of 15 hours because I held on. I waited. I went THROUGH it. And even though it seemed like I would never emerge out the other side, I did. There will still be additional dark patches to travel through (this is life) but if I don’t drink, everything gets better.

I’ve been getting a lot of traffic on this blog and it’s not something I expected. People I don’t even know have commented and sent me messages about their own struggles and they are seemingly seeking advice. I feel for every single one of them and know how awful this process is. And I also have gotten a glimpse at how wonderful it can be. While I obviously don’t know enough to tell you how this all works, I’ll tell you what I’ve found to be true for me thus far:

  • Each time I get through something difficult without taking a drink, the resistance I face seems to lessen in intensity. I liken it to lifting weights? The pain and fear I feel when I refuse to feed the beast makes the sober muscle stronger and it DOES become less difficult to not pick up the bottle. That pain and fear is “the burn” and my muscles do recover and become stronger.
  • Surrounding myself with recovery makes me feel less alone and more equipped. I listen to The Bubble Hour and other podcasts on the way to work, on the way home from work, while laying in bed, etc. When I’m not listening to those and I have free time at work or after work, I am connecting with actual human people through The Booze Free Brigade (info can be found on thebubblehour.com) and other sources. I am reaching out and building community. Slowly. But I’m taking the steps.
  • When I want to drink, I walk myself through the process in my mind. I go to the liquor store, I go home, I drink all night and imagine the stupid things I will do. I imagine the middle of the night wake up and panic. I imagine the 3-4 hours of fitful anxiety and not being able to sleep. I imagine the misery I will face all day as a result. THEN I think about a day like this morning when I woke up feeling amazing. And I choose the amazing day over the miserable day. Easier said than done. But you can choose the better day if you want to.
  • LAUGH. You need to laugh. Listen to your favorite comedian, watch funny films, come read my blog if you think it’s funny. Find a way to smile and have fun and laugh. It makes everything so much easier.

As a very serendipitously planned treat for my 30 days, I am attending a Lady Gaga concert tonight at Madison Square Garden! Us gay guys have to do a certain number of stereotypically gay things each year if we want to keep our homosexual card. I’m already getting a lot of flack from the gay mafia about my beard and masculine sounding voice so I felt the need to comply and go do some queer dancing tonight. I am scared shitless because I’ll be sober. But I’m going with someone else who is staying sober and I’m looking forward to having some stories to tell ya’ll tomorrow!

In the meantime, stay strong! We can totally do this!