Now We Are Fifteen

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Usually when I hit a “soberversary,” I immediately take to the blog to recognize it.  For some reason this year, on the actual day itself (6/19), I just couldn’t figure out what to write.  I’ve been in a state lately where the words don’t come as easily as they usually do.

I’m getting my medallion this Friday.  In the past, I’d make something of a big deal about it, having it presented at a big meeting I used to attend, getting a card signed by everyone in the meeting, and getting brunch afterwards.  This year I’ve opted to get it at a very small meeting I go to on Fridays, where there are usually no more than 10 people, most of them I consider to be mentors and friends.  Greta. David. Mark.  A hilarious young woman who, for some reason, thinks I’m right for the job of walking along beside her on the often gravelly and lopsided road of recovery, will be giving it to me.  It feels right.  It’s not about splashy anymore.

I did the math, and realized that at 15 years, I’ve now been sober for as long as I drank.  That shit is CRAZY.  I started drinking as a teenager, and I stopped in my very early thirties.  The years in between?  A blur punctuated with just enough humiliation and heartbreak to get me to where I realized I had to stop, before it killed me.  And make no mistake – it absolutely would have killed me.  I suspect that there are many people who still don’t quite get that.  It’s something you can buy in the grocery store.  It’s what you pick up on the way home from work on a Friday evening, to “unwind.”  Go into any gift shop and you’re confronted with the CUTENESS of it:  “Wine improves with age; I improve with WINE.”  It’s funny….until it isn’t.

I’m truly fortunate in that I’ve made more friends than I’ve lost since I quit drinking.  There were a few people who definitely avoided me in the early months, and years, as if my alcoholism was contagious (it’s not).  And we won’t get into the ones who stopped calling because if I wasn’t going to go out and drink, what fun was that?  It made me realize just how many seemingly fundamental relationships were entirely focused on alcohol.  I still mourn people I drove away with my drinking (and untreated mental illness).  But I’d like to believe I’m better at that whole Golden Rule thing, most of the time.

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I should also talk about the vomit.  I was the sovereign vomiter of our epoch.  If you knew me back in the Nineties, chances are I puked around you.  In your car.  In your driveway.  In a stainless steel mixing bowl you hurriedly grabbed for me before I puked on your couch.  I have vomited across these United States.  I can honestly say that – mirabile dictu – I  have only vomited ONCE in the past 15 years, and that was from a breakfast sandwich.

So here it is – the annual “I Made It Another Year Without A Drink, And BOY Am I Thirsty” post.  I’m grateful.

 

The Princess Is Dead. Long Live The Princess.

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Mine is but one voice in the cacophonous din of nerds expressing what it means to lose Carrie Fisher right now.  Likely I will have nothing new to contribute here, nothing of substance, nothing that won’t have been said more eloquently.

In life, Carrie Fisher had pretty much heard it all anyway (she says as much in her last memoir, The Princess Diarist).  She knew that she had brought to life a key character in what has become, for many, a personal mythos.  She knew she was our Princess, our childhood hero, our (for some, anyway) source of material by which to polish Vader’s helmet, so to speak.  She knew all this.

She probably even knew what she meant to those of us who face every day living in an Ascent Series Vitamix™ of a brain, while being recovering addicts on top of that.  She may have known that we could look to her, think “CARRIE FISHER GETS SHIT DONE,” and live accordingly.

I certainly hope she knew that.

Years ago, she came to the theatre where I work to perform Wishful Drinking.  I would stand in the back and watch her and cry.  Because I was so close to a childhood idol, and because she was everything I could maybe hope to aspire to (I mean, minus the superstar parents, the starring roles, and the marriage to Paul Simon).  I wanted not only to accept the neurochemical hand I’d been dealt, but play it to my advantage.  In watching Carrie Fisher, I felt it could be done, with dignity and humor.

That’s what she meant to me.  What she still means to me.  It’s plenty.

Godspeed, Ms. Fisher.  May the Force be with you and all that.

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Booze Vacation

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My best friend just marked her third year of sobriety.  It’s got me all in my thoughts today.

Few things are worse than watching someone you love circle the drain, knowing there’s criminally little you can do to stop it.  On the flip side, few things are better than watching someone you love get better.  Seeing the light return to her eyes.  Celebrating all of those little milestones you pass when you’re newly sober:  first set of holidays, first birthday, first wedding reception.  (I’ll tell you – when you get through that first wedding reception without drinking you feel like Ben Hur or some shit.  I swear to God.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, I’m seeing other people posting those “Here’s Why You Should Stop Drinking For A Month”-type essays again.  People who are waxing ecstatic about all the wonderful things that are coming about for them because they stopped drinking for a month, or two months.  And while I’m totally happy for them, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t get quite the payoff they’re reaping for having not imbibed for 30/60/90 days.  I didn’t magically regain focus and leap into all kinds of amazing projects because OMG THE CLARITY I HAVE NOW.

I have to remember that I had to stop not because it was cramping my style, but because it was killing me.  And that because of the way I drank, it would take years to rewire everything to the point where I could even manage doing a load of laundry without needing to anesthetize myself.  I’m still not there.  The highway system of my mind is full of potholes and I sometimes feel like I spend most of my time putting traffic cones around them instead of, you know, FIXING them.

Basically, I don’t get to “take a break” from drinking.  I have a restraining order on alcohol that has to be renewed pretty much every damn day.  And 99% of the time, I accept that.  But then there’s that occasional point where I look at Booze Vacation people virtually beaming while posting all these breakthroughs they’re having because they haven’t had a beer in two weeks, and I let it get to me.  I think, “Great, and you get to pick back up whenever you want and suffer no consequences.”  That’s the key word for me:  consequences.  I don’t actually envy you because you can have a couple of drinks and stop whenever you want to.  I envy the idea of drinking without consequences.  I never drank normally in my life.  I always drank like there was a raging brush fire in my heart and I needed an endless bucket brigade.  And I didn’t particularly want to stop drinking like that, honestly.

I have to remind myself not take this personally.  I have to remind myself that if someone is doing something that’s improving their quality of life, the correct – and only – reaction is to be happy for them.  Self-care takes on many forms, and it’s not my place to begrudge anyone their methodology, or be an underpaid tour guide in Miseryland.  And we all have our a-ha moments around alcohol.  For some, it’s “Wow!  I have so much more money at the end of the week!”  For me, it was “Wow! So this is what it’s like to wake up rather than come to.”  It’s all worth celebrating.

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times…

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Usually I try to post something on my actual sobriety anniversary date, but yesterday’s schedule was such that I couldn’t sit with my laptop and pound out anything close to meaningful.

So.  14 years sober as of 6/19/16.

I’m not really sure where I’m going to go with this.

This was quite possibly the hardest year I’ve had in sobriety.

That’s not to say that at any given time I was tempted to pick up.  Miraculously, when things were at the absolute nadir, mentally and emotionally, the goddamn LAST thing I wanted to do was pour whiskey all over it.

But I had a series of things happen, beginning last fall, that rocked me to my psychic core.  My mental health, always on shaky ground to begin with, got pretty well battered.  I had so many rugs pulled out from under me that I began avoiding rugs altogether, for lack of a better analogy.  I had no soft spot on which to tread, it felt like.

And when my mother-in-law finally succumbed to her years-long battle with Alzheimer’s (she passed away in February), I fell apart.  I mean – I got through the wake and the burial okay.  I put together an album of photos of her when she was well.  Baby pictures.  Pictures of her clowning around with her friends.  It made me feel better to the point where I figured I might be able to pull up some memories of her from before she got sick (which has been an ongoing struggle for me, since most of what I remember about her NOW is her steady decline, and her inability to do things for herself).

But everything that had been churning since last October erupted after she died.  If I’m honest, it was everything that had happened since 2010, when we moved in to take care of her.  My mistake was in thinking my life would “get back to normal” when she moved into assisted living two years ago.  There is no “back to normal” after you’ve been a caregiver.  There is navigating a perilous fucking minefield of emotions before you arrive at a vaguely familiar terrain.  There is having your expectations dashed, restored, then dashed again.  There is the temptation to free fall.  There is the slightest sick thrill in thinking that you won’t be caught, either by loved ones or by circumstances.  There is your sense of faith being blown to bits.  There is the feeling of being small and insignificant, perpetually in the shadow of people who are younger, prettier, and not weighted down by grief and self-loathing.

It’s a giant shitshow, it really is.  And you’re beginning to suspect that there isn’t any intermission.

I didn’t drink.

I fell back into some really puerile, destructive thinking.  Because there’s honestly something quite comforting in being the WORST PERSON EVER.  I’m not sure if “normal” people can understand that.

But I didn’t drink.  And in so doing, I managed to not make things worse for myself.

So there’s that.

I’m crawling out of this, slowly, and with the help of my therapist, my psych nurse, some increased dosages, and my recovery community.  The people in my meetings remind me that I’m not the first to have gone through this – ANY of this – and I’m trying to be humble around that while also acknowledging that my pain is valid.  And it has been painful, no question about that.  I don’t like being constantly afraid.  I don’t like not trusting the people who are closest to me.  I like being happy, or at least more or less content.

Anyway.

We went to see Brian Wilson this weekend.  He performed the entire “Pet Sounds” album, accompanied by the Boston Pops.

This was a nearly transcendent occasion for more than a couple of reasons.  Brian Wilson has been through the wringer, psychologically speaking.  The drugs he was on (both recreational and prescribed) did a number on him.  Most folks know the story there, but in case you don’t, you can get a basic sense of it by watching the fairly recent film Love & Mercy.  Given all of that, it’s a miracle he can get up on that stage and play those songs.

And “Pet Sounds” is not only my favorite Beach Boys album, it’s in the top ten of my favorite albums overall.  There’s really nothing else like it.  Watching it be reproduced, as it were, with the help of a full orchestra is incredibly illuminating.  It’s directed madness.  It’s otherworldly.  It explains almost everything you need to know about the beautiful tangled mess that is Brian Wilson’s brain.  I wish my own tangled mess could produce something even 1/16th as beautiful as that goddamn album.

Brian Wilson.  He has a strange shuffle to his gait.  He has to be assisted to his piano.  Once there, sometimes he plays, and sometimes he conducts, even when there’s a conductor behind him.  And sometimes he just sits there with his eyes closed.  He made everyone sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” twice.  I got the distinct impression that he absolutely would not start playing until we sang it.  There was something so fragile about him, this 70-something year old guy singing these so very painful and gorgeous songs. His voice is broken. He’s broken, but mended in the right places.  The cracks are showing, but it’s so lovely.  My heart burst and shattered over and over again, and at one or two points I full-on sobbed.

Brian Wilson can shuffle up to his piano and sit in the middle of the crazy beauty he created 50+ years ago, and just BE.  This is what I need to remember as I go into my next year of sobriety.

He wasn’t made for these times.  Maybe I’m not, either.  But I’m glad I’m here just the same.

Dear Friends I Saw Play Last Night –

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What a great show. Seriously. You all transported me for roughly an hour back to a place where music was pretty much the only friend who’d never abandon me. Sometimes you forget how important certain artists/albums/songs were in your formative years. Last night was a nice reminder.

But when I saw you after you’d finished playing, I was stiff and awkward and not as animated as I usually am.

I feel bad about this, so this morning I’m going to try and explain.

You all know I’m sober, and have been for a number of years now. Even with that amount of time under my belt, I have to make difficult decisions when it comes to being social. I have learned that if I’m feeling even a little bit like I’m going to be uncomfortable, it’s usually best for me to stay home. I ignored that niggling little feeling last night, because I really, REALLY wanted to see you play.

I won’t say I made a mistake, because I didn’t. You all delivered, and then some. But as the tiny club filled up, I felt myself shrinking up against the wall, trying to find a little elbow room for myself, trying to ignore the smell of everyone’s drinks, praying that something wouldn’t get spilled on me. I kept imagining that happening, and wondering what I’d do about it. It didn’t even happen, and yet I found myself as tense and miserable as if it HAD.

I won’t lie; I very much wanted to bolt. I was ready to tell my husband that I’d take the T home. I hadn’t felt that uncomfortable in a long time, and it scared me.

Fortunately, my husband can read me astonishingly well. He found a table for us further back, not so far away that we couldn’t see and hear you, but enough away so that I could breathe without smelling beer/whiskey/fruity alcoholic concoctions. Enough away so I could feel a little better and in less danger of being jostled. So I got to watch your show, and it made me really happy.

But I still felt bad. I felt bad that people have to make concessions for me, the non-drinker with considerable anxiety issues who doesn’t want to be a drag, truly. I feel bad that sometimes I have to ask people not to drink around me. And I get tired – really tired – of feeling like I have to explain myself.

So by the end of the night I was exhausted from – as needlessly DRAMATIC as this sounds – just trying to keep it together for the few hours we were there. Resenting every glass of beer sloshing in front of me. Not wanting to hug people because they had drinks in their hands and on their breath. Feeling stupid and infantile for feeling resentful and wary. Knowing that I can’t expect everyone around me to change the way they live to suit me, just because I can’t drink. Not understanding why, after 13 years of not drinking, this shit still sometimes GETS TO ME. Well, understanding WHY, but being mad that it has to be this way. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be a “normal drinker.” I always wanted oblivion. But last night I really wanted to be normal. I wanted to be normal so badly I could taste it. Not just so I could drink. So that I could feel like not wanting to crawl out of my skin.

And so I wasn’t particularly effusive after your set. I could tell how happy you were to see me, and I felt like I couldn’t muster half of your enthusiasm. Please know, friends: I love you. I love the work you do and the passion with which you play. For an hour or so, I was transported. But I crashed hard. And so you guys got a tepid hug and a wan smile when I should have been jumping up and down and squealing. You didn’t deserve that.

The next time I see you I will jump up and down and squeal. Because what you all did last night was incredible. I mean – spot fucking ON. I love you guys so much and am so grateful that you’re my friends.

This is me, usually. I swear:

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What about Bob (or: Staying Sober In The Zombie Apocalypse)

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I’ve had kind of a tumultuous past week+, so I’ll try to make as much sense as I’m able.

My mother-in-law is in the hospital with pneumonia. This is, unfortunately, very common with Alzheimer’s patients. Dysphagia, or difficulty with swallowing, happens in the later stages of the disease, causing people to aspirate and therefore develop pneumonia.

(This is yet another reason why I have little-to-no patience with Alzheimer’s “jokes” — like when people say they have Alzheimer’s because they lost their keys. Just…no. Stop. It’s not only not funny, it displays unimaginable ignorance as to how horrible this illness really is.)

She is bouncing back fine, and was cheerfully confused when we went to visit her yesterday, but will now have to be on a fairly strict puréed diet. It’s simply one of those things we now know to expect.

So while it was a mostly pleasant visit, it’s one of those things that remind me that my life is still not “normal,” in the sense that once you’ve committed to caring for someone with this disease, you can’t ever go back to where you were prior to taking on the responsibility, even when you are no longer an in-home caregiver. This is probably going to happen again. Or something else will happen. We’ve certainly learned that there are no shortage of rugs to be pulled out from under us.

I was still recovering from a conference I’d been to last week, which was book-ended by air travel snafus going to and coming back. Some air traffic control mess outside of D.C. caused my flight to the conference to be delayed several hours, and severe weather caused an even longer delay coming home. I didn’t hit my own bed until around 2:30 in the morning on Friday. The conference itself was great, but every day was scheduled such that I was up early and in bed late. I think I averaged maybe 4 hours of sleep a night. And maybe some of you can function fine on that, but this girl cannot. So I spent most of my first day home asleep either in my bed or on the couch.

I roused myself sufficiently to attend Walker Stalker Con (which my sister and I had been planning on since LAST year’s Walker Stalker Con) on Saturday. Among other cast members, I got to meet Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.

CNDFRwkUkAAHUcmHis character, Bob Stookey, an Army medic prior to the outbreak which has created the zombie pandemic in the series, is also an alcoholic. I found Gilliard’s portrayal to be spot-on and incredibly moving, and when I met him on Saturday, I got to tell him as much (I may have gotten a little weepy as well). He was really happy to hear this, and said, “You know, I figured, in this alternate universe – you know there’s gotta be people like that out there in it. I wanted to do that justice.”

I’ve thought a lot about that since Saturday. It’s sort of comical. Like, where are you going to find a MEETING in the zombie apocalypse? And if you did find a group of recovering addicts out there, what are you going to talk about?

“I took this walker’s head off with a mop handle, and while I KNOW I did the right thing, I just keep thinking about how GREAT a glass of Scotch would be.”

“Wow. I so relate. I had to shove a crowbar through my coworker’s skull, and I have SUCH a resentment about it.”

I kid, but I’m also kind of serious. I THINK ABOUT STUFF LIKE THIS. Especially now that the companion series has started and one of its principal characters is a drug addict. We’re not exactly equipped to deal with even mundane things like paying bills without wanting to anesthetize ourselves, and here are these characters trudging a Road of Happy Destiny that’s strewn with big globs of gore and severed body parts. It gives one pause, it really does.

And it comes down to survival, doesn’t it? We’re faced with a decision. We have to make that decision every day. Drink or don’t drink. Use or don’t use. Live, or die. Maybe it’s not quite on the level of…magnitude…as a zombie apocalypse, but…you know, actually, it really kind of IS. Let’s not even get into the parallels of substance abuse (and the way it can render someone who previously had been vibrant) and being a shuffling, unfeeling walking corpse. Let’s not talk about insatiable need. Let’s just talk about getting through a day without being destroyed by something inside of you. About finding the people who’ll survive alongside you. About the importance of connections, even when shit is falling down around you.

It’s not that much of a stretch. Not to me, anyway.

In recovery, I’ve absolutely learned that I can survive just about anything without drinking. I can sit with discomfort. I can handle 4 hour delays in the middle of a lightning storm at the Orlando airport. I can be present just sitting with my severely-addled mother-in-law in an unfamiliar hospital. So, you know, I could probably deal with zombies.

It’s just too bad that Bob had to die on the show.  We would have stuff to talk about.

Today’s Rant

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Most of the time, I feel supported, if not entirely understood, in terms of my being open about addiction and recovery. Friends and loved ones take the time to read what I write, and engage in respectful, supportive discussion.

It’s enough to make me feel pretty good about what I’m doing. That’s why it’s always a punch to the gut to hear someone describe people like me in some really unflattering terms.

I’m still reeling a bit from seeing a thread on a friend’s Facebook wall last week. My friend was wondering why some people “look down” on those in recovery, and those who are still struggling. And a friend of hers went on a rant about how addicts will ALWAYS fail, we will NEVER recover, and we’re basically doomed to die terrible, scumbag deaths.

And it’s just…sigh. You know, I get that the majority of non-addicts out there still believe that this is a moral shortcoming, that we’re a bunch of pleasure-seeking selfish idiots who could just, like, stop if we really wanted to. I also know what it’s like to have lived with an addict, and been the recipient of the pain and humiliation that comes from that.  I get that.  But then I see the judgment bubbling out of people every time a celebrity addict dies from their condition: Why are we caring about Whitney Houston/Amy Winehouse/Philip Seymour Hoffman when good people are dying of X/Y/Z?

Because there are limitations on compassion, right?

I write and post about people who die from the same thing I battle every fucking day because it’s what I know, and it’s but one of the things I care about. And when I call people out for denigrating addicts, I invariably get: “But I’m not talking about YOU!”

Except that they are. Because I’m only one drink away from being that scumbag alcoholic. I’m one drink away from being the obnoxious drunk on the train. One drink away from being the selfish asshole with no self-control. They are talking about me, because of this refusal to see people like me as ill. Gravely ill.

I tend to keep it light on Facebook. I’m not the kind of person who goes online and says, “UNFRIEND ME NOW if you think _____.” But I have been sorely tempted to do just that every time an addict of note dies, because the willfully ignorant bile coming out of folks – who are purportedly on board with me as my “friend” – is enough to make me doubt just how valid some of these “friendships” are.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not talking about me specifically when you’re bashing addicts. See above.

It doesn’t matter that you’re “just joking.” It’s not funny.

It doesn’t matter that you’re just trying to point out that there are “more important” things to talk about. “Important” is relative. Would you be giving me as much crap if I were posting about someone with cancer? Don’t tell me that’s “different.” It isn’t.

I have a condition that will absolutely kill me if I don’t remain vigilant about my specific route to recovery. I don’t think it’s out of line for me to ask that folks take a second to muster a soupçon of empathy before unloading their judgmental ish on me and my kind. Because the junkie you saw that you have so much disdain for? That’s me. The guy reeking of beer sweat in the subway station? That’s me, too.

And I can pretty much PROMISE you that not a one of us sets out to become an addict. I don’t ever – EVER – hear anyone in recovery say, “When I was a kid, I COULDN’T WAIT to become physically and emotionally dependent on substances. Like – woo! – SIGN ME UP.”

When I was seven, I wanted to be a writer. At 16, I thought maybe I wanted to be an actor. Sobbing and retching over the toilet every morning, alienating everyone I cared about, covered in bruises because my liver couldn’t keep up with the steady flow of poison I was drowning my organs in? Not at all in the game plan. But that’s what happened to me. Because I am sick. My condition is in regression, and it’s certainly my hope that it won’t rear its head again, but this is what I’ve got. What I’m dealing with. And it’s no joke. And when you say ugly things about people who die from this, or people you pass on the street who can’t get well, you are talking about me.  And it hurts.

So if that’s the way you really feel, then perhaps you aren’t my friend after all.

Do with that what you will.

Sticking Up.

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A post I wrote a couple of years back has been making the rounds again, and has brought with it a bunch more followers.

I always get a little nervous when this happens, like I’m being thought of as this Sobriety Guru, like a wizened Yoda-type sitting on a lily pad doling out sagacious tidbits about not drinking, when really I’m just another clown on the bus trying to stay on board. I mean, you’re dealing with someone who sticks her eighth grade picture into pre-existing photos and works of art. I am really NOT the person to look towards for sanity and wisdom, y’all.

So I feel a responsibility to let folks know that while I do a fair amount of talking about recovery, it’s not the ONLY thing I talk about, and a lot of times you’re going to also get stuff about Alzheimer’s, zombies, and garden variety potty humor. If that’s not your bag, and you want to bail, I will totally understand. But getting sober frequently means rediscovering other areas of interest, and one of the great things about sobriety is that while it’s still gotta be first and foremost, it doesn’t have to be ALL you talk about.

Something I will address today is sticking up for yourself and your sobriety. That can mean anything from shooting down overly-personal questions about why you quit to voicing your discomfort.

Case in point: I share a practice space with my bandmates. As someone who’s contributing to the rent, I think it’s fair of me to ask that people not leave their empties lying around after practice. It’s not like I’m going to run around drinking the dregs in said empties (although I definitely wouldn’t have been above that 13 years ago), but – you know – I also don’t particularly want to look at them, either. So the other night, I politely asked folks to pitch them in the trash can in the hallway. I’m not a Puritan by any stretch of the imagination, and I get that sometimes people want to have a beer at practice. I was able to express my discomfort about the empties in a respectful way, and everyone was on board with being a little tidier.

That’s maybe an overly-simplistic example, but I think a lot of alcoholics/addicts also have fallen into the habit of being really, really passive aggressive. Before I started really getting into the work of being sober, I just assumed that everyone would immediately sense my discomfort and summarily capitulate without my having to say a damn thing. And if they didn’t, then I’d find some insanely roundabout way of getting what I wanted. That’s exhausting for everyone.

But what I’m basically trying to say is this: you’re dealing with something that could kill you; it’s okay to protect yourself. You have the right to turn down invitations to parties if you feel you’re going to be uncomfortable in any way. You have the right to ask if a get-together can take place somewhere other than a bar (I’m usually okay in a bar if it’s also a restaurant, and I can occupy myself with nachos or fries). I’ve learned over the years to understand that this is NOT an outrageous proposition. If I know I’m going out to dinner with vegetarian/vegan friends, I will order vegetarian/vegan. It’s just common courtesy. I will say that it’s interesting that this is a courtesy that is very seldom extended to me as a non-drinker, even though I’m generally comfortable with someone ordering alcohol with dinner. I’d say less than 5% of the time I’m asked whether or not I’m okay with someone drinking in front of me, and maybe that’s because I’ve been pretty sanguine about it over the years. I don’t know. It’s nice to be asked, though.

I am, however, wicked uncomfortable around people who are obviously inebriated. That’s just plain no fucking fun at all, and it’s why I’ve sometimes either stayed home from a party, or bowed out early. As I get older, this becomes less of an issue, since most of my friends by and large aren’t into getting stupid drunk anymore. Me, there is always going to be that urge, however long it’s remained dormant. I am hard-wired for oblivion, and there are still days where I have to tread carefully, and it is 100% okay for me to ask my friends and loved ones to help me out when I’m on shaky ground. And it’s okay for you, too.

Now We Are Thirteen.

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Today marks 13 years since I had my last drink.

This morning I tried to think about what I was going to write, and I mostly kept thinking back to what I wrote last year. It was just about a week before my mother-in-law went into memory care, and I was just barely functioning. I was on auto-pilot, just trying to get through every day, trying to knock off the tasks in front of me and hoping things wouldn’t get too FUBAR, because I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to deal with anything other than just surviving.

In a lot of ways, that was like early sobriety. Only I wasn’t entirely stripped of coping mechanisms.

This year was better. Markedly so. It wasn’t without its stressors – emptying out her apartment so we could move in, and subsequently have our friends move into the downstairs apartment, was probably one of the most emotionally taxing things I’ve done. Sorting through the personal effects of another person, trying to assign value to these objects, and all the while doing so knowing that the person is still alive, yet unable to tell you to whom things should go…that is some brutally frustrating shit, you guys. I found myself fighting resentment left and right, because as a recovering alcoholic, I really don’t get to be resentful. At least not for very long.

The further I get away from that last drink (warm Chardonnay in a plastic cup, in case anyone was wondering), the more I feel like I have to really make a concerted effort to remind myself what a bloodhound for oblivion I was. How many hostages I took because I wanted an audience.

Three years ago, I wrote this:

I don’t want congratulations — I want understanding.

I want the people out there who are drinking themselves to death to understand that there is nothing romantic about being a drunk. It is not a cultural or artistic imperative to be a drunk. Drinking does not make you a better writer, a better artist, a better musician, or a better lover. It does not make you more in touch with the Universe, your muse, your emotions, or the person you’re trying to have sex with.

I want the people still out there, still trying to make it “work,” to understand that nothing is so terrible, no emotional terrain so unnavigable, that drinking will not make worse. I want them to understand that it’s not a balm; it’s poison. At the very LEAST, it is preventing them from processing their grief, pain, or frustration in a healthy way. It’s simple physics: you meet with a lot more resistance when you try to move through fluid.

I want people who don’t suffer from addiction, and the indignities it heaps upon those of us who DO, to understand that they need to stop making jokes at our expense. I want them to understand that we are not less deserving of grief or compassion when we die from our illness.

I stand by those words. We’re still living in a culture that celebrates drunkenness in the form of cutesy “wine humor,” yet looks upon the struggling addict as weak-willed and worthy only of derision. There is still so much willful ignorance when it comes to this.

And there are still so many people who won’t get what I have. I lost another friend this year to this disease. Brian was beyond kind and patient with me in my early sobriety, when I was just a blubbering mass of exposed nerves. We went out for bagels, we got ice cream, we went to the movies. He understood my need to fill those first days and weeks with all manner of stupid, banal shit. He was also the only person – EVER – to get away with calling me “Lee.” But he struggled, too. It happens with us. It honestly doesn’t take much to shove us off the straight and narrow and right into a ditch. As horrible as it sounds, I need to see what happens when we start up again. In a terrible way, that was Brian’s last gift to me. I am not immune, nor impervious.

It was another twelve months of loss and transition, but it was also a year in which I remembered how to take really deep breaths. It was a year in which my shoulders began the slow descent from just around my ears to where they more or less are supposed to be. I can actually start focusing more on my job, and my writing. I can write about something else other than being a caregiver. I can write about vampires. I can create ridiculous Photoshopped pictures of my 8th grade self.

I’m beginning to not feel guilty about how much I enjoy weekends. I’m trying to give myself a break from thinking about all the things I could have done better, the things I could have done to – I don’t know – slow down the process of my mother-in-law’s disease. I’m trying not to put the ugly things I’m thinking about myself into the thoughts and motivations of other people. And I’m starting to take off some of the 30+ pounds I gained while being a primary caregiver.

I am really trying to better myself through simply listening. I’m also trying to avoid comments sections.

And I’m not drinking. Miraculous. Unfathomable. Fucking amazing.

Desperation Anniversary

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One thing I didn’t really think to acknowledge as New Year’s Day came and went is that it’s an anniversary.  Of sorts.

It’s not my sobriety date.  There’s still a part of me that wishes I could have stuck with that, because January 1st seems like such a GREAT date to claim as your sobriety date, when of course the reality is that ANY date works just as well, is just as personal and suffused with meaning and liberation.  But we generally put a lot of emphasis on the first day of the new year.  Advertising has a lot to do with that.  The fitness and diet industries thrive on touting January 1 as potentially transformative, but that’s another post for another time.

So, no, I didn’t stop and stay stopped, effective January 1, 2002.  It would take another 6+ months of struggling and relapsing to arrive at June 19th.  But January 1st is when I faced the truth about my drinking.

I had been, like I had for several years, at my best friend’s house for her annual New Year’s Eve party.  And as usual I had too much to drink and passed out in the car on the way home.  But there had been no screaming arguments with my husband, no embarrassing antics.  And I hadn’t thrown up.  At this point, that constituted a “successful” night of drinking for me.  People, including myself, had been expressing concern about my drinking for months up until then.  If I’d still had any fight left in me, I would’ve been pleased to hold up December 31, 2001, as “proof” that I was okay.

But I woke up later in the morning on January 1 feeling more than just hungover.  I was well and truly pitted, and I knew in my heart that I was an alcoholic.  I made a call, and was directed to a church basement.

It didn’t stick, January 1st.  I wasn’t ready.  If I’d felt horrible that day it was nothing compared to the way I felt some 6 1/2 months later.  But I felt horrible enough.  I felt desperate enough.  And that’s why January 1 is my “desperation anniversary.”  I don’t get a card and a medallion on that day.  I don’t get taken out for brunch with some the friends I’ve made over the last 12+ years.  But damn it, it’s an anniversary, and I’m grateful.