An update

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Well, it’s been a spell since I’ve done the blogging thing. Do people even still blog? Do I still have readers?

I’ll be honest – I had gotten overwhelmed and exhausted being what people more and more were thinking of as a “recovery blogger.” I wasn’t feeling the fire behind it. I was certainly continuing my own recovery (I hit 18 years last June), but the idea of pulling up the ol’ WP template and being rah-rah about sobriety just….I didn’t want to do it. And maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know.

I lost someone very dear to me last week. He died a week ago this Tuesday. I won’t get into the details; that’s not for you all to know. What I will tell you is that it was terrible and unnecessary and so devastating that when his best friend called me to let me know (so that I wouldn’t have to learn of it on fucking Facebook), the floor fell out from under me. Not just because I loved him (in the romantic sense, over 25 years ago…and since then as a good friend), but because he and I had something else in common: alcoholism.

I cannot believe that I still need to say this – but alcoholism is not something to joke about. Over the past year, as the pandemic shut shit down and we were stuck in our houses, I saw plenty of jokes about day-drinking, I saw drunk-posting accompanied by lots of laughing emojis, and the usual “wine mom” humor ramped up to 11. And I would grit my teeth and try to – as politely as it is possible for my impolite ass – gently remind folks that problem drinking isn’t funny, it’s dangerous. It’s tragic. What’s it going to take to drive that home?

And then my friend died. And I KNEW. I knew deep in my soul that it got him.

A couple of days later, I blew up on Facebook about it:

If you knew me prior to 2002, I don’t know that you would have known how fucking grim my life had become, and how small my world had become. Other than a few folks (one who lived with me and could obviously see how bad I was, and a couple who – well – “game recognize game” and all), nobody would’ve known. I had a mostly good game face, and a lot of semi-believable stories. Because that’s what we addicts and alcoholics are REALLY FUCKING GOOD AT, besides destroying ourselves because we don’t know how else to manage. And let me reiterate that last bit – WE DON’T KNOW HOW ELSE TO MANAGE. We are not doing the things we do because we’re hedonists. When you are that far into the disease, drinking/using gives you absolutely no pleasure. Zero. You do it to feel “normal,” because that’s what you recognize as such and because other actual emotions are too terrifying to consider. Just so all you normal drinkers know. Cool?

I’ll continue.The fact that I am an addict is not my fault. You can say genetics loaded the gun and environment pulled the trigger. It’s not my fault, BUT – it IS my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to not drink, to not take the medication prescribed for my other issues in any way that it’s not intended. It is also my responsibility to do the things I, personally, have found I need to do to remain sober. And that’s to talk to other people like me, help when I am asked, and – I cannot stress this enough – ASK FOR HELP. Help me, I am hurting. Help me, I am crawling out of my skin and I want to drink. Help me, this is the goddamn LAST thing I should be doing but I desperately want to do it.

And you know what? That is really, brutally difficult for a lot of us. Because we’re conditioned to either A) pretend that everything is fine because we’re the people who always seemingly have it together, or B) believe in the depths of our souls that if we ask, we will be laughed at, scorned, or turned away. And a lot of times? It’s both.

Finally – none of you who love us can save us from circling the drain. I’m sorry. It sucks to hear that, and it sucks for me to say that. But it’s important to say that, because when one of us succumbs to this shitsucking disease, I want it to be abundantly clear that you’re not responsible for it, there is nothing you could have done, and you must never carry the anvil of “if only I had” on your shoulders. Don’t do that to yourself. Please take it from me.

When I was done, I felt….better. Somehow. Still angry as FUCK, but I let it out. We had both hailed from a scene where drinking was (maybe still is) de rigueur. It’s boozy bonhomie right up until closing time, and then the party moves on to someone’s living room. Guitars and whiskey come out. You pass out on someone’s couch, and sometimes you wake up in someone’s bed. But it’s all good fun.

But for some of us, the fun becomes maintenance, the maintenance becomes need, and as you age everything seems that much harder. The people you used to carry on with can now take it or leave it, they drink on the weekend (and – perplexingly – only have a couple of drinks at that). The people who are still drinking the way you do egg you on. There are people who are concerned about you, and tell you as much. You keep drinking, because that’s what you DO. But you’re not in your twenties anymore; hell – you’re not even in your thirties anymore. And yet you have to keep doing it, you keep seeking out people who’ll drink with you, or at least pretend not to notice how much you drink. And unless you get desperate enough to consider that if you stop, your life just may stop being so horrifically lonely (I am here to tell you that you can drink alone even in a room full of friends), it never gets better. IT NEVER GETS BETTER.

We drank when we were a couple, we drank when we were just friends, and then I got sober. Of course he never judged me about that, never pushed a drink at me, never stopped being my friend. But as the years went on, I could tell he wasn’t…right. A few others noticed as well. He went away to get help, came back sober, seemed able and willing to do what he needed to do to stay that way.

This past year shook a lot of us in recovery to our cores. Physical meetings were no longer an option. Let me tell you – addiction loooooves isolation. If you’re not used to getting on the phone or jumping into an online meeting, it’s a goddamn invitation to disaster. If you are not asking for help, you’re asking for a world of hurt. He wasn’t able, or willing, to do any of this. And that, if I may be blunt, is choosing death. That may not be the intention, but that’s what it is.

My heart is broken. Certainly I’m not the only one feeling that; he was loved by so, so many. But there is a layer of rage on top of the grief. I am so angry I can barely speak at times. There’s no safe way for me to direct it other than what I’m currently doing. Talking about this disease. Talking about the very real ramifications of not taking it seriously. Telling my story. Telling what I know of his.

I loved him. I still love him. I have yelled at him every day since last Tuesday. I can see him receive it, process it, agree with it. Much like he would when we would meet for coffee and I’d call him out on some dumb thing. But there’s no hug at the end. I don’t know if he actually hears it. What I do know is that the words are pouring out of me again, about this very thing I wasn’t particularly into writing about when I stopped posting here. That’s something.

Me and Hugh, circa 1993-4

“Fallen Soldiers”

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Proving that Facebook is still good for something, I got inspired enough to return to the blog.

My friend Ben posted some pictures he took yesterday.  They weren’t of his kids, or his food.  He was documenting the sheer number of “fallen soldiers” – empty nips, beer cans, bottles of bottom shelf liquor – spotted around business parks while he was taking his lunchtime constitutional.

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We all see empties around the city.  For some reason we don’t really pick up on them the way Ben did yesterday, being that these particular empties seemed a lot more incongruous on the grounds of a business park in the suburbs.  Ben called what he documented “discarded evidence of alcoholism.”

And he’s absolutely right.

Day-drinking is fun, and funny, until it isn’t.  Until it becomes necessity.  Until it becomes the dirty secret that compels us to tell our coworkers that we’re “going for a walk,” like we’re just taking a break from the project at hand, to sneak off to the parking lot (or, in my case, the supply closet) to drink.  And we’re not sipping and savoring, wherever we are.  We’re furtively and desperately chugging, praying for that “relief” to wash over us so we can just FUNCTION.

Because as I’ve said countless times, drinking – for us – is not about pleasure.  It’s about drowning the howl we’re trying to keep from roaring up.

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Ben’s pictures broke my heart.  Because I remember what this is like.  Buying something that can be smuggled in, making excuses to sneak off somewhere to drink it, stuffing gum and mints into your mouth to mask the fumes, repeating this as many times as is needed throughout the day.

AND THEN – figuring out how to get rid of the empties.

Personally, I didn’t want to litter.  I still had enough shame around what I was doing to grasp the importance of proper disposal.  If you haven’t amassed an embarrassing number of empties in your hidey-hole, you can get away with stuffing them in your purse (arranging them against other objects to avoid the tell-tale clinking noises when you leave).  I also didn’t want to just dump them out into any old trash receptacle on the street, in plain view of everyone.  I preferred the dumpster in the alley next to a popular chain restaurant.  (You know – just sauntering down a dirty alleyway in my kitten heels and bolero jacket, like you do.)  Then a quick toss into the dumpster, and you’re good to go.  Until you have to do it again.  And again.

Can I tell you how EXHAUSTING that is?  Honest to God – it’s like a second full-time job, day-drinking is.  Except no one is supposed to know you’re doing it.  You’re pretty sure no one knows you’re doing it.  And that might be true.  For now.

And I’ll tell you something else – every last one of us knows how fucking insane this is.  But we HAVE to do it.  We tell ourselves that when things calm down a little, when there isn’t a deadline looming over us, this won’t be necessary anymore.  But when you’re an alcoholic, that time simply never arrives.  Because at this point, you ARE the crisis.  The ongoing, seemingly unsolvable crisis.  But you don’t see that.  And so the shitshow continues, with no intermission.

I saw those pictures, and said a little prayer.  Mostly of gratitude, because I haven’t lived that life in almost 16 years now.  But also for those parking lot drinkers, those smugglers of artificial solace, the people who’ve painted themselves into a corner and don’t realize that they can walk out of it at any time.

Ben put it all better than I could (unsurprising, since we were in graduate school together and he always could outwrite me):  “…addiction is never invisible, if you know where to look.”

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(All Photos courtesy Ben Kauffman.)

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.

To Megan.

2

I was directed to this painful read yesterday.

It’s heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking, because even 12+ years away from my last drink (a plastic cup of warm Chardonnay, which I couldn’t even keep down, because my body was fighting valiantly to keep any more alcohol from braying through my bloodstream), I relate to EVERY GODDAMN THING she writes here. And I suppose I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I can still easily plug into the memories of how painful, awful, and shitsuckingly BORING it is to be an active alcoholic.

Yes, boring. When you are that dependent on something, your every waking minute revolves around it. Obsessing. Planning. Scheduling. Having “rules” for yourself which keep you from being a real alcoholic. Not drinking before 5. Not drinking at work. Not drinking more than ____ drinks a night (you can easily get around that by drinking out of really big glasses, or continually topping off your drink because – hey – if the glass isn’t totally empty, it’s still only one drink). It’s a second full-time job, one that reaps absolutely no benefits.

It’s lonely, too. This sentence jumped out at me:

I’m upset that I’ve yet again stayed up, alone in my apartment, until the wee hours of the morning, watching music videos on YouTube I’ve seen a million times and sending embarrassing emails, which I type with one eye closed, the other bloodshot and squinting, because I can’t see straight.

I stopped drinking before YouTube was a thing. I can only imagine how much time I would’ve spent watching videos of the drippier New Wave ballads from my formative years and dry-sobbing in front of my laptop, lamenting my lost youth. Or something. As it stands, I spent my time listening to these songs on my stereo, drunkenly fumbling with the 45 sleeves and CD cases, listening to them over and over again until I passed out. Alone. On the crappy little futon sofa while my husband slept in the next room. He actually bought me headphones so he wouldn’t have to listen to this, and thus have some semblance of peace in the midst of my emotional hostage-taking.

Alcoholism gets you where it wants you: alone. Isolated. I drank alone even in a room full of people. That’s the paradox of it – so many of us start drinking because we can’t function around people otherwise. Koester puts it this way: having a few drinks makes it “easier to interact with the world through a filter.” I, like many alcoholics, am wired for isolation. Most people who know me would find that surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to go to a party, or to a show, or to any gathering of more than 3 people. Drinking made things easier. Drinking made me funnier, sexier, more creative. Until it just made me drunk. Until it made me prefer the company of my bottle (I certainly wasn’t enjoying my own company). Because to drink the way I wanted to drink required isolation. I couldn’t possibly drink as much as I was drinking around other people. Because they would know I had a problem. So fuck them. Fuck everybody.

Active alcoholism is also an inherently dishonest way to live. We compartmentalize our lives, being one person to one group of people (Wacky! Zany!) and an entirely different person to another group of people (Responsible! Considerate!), while being just one thing to ourselves: drunk.  And we manage this way for a long time, until we (if we’re lucky) come to the realization that we’re broken and in pieces. And then there’s that whole hiding the extent of your drinking from everyone (here’s an Inconvenient Truth™ for you: you’re not fooling anyone). To stop drinking is to face the horrible fact of having to be honest for the first time in…well…for however long you’ve been drinking alcoholically.

Here is the thing that I have learned time and time again in my recovery: DOING something (in this case, being honest) is never as bad as NOT doing it. Because while you’re avoiding the thing you’re afraid of, you’re prolonging the agony, and stacking up more consequences. A sober friend of mine put it to me this way: “When it gets too painful to continue, you WILL change.”

I wish I could sit across some sticky diner table from Koester and tell her that same thing.  But I’ll say this here:

Sobriety is not a death sentence, Megan. Taking away the drink will not take away the central parts of your identity. You don’t even know what those are anymore, because you’ve been drowning them. I’ve read this essay over and over again since last night. I so understand the terror you’re feeling at the very thought of not having that chemical escape hatch anymore. There’s a very palpable grief that happens when you know you have to stop doing this thing that’s NOT EVEN FUCKING WORKING ANYMORE.

You may very well not be ready to stop yet. I hope that changes soon.

It will be work, getting sober. It will absolutely fucking suck at first. But how much more work are you putting into drinking? Think about this.

I’m not the only person out there who read this and 100% related to it. We’re all over the place, and we’re ready to help you when you’re ready to be helped.

“Wine Humor”

1

We just got back from our yearly mini-vacay in Ogunquit.

There’s something about a beach town that brings out attitudes and behaviors that are contrary to everything I stand for.  First of all – there’s the very idea of being on a beach.  Ask any of my friends and loved ones to make a list of everything that describes me, “outdoorsy” would fall somewhere between “conservative” and “HUGE John Mayer fan,” which is to say – nowhere.

But I do like the beach.  I like the beach at dusk, I like the beach when it’s raining, and I generally just like the IDEA of the beach, so long as it’s relatively EMPTY.  Because that’s another thing about me:  despite the great many people who are identified as “friends” on my Facebook page, if you put me in a room with all of them at once, I’d completely break down.  One of the reasons I drank was to deal with the intense anxiety of having to be “on” in a room full of people.  Nowadays, I have to do a check-in with myself before I go to a party or a show:  Can I make it for a few hours without feeling overwhelmed?  Do I have a plan in place if I need to bail early?  Should I just stay home?  These are things that I am only just starting to learn, and to implement.

Anyway.  This was not going to be an entry about my anxiety issues.  This is, in part, about how going to Ogunquit every year makes me do things that I don’t ordinarily do.  Like go to gift shops.  I can’t help myself; even though I know what’s inside of each and every one of them, I have to go in.

Ogunquit is LOADED with gift shops.  And, but for the names and the locations, they are more or less the exact same gift shop inside.  One or two of them may go the extra mile and sell one or two things that the others don’t, but by and large you can expect every gift shop to have:

  • Vera Bradley bags.  Science may one day explain why everyone wants to go around with purses and totes that look like they were salvaged from “bed in a bag” kits on the clearance table at Homegoods, but it has yet to do so.  Count on at least 10 square feet devoted to all things quilted and flowery.
  • Bits of crockery and metal imprinted with inspirational words like “dream,” “believe,” “love,” “despair,” “dysentery” (okay, I made those last two up).  These are typically kept in little glass bowls at the point-of-purchase, so you can load up your pockets with inspiration for roughly $2.99/word.
  • Soap.  Soap that smells like blueberries, pine needles, and “beach” – which smells like no beach on which I’ve ever set foot.  Apparently “beach” is supposed to smell vaguely floral.  “Beach” really smells like hot asphalt, melted ice cream, Coppertone, and just a hint of decaying marine life.  A not entirely unpleasant smell, but I guess that’s not what people want their SOAP to smell like.
  • Ceramic trivets celebrating the joys of dog ownership.
  • Charm bracelets.  Particularly those Alex & Ani numbers that you apparently need to have 50 of – 25 for each arm.  Remember when everyone had to have a Tiffany bracelet?  Now you have to have an Alex & Ani bangle, only you have to have a million of them.

The remaining floor space of these gift shops is dedicated to objects that celebrate what I can only describe as “wine humor.”  Refrigerator magnets, plaques that have been sanded down and dragged across a 4-lane highway to look “weathered,” bottle stoppers, towels, pajamas, t-shirts…basically anything that will trumpet the owner’s lust for the grape.  “Wine glasses” the size of slow cookers.  Overpriced crap with zippy one-liners (“Wine improves with age…I improve with wine!”), like, hahaha – I sure couldn’t function without my WINE!

It’s really only been in the last couple of years that I’ve noticed this whole “wine humor” thing really take over the internet and, now, gift shops.  And maybe it’s because I’m sober, but I find the whole thing…irritating.  Almost like a nudging, winking acknowledgment that ALCOHOLISM IS FUNNY!  I’m not reeeeealllllly an alcoholic, but it’s sure fun and whimsical to wear a crystal-studded t-shirt suggesting that I might have a tiny problem with WINE!  Hee hee hee!

Listen – I’m not some strident, mirthless neo-prohibitionist.  I’m not anti-alcohol.  I’m the first one to poke fun at myself and my disease.  Humor is one of the many ways I keep it in check.  But there’s something about “wine humor” that I find really off-putting, and…kind of scary.  It feeds into the still-prevalent idea that alcoholism is something to be laughed at, except when it gets ugly or otherwise inconvenient, and then it becomes something to point fingers at.  Where’s your self-control?  Why don’t you just stop at one or two?  What’s the matter with you?  Ohhhh, look at that doormat!  It says, “You can’t buy happiness….but you can buy WINE!”  That’s so cute!

But the main issue I have with “wine humor” is that it seems to particularly target women.  It pushes wine as a harmless, and humorous, antidote to stress and anxiety.   A recent Wall Street Journal article about women and alcohol cited some rather disturbing statistics:

In the nine years between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for drunken driving rose 30%…between 1999 and 2008, the number of…women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52%.

In addition, women who abuse alcohol are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease and cirrhosis.

And yet cutesy gifts effectively giving women the A-OK to drink lots of wine are apparently really popular.  Wine, you see, is respectable.  It’s classy.  There is a ritual to wine.  Wine is something you pair with cheese, something you select based on your dinner menu.  Even if you’re drinking maybe a little more than you really should at night, it’s not something you’re abusing.  That’s vodka.

A sober friend of mine ONLY drank wine when she was still an active alcoholic.  And not Two Buck Chuck.  And always out of very nice stemware.  But it was always too much, it was always to drown out the voices in her head – the voices that nearly every woman alcoholic I know hears – telling her she wasn’t enough.  It was always to quiet the virtually nonstop thrum of panic.

11 years after my last drink (a plastic cup of Chardonnay, by the by), I am still learning how to deal with a stressful day/painful situation/room full of people without the aid of alcohol.  I don’t get to have a glass of wine to smooth the rough edges, and I suspect some people who are reading this believe I’m spoiling the “wine humor” fun for everybody else out of (pun intended) sour grapes.

As I said earlier, I’m not anti-drinking.  What I’m saying is this: most humor is not without its basis in some kind of pain.  It’s why I can laugh at myself, and at the absurdity of my situation.  But “wine humor,” to me, just isn’t particularly funny.

Eleven

3

I am eleven years sober today.

If one looks at one’s sobriety date as a rebirth of sorts, I guess you could say that I am in the “tween” stage of my recovery, like the sober equivalent of a Belieber who writes stuff on her arms in pink marker. Beginning to assert my independence by being kind of a brat. “Just drop me off HERE, Mom….I don’t want anyone to know YOU drove me.”

Does that make sense? Probably not.  Anyway…

Usually what I’ve done in the past, when I’m writing something on my anniversary, is go back and talk about what an unholy fucking wreck of a person I was in June of 2002. I was standing on the precipice of just one more in a series of burned bridges for which I was responsible because I couldn’t stop drinking. But most of you know this.

The morning I had my last drink (which kind of – technically – wasn’t my last drink because I actually couldn’t keep it down) was like every morning which had preceded it for months and months. I was singularly incapable of dealing with anything without anesthesia. I’d have something to settle my nerves and to stop my hands from shaking, and then sit at my desk and try to look like I was doing something, until the panic would well up in me again and I’d have to scurry off somewhere to attempt, once again, to drown it.

But as any recovering addict will tell you, you can never, ever chemically beat the fear into submission. It always comes roaring back, angered by your attempts to hold its head underbourbon. Or undervodka. Underchardonnay. Whatever.
But I wasn’t going to talk about all of that today.

This morning was like nearly every morning which has preceded it for several years. I got up. I scooped poop from the litter box. I made coffee. I assessed the leg stubble situation to figure out if I could get away with one more day of wearing a kicky little dress without shaving.

Let me tell you something: these are all miracles.

Part of my recovery is making sure that I never entirely lose sight of the fact that by the end of my drinking, I couldn’t even handle doing laundry. Another part of my recovery is making sure that I never tell myself “I wasn’t THAT bad.” Because I was. I was well on my way to drinking myself to death. That I can have a morning involving cat poop and leg stubble is a gift.

There are challenges right now. My mother-in-law continues to decline. I have to accept that I cannot reverse what is happening to her. There is no “reset” button I can hit that will make her the person she used to be. It is difficult to see this as a “gift.” It is a learning experience, certainly.

My mother-in-law lives from moment to moment now, pretty much. Explaining something that is coming up even two days into the future puzzles her. In a way, it’s kind of a template for the way I should be living. What I have is today, with its accompanying cat poop and coffee and challenges and joys. If I look too far ahead, I get overwhelmed. If I hold fast to expectations, I will invariably be disappointed.

Today’s pretty good so far. You?