Thursday, April 29, 2010
Unlike many of the women posting on this site, I haven’t been sober long. No “geological years of sober time” (as David Foster Wallace put it) for me to brag about. In fact, I’ve been sober only 18 hours.
I considered myself an ordinary drinker until perhaps a year ago. A glass of wine (or two) with dinner. Drinking to the point of tipsiness a few times a year. I hated hard alcohol and never touched it. And yet I’m now a woman with a bottle of vodka shoved into the back of our tiny kitchen linen closet, where I’m (almost) certain my husband and two-year-old son won’t discover it.
I didn’t drink during pregnancy. I didn’t drink during the first six months of breastfeeding. But when I began to wean my son, I went racing for the wine bottle after the last nurse of the night. I was confident the glass or two would depart my system by the time he woke up, hungry again, at 3 AM. And as the months went on, the two drinks became four, the wine turned into vodka, and the predictable stupid downhill roll of the alcoholic’s wheel began.
Parenthood is staggeringly hard, isolating, and frustrating for me. (An emotion that I never confess in public, because other mothers look at me as if I have three heads. It’s not hard for them. For them, even the tough times are lovely.) Alcohol is the way that I’ve coped, the way I’ve shored up my million weakness and failures. When my high-intensity son rejects the dinner I’ve just made for him; when he refuses to sit on the potty; when we run out of money again; when he kicks me, hard, in the stomach during diaper changes, I long for a drink. Anything to damp down the desperation and anger that rise when I simply don’t know what to do.
I had a child late in life, after much ambivalent discussion with my husband. I had never been around babies, or toddlers; had never taken much interest in them. But now there is this interesting, challenging, very beautiful little boy in our lives, and yet I cannot shake the feeling that I am not up to the task of raising him, that he should be with someone who can love him better, love him correctly, as every child deserves.
After a double shot of vodka, though, such anxieties recede. I can play Thomas trains with him for an hour without wanting to crawl out of my own skin. I can shoulder the burden of working eight-hour days, followed by the classic second shift of cooking, housework, cleanup, bathtime, book time, and bedtime, if only the magic silver liquid in the tall, etched shot glass is there for me. I won’t snap at him when he refuses to brush his teeth, screams his way through hair washing, and displays all the predictable illogic of his age. I can roll and tickle him and tell him how much he is loved.
I’ve gone to several AA meetings now. I’ve introduced myself, collected phone numbers, listened to everyone’s stories, bought the books, chatted politely after meetings. And yet, and yet. I don’t understand how the process is intended to work (perhaps because I can attend only a few meetings a week). When does the feeling of peace descend? When does the longing for a drink cease? How can the process work given that I’m a defiant atheist? When and how do I develop a sense of community with the other alcoholics in the room? I haven’t yet answered these questions, and while I’ve gone without a drink for a day here, a weekend there, I’m still the woman with the vodka hidden in the linen cupboard.
Last night my husband and I decided to remove all the alcohol (including that hidden bottle) from the apartment. I will see if I can go thirty days without a drink. The prospect is a desert to me, I must confess: no damper on my sadness, and no euphoria to balance my frustration.
I am standing at the bottom of an enormous hill, wondering how I will reach the top, knowing there is no top, because there is no drink, no relief waiting for me. I hope I can reach the month marker; I hope I can find other ways to still my anxiety, to access my love for my son. I hope there is another answer besides the magic silver liquid in its tall, etched glass.
But at the moment, there is only the endless upward road at my feet.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
"Cinderella dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella..." the girls are chanting this little ditty I've taught them in anticipation of our big movie night. Janet* is five and Janie* is two. My husband is gone for the evening, where I don't remember, and we are planning a girl's night. I'm excited, I'm making popcorn, a rare treat in our home, and I've purchased Cinderella 3 on DVD. We've been waiting for this movie to come out for months, maybe a year, and it's finally available. I of course am celebrating with some wine. There's a half bottle of red in the kitchen, more than enough for an evening alone with my two small children. I have a quick glass while making the popcorn, and then pour another and we settle in for the movie.
Somehow, the movie night is not going according to my expectations. Janie is bored, she wanders off to play. Or maybe she is nagging me to play with her, again, the memories are hazy. To settle my nerves I have another glass of wine. The bottle is empty now, and I want more. I don't think I have a problem. I am not a drunk. I just want one more glass. But if I open another bottle, my husband will know and despite justifying to myself that one more glass is no big deal there is clearly a part of myself that knows that it IS because I don't want him to know.
So I get the idea to open another bottle and drink it down to the same line that the first bottle was at. I'll hide the first, empty bottle and my husband will think that I didn't have anything to drink at all. Brilliant! But something goes wrong. As the level in the bottle gets lower I start to feel sick. I'm stumbling around, slurring my words. I've completely forgotten about my kids, the movie, everything except the level in that bottle. I have to force the last glass down, I'm that drunk. I don't want any more, but I have to get the bottle to half full and it never, ever would occur to me to dump it out. That would be wasteful!
I don't remember the ending of the movie, or if we even watched the end. Somehow I manage to get my kids upstairs and into my bed. I don't know if we put on pajamas, or if we brushed teeth. We probably did, since I do remember trying to read a book to them, and if I was coherent enough to read a book I probably had them brush teeth, right? Except I wasn't coherent, I was slurring my words like mad. The pages were fading in and out, the print just a blur. I was fighting unconsciousness. The room was going black. I think it was only 8pm. I quit reading and told my kids mommy was 'sick.' Then I passed out.
I don't know if my kids went straight to sleep, or if they stayed awake, talking over their drunken, unconscious mother. I don't know if they felt afraid, all alone in that big house with no one to take care of them. I doubt they knew the danger they would have been in if something had happened, a fire, a burglary, a medical emergency.
I don't remember my husband coming home, but I can only imagine how it looked to him. His wife, sprawled on the bed, passed out, reeking of wine. His two innocent children beside her, sleeping (or perhaps not). Did he try to wake me, to talk to me? Did I slur my words? Did I try to justify myself? Or did he just shake his head and go, wondering why I keep doing this?
At some point I did wake, that point where I was sober enough to face the full horror of what I had done, and sick enough to want to die. Red wine was hard on my stomach (which is why I later switched to white) and I spent several hours not able to sleep from the waves of nausea and repeated runs to the bathroom to puke my guts out. What excuse did I give? Food poisoning? The flu? Did anyone ever believe that I was 'sick' that often?
Somehow, I made it to morning. Somehow, I always seemed to finally sleep around 6am or so, and woke up feeling better albeit totally hungover. I looked around at the devastation I had caused, and swore to myself 'never again'. But it was just one of the million times I had said that, and there would be another million before I finally quit for good three years later.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
It is 6:15pm on a Saturday night. I'm stirring noodles in a steaming pot, and I'm angry. Finn streaks by naked, screeching at the top of his lungs. Greta is whining: Moooooom, I'm hungry, I don't want nooooooodles, over and over. Dishes are piled in the sink, the dog is barking, and my husband is in his workshop, tinkering away at God-knows-what. My head is in overdrive, a low roar forming in the back of my brain.
"FINN HIT ME!" Greta wails, and I cringe. Her hair is a mess, the kids need a bath, there is a huge pile of laundry to be folded. And the dishes need to be washed. Again. God, I'm so angry.
I want to run away, I want to scream. I want a drink.
Just one. I just want that warm glow, that peaceful, relaxed feeling that creeps into my limbs after the first few sips. I want to quiet that roar in my head; I just want to care a little less for an hour, or two.
"STOP IT, GRETA!" Finn screams. "MOOOOOOOOOOOOM!"
Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutup, I think. Just please shut up and leave me be.
Now both kids are crying. The dog barks louder. I snap.
"THAT. IS. IT!" I yell, and the kids' eyes go wide. I slam the spoon down on the counter and march out of the kitchen.
I storm upstairs into my room and throw myself on the bed. I'm too angry to cry. Images swirl in my head: happy, normal couples sitting down to dinner with a glass of wine in hand, laughing contentedly. I hate that I can't drink. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
It has gone quiet downstairs - no barking dog, no screaming kids. I hear my husband come up from his workshop. I hear murmuring, and the television comes on at a low volume.
I sigh. I try to think of all the things I've learned. I search for gratitude, for acceptance. All I can find is mean, red anger. I don't want to let go of my anger, I want to hug it to my chest until I explode.
I close my eyes, and lose myself in thoughts of a drink. I picture the weight of the wine glass in my hand, the sweet buttery smell of a good Chardonnay. I let myself drink it, in my head. I feel my body relax. I smile. I paint a mental picture of what I wish drinking was like for me, and I mourn it for a few minutes.
Then, finally, I do what I was told to do. I think through the drink. I mentally fast forward an hour, or two. I picture myself crouched in my bathroom, grabbing in the back of the cabinet for my stashed bottle, because my husband is done with his nightly drink and I don't want to stop. I can't stop. I've never been able to stop.
There is nothing in a drink for me.
I go back downstairs. My husband is stirring the noodles, Finn is dressed and the kids are happily watching a show.
"Okay now?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.
And I am okay. It is going to be okay.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I think I am addicted to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). Right now it's Lord of the Rings Online. Before that it was City of Heroes. Before that it was EverQuest. When I quit playing EverQuest (to play City of Heroes) my character play time was over 500 days. This was from 2000 to 2004. I spent over a year and a half of my life playing EverQuest. I'm sure I have more time in City of Heroes. Three accounts, and over 72 characters on the main server I played on. I don't play City of Heroes so much these days because I'm busy playing LOTRO.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Read "An Inauthentic Life, Part 1" here
So many bad things happened that fall when I returned to teaching. I had two fender-benders in a month. I walked out of class one day, angry at students who had not completed homework. I had never done anything like this in all my years of teaching and when I was called into the dean's office to explain I adamantly defended my actions. When he said he was worried about my job performance I blamed the demands of a newly adopted daughter. I blew deadlines and forgot meetings.
Spring semester rose up to meet me like a sledgehammer. I'd worked in places like Guatemala and Afghanistan and yet I was terrified, all the time, in my own home. The only time I relaxed was after my last class, which ended at 7 PM. I'd retire to my office, put on a pot of coffee -- the smell provides excellent cover -- and drink wine while I read, surfed the internet, played music. I told myself that going home right before Mimi's bedtime would cause too much disturbance. I told myself I would feel better with just a little bit of 'me time.'
Because that was the truth of it: I was miserable. I never considered alcohol the culprit. I truly thought I was being driven to drink by some unrelenting, unknowable force. I couldn't figure it out. I'd always been cerebral, bumping into walls with my nose in a book, unable to deal with real life. This was the ultimate proof, I thought, of what a misfit I was. I couldn't even manage to be a wife and mother, the most common and natural things a woman could be. Apparently if they don't offer a college degree in it, I will fail at it. Failure, failure, failure: this was the refrain that haunted me.
A very infrequent correspondence with an old boyfriend-turned-friend grew frequent and serious. He lived across the state, and our clandestine phone calls felt daring and romantic. We didn't have a physical relationship so I told myself I wasn't too hideous a person; when we started to talk about leaving our spouses to be together? Well, that's what we should have done in the first place. All of a sudden I could name dozens of romantic stories of people who took wrong turns on the way to being together with their soulmates.
So I made plans. I applied for a job with a university near where I'd studied for my doctorate. People there knew of my earlier work; I accepted an offer and planned to move that summer. I would be a better single mother, I thought, than the travesty I was making of family life.
March and April of 2009 were completely soaked in alcohol. It was everywhere. Stashed in the top of my closet, the trunk of my car, pockets of my coats. None of my tricks were original or clever: carrying recycling down the street, refilling wine bottles with water, telling the grocery store cashier we were hosting a party again.
In early May I had my first blackout. While in that state I apparently started a new Hotmail email account under an alias and wrote messages, perfectly spelled and correct in their grammar. To this day I don't know who all I wrote or why or what I said. I've been assured by someone who saw one that I don't want to know.
Two days later, Mimi and I flew to visit my mother, who had no idea of any of this. I kissed my daughter and rode off with my sister for a weekend's rest. At our first stop she disappeared with her Blackberry for a long time. We continued on and suddenly she pulled off the highway, took a few random turns, and deposited me at a treatment center a few hours from where my family lives, where my daughter would live for the four months of my treatment.
The staff at the hospital was not unkind, but they were not gentle, either. They took all of my belongings and locked them away. I was given a breathalyzer test, weighed and measured, blood drawn. The detox unit was in the psychiatric ward, and this is where they took me. When a nurse pointed out the one phone to be shared by the whole ward for 10-minute calls two evenings a week, I started to realize that this bizarre place was all quite real.
I had only one picture of Mimi, an old and crumpled one I'd happened to have in my wallet. I wasn't even allowed to have a book. It hit me then, how far from myself I had travelled, and what I had become.
That night, they gave me a shot to help me sleep. When I awoke in the morning I felt so refreshed that it took me several minutes to recall where I was and many more to venture out of my room. I was too distraught to feel gratitude (that would come later, and would be powerful when it did), but I knew I was incredibly lucky to have landed here, safe in a hospital. A woman down the hall was under guard; she had been driving when she crashed her car, killing her son and injuring her husband.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I Did It…
I went. To my first AA meeting. Have you done that before? Do you know what it is like? Do you remember what it was like?
Many have you been there before. Do you remember your first meeting? The fear of going in? The fear of knowing someone, of not knowing someone?
I circled around the block for awhile not wanting to be too early or too late. Just on time. I walked in. There was one seat left and I sat down. I looked down the entire time, not because of shame, I knew they had all been here before, but just because I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. I listened and watched everyone get their chips. They passed them around and I looked at them in awe. How did you do that? 4 months, 6 months, 11 months, 2 years(!). How is that possible?
But I sat and I listened. I listened to those people who had all that time; they didn’t look that much different to me. I listened to the woman who got her 11 month chip who said she didn’t really “get it” until about six months later, but she kept coming. I listened to the woman who said she wasn’t going to come tonight but every time she comes there is something that someone says that she needs to hear. I got that. ‘I’ needed to hear that.
At the end of the meeting, everyone got up. I started to put my jacket on because I thought it was over. It was not. Everyone got in a circle, held hands and said a prayer. Embarrassed, I said “I’m sorry; it’s my first time…” The woman next to me said, “Just take my hand.” But it was the nicest voice I ever heard. We said a prayer, and then after that I was bombarded with women offering me their phone numbers and words of encouragement.
Was I scared? Yes. Did I finally do it? Yes. Am I going back?
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
from this one place I can't see very far/in this one moment I'm square in the dark*
I don't know how to do this.
I don't know how and haven't been able to.
I don't even know how it happened. But it did. Even to me, the girl who is always fine because other people are not fine. It's this disease that forgot to skip me. It laughed at my always trying to be good and please everyone self and kicked my stubborn pride in the guts.
And then it kicked harder and harder.
I've always tried to be a bit invisible. Felt a little invisible. Even while bouncing and laughing and showing off. Even then.
Keep it simple. Keep it small. No one has time for your always so overly sensitive self, always so effected, so full of emotion. Just stop. Go numb. You'll be fine.
So the funny thing is, I didn't even really do this up very big.
I didn't drink all day, every day. I didn't get even one DWI or DUI or get in any kind of major trouble at all. I bathed my kids and made them meals and built things out of Legos. But I did it all while wanting to drink and then 5pm! drinking while I did it. Sneaky stolen glasses while my loves weren't looking, but they knew because they always know...she's not really with us. I was drinking myself to sleep or stumble and then feeling off and anxious and heavy behind the eyes all day, every day.
I don't like causing ripples, making a scene. I don't want to be the one people are calling each other about with Big News, as they bob around in my waves, a bit shocked.
So no, I didn't do this up big and yet it is still very very big. It drives me and drives me.
everything in me is tightening/I am fighting to stay open/stay open like a lake/I've no idea where to begin/to swallow up the way things are/everything in me is drawing in*
It progressed, from two a night to three a night and then more and more, taking on its big life, towering over me. That happened partly because I even stuffed it away, this addiction. So as not to bother anyone, even myself or God, I hid it away. I kept putting it away, glass by glass, somewhere inside me until I couldn't breathe, couldn't connect, couldn't pray. I tried so hard not to think about it, and lost so much sleep trying not to think about it.
And now, I'm so tired of living for 5 o'clock so I can pour my first and never last glass of wine. That's an empty thing to live for...
I don't know what's making me so afraid/tiny cloud over my head/heavy and grey with a hint of dread/I don't like to feel this way*
first glass, brain wakes up
more more more
more more more
time flying and
just want those hours of feeling better
but feeling nothing is not better
and it never lasts
there's no good way to hide*
I'm finally going to do something up big. I'm going to be a big quitter.
I'm terrified and totally humiliated and relieved all at once. And yet I have more peace than I've had in years. Even though I don't want to stop.
I quit denial quite some time ago but couldn't accept that I still needed to stop the beast I knew was in me. I spun my wheels, living just to fight the truth that walked around my heart and mind, begging gently to free me. Yes, I know I'm an alcoholic. But I'm fine.Because there is so much shame in this, so many finger waves and scowls at the corners of my memory, warnings of the bad bad bad choices. Don't make them.
Not everyone wants more more more. They have one glass and want no more. Why can't that be me, I'd ask. But that's not me. For me it's the sickness that it is, pulling me in with its false promises.
I used to think it was a choice. I used to think I was weak. And in some ways, I was. But there's also this: If you have a propensity toward addiction, it will lie in wait and devour you with even the smallest dose of the chemical thing that is harmless to many but not to you.
Now I'm trying to push the guilty thoughts away because shame never has helped me. It has only kept me drinking. Love on the other hand, gently walking circles around my heart...well, that's what is drawing me in and pulling me away from the need.
there's redemption in confession/and freedom in the light*
If I say this here, in the very space that I've used to focus on the beauty of my life and to keep me afloat... If I say it here, well then, I've said it and I can't turn back. This is not the kind of extraordinary I would like to keep in my ordinary life. So I said it here.
Like a promise.
And I say it here because I just want someone, you sitting there, my words resonating and seeming like yours, I want you to know you aren't alone. We all have our thing or things that bind us up and turn us inside out and it hurts so much, but I really think we can quit. We can be free.
I am quitting. Or rather, I quit. Yesterday, January 20, 2010 was the first day of the rest of my doing it up big quitting life.
I will not have a drink again. I will not go light and fuzzy or wobble. I will deal. I will strip it away until I uncover all the layers of things, lies I've told myself, that brought me here. I will always know that this is part of me, a part I can't come back to for just one drink, poking at the monster with a stick. No I can't. Because the beast will wake up and hover over me again, keeping me square in the dark.
I am quitting.
I don't have any idea how, but I'm about to find out...
a fire in my bones, fire in my bones/burnin in my bones/when the lights come up on this town/when the thing goes down/wanna be found when the lights come up on this/wanna be found tryin/when the lights come up/wanna be telling the truth*
I will do this for Ryan.
I will do this for Miles and Asher.
I will do this for me.
The me that's always been there, but has been covered up by this thing.
The me who is living for the moments of being fully alive
instead of living quickly through those moments until it's 5 o'clock.
I'm going to find her.
I'm not holding on to anything I'm not willing to let go of/to be free
I will lay my heart wide open/like the surface of a lake/bring the wind and bring the thunder/bring the rain till I am tried/when it's over bring me stillness/let my face reflect the sky/and all the grace and all the wonder/of a peace that I can't fake/wide open like a lake*
*all bold italics taken from songs by Sara Groves, on her album Fireflies and Songs (the album that helped me finally find myself trying.)
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I am not physically sure that I can get out of the car. But everyone has gone through all this trouble for me. They have come with me. To support me. And I really want to chicken out. For just getting to the parking lot to count. I do not want to disappoint and I am more afraid of what will happen if I don’t go in so I try desperately to remember how to walk. And breathe.
There are crowds of people inside. Dozens. Way more than I prepared myself for.
I try to choke out “I can’t” to my friends, but I can’t make my lips move. I eye the doorway and some stairs and think about bolting, but am afraid that will bring too much attention to myself. I make it into the room and stare and the signs on the wall and try desperately to be invisible.
“This is a safe place”
Screaming at me in its black boldface print.
But I am not convinced.
I choke on the air in the room and I scoff at the other looming signs.
“I love this place”
Canceled out by the one that tells the truth:
“Center For the Study of Addiction”
I agreed to go to this meeting with my roommate for a list of reasons:
I was afraid to tell God no.
I was afraid of what would happen if my room mate had to peel me off the bathroom floor and put me in bed one more time.
Afraid of ruining my upcoming marriage.
Afraid of who I’d become if I kept on like this.
I was afraid that if I had to tell someone I loved that I was sorry again for the same things they wouldn’t believe me. Afraid that maybe they already didn’t.
I look down at my shoes. I play with the sleeve of my sweater. I am afraid to listen. I reach for my friends hand and I slump in my seat and pray that I can make it back home before I start crying.
A girl who doesn’t look so different from me takes the podium. Of course she introduces herself as an alcoholic and my stomach twists at the word and I look back at my shoes.
She talks about the 12 steps. She passes out chips. Birthdays.
I don’t even want to touch the first chip as it is passed around. I quickly hand it off to my neighbor. Afraid that it might rub off on me. That I will catch it. But I’m afraid I already have this disease and it is eating away at me. And it is winning every time.
I am still so terrified. Terrified that I belong here. That I should be standing up. But I keep looking at my shoes and tugging at my sleeve and finally someone says something that I want to hold on to.
“That it is good to be scared. Because that means change is coming.”
I don’t want to be in these damn chairs. Or this room. Or passing around little plastic chips. But I do want to change.
And the more I look around I’m not really so sure why I am so scared. Because these people surrounding me are winning. Or at least trying. They are so much stronger than me. And I know that my God has for me the same strength. I just wish that the presentation would occur somewhere other than an AA meeting.
So I go home and pour out the wine in the fridge while I still have the courage.
And I wait.
For warmth and relief.
To feel anything besides shame.
And a little comes.
Just enough for me to make it to tomorrow.
But for now that is enough.