I originally wrote the following in Spring 2016. It’s been sitting as a draft ever since, though I’ve returned to it from time to time…like someone studying the pages of an old photo album. As I settle into my second year of sobriety, it’s become more and more difficult to remember what it looked like – the inside of the struggle and how it all felt. This piece serves as a witness to that history.
What am I so afraid of? What is it that I fear? What is so grotesquely difficult about being alone with my thoughts sans booze? I’ve read enough to know my drinking has something to do with fear (what fucking fear?! what is it, already!?!) But right now, my biggest fear is that I’ve crossed some invisible line and no longer maintain control over the urge to stop at the store on my way home from work to pick up bottles of wine or a case of beer.
Despite knowing exactly how that story ends, as I’ve lived it hundreds of times before, I am still enticed. And this angers me. Two mornings ago, I woke up hungover as hell and screamed aloud in my empty apartment, “I don’t want this anymore!!!” I made up an excuse for the umpteenth time as to why I was going to be absent from work that day, puked in a bowl while laying naked on my couch, and couldn’t move until 7 p.m. When I screamed, “I DON’T WANT THIS ANYMORE!!!!!!” I meant it. Last night I prayed for sobriety and felt so excited at the prospect of a radical and subversive teetotaling lifestyle, I came close to publicly announcing my decision to become alcohol-free. I got on my knees this morning and asked God for a sober day.
What’s so fucking hard about that? Why is it so fucking hard?
It’s 1:46 P.M. on a Wednesday and I am suddenly struck with the urge to drink this evening when only a few hours ago, my resolve felt steady as can be.
So I’m trying this…and in some small way, I am already experiencing a bit of relief via storytelling. I will not stop on my way home to buy alcohol. I will not stop on my way home to buy alcohol because I am already intimately familiar with the outcome of that decision. I need to verbalize the outcome of that decision. I need to acknowledge what it looks like…I need to see it clearly, down to the dirtiest murkiest detail.
Here’s how it would look…here’s how it looks every single time: I’d leave work through the back door of the office building at 5 p.m. and in doing so, I’d also leave my mind. As if the logical portion of my brain was transported to another dimension, I’d barely remember the drive to the store, or the actual purchasing of the alcohol and cigarettes. For those 20 or 30 minutes, my cognitive function no longer belongs to me, but to some other primal and merciless being, hell-bent on killing my body with robotic perseverance.
It isn’t until I’m seated in the worn and sunken corner of my couch, cigarette in one hand, drink in the other, that I come to. For some reason, that moment seems to be the finest moment and the moment that provides a glimmer of anticipation and longing right now during my mid-Wednesday what the fuck. Though I never considered it before, I see now it’s that moment and the devilishly sweet promise of impending numbness I crave. The first swig of cabernet sauvignon in harmony with the first puff of a cigarette is the instant I know I am about to escape for a few hours into a world of Netflix binge-watching, cigarette chain-smoking, and drinking my brain into an unintelligible stupor. Inside the escape, there is no worrying about the weight I’ve packed on over the years. No stressing over my complete lack of direction in the areas of career, love, finances, or happiness. No contemplating my breakup or my fuck ups or my deteriorating health or my broken spirit. Just the numb and the nothing. I am tempted by the lure of that kind of promise…blended into a bottle, invisible to the eye, but wholly present amidst liquefied fermented grapes.
I’ll promise myself ‘only one or two’ (at this point, ‘only one’ can be translated to mean ‘only one bottle of wine’). And if I could just keep that measure, which is already a dangerously excessive amount of alcohol, I’ll be okay (which is to say, my hangover will be somewhat manageable and I won’t miss work again). But as the first bottle dwindles, I will start bargaining with myself. At some point, I’ll know. It now happens every single time I drink. My promise of ‘only one bottle of wine’ will float out of my apartment on the plumes of the cigarette smoke being forcefully blown out my window with the help of a shitty whirring fan.
Here’s the thing I’ll know: I’ll know it was always going to end like this. I knew before I even poured my first glass. I knew I’d end up schlegging myself to the liquor store on the corner, embarrassed beyond belief at my frequent-flier status, but not embarrassed enough to call it a night and stop imbibing. Because one bottle isn’t enough. It’s shameful, but I’m tipsy, and my emotions are almost numbed, and life is hard, and this is the last time, and fuck it.
If I decided to buy alcohol on my way home tonight, I would stop at a different liquor store on a different corner, because that one is “on my way home.” But really, I’d have stopped at that particular market for a more sneaky and pathetic reason: it’s further than the liquor store on the opposite corner of my apartment complex. Which means, when I’m a bottle deep and pretty drunk but choose to buy more (as will inevitably happen), I won’t be patronizing the same liquor store twice in one evening. As if this super-sophisticated plot fools any of the employees at either liquor store, of which there are few, all of whom know me on sight.
Second alcohol purchase of the night completed (and probably about $40 in the hole at this point), I’d return to the corner of my couch where, for 18 months, I’ve been doing my best to disappear entirely…or kill myself…whichever comes first. I’d be feeling pretty witty or articulate or funny or sexy or something totally not true by then, so I’d either post something regrettable on social media (like a cleavage-intensive selfie or some long, drawn out, pseudo-intellectual commentary on the latest news headline), or, even worse…I’d start texting.
I’d start texting men I have no business texting and saying things I have no business saying and sending pictures that should have never been taken. There have been mornings in the past, after a particularly sleazy evening of electronic communication, when I couldn’t even bring myself to open the conversation to read what was said. I deleted the messaging thread without so much as a cursory glance, because I already knew. I knew it was inappropriate and demeaning and shameful. It’s even worse when I wake up to find that I spent the previous night communicating with someone’s boyfriend or husband. Will I ever break the habit of wanting what is not mine? Will I ever outgrow this destructive pattern of disrespect and disgusting behavior? In those moments, I am humiliated. In those moments, I wonder if the hatred I feel toward myself is enough to burn me up from the inside out…to eviscerate my entire being.
I’ll vow ‘never again’ for something like the one-millionth time. And here’s the thing, I’ll mean it. I’ll mean it so ferociously that if someone were to attach my body to a lie-detector test, I’d pass with flying colors. Never again.
What’s even scarier to me now, as I write this, is the realization that I’ve actually gotten better at it, for lack of better phrasing. I deleted the phone numbers of men I only text when I’m wasted, thus alleviating at least some of the embarrassing mornings-after. I haven’t sent pictures in months, which probably speaks more to the fact that I can’t even stand the sight of my own naked body, let alone capture it on camera…than it does to any kind of imaginary self-control. I’ve also had fewer and fewer nights of texting anyone at all.
Perhaps all that means is my love of drinking to oblivion has superseded my desire to connect with other human beings…even shallow, attention-seeking, sexually-explicit connections with meaningless men. I know why it started and I know why it continues. Something in me longs for a particular form of validation, one that seems to only accompany desire. I pine for suggestive verbiage and wink-face emojis and the thrill of seeing someone say they want me in some sick and sexual way. Because I don’t want myself. And I haven’t for as long as I can remember. And tomorrow, I’ll want myself even less.
I’ll originally plan on stopping at 9:30…then 10:30…then midnight…until I ultimately stumble into my bed around 2:00 A.M., cursing myself and my lack of self-control. I’ll awake the next morning, still drunk and clumsy and late. I’ll look like shit, feel like shit, and detest myself so viciously that I’ll swear and promise and vow and really really mean it when I say, that was the last time.
Until, of course, another Wednesday afternoon like this rolls around…and I find myself wanting to do the thing again, the thing that will assuredly pull me under any day now – the thing that will snuff out whatever hope remains. How many more last time’s will it take? Will this nightmare ever end?