It's Okay If You Can't Even Do Half 30. Or Any 30. Or Anything, Today.

Wine two

The new year can be a different circle of hell on the internet for an addict. The holiday season is bad enough, what with the world drinking all over the place like we do on April Tuesday afternoons or whenever, and all of those ads for parties and presents with bottles as phallic symbols or vaginas or boobs wrapped in tinsel and ribbon. Everyone pretending to be alcoholics and calling it a-wassailing, basically. Drink drink drink whooo! 

But normal people can do this. Complain about hangovers as temporary states of affairs, and alcohol calories as a time-limited indulgence, not a dietary staple. Because then it's January, and they--we're--supposed to give it up. Just stop. Don't do that drinking thing anymore. What are you thinking, with all of that eggnog and whatever else your lush ass has been pouring down its throat since Thanksgiving like you're allowed to just pour such things down your throat without a calendar-driven expiration date?

And it's not just drinking. People are giving up sugar now, too. Pouring the gluten, if there is any left anywhere, down the trash chute with the turkey and figgy pudding remnants. No more dirty food, either. Everyone is clean eating. Plus definitely no more shopping, I don't even care about those e-mail subject lines from all of your favorite retailers in January, about killing winter blues with fire and your debit card.

Stop it. Stop doing all of the things that you did with reckless abandon in December, when you were allowed. Except do the things you're supposed to start now. Because you're supposed to start working out like a lunatic. The worldwide warning went out that it's January, and that means yoga and spinning and treadmilling as if your very life depends upon it. (There is no space in yoga, all of everyone's dirty mats are touching because happy new year!) 

It's insanity, is what it is. It could drive a regular person to drink, and for sure an alcoholic like me, who never needed any excuse anyway.  

All of the years I lived in active alcoholism on the internet (oh, to erase caches and delete whole years of digital babble, if only) I tried to play along, mostly because I felt like I had to, and if I did, maybe that meant I didn't have a problem. Because a big part of being a slave to addiction, for me, was pretending -- that things were okay when they weren't, that I was just like you, my friend who could drink one glass of wine and "be done" or "not be in the mood" for more, who could actually be motivated enough by the promise of weight loss to cut down, or, more unthinkable, even stop. 

What in the actual hell? What does that even mean? I can't even buy one green pepper, as an old roommate noted who pointed out that I needed two of everything, it didn't matter what. Two, like my vegetables or butter pats or what have you needed a buddy. Certainly my drinks did. They needed a whole tribe, a murder of glasses of wine. When people have one drink, I look on in awe, like how did you happen? 

I haven't had any drink of any kind for 18 months, which is a long time for a person like me. And this holiday season was almost weirder than last year's, which was my first one sober in my adult life. This one was, if this were a Friends episode, The One Where We're Really Not Drinking This Was Not a Drill. And after it was over, when January 1 rolled around, and the people who'd been posting themselves with goblets and steins full of pure, unadulterated alcohol for two months, and also cookies and slabs of various barks and the like, started going full-on Whole 30 clean eating CrossFit sign up that I realized the difference between (probably almost all of) them and me. (Although I'm not equating alcohol addiction with food or exercise issues, which is another post.) I also remembered how upset I used to get when I realized that even if I wanted to? I couldn't stop what I was doing on January 1 any more than I could have stopped it on any other day until I was ready. I used to negotiate mentally with the South Beach diet induction phase -- like, how could this work for me except for the no wine part? The answer for me, unfortunately, was not more treadmill time. Tried that. Wine is a sugar-saturated weight loss impeding asshole, basically, one that I could absolutely not give up. 

Because I needed it. It wasn't a choice. And I believe (although I am not a sugar or addiction or anything scientist, just a person with an experience) that if you are a true addict, you won't necessarily be able to stop doing it, whatever it is, either, because the internet says. It doesn't mean you are a worse person than your Facebook friend who is down to gnawing at the fairy dust in the air in front of her because she's cut out that devil gluten AND wine (oh, how blithely they're all "no wine for 30 days," hahaha) and emojis and joy. Until alcohol had kicked my ass the exact amount it needed to to kick down the door of my "I can't" to some version of "I can, I think, maybe", or at the very least "I have to because I'm going to die soon if I don't and somehow I don't think I really want to all of  a sudden, wow, crazy", I couldn't have done it. Maybe some people can. I'm sure there are stories somewhere of someone's sobriety kicking off with a dare, but mine sure didn't. The stories I read just made me angry, and sad, and looking at a failure in the mirror who'd go to 90 minutes of hot yoga and then home to an empty apartment and a thwarted plan not to pour two bottles of wine down my throat. 

I didn't really want to do that dance anymore, not after it started hurting so badly, and I suspect that no one else does either. I believe that to my core. And I believe that now from a place where I read these yearly January marches to dietary minimalism and vice reduction and know that not even the best intentions and solid gold wishes could have made me successful at them. I want to hug anyone who is reading along and feeling like she should be able to be better, that her insides should look more like other people's outsides, that a hashtag and an Instagram challenge should save her from herself. I'd go back and hug me, if I could, although that sounds weird so maybe not. All I have today is the knowledge that my recovery didn't turn on a calendar page, which is good to know because it means I get it, that I'm strong now, that I always was, really, I was just walking the road until a miracle dropped down into a hellish day in July and said I was done. 

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SpiritsPicture by me 

365 days ago I was hung over for the last time since then. (I hope so, can't say ever because I'm not a clairvoyant wizard.) It wasn't a remarkable hangover. That one happened on a scary day earlier in the week, the day I decided that this was the end, one way or the other, and as pointless as it felt at the time, I decided to give the better, less sad option a crack.

Today I woke up and read some stuff and went to see some people about some things, and I felt pretty good about it. I didn't feel good about much most Sunday mornings for a long time. Or Saturday mornings. Or your random Wednesday mornings. That's different today. That's good. 

Yesterday I went back to the place I was on the last day I ever drank, in some kind of pilgrimage to a self I remember, very carefully and intentionally without dwelling on her, because it's important not to forget how wrecked this life was should I ever get any brilliant revisionist ideas about that. The whole past month and some change (because things really started to get bad from May on, after a years-long slide downward into terrible) has been a constant, evolving flashback, varying between fuzzy old-time newsreel and the kind of shift to relentless, vivid colors like Dorothy saw in Munchkinland post-Kansas. The dates, the holidays, the birthdays, the landscape melting from spring into summer has been really hard. Even as I'm focused on how much better things are today, there's a natural grieving process in my practiced, naturally negative (and also sentimental) mind for the simplest of things, like, say, lunch being over, so big life changes get them big time. This is getting better, but it's slow.

I'm amazed that I've been able to be productive at all, considering the time I've spent involuntarily remembering things I've forgotten about where I was last year, how I felt (that's the worst, yuck, feelings), how I spent every day in a place of self-loathing and terror, no longer able to physically tolerate the consumption of a substance that I thought I needed to live. 

I am grateful for those feelings now, for that terrifying physical experience, because it was so bad that the memory of it and the knowledge of how quickly I'd crash back into it if I brought alcohol back into my life again as anything other than a respected adversary and a cautionary tale is the solitary thing that has kept a drink out of my hands for a day shy of a year. (I am not celebrating until it's actually the 14th. A year is a year.) 

It's the fundamental conundrum of the addict. That which kills you also seems to sustain you, has in fact done that in some way for so long that the thought of living without it (even while you're dying, while it's kicking your ass into oblivion, yes, even the wine on the top shelf and the better IPAs) is unthinkable. If I hadn't been numbed out somehow for all of those years how would I have survived these feelings, right? How? I'm really not sure. This is the part that seems the hardest, in my experience, for normal people to understand. I've read some unfortunate internet comment sections and heard some sketchy comments in real life about the deaths of Cory Monteith and Philip Seymour Hoffman that show me just how much people don't get it, either can't or won't, depending. Drugs aren't part of my story, but I relate to those guys anyway. They got lucky for periods of time, too. They found some grace along the way, and then it went away, and that was that. I want longer. I want my full allotment. I'm only almost a year old. 

So yesterday I went back to Annapolis and I went to the same teeny park on a corner that I sat in front of last year. I felt like a fool, but I did it anyway, and it turned out okay. I sat in a corner spot at the restaurant where I ate with a friend on Saturday last year, and I had a club soda (three, actually.) and a dozen oysters and some crab dip. And when I had satisfied whatever I needed to by being in that place on this particular day, I left. I walked by a wine store and I looked up and I realized that it was actually the last place I'd ever bought wine, ever, and I marveled that even as a woman came out of the shop saying "Guys! It's a free tasting!" that I felt only the oddest ancient twinge, that my feet had zero urge to follow her, because they know, as connected as they are to my brain and my heart at this point in the service of taking me to the places where I need to be to get me where I need to go, that there is nothing but destruction in there for me behind some beautifully-designed labels.  

I went instead to see some friends who help to keep me on the path I'm on and then I went home and went to sleep. It was a really good day. 

 (I wrote this post on July 13, 2013 and just found it in my drafts. I guess it wasn't time to hit publish yet.) 

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