Richard Krzyzanowski has been sober for three years, but he still wakes up terrified after dreaming about the warm embrace of bourbon.
The sweet song of the bourbon bottle plays as the soundtrack to my fantasies of death. I will never act on them. I just want to feel the thrill of questioning whether or not I could. I can’t. The thrill would end the second it was accomplished and I’m much too scared of that going away.
But the bottle calls out to me, nonetheless, whispering sweet nothings as if it were a long lost lover aching to be in my arms again. It only asks for a sip. Nothing more than a taste. One won’t hurt enough, though. The first few sips will have a bit of burn as they flow down, but that will be numb before it makes any lasting impact. And so, it isn’t the sip or the drink that calls out, but rather the bottle. It is a siren calling me to lose myself in its warm embrace.
The ice cubes will clink as they hit the bottom of the glass. There will be only two of them so the burn doesn’t get watered down. They will crack as the warm, brown liquor rolls off of them. It’s only one, so I might as well pour it well. There is no sense in going back for a second.
The first sip numbs the lips and burns the throat. It is small, so I can pretend that I’ve taken it strictly for the flavor. I pull on the glass as if it will give me eternal youth. By the time the third sip rolls around, any pretense about why I drink is gone. Why try to hide it? There is no one else here with me. I know why I do it.
By this point in time, the urges of the daily addiction start. They want me to step out into the fresh air and set a fire, then pull the smoke into my lungs. The nicotine and vegetable glycerin pacifier that I carry around will no longer do the trick. The bourbon begs for smoke, real smoke, not the vapor to which I’ve grown accustomed. It wants the pain of the burning smoke as it scorches the back of my throat. It craves the feeling of my lungs as they absorb the coveted drugs out of the smoke. It needs the feeling of release when I push the smoke out.
The demons aren’t yet still. One more monkey needs feeding before death’s dreams fade. The bottom of the plastic bag is covered with green, fluffy nuggets. The smell of skunk wafts as the pouch is opened. My fingers move in a knowing fashion to pinch off a bit of the greenery. They are careful so as to not compress the little bud between them. They roll it back and forth to break it apart and let it fall into the tiny stone pipe that sits in my lap.
I am again outside. The fire starts and I pull it into the pipe with seasoned lungs. It is a long, slow, smooth pull intended to get as much smoke as possible without causing a cough. Half way through, I open my lips in an ersatz smile that drags in air and allows me to pull more smoke. I release the fire button and move the pipe away from my face. My mouth opens as I follow the smoke with air; to make sure that I can hold it all in. I wait. My breath is still within me. My lungs absorb another dose of another drug. My face starts to get warm. I can feel my lungs begging for respite. I exhale, slowly, in the controlled manner of a man who practices yoga as a way to escape addiction. This process is repeated twice more. The familiar numbness takes over. The body stops aching or the brain stops noticing, I can never be sure which.
The glass is empty so I fight the ice cubes for the last bits of bourbon. They battle valiantly until my teeth clamp down and crush them. The bottle whispers no more. It is more of a war cry, now. It taunts me to come again. And again. A different voice in my head screams, “NOOOOO!” in a rage. The bottle’s silence deafens me. I fall into bed and proceed into dreamless sleep.
That, or varying degrees of close approximations of it, was my life. I don’t miss it. There were, of course, various stretches of sobriety that did little more than to allow me to feel actual fear, just as these past three years of sobriety have done. In being able to feel that fear, I’ve learned to start embracing it as a pathway to healing the underlying emotional issues that have plagued me for most of my life. I have no desire to go back to the numbness of addiction. It actually makes me physically sick to drink now. Even just one drink upsets my stomach and sends my blood pressure through the roof. I find no enjoyment in it, but it calls to me still. That is a burden that I will probably bear for the rest of my life.
I often wake from these reveries in the midst of my days. Just as the urge to vomit subsides, I inhale deeply. Then I take a small step forward knowing full well that I may take two steps back.
Photo: Flickr/Michael Gaffney