“I love this world. I want to stick around.”
I came to in pitch dark. I did not know where I was. My hair felt partly wet. I didn’t remember how I’d gotten there, wherever I was; I didn’t remember whatever had preceded my being there. I began to slap and claw at the walls close around me, feeling for a doorknob, a light switch, something that would give me a clue about where I was or how to get out. Growing increasingly frustrated, I cried out my boyfriend’s name. A door opened, a light came on, and he was there. I was on the floor of my own bathroom.
I had barf in my hair. There was barf on the rug, barf ghosts on my leggings. My boots were off and my miniskirt was nowhere to be seen; my boyfriend had tried to gently coax me to take a shower earlier and had helped me take off some things before I completely passed out. I had probably indicated a desire to sleep there on the floor, knowing me, or maybe it was just the smart thing to do, letting me sleep by the toilet in case I got sick some more. I probably even closed the door and turned off the lights, and if I’d been capable of any decency at all I’d have urged him to go on to bed. But I don’t know. I remember nothing of these things.
On the night of the Geminid Meteor Shower, I had made a big cathartic, self-congratulatory fuss about dumping out my trunk booze. Well, I guess I found a loophole that would allow me to not break my vow to never drink trunk booze again: purse booze. Hours earlier I had drunk an entire purse-sized bottle of sweet-tea-flavored vodka — not the huge, party-size bottle but just one size down, the one that looks like a giant flask — plus two screwdrivers at my friends’ concert. In fact, I selected this particular bottle of vodka precisely because it would fit inside my purse (despite how much the young, bored salesguy at the ABC Store had gushed to me about this new pink bubblegum-flavored vodka they had, which was, alas, sold only in a tall, skinny bottle with a long, stately neck). I paid for the booze, stepped outside, tossed the receipt and discreet brown paper bag into the nearby trash receptacle, tucked the bottle into my purse, and continued smugly on my way, as if crossing an errand off a checklist. Which, in fact, I was.
I had planned to get drunk for the concert. This was absolutely premeditated. This was no case of underestimating a particular cocktail’s strength or miscounting how many I’d had. A lot of my friends were going to the show, and I didn’t want to be shy and moody and boring, some introspective drag; I’ve been that way far too often in life. I wanted to be able to talk to people. I wanted to be normal and have a good time.
I realize that right there is part of the problem — I was focusing only on myself. How I wanted to be perceived. How I wanted to feel.
This concert was the farewell-for-now show for my friends’ rock band, a group of dedicated virtuosos who write passionate, complexly structured, sexy songs with booming emotionality and perform them with volcanic force. I find it challenging to write about music in a purely adjectival manner without sounding like some wannabe reviewer, but I’ll just say that I never went to this band’s shows “just” because I knew them, or “just” because they were local. I went because I was and am a fan.
And last night was their last show, and I remember almost none of it because I was too busy bombing my brain and blitzing my liver with purse booze. I was too busy sabotaging myself.
After I woke up barf-covered on the floor of my own bathroom, my boyfriend suggested that I take a shower, and I summoned up barely enough gumption to stand up, take the rest of my clothes off, and shower. I even had the wherewithal to remove my contact lenses and brush my teeth. I put on my bathrobe and a pair of pajama pants, and I went downstairs to sleep on the couch. I did that because from the moment I’d surmised that I was in this state because of booze, I’d kept thinking of one word, the same word, over and over again.
I hated myself and I didn’t feel worthy of climbing into bed beside my boyfriend, where I normally sleep. I felt that doing so would be reprehensibly presumptuous of me, would make me seem blithe or unrepentant. It’s not that far from when our housemate’s dog shits somewhere he’s not supposed to. He knows better, so after he does it he hides under the bed, and when our housemate or my boyfriend sternly calls out his name to summon him for a “Bad dog!” (it’s never me, because I plain old don’t have the heart for it; if he were my dog, he’d probably be completely undisciplined and shitting all over kingdom come), he slinks along low to the ground and takes the chastising with a shamefully lowered head.
I know better.
In the morning, I joined my boyfriend in bed for a while, relieved that he seemed welcoming to my presence there. I got up and tried to eat some cereal. I threw it up immediately. I chugged water and got back into bed. I lay there curled in pain and couldn’t get up until 3:30 in the afternoon, and even then I was shaky. I drove to Barnes & Noble to get one of their greasy cafe sandwiches, the pricey panini ones, thinking the visibly dripping grease would do me good. (More grease equals more calories equals more of the alcohol that’s still in my system getting metabolized, or so goes my crackpot notion of drunk science.) I seriously worried that I’d ralph it back up right there in the store, but it stayed down and helped me feel better. I eschewed my daily mocha frappuccino (worried that the coffee would further dehydrate me) in favor of some weak iced tea. Slowly I got better.
Last night was bad. It could have been worse.
I didn’t try to drive at any point; I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I’d been “pre-gaming” while listening to music and putting on make-up in the bathroom with the door closed, but I handed him my keys as we were walking out to go to the concert, and that’s usually a pretty clear sign of what I’ve been up to (I like driving much better than he does and am usually behind the wheel when the two of us drive anywhere). I didn’t drive home either, of course. The thought of me trying to drive home after the show is just flat-out ludicrous, as I don’t even remember that part of the night. No kidding, it’s one giant black hole in my mind. But on other nights, I have been stupid enough to drive. Both ways.
I didn’t pull a Jimi Hendrix and choke to death on my own puke, but I could have; my grip on consciousness for a significant part of last night was tenuous at best.
I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, although how I can be as OK as I am right now after downing an entire bottle of 70-proof vodka plus two vodka-containing cocktails (plural) is beyond me.
I could have done any of those things.
So today I’ve been walking around in this eerie half-ghost state, meandering through the gorgeous springtime woods with my boyfriend at early sunset, enjoying cooking a Chinese-themed vegetarian dinner with him instead of being mentally elsewhere as I too often am, marveling at my own corporeality and what an exquisite organism the human body is, just so fucking grateful to be alive, to still be here.
Today on Facebook I re-posted this photo that I shared once — I took it on what was supposed to be “Day 1” of me being sober a couple of years ago. It’s just this chintzy butterfly windchime in a neighbor’s tree back where we used to live in Herndon. I liked it because somehow, in all the months I’d been walking back and forth past that neighbor’s front yard on my way to Starbucks or the grocery store or the bank, I’d never once noticed the butterfly in the tree, not until the day I’d decided to pour out the trunk booze and try to stay sober. I failed in that aim, and impressively fast. (I think I was out drinking, spewing the contemptible “Everything in moderation — including moderation!” line that’s fantastic for everyone but alcoholics, within the week.)
With the re-posted image, I repeated my broken vow to stay the hell away from alcohol. This announcement was met with a deluge of humbling and supportive messages, public and private, from friends. Tonight I got the kooky notion of having some fun with “virgin” “mixed drinks” — I bought a bottle of Sprite, some “blueberry lemonade,” some peach nectar from the Latin-American foods section, and even looked for (but didn’t find) little cocktail umbrellas. I mixed it all together at home and added way too much blue food coloring, going for the look of blue curaçao but leaving the drink looking as if it’d been dredged up from the aphotic “midnight” zone of the marine depths. I want to be a happy sober person; I want to be one of those people who say things like, “Yep, 719 days sober!” I think. Although now that I see that typed out, it looks a little pitiful.
What I know is that I love life. I love my life. I love my caring and supportive friends. I love my boyfriend. I love the woods in springtime when the sun is just starting to go down, walking through and misidentifying wildflowers but it doesn’t really matter because “a rose by any other name” and all that. I love all the books that I have yet to read and all the stories I will write. I love the future stretching out before me, a future in which I have not yet fucked up and might not fuck up again. I love this world. I want to stick around.