Oysters and Champagne

It was a pretty intense meeting last week.  Some dude told a story about pawning all his relatives’ stuff, some other chick told a harrowing tale of living on skid row, doing heroin, and turning tricks to fund her habit.  And then it came to me, and what did I want to talk about?  How damn annoying it was that the manager of some fancy restaurant had the nerve to bring us complimentary glasses of champagne just because they were out of the oysters we ordered.  God, what an asshole I am.

And if you’re wondering whether I checked myself and saved my tale of woe — woe!  not only were they out of oysters, but also I had to face a glass of champagne! — for another time, the answer is no.  I mean, my struggles are my struggles, right?  Or, if my life is unmanageable for me, it’s unmanageable, right?  Yeah, I keep telling myself that.

But it really was sort of hard.  Dinners out are hard for me.  Of all the types of drinking, I romanticize them the most.  If I had quit drinking 10 years ago, I would have those pangs about bars and clubs, I’m sure.  But recently my favorite drinking, the drinking I think of wistfully, through rose-colored glasses, has occurred in restaurants.  A good bottle of wine, good food, good conversation with my love, or with friends.  That buzz.  The color of the wine, the smell.  The taste.  So for the first month or so after I quit, I avoided restaurants with wine lists.  Truthfully, I avoided restaurants, period.

Anyway, this particular night, we went to a favorite place.  Andrew and I had both been working like crazy, and we needed to reconnect.  I ignored the wine list, sucked it up, and ordered sparkling water.  He ordered a beer.  We settled in, food started coming, and all was well.  Until that damn champagne arrived.

Maybe I should have sent it back, I don’t know.  It was just a friendly little gesture from the manager, and I guess I was surprised by it.  So the glass just sat there.  I sipped my water and tried to ignore it.  Tried.  Tried being the operative word, here.

It just kept sparkling at me.  Those little bubbles rising charmingly to the surface.  The candle flickering behind it.  I kept it there in front of me because  I wanted to prove that I could ignore it, I guess.  That I would be okay with it sitting there.  And I mean, I guess I didn’t touch it.  But it was so incredibly distracting.  And it not only distracted me during dinner, but I kept thinking about it afterward.  I mentioned it on the way home, as a sort of celebration of the fact that I didn’t drink it.  (P.S. I enjoyed driving home.  Sober.  Fast.  Try to pull me over, copper.  Have I been drinking?  I fucking wish I’d been drinking.)

I guess all that’s to say that, look, okay.  Me facing down that dastardly glass of champagne isn’t the hardest, toughest shit I’ve ever done.  It just isn’t.  It’s also not exactly sleeping in a car on skid row, getting stabbed, spending time in jail, or any of the other shit that even the put-together-seeming folks in my weekly meeting have gotten themselves into.  And it’s not to say I haven’t had my rougher moments drinking, either.  But at this point in my sobriety, having quit at precisely this wine-sniffing, restaurant-fetishizing point in my drinking career, a glass of champagne is a challenge.  It is.  It’s a challenge that tests me.  And while one slip up would just lead to me having a glass of wine, I know that that tantalizing glass of champagne would lead me right back down to guzzling, and right back down to the depressed, helpless, hopeless state in which I found myself two months ago.  So I guess I take that stab wound and raise you a nice Barolo.  Happy 60 days sober to me.

The (Little) Good Things

I breathed, I went to a yoga class, I took the dog for a hike, I logged some hours in the office.  I feel exponentially better.  Maybe a little gratitude will improve things even more.  Off the top of my head, here are some of the little things I’m enjoying:

1.  Hangover-free mornings.  Always, always, always, always, always.  Each one is a miracle.

2.  Not being insanely thirsty and dehydrated all the time.  I used to drink more than a liter of water just during the night. Now I fill a bottle, but I rarely take a sip.

3.  Driving (sober) at night.  It surprised me how odd this felt at first.  My mind almost played tricks on me and convinced me I was drunk; I was that unaccustomed to driving (sober) past the hour of 8pm.  (Ask me another time about those parentheticals.)

4.  Being able to make plane reservations without taking into consider whether a) the early morning flights would be a hungover nightmare or b) the late night flights would interfere with my drinking.

5.  Going to some of the restaurants in my neighborhood that were long-neglected because they didn’t have liquor licenses.

6.  Not being afraid to talk on the phone after 7pm.  I’ve been a bad friend and a bad daughter because I avoid the phone while drunk.  Nice to be able to talk now whenever.

7.  Not having to check my emails/texts/Facebook in the morning after a heavy night to see what kind of nonsense I’d been up to.  (Toward the end, I’d learned my lesson, but there was a rough little while there.  I cringe.)

8.  Saving cash.  I estimate that I spent about $18-20/day on wine on days I stayed in, and sometimes $40 or more on days I went out to eat or drink (maybe twice a week).  So, approximately $685/month.  That is an embarrassing, horrible amount of money to spend on booze–ugh, what a wine snob I was, and what an expensive way I chose to justify my drinking–but a seriously nice amount of money to save each month.

9.  Becoming aware of when I’m actually tired and actually hungry.

10.  Not having to double check before leaving the house in the morning to make sure my lips aren’t stained red.  Not having chapped lips all the time.

11.  Actually washing my face and brushing my teeth before going to bed.  Sometimes even showering!

12.  Being able to do errands after work instead of just rushing home to drink.  Having more time on the weekend as a result.  Okay, I’m just spending that extra time at the office lately, but it’s there!

13.  Spending more time with good old friends of mine who didn’t drink enough to make the cut toward the end.

And these are just the little things….

Onward.

Hilda

Grumpy as Hell

This past week was maybe my hardest yet.  I didn’t crave a drink, but I definitely craved an escape.  Work was (is) stressful, and I feel like I don’t have a release valve anymore.  I got a new secretary and was snippy with her when she didn’t read my mind/do things as well as my former secretary.  I was snippy with Andrew because he was working 16-hour days and Petunia, our dog, was all my responsibility.   I was just grumpy and pissy and wretched, in general.  Friday after work, I had to go to a happy hour, and while my tonic + grapefruit juice was tasty, I was annoyed that everyone else got to relieve the week’s pressure with delicious craft beer.  I’m on edge.  My neighbors have put their radio in the yard and are disturbing my quiet morning with their shitty taste in music.  I want to burn their house down.  My floor is dirty.  I have to work all weekend (again).  On and on and on.

Okay, deep breath.  I have to assume this all will pass.  Right?  Right.  I’m going to hit a yoga class today at some point (injured foot be damned), and maybe that will help.  Maybe just writing this will help.

The Lowest Low – Part I

I’m not sure what my lowest point was.  Emotionally, spiritually?  It was in the weeks leading up to the day I quit, when I felt like some external force was making me drink.  When I felt like I was under a rock and would never get out.  But just in terms of danger, of risk, of embarrassment, all that stuff?  There are just so many to choose from.

I mean, look.  I admit I had what they call a “high bottom.”  No DUIs, graduated from Ivy League schools, never got fired from my high-powered, high-paying job(s), never lost a relationship that was important to me.  I mean, I was really good at keeping my drinking a secret.  It was fucking hard, but I don’t think many people knew I had a problem.  Maybe just Andrew, actually, although I think even he was surprised when I told him I had to quit.  In the later years, once I turned 30, I was careful only to do my really absurd drinking at home.

But when I was younger, dude, I could DRINK.  One friend of mine, who I’m pretty sure is also an alcoholic, said to me, laughing, some 10 years after college, “You used to drink SO MUCH.”  It startled me.  Yeah, I drank, but so did everyone else, right?  Right?  On the flip side, I was hanging out with some law school friends last summer, and someone made a comment about how much we all used to drink but how none of us were really alcoholics.  I remember thinking, speak for yourself.  And then I drank some more.

Anyway, here is just a sampling of the lower moments.  I want to save other lows to revisit when I feel myself getting complacent in my sobriety.

-Driving back to to my suburban hometown after attending a rave-ish weekly party (hey, it was the 90s, technically) in The City.  I was in my teens and really drunk, and I think I had taken half a pill of ecstacy.  I had two friends in my car, and I literally could not see the road.   I remember running a red light almost getting hit.  I remember not having the faintest idea where I was.  I think I turned the wrong way down a one-way street.  Being a suburban kid, I didn’t know  The City that well.  I finally realized I couldn’t be driving and pulled into abandoned-seeming parking lot of a hospital.  We slept for a few hours and then made it home.

-Housesitting for a friend’s mother and having a huge party.  Getting wasted and almost losing the dog.  Getting the police called because of the noise; having to explain to my friend’s mother why a friend of mine had been arrested in front of her house, drunk and naked.

-Getting alcohol poisoning in France.  Nearly getting kidnapped by a taxi driver until my friend pulled me out of the car.  (The driver was trying to pull me in.)  Throwing up approximately 20 times the next day, as we drove from point A to point B.

-In high school, drinking a huge bottle of wine with my friend while my parents were out to dinner.  We were ostensibly going to a party that night, but we got too wasted and I threw up – a lot.  We heard my parents come home, so I put my friend out the window and pretended to be asleep.

-Going out for drinks for my 21st birthday.  Getting trashed and going home with a guy I had just met.  My boyfriend came over that night to give me flowers and heard me having sex with someone else through my dorm room door.

-Getting completely trashed in college and taking a taxi home.  Throwing up in the cab.  Offering to pay for cleaning before realizing I had lost my wallet (which happened all the time).  Promising the cab driver I’d be right down with the money but running into the dorm and passing out instead.

-Other embarrassing sexual misalliances that I don’t even want to talk about.

-Being high on cocaine at really inappropriate times during law school:  meeting my partner’s dad for the first time, attending a job reception thing where I had to make (super high) small talk with potential employers, taking an oral exam in a Spanish class at 8 a.m., mentoring and preparing students in the class I TAed for their moot courts, while high.  Not to mention stealing drugs from friends, literally picking up drugs off the floor, meeting a dealer in the sketchiest of sketchy places.  Etc. etc.  Cocaine probably deserves its own post here.

-More recently, buying a bottle of wine to hide in my suitcase during my last two visits to my parents’ house.  After having a glass or two of wine with dinner, hiding in my room with a paper cup from the bathroom and drinking my hidden bottle.

-Worrying the last time I had a houseguest before I quit drinking.  Hiding a bottle in my room to drink after my guest went to bed.

That’s Part I, off the top of my head.  And I wondered whether I really needed to quit.

Grocery Store

I was so relieved this evening not to be the woman who stood behind me in line with 5 normal bottles of wine, 2 big Carlo Rosso gallons of wine, an avocado, a tomato, and a bloated, sad-looking face.  I do not want to be her.

Bachelorette Weekend

I got back last night from a trip to [insert name of party town] for a close friend’s bachelorette party.  This is a woman with whom I’ve put away countless bottles of wine.  Truly, for the past ten years, no evening-time meeting between us has come and gone without at least a bottle of wine between us (and sometimes more like 4).  Also along for the trip were our mutual friend who drinks just as much as we do (did), two normal, non-alcoholic women, and the guest of honor’s sister, who from what I had heard was probably also a bit of a drunk.

We showed up around 3pm, and the owner of the house we rented met us to give a tour.  He offered beers, and everyone except me accepted.  It was early enough that I didn’t get any questions at that point.

After the tour, we headed out into town in search of a late lunch.  We found a pretty cheesy place right on the water (the hipster in me recoiled) and ordered our food.  They also ordered a bucket of beers, and then another bucket of beers, and then another.  Probably 3 apiece over the hour and a half we were there.  I had lemonade, like a nerd.  Convinced I was pregnant despite my assurances to the contrary, people cracked jokes about “the baby.”  I laughed and let them.   Good-natured ribbing I can handle.

Later in the evening, we made a trip to the grocery store where the guest of honor loaded the cart up with approximately 25 bottles of wine.  There were six of us, and we would be there three days.  But look, I don’t blame her; running out of booze is like a nightmare when you’re drinking.  Two months ago, I would have been relieved at the number of bottles and backup bottles we had.  As for me?  I bought lots of sparkling water, some fruit juice mixers, lots of limes, and a couple of San Pellegrino sodas.  I had also brought tea from home – sneaky.

The first night, we stayed at the house and just sat around the patio firepit, drinking our various poisons.  This is what I was nervous about — I love wasting an evening with wine and conversation.  But I had a nice surprise, as I was able to participate and enjoy myself.   I made sparkling beverages and, later, tea.  Around midnight, people got a little slurry and started repeating their stories, and I crept off to bed.  Most of the others lasted a bit longer, though they admitted the next day that they didn’t really remember the end of the night.  Anyway: One night down, one to go.

And then, dudes, this was the best part.  One of the things I kept promising myself in exchange for the wine I would otherwise have had was that I would get up early, before anyone else (such a luxury for this introvert in a house full of people), make coffee, and take my book out to the patio or pool.  And you know what?  I did.  I got up at 7 and had a good three hours to myself before anyone else stumbled groggily out of bed.

The second night was harder.  We went to a nice dinner, and the pretty courtyard, with its strings of lights adorning the trees, made the wine glasses beautiful.  I had sparkling water and was kind of bummed.  I wanted a glass of wine – just one.  But really only in the abstract.  I wasn’t willing to trade my sobriety for it.  But it wasn’t the siren call of my beloved red wine that made the dinner difficult; it was the absolute refusal of my friend’s sister to let go of the fact I wasn’t drinking.  She seriously would not let up.  In the guise of joking, she “brainstormed” other excuses I could use for not drinking.  Serious illness came up, as did a couple of other ones.  I laughed but kept trying to change the subject.  She wouldn’t budge.  As some point, I said something like, “Well, I don’t really need so many reasons, because most people don’t care.”  Still she persisted.  Finally, laughing, she said, “You could tell people you’re on your 12th step!”  Like it was the funniest thing in the world.  Like she thought the idea was so absurd that it fit in with a faked pregnancy and fake chemotherapy.  Earlier, I had given another woman there a bit more info — just that I had been drinking too much and was not drinking for awhile (and liked it).  Even she seemed uncomfortable when this woman refused to stop pestering me.  The guest of honor, who would have probably managed to get her sister under control, was sitting at the other end of the table and didn’t hear our exchange.

I guess the take-away from this dinner is that: a) 5 of the 6 people there, even the really, really heavy drinkers, were able to just accept the fact that I wasn’t drinking.  I mean, they thought it was really weird, but if they were disappointed, they kept it to themselves.  b) some people are annoying.  c) I need a better plan than simply saying I’m not drinking right now — maybe.

The rest of the night was hilarious — we basically revisited our college days at a serious of cheesy bars that would normally be my worst nightmare, and it was awesome.  I drank water and still managed to get into the bachelorette party spirit.  I did go home earlier than the others, but in all honesty, I would have done that anyway.  I am not afraid to be the first to leave a party.

And then, the next morning, another blissful, relaxing time again with my cup of coffee and my book.

I feel like if I can survive that — the bachelorette party of my best drinking buddy — I can probably at least white knuckle it through any other social situation, if i need to.  It sounds super self-help, but I’m proud (and relieved) to have made it back in one piece.  And I didn’t just survive, I enjoyed myself.  So, onward.

When I Quit

I had been looking at AA meeting schedules online for more than a year.  I would decide to go to a meeting in the morning and then chicken out when 4pm rolled around.  “If I’m going to quit,” I’d think, “I want my last drink to be something spectacular.”  So I would buy a crazy pricey bottle of wine and then just drink it all.  Then I’d just drink the next day anyway.  It was a pretty expensive pattern.

One Sunday night, I finally picked a meeting in Pasadena, the next town over.  It was in a church, which, blegh.  Still, I was gonna go anyway.  But once I got there, I couldn’t tell where the meeting was.  There seemed to be people all over that church, meetings of unknown nature in every room.  I was too embarrassed to ask anyone.  At some point, I found a meeting schedule posted, and it indicated that the meeting had actually started a half-hour before.  That was my excuse.  I would try again tomorrow.  On my way out, a woman rushing in smiled and asked me if I knew where the 12-step meeting was.  I just said “no, sorry” and kept on going.

I obviously drank that night.  I drank with my partner, Andrew, and then I took my glass into the office where I had recently installed a comfy chair.  I finished the bottle and probably more.  I felt, as I had been feeling more frequently at that time, like someone was making me drink against my will.  At some point in the evening, I started crying.  But what was different than the other times I cried while drinking was that there was a mirror in front of me — the sliding closet door.  I remember thinking, “help me,” although I’m a steadfast atheist.  I could see how incredibly sad I looked, how broken, how destroyed.  I felt crushing self-pity.  I promised myself, actually mouthing the words to my reflection, that I would quit.  That I would get help, that I would free myself.  I promised my childhood self, I promised the person I had been.  I remember mouthing the words, “It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.”  Crying, but smiling gently at myself through my tears.  Of course, I finished the bottle anyway.

The next evening, I tried again.  I picked a meeting in Altadena, again a good 20 minute drive away from my neighborhood.  This time, when I couldn’t tell where the meeting was, I asked an older man.  He was going to NA, himself, but he pointed me in the right direction.

I walked in and sat down at the conference room table.  There were about 12 people there.  It was pretty depressing, actually.  Someone reeked of booze.  People looked sad, and like they were struggling.  And oh, man, there was so much talk about God.  I kept cringing.  It was a participation meeting, which meant that I was asked to speak.  I just identified myself — as an alcoholic, no less! — and said it was my first meeting.  Other people spoke (mostly about God — ug).  And at the end of the meeting an overly friendly woman pressed me for my phone number.

I hated that meeting, but walking out of there, I felt an incredible sense of freedom.  Andrew and I went to dinner that night, and I had a single glass of wine (my last).  I didn’t tell him where I had been.  Ever thoughtful, he had brought me a bottle of wine on his way home from work, but I just tucked it in the cabinet, drank some tea, and went to bed.

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Kick Off

I’ve been (obsessively) reading sober blogs for the past few months, after (obsessively) reading sobriety memoirs for years before that.  I’m ready, I think, to participate in the online sober community as more than a spectator.  Here goes!