Archive for March, 2010
Note from Stef: When I first stopped drinking, I found myself inundated by supportive emails from virtual strangers who wanted to encourage me. It was very cool and it did help enormously. One letter in particular hit me in the gut. It wasn’t so much her email as what she attached which was a letter to her then young daughter to read when she’s much much older. She wrote the letter as a way of apology for herself and for her child. I asked her if I could share it with you guys and she said, “absolutely.” I changed the names.
One day we were sitting at the table in our old house on Lakeshore Drive and you said to me, “Mommy, why do you drink so much wine all the time?” And I thought to myself…That is it. I have to quit drinking because if I don’t, I will lose the most important things in my life, like this precious little brown eyed girl staring into my eyes. You had just turned 5. I was drinking every day. The time on the clock was 11:30AM and I was drinking it out of a juice glass. But you knew it was wine.
Things were getting out of hand. I was hiding empty bottles. There were occasions when I had put you and Jack in the car and driven drunk to buy more wine. I had to be buzzed to take you to the park, to take you on play-dates with friends, to make dinner, to give you a bath. I was slowly getting to where alcohol meant more to me then you and Jack. I am sorry I was like that.
Alcohol was my escape from relationships and that was not fair to you. When you needed me, I was emotionally distant. When you wanted to go outside and play or when you wanted to do art or read, I just let you watch TV, because it was easier.
When I was happy I drank. When I was stressed, I drank. When I was lonely, I drank. When I was angry, I drank. I never yelled at you or Jack when I was drinking…I drank so I wouldn’t yell. I drank to mellow out. I drank to escape…but in doing that I missed so many precious, sweet times with you and that I regret.
We partied a lot in front of you. Before we went out, I drank. After we got home, I drank some more. I always had a glass of wine in my hand at home. And when people came over we always offered wine or drinks.
And one day I decided I didn’t want to drink anymore. But I couldn’t stop. I knew I needed help.
I got the help I needed and I have lived a sober life so far. I started on this life-long journey because you, my beautiful girl, asked me that one poignant question…”Mommy why do you drink so much wine all the time?” I knew I had a problem and I knew I needed help and that day you inspired me to ask for help. You helped me find courage and resolve.
I have so much to live for! I see so many more moments now with so much more clarity. It is not always easy, but it is a much fuller life. I am so thankful for you and your inspiration. Please forgive me for the ways I was not there for you in the early years, and promise me that you will come to me if you ever struggle with alcohol…believe me I will understand and support you. I can’t protect you from yourself, but I have done my part…I have protected you from me! I love you.
If you are looking for likeminded women trying to stay sober, join us here
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on March 27, 2010 1:24 am
• Don't Get Drunk Friday
Hi there. So here’s the deal: My friend Heidi who blogs at Heidi’s Notes From Vermont has known me for over (holy shit – crazy revelation about to unfold) 25 years. Can you even believe it? Did you have any idea that I’m even over the age of thirty? I bet you didn’t. Okay, well, I’ve gotten way behind on my Botox so maybe you’re starting to suspect but whatevs. The point is, Heidi, is all over my book, It’s Not Me, It’s You. I changed her name to Beth so no one but people we know well would’ve known it was her but we decided to come out of the closet! So, two things: 1) I’m posting an entire chapter from my book (which is very long and not the finished version because that one is in the book) and 2) if you go to Heidi’s site you will see pictures of us from when we were teenagers! And I had a big (bigger) butt! And we’re giving away a book!
Also, if you haven’t seen the Larry King I did and you’d like to, it’s up on this site under “she’s famous.”
When I saw the ad in the classified section of the paper I knew it was for me:
“Would you like to make the easy money in a relaxed environment with room for advancement?”
Um, let me think…yeah!
“Imagine a job in a fun, creative environment that offers flexibility and a weekly paycheck between $500-$1200”
I think I’m in love! But not so fast. There’s probably a catch.
“Great pay, great incentives in the exciting world of telemarketing!”
Perfect! I didn’t know what telemarketing was, exactly, but it sounded right up my alley. I loved talking on the phone and I loved marketing.
“Start tomorrow – have a check by Friday!”
Sold! The phone was in my hand in seconds and a few minutes later I’d secured an interview for later that same day. I was optimistic. Seeing as I’d just put down stakes in a rundown apartment just off of Hollywood Boulevard with my best friend Beth Moskowitz from High School solely on her dime, I needed a job fast. I’d started my cross country trek from Massachusetts to my new life with nine hundred dollars cash – a lot of money to me at eighteen. But my funds went quickly on 7-Eleven Slim Jims and Motel Six stays. We’d started the trip with lofty plans to camp out in order to save money, but that strategy flew out the window after the very first time we spend two hours in a camp ground unsuccessfully trying to pitch our tent. We eventually ended up partially dozing in our car on the side of the road at two a.m., paranoid that we’d be raped by the truck drivers we’d brazenly been flashing for hundreds of miles. By the time a down payment was needed for the apartment, I was flat broke and it was up to Beth’s Bar Mitzvah savings account to finance our new place and budding marijuana addiction.
When I told Beth about my golden opportunity all she said was, “Be careful. Better make sure this thing is on the level.” What was she even talking about? I might’ve only been living in Los Angeles for a week, and I might’ve, much to my consternation, still been a virgin, but I wasn’t naïve. I’d seen a few movies of the week in my time. I knew about Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. I’d heard about these young girls, straight off the bus in Hollywood immediately getting preyed upon by some pimp who wants them to pose for “modeling pictures” and BAM they’re sucked into the seedy world of prostitution or pornography never to be heard from again. “Tres Jolie, Coco. Tres jolie.” Obviously I was too smart to fall into that trap.
“It’s a phone job. Telemarketing. I’m sure it’s cool.”
“I’m just saying, it might be a scam” Beth said just before sucking in a huge hit through a blue glass bong we’d received as a “welcome neighbor” gift from the guy in the apartment next door.
“I’ll tell you the real scam: Bat Mitzvahs. Chant a little Hebrew for two hundred of your closest friends and family and everyone gives you so much money you never have to sling Whoppers at a Burger King for three months until you finally get moved up to cashier where you are eventually fired for routinely shorting customers a few cents on their change in a noble attempt to help raise your minimum wage.”
Okay, perhaps I was a little bitter. Despite the fact that I was Jewish, my parents didn’t seem to notice, celebrating Christmas every year until I was about twelve. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my mother remembered our heritage, joined a temple and forced me to attend Hebrew school even though it was too late to have a Bat Mitzvah. She also put the kibosh on Christmas leaving me irritated and broke at thirteen. But at least I knew the value of a dollar.
Later that day, a pleasant blonde woman of about thirty who introduced herself as “Genie with a G” looked me up and down, and then asked me to read from a script to see how well I articulated over the phone. I never had a big interest in acting but I had been chosen to play Dorothy in the Jewish Community Center’s production of The Wizard of Oz when I was in the second grade so I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The script itself was one I’d know by heart within a few weeks.
“Hi, this is (insert your name here) from General Business Warehouse. You’re on our preferred customer list so I’m paying you a courtesy call to tell you about the huge savings I’m able to offer you today only on your office supply needs. Am I speaking to the person who makes the purchasing decisions at your company?”
To no one’s surprise I was told I could start the next day.
But before leaving, I was led to a back office to be introduced to the owner of the company. I wish that Genie with a G had warned me at what I was about to see. Even just a minimal, “Hope you’re not scared of a little chest hair” comment would’ve been helpful. But I never saw it coming. The door swung open and standing there was a humongous Hungarian version of Brando in his bloated final days. For a second I thought How cute, someone dressed up a bear in people clothes! The bottom of the man’s shirt was fiercely trying to fight free from the waist band of his pants and the buttons on his shirt were pulled so tight I was afraid if one popped off someone could lose an eye –well, the few buttons that he’d actually buttoned. His shirt was purposely opened almost to his navel exposing mounds of chest hair. It was a truly horrifying sight. But I didn’t say anything.
First off, we were still a good twenty years away from it being acceptable for a man to get his chest waxed – this was the eighties, call waiting had yet to be invented and many people were still under the impression that Kajagoogoo would have another hit. Secondly, he seemed downright proud to be hairier than a Cro-Magnon and since this was the man who would be signing my weekly paycheck of $500 – $1200 bucks I figured it best to keep my thoughts to myself. I smiled widely and tried to maintain eye contact despite the bowl haircut, gold tooth and huge medallion which were all equally battling it out for my attention. He stuck out a one big meatloaf hand.
“I’m Chubz. Eez veddy veddy nice doo meet you” he said in the thickest Hungarian accent since Zsa Zsa Gabor. “I hope doo be zeeing much more of you.”
I hoped not.
The large room where I worked was lined wall to wall with cubicles. Genie brought me over to an empty one and I was provided with a phone, order pad, a book of “leads” and my script.
“All of this is for me?”
“Yeah” said Genie with a G. Have a seat and we’ll get you started. Wow. It was straight out of the last scene in Working Girl! My very own desk and phone! I’d truly arrived!
My co-workers were a ragtag bunch; a couple of rocker types, a part time Michael Jackson impersonator, a few actors and a smattering of girls. The girls seemed to mostly be scantily clad fake blondes with big boobs. I wondered if wearing a tube top helped inspire the sales team somehow. It seemed like the girls spent most of their time chatting with each other about nightclubs and “how totally trashed” they’d gotten the night before but I was determined to be a high earner. For approximately six hours a day, my job was to call people and get them to buy office supplies by any means necessary. Most calls went like this:
“Hi. This is Donna Kay (we got to make up fake names for ourselves and I thought Donna sounded very professional) from General Business Warehouse. You’re on our preferred customer list so I’m paying you a courtesy call to tell you about the…hello? Hello?” But within a few days I was able to keep people on the line a bit longer. After my opening, if they were still there, I attempted to take the customer straight to a yes.
“Now, are you still using those Scripto Deluxe ink pens?… Great! Why don’t I just get a gross of those out to you.” That was not said as a question. “And because you’re ordering today I am authorized to send you a touch tone phone with automatic redial. Would you like one in black, pink or red?” This, of course, was just a regular cheapo phone with a redial button for people impressed by not having to re-press seven numbers but I delivered it like I was offering to throw in a free cruise to Europe. I’d been given one of these phones the first day I worked there and the nine button had gotten stuck permanently on its maiden call.
“Just give me your personal address so I can make sure this phone gets delivered straight to your…I’m sorry, you’re only a two person office and that’s too many pens you say?…No problem, let’s just do a few dozen of the pens and get you set up with some writing pads. I have down here that you like the perforated edges.”
If I felt a call going south after I’d already had them somewhat interested, I was supposed to hand them over to a “closer.” The closers were a bunch of Chubz’s cronies who didn’t seem to have much to do other than eat extremely pungent seafood stews, discuss their rotisserie baseball teams all day and play cards. But, they had the special ability to offer potential buyers a 25” color television set.
After almost a week of calls which were mostly unproductive save for a couple that went to closers. On Friday I was called into Chubz’s office where I presumed I’d be handed my walking papers. Instead I was handed a check for five hundred dollars. “Keep up zee good work and next week you make more. Much more.” I didn’t even know what to say. I was giddy.
“Really? Because I didn’t make any actual sales yet. I mean, I’m really close but…”
“I hear you make many sales. Ees veddy good.”
“I did? I do?”
“You send calls to closers, they close. You are gifted girl.”
“Oh, great! Thank you.” I too saw huge star potential in myself in the field of telemarketing. I was just thankful Chubz had noticed.
“You have very large breasts.”
“Oh.” This was also true but it had never been pointed out in such an offhand manner so I didn’t quite know how to respond.
“I give you a television set.” Huh?
“Oh no no. That’s not necessary” I said, although, truthfully Beth and I had been going crazy because there’d been no room in the car for a television and no money once we arrived in LA. I figured I’d definitely be blowing my first paycheck in Circuit City. But, there was no possible way I was going to even entertain the notion of accepting a TV from my new boss. I mean, sure, I may have been a natural at this whole sales business but wasn’t it just a little premature to reward me with a television?
“Don’t vorry. I haf whole warehouse full of TV sets.”
“No, Chubz, I absolutely cannot accept a gift like that. But thank you so much for offering.”
The next day two men delivered a 25” color TV set right to the door of my apartment. That night Beth and I celebrated by getting high and watching Small Wonder – the show about the ten-year-old robot girl –an extremely underrated show if you’re stoned.
Monday morning I arrived at work bright and early with a spring in my step. For me, a weekend spent doing nothing more than reacquainting myself with favorite TV shows was more rejuvenating than a forty-eight hour foot rub would be to someone else. Settling in at my desk I felt more determined than ever to move some merchandise and prove Chubz right about me.
My very first call of the day I explained to a patient old woman that it was National Safety Week and first aid kits were being offered for half price. That afternoon Genie took me into her office to tell me I was invited to a mandatory Vegas trip set for the following weekend.
“Wow, is it some sort of sales conference?” I asked.
“Something like that” Genie answered noncommittally. “Bring something sexy to wear and a bikini.”
Vegas. A mandatory invite. This was a bit odd. Confused, I went back to my cube, but before picking up the receiver to make my next call, I looked around the office. Two different girls in the office used the fake name Bambi. The strangeness of that hadn’t occurred to me before just this moment. I interrupted a conversation about fake nails between Bambi #1 and a girl who went by Darla. “Are you guys going to the sales conference this weekend?”
Bambi #1 stared at me blankly. “Sales conference?” Shit. I instantly felt bad. Obviously she hadn’t been mandatorily invited to the conference and now I’d leaked it. It was probably only for the more successful telemarketers. I’d never seen Bambi make a call let alone a sale.
“Never mind” I said as casually as if I’d just asked if she wanted a piece of gum and then realized I was all out. I picked up my receiver and put it to my ear.
“Are you talking about the photo shoot?” Bambi asked.
“In Vegas?” Darla added. Now I was really confused.
“Did Chubz call it a sales conference?” Bambi said, giggling. Was it possible that I was being laughed at by someone who purposely called herself Bambi?
“I didn’t talk to Chubz. Genie just told me Vegas. What photo shoot?” I didn’t want to sound dumb but I had to know.
“Chubz brings the girls he likes to Vegas to modeling. I know you don’t think we make twelve hundred a week selling pens.” Bambi was definitely laughing now. Bitch. Chubz’ words echoed back to me in my mind sounding a lot more disgusting than they did at the time. You’ll make more. Much more. My stomach was starting to feel a little unwell. The stench from the closers’ office wasn’t helping.
“Yeah, no, I didn’t know there any modeling involved.” What kind of modeling exactly? I was grasping here but I just really didn’t want it to be true. I’d kind of been envisioning a successful future in sales and I wasn’t quite ready to let it go yet.
“Oh God, it’s no biggie, there’s no nudity! It’s just topless” Darla offered assuming she was being helpful. The only way I could see someone thinking topless modeling was no big deal would be if that person was used to doing something else…like bottomless modeling! How could I have not seen this coming? How could I have thought that making no sales was not the sign of a sales savant?
“Oh, cool. Cool.” I said like I had conversations about nude modeling all the time and I turned back to my phone so that no one could see my face. I tried really hard not to cry but I felt so incredibly foolish –so ridiculous and naïve.
Was everything in LA like this? Did I always have to be on the lookout? Most importantly, did I have any talent in sales?
That night I reluctantly told Beth what happened. I might not have but she would’ve become suspicious when she found me in my pajamas all day eating bagels. I was fully expecting an “I told you so” or at least an appalled reaction. Instead she started laughing. Of course she was a little high but it still took the sting out of it. Before long I was laughing too –possibly due to joining her in her drug abuse. But, really, it was pretty funny.
The next day I didn’t show up for work. Or the day after that. In fact, I never went back.
At six a.m. the following Monday after the mandatory “sales conference” I’d been absent from, I awoke to a pounding on the door. Beth and I, both startled, met in the hallway and looked at each other wide eyed. We tiptoed up to the peephole and peeked out. Standing in front of our door were two burly men with matching bowl haircuts. What the hell?
“Let uz in!” I grabbed the phone to call 911 but realized immediately that would be impossible due to the damn sticking #9. The pounding got even louder and the men outside started yelling. “Open up zis door. We come for Chubz’ television set.”
Damn. I really wanted that TV. And although it was a sleazy operation and one I wanted no part of, I still thought maybe I deserved the television.
Beth and I watched as the men walked down the long driveway with our beautiful television.
“Stop!” I yelled. The men turned. “Here. Might as well take the phone too.”
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on March 26, 2010 5:18 pm
You’d never know looking at me that I’m a big old drunkity drunk. I mean, I LIKE to drink. But, I am always pretty put together, a have big old smile on my face and can usually make people crack up. I kinda got it going on. And I also have five suicide attempts under my belt, been legally dead and I have a DUI, where I threatened to bitch slap the cop… because I’m such a pretty drunk in black outs. Luckily, I can’t remember. Like I always say: what happens in blackouts stays in blackouts. Thank God for small miracles.
I was your atypical alcoholic from the get go. A) I’m a girl, hello. B) I was from a sweet little cookie cutter (read: boring) suburbia land and C) I went to rehab at the age of 17, long before the Hollywood crowd and long before it was “popular.” I just thought I was the Edward Scissorhands of California. I felt alien, a basic garden-variety freak. I thought everyone else got some manual on how to “do life good” and I didn’t. And I CERTAINLY didn’t understand those weird people that would sip a glass of wine and even gasp leave some in glass. (What the hell was wrong with them?)
But like I said, somehow, through some form of Divine Perfect Storm, I was defeated enough to accept the help that had been thrown in my face. Right time, right place, I guess. And I got sober at 17, with the help of AA and something else. For the first time, I could walk into a room and hear other people talk about feeling exactly how I had felt all my life: the loneliness, the utter frustration of why I couldn’t stop drinking, and finally feeling like I BELONGED. And my life blossomed. I graduated from college with honors; I traveled to exotic locations for work and for fun. I had the fabulous boyfriends with weird first names and dreamy accents. I got engaged and disengaged. I was living a great life.
But then something starting happening. I started getting lazy with my sobriety. It wasn’t that important anymore. I had it licked. I was sober over fifteen years but I didn’t continue to get any help. I didn’t need to go to meetings, or let people know how I was doing. I got caught up in a new relationship and made him my life. He happened to be a raging alcoholic, which was fabulously not awesome. I started drinking again and could NOT stop drinking for five more years. And if you think trying to stop drinking is hard the first time, try the second time. I went from being little miss sobriety to a woman who couldn’t stay sober three days in a row.
I knew my drinking was a liquid Russian roulette. I may be able get through a night with a few drinks and keep my cool, but just as easily I might go into a black-out and all bets are off. If I was controlling my drinking, I wasn’t happy. If I was “happy,” I was out of control.
But by far, my biggest problem was that I was always “fine.”
“I’m fine. I’m Fine.”
I was gonna “I was going to I’m fine myself to death. I was the one everyone else came to with their problems, which was great for me, because it gave me purpose. It made me feel like people had a reason to like me. But heaven for-friggin-bid someone help me. That’s just crazy talk. I was always… hmmm, wouldn’t say obsessed, because I wasn’t aware…. I would say automatically “ON.” The Entertainer. The Psychiatrist. The Nurturer. The Comic. The one that needed to be perfect.
But I wasn’t and I’m not. And even when I was pretty close to it, it was exhausting and I deserved a reward, dammit. My reward, my nurturer, my psychiatrist was wine, vodka, champagne, even Listerine (it’s amazing what you will do when you are desperate and to not feel.)
My biggest obstacle was to stop knowing everything and to be willing to be “not OK.” As old saying goes, you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time. I felt an incredible amount of shame asking for help again, which is funny, because asking for help saved my life. So to overuse a metaphor to death, but whatever, sue me, I kind of feel like a survivor from the Titanic that hit a Chardonnay iceberg in the Vodka sea. I thought for sure I was going to drown. Thank God I got pulled to shore. I’ve been sober again almost a year. And seriously, if I can, anyone can.
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Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on March 19, 2010 6:13 pm
• Don't Get Drunk Friday
One look at Sadie and you can tell she’s going to be trouble. My little peanut is the fiestiest one in the bunch and I honestly couldn’t love it more. So the big news in my world is that we pulled her feeding tube out on Sunday night. I wanted to do it much sooner but Jon wanted to wait until flu season was over just to be super safe. I used the same technique on him that I used to get him to propose; namely I nagged and nagged and brought up over and over until I wore him down and he said “Fine.”
Saturday I asked if we could take the tube out on Sunday and Jon said okay. Then I asked a bunch of times if we could take it out that very day since he’d already agreed to Sunday so what difference did it make? “Huh? Huh? Can we just do it now? Can we? Why not? But I want to!! Pleeeaaase? Pleeeaase!” Listen, I’m crazy and I’ve never pretended to be anything else so just be happy you aren’t married to me and move on. Jon wouldn’t agree to taking it out a day earlier because he wanted to be able to take her in to the doctor the next day if anything went awry so I waited impatiently for Sunday. After her nap I made my move and pulled the tube out. It was actually less gross than I expected. There was a little hole there and some red skin but nothing has been oozing out which was the problem to watch for. I don’t think Sadie actually notices a difference but I do. I’m so relieved. I guess it was just the last thing (besides her therapy which she still gets) that was a physical reminder of all the problems she’s had since birth. Now she eats, runs (sort of), talks, sleeps, whines and cuddles like every other kid her age. So Sunday was a good day.
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on March 16, 2010 7:38 pm
My wife sat across the table, cupping the eggshell glass in her hands and closing her eyes.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said, opening her eyes again and inhaling the sweet aroma of the drink.
Even from across the table, I could detect warm, acidic hints of minneola and something spicy. Cardamom? “It’s just, just fantastic.”
She caught herself a moment later, putting the glass down too quickly. The orange liquid trembled in the candlelight.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
She grabbed my hand.
“No,” she said, “I mean it. I didn’t mean to. I just …”
“It’s OK,” I said again.
And it was.
If this little scene had played out in the first days of my sobriety, I probably would have reached across the table and emptied the miniature, perfect glass, unable to resist. It smelled delicious. Then I probably would have ordered one more and then maybe had some wine to go with our date night dinner. When we got home, I would have waited for my wife to go to bed, and then I would have cracked open one, maybe two beers, and fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep.
All in all, it wouldn’t seem like a lot: a few drinks at dinner, a nightcap or two at home. I would wager it’s a scene played out in a million homes, a million relationships.
But what’s missing are the painful, secret scenes that would have played out the following morning and in the days and evenings to come, like some demented movie reel inexorably stretching into weeks and months and imparting the tiny details of a quiet tragedy. The next morning, I would have shaken my head a few times, promising myself not to drink so much next time, and then I would have waited all day for my wife to return home from work so I could immediately crack open a beer, safe in the feeling that someone else was home to watch our daughter, that I was “off duty” from my job as a stay-at-home dad and could forget my role as a role model and begin a slow decline into guilt-soaked inebriation. I would have had one beer with dinner, another while Dana put our daughter to bed. Maybe I would have finished that one quickly and cracked open another beer just before she emerged from the nursery, just to make it appear as if I was still sucking on the same bottle. You can bet that the superfluous empties would be hidden well in the recycling bin on our cramped apartment balcony. Later, after my wife went to bed, I would have tried to resist the idea of going to the fridge, telling myself that I didn’t need one more but later settling for the idea that OK, fine, I didn’t need FOUR more. Three would definitely suffice and even seem like a victory. To celebrate, I’d have cracked open the fourth.
This deranged movie reel would rewind itself and repeat the next day and the day after. And the day after that. In retrospect, it probably doesn’t seem like a lot. I never drank enough to pass out. I rarely had more than three or four beers a night. I never woke up in Tijuana, naked, perplexed and sore, wondering what in god’s name that horse was doing in the same stall.
But at the same time, I knew all along there was a problem. I knew all along I could never stop. There are people who can go out, have a few drinks and then return home and do anything else — work, knit, call 1-800 numbers to moan at lusty Eastern European housewives. Whatever. The point is, they don’t spend the next few hours before bed wondering how to squeeze in just one more drink, and one more after that. They don’t wake up hung over, promising to never do THAT again, and then find themselves in the kitchen at 5 o’clock, weeping alone before the refrigerator, pleading with themselves for the will power not to open the door.
Sometimes I wish I had become that raging, out-of-control drunk you see in movies or hear about from friends of friends. It probably wouldn’t take much convincing to enter rehab if I woke up one morning and found our car parked in a neighbor’s tree. But even though I knew deep down I had a problem — that alcohol was controlling my life, my every thought — I felt I had it under control in a way. I mean, I wasn’t some stinky hobo rattling around a cardboard box, a few bottles of Wolfschmidt knocking around my wasted feet. I attended play groups. I made it to doctor appointments. I managed to dress myself, wear my underwear on the outside and rarely hit up strangers for loose change. From the outside, everything appeared just fine. No one caught on to the silent tragedy of a slow, internal death. So didn’t that mean the inside was fine, too?
Growing up in an Irish Catholic family, you think everything is normal. Big family parties are never remembered as something sweet like “grandpa’s 80th birthday!” They’re remembered as “that time Aunt So and So fell in the kiddie pool.” That summer when the entire extended family finally made it across country so we could all be together? The time So and So crashed down the stairs. You think it’s just fine for an adult to stumble into the living room the morning after, asking the toddlers: “I didn’t say anything really stupid last night, did I? Kids?”
It took me years — a full decade — to seek help, even after coming to the realization that alcohol? Did not complete me. That alcohol would, in fact, ruin me.
It happened on a random Tuesday. It was just another boring day in the work week. There was nothing special about this day. No parties. No birthdays. No friends had come over the night before. There was no real reason to wake up so hung over, and yet I managed to anyway. Blurry-eyed and silently cursing myself for not being able to stop — for cracking open five too many when I promised myself yet again I’d stop at just one — I stumbled into the bathroom, popped a Tylenol and within 15 minutes thought for sure I was going to die. But not on the spot. That would have been fantastic. I read the little pill bottle that said don’t take Tylenol if you drink a metric fuck ton of booze — it’s on the label; you can check it out — and felt my stomach drop and turn. Sweat dripping from my nose, I was positive that I would need a new liver. I swear to god, I had visions of myself in the hospital, laid up in a bed and waiting for some deranged cosmic miracle to occur in which some unlucky motorist got T-boned at an intersection just so I, a stinking drunk, could have a new shot at life.
I broke down.
Standing there, in the bathroom, feeling as if my liver had just melted, I imagined all the good, non-drunk people I might cut in front of in the waiting pool for internal organs. How selfish, I considered. How horrible. I wept fat, warm tears into the sink. Then I thought of my daughter and of having to explain to her why daddy needed surgery. I thought of my wife having to explain even more if, in fact, no liver was found in time.
I called my wife home from work to look after our daughter and then hustled to the emergency room, where I learned that while my liver function levels were borderline malfunctioning due to years of diligent, silent inebriation, there was no permanent damage, no need for a transplant.
I stopped drinking that day and haven’t looked back.
I never attended AA meetings — I had as a teenager actually and only remember two things: one, showing up high, and two, free coffee. Plus, there was the fact that my dad went into rehab when I was young and I didn’t want to emerge like he did, boring the crap out of everyone with his steps, his sobriety and his newfound godliness. I found a secular program based on some new-agey pyscho-babble that, although I was committed to stopping, I still wasn’t fully prepared to buy into. But I went anyway and discovered the phrase that changed my life. In the middle of the meeting, following a random tangent that seemed to be going nowhere, the leader of our group asked someone a question: “If you can stop at one, do you really need one at all?”
It was like a revelation. For starters, no, I couldn’t stop at one. But I began to wonder: Did I even need that first one to begin with.
Two and a half years later, it turns out I didn’t.
Which all brings me back to the restaurant and that curiously spiced orange drink.
So there I am, across the table. This delicious orange drink shimmers in the candlelight. It’s been so long since we even talked of my problem that my wife sometimes forgets there ever was one.
“I’m sorry,” she says again, but I wave her off, smiling.
“I’m fine,” I say. “Really.”
And I am.
In the beginning, I might have grabbed her drink. A few months after that, I might have been able to resist, but I would have been silently repeating my life-saving mantra, pleading for grace under my breath. But now, almost two and a half years since my last drink, I can see the glass for what it is: a delicious concoction of citrus and spice, spiked with something that just isn’t for me any more. There is life after drinking, I realize now. This fatalistic blood legacy that had gripped my body for decades and our family for generations can end with me. There is hope. For everyone. You can find it.
From Stef: That was Mike Adamick, one of my favorite bloggers. His writing is so honest and real and all those other adjetives I use when I really like something.
quitting story —
NYT on drinking
Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on March 12, 2010 3:23 pm
• Don't Get Drunk Friday