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.
Elizabeth, that means the world to me. Thank you so much for the note, and I hope you are doing well!
And thanks to all!
.-= Mike´s last blog ..Vintage San Francisco =-.
How wonderful to have Mike share his story. It’s so honest and heartfelt. And the way he writes, I’d even read a story about his socks.
Heather of the EO said,
Thank you, Mike. You happen to be one of my favorites too. And reading your blog, especially one particular post, one where you said you wished you had quit sooner-a beautiful post, was a major stepping stone for me. It bounced around in my head and heart right when I needed to stop denying I had a problem. It hit me in the gut, not because you were making me feel guilty, but because your words are inspiring. So yeah, I’ll always be grateful for people like you and Stef, who write with an honesty that makes me feel less alone in this. Thank you.
.-= Heather of the EO´s last blog ..Before =-.
liver damage from just a few every night? really? that’s sort of scary.
.-= muskrat´s last blog ..the unartistic conception (and, a fisher price sex toy!) =-.
“There is life after drinking, I realize now.”
I love love love this. A while ago I would have argued a statement like this but now I realize it’s true. There is more life after drinking.
Thank you for sharing your story, Mike. It touched me. Congrats on 2.5 years.
.-= seekingclarav´s last blog ..March 7th, 2007 =-.
Excellent post! I really relate to your story. I gives me great hope as a newly sober person to see what a good place you are in. thankyou for sharing! Beautifully written!
Reading this was like reading bits of my own story. The realizations…
Thank you for sharing this. Off to check out your blog…
.-= Corinne´s last blog ..Flashback Friday: Musical Memory =-.
Mike, thank you so much for your story. Since I too, have not entered the program, I like to consider Stefanie’s DGDF my version of AA. If this were live and in person, I’d be the one in the back, nodding my head and covered in tears. Thanks again.
.-= Brooke´s last blog ..rubies and love songs =-.
I’m Irish Catholic and I can really relate to this post. Thanks for sharing.
I was holding my breath reading this, I relate to so much of your story. I was even more hell-bent on self-destruction, though .. the first time I was hospitalized I was told my liver enzymes were elevated and if I stopped then it might reverse itself. I didn’t stop. I took me months more, and more bad things happening, to finally stop.
Thank you for sharing your story and giving hope and encouragement to so many. I think it’s great, too, for people to know there are many ways to stop drinking, once you are ready. I do go to AA, and I love it, but I recognize that it isn’t for everyone, and in fact can scare some people away from trying. It’s wonderful to hear that all that is really needed is that moment when you finally get good and scared to stop. And a tons of guts, determination and honesty.
Thank you so much.
.-= Ellie´s last blog ..Announcement – Oprah Show =-.
Wow, I loved reading your story, Mike. Thank you so much for sharing it. I relate in so many ways as a stay at home mom. Justifying, “one more won’t hurt”, only to face the remorse and guilt and headache the next morning brings. Then, once the cobwebs clear, to start thinking about the delicious glass(es)of wine all over again as my husband returns home from work that very evening. It was a cycle I was painfully aware of but couldn’t seem to pull myself out of. I, like you, didn’t appear to over do it. More than anything it was how I felt about myself inside on a daily basis. It was just awful.
I love that line, “If you can stop at one, do you really need one at all?” It is so true! Why bother if it is only one? Really? I must admit though, I do envy those that can, but I still don’t see the point….
AND, I have probably taken more Tylenol in the last 5 months of sobriety then I ever did in the last 5 years of boozin’ it up! =)Isn’t it great to not feel the guilt anymore?
Congrats on your success and thanks for helping reconfirm mine.
P.S. You are hilarious too…. you and Stef should go on tour together.
Mommy on the Spot said,
Seeing addiction from your perspective was eye openining. Thanks for sharing your story.
.-= Mommy on the Spot´s last blog ..*Blink* And there goes another week . . . =-.
Beautifully written and eloquently expressed. I nodded my head quite a few times while reading. Thanks!
.-= Cynthia´s last blog ..The Chiropractor =-.
Lisa Rae @ smacksy said,
Thank you, Mike.
“…the silent tragedy of a slow, internal death…” Just sums it up. I think the lucky alcoholic folks die young or get sober, the rest have only that slow death to look forward to.
Glad you’ve made it out alive today.
.-= Lisa Rae @ smacksy´s last blog ..I’m A Loser, Baby =-.
maggie, dammit said,
Mike, I hope you don’t get sick of hearing this, but you are one of the finest–if not the finest–writer out there in the blogosphere today. I am always moved by your words–but, this? Especially, this?
“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.”
It’s as familiar to me as my own face.
.-= maggie, dammit´s last blog ..Who do I think I am? =-.
Really enjoyed reading this. The quality of your writing is beautiful…
.-= Frogdancer´s last blog ..Essay Bloopers and a giveaway. =-.
Echoes, echoes. My own thoughts, my own excuses, my own bullshit.
Great writing, Mike. And bravo to your sobriety!
.-= WarsawMommy´s last blog ..Four Years And One Day Ago…. =-.
Hey, just a quick note of thanks to all. I’ve been reading all your comments with a big fat dorky smile on my face, and I also wanted to give a big shout out to Stef for offering such a great feature for all of us to feel safe and find a moment’s solace — so thank you. Can’t wait for this week’s story!