What most of my 20’s looked like. Photo courtesy drunken me.
You’d think that a porky tumor in my liver may have detoured me from partaking in a few pints of beer. Or that chemotherapy biweekly for an entire year…yes, an ENTIRE YEAR filled with endless rounds of throwing up might have given me my fill of poisoning my body…that even smelling alcohol would bring about nausea. And you are right. I went a whole year without going for that fuzzy buzz. But then, like a dirty-rotten friend, it called again. To “celebrate” my making it through one whole year of chemo, I went out for a “few drinks” (4 pints of beer) to the local bar a few months back. I was alone (nowadays, I prefer it that way), yet was friendly and amicable to other fellow lost souls I met that night. I went there, head freshly shorn (one of a sea of side effects I shrug off) just as some kid that had recently graduated from some hellish boot camp. I’d gotten used to the Mad Max look on myself after my 26th chemo round. For the most part, I had a good time that night, at least, I thought.
Me in 2005. I was buzzed when they took this picture. Not a good way to convince that cop that pulls you over that you really aren’t a drunk.
The next morning, I woke up cotton-mouthed, eyes dry and heavy… but, this was my usual chemo effects. My husband, who usually ignored my movements and activities surprised me by sternly asking if I had any recollection of coming home the night before. Of course I did, I answered casually: drove home, unhinged the old bra, then…well, it was kinda foggy in mind after that. I noticed the bruise and rug-burn on my left elbow. No biggie…had ’em many times. Can’t be any worse than bleeding out my ass which is how I found the first cancerous tumor a few years back, I reasoned. But, then I saw my husband’s expression: a mix of frustration, concern, anger, and disappointment. Slowly, I began to recall the mood I hurled around the house the night before. RAGE, UGLY RAGE, the kind that gets high on itself as evil gets high on inflicting pain and sorrow. I thank GOD my 13 yr old son was asleep at the time (one o’clock in the morning) and didn’t see it. I’m 41 years old. At what fucking point will I grow up????
Who would have imagined that this beast would initiate my sobriety? Well, kinda. Colon cancer tumor, 2011. Photo courtesy my doctor.
People may say I’m justified. You’re going through some serious life-altering, soap opera shit right now, I can hear the sappy Freud in me say. Is that an excuse? Blame it on the barking dog, or the stressful job, or the lover who left you. BULL!!!Whatever, but lets go back in time a bit.
In my 20’s, I did the usual drinking and partying every weekend with friends, lovers, strangers, dangers. Whatever. Same old, SAMO (yawn). Wasted time, wasted money….yes my 20’s were pretty much spent wasted. During those college years, I’d do my homework in bars, drink in hand. I’d meet my boyfriends there. I’d do my “therapy” there too, I claimed. Drinking was “fun”. Drunks were “funny”. Dying was a place far away, only heroin addicts and old people went there. At one point, at age 24, I twice (accidently?) overdosed on a combination of prescription drugs (Valium and Zoloft) and alcohol when I was single and living in San Francisco. By the third time, my parents drove up to Frisco to save my sorry ass by taking me back “home” to San Diego. But I didn’t change my ways much there either. Neither of my folks drank, being practicing Christians, so I couldn’t play that trick card that says Well, I picked up the habit watching my alcoholic parents or I inherited the drink gene. WHAT A DAMN CANARD!!!!!!
Me at age ten, seated in center on right near fireplace. Not a picture perfect family, but at least my folks didn’t drink or abuse me. So what’s my excuse???
In my 20’s and early 30’s, drinking was “cute”. I have family members and friends who still think this way and I know their views won’t change, sad to say. But a bloated belly, a fat liver, a DUI, a habit of hangovers, chronic depression, and fights fueled with alcohol at age 40 and older don’t look very “cute” or “funny” anymore, do they? And that is only the beginning of what habitual drinking does. What it does to a family, that’s a whole miniseries in itself.
Fast forward to my late 30’s. After being together for ten years, my husband and I separated. This marital purgatory lasted a long, dragged-out 3 years. I blamed our separation on his alcoholism (how it isolated him from me, how it drove me to drink…blah blah) is what I’d claim. Though this was partly true, it was a muse for an excuse to act out like I did in my 20’s. But when the reality of having stage IV cancer came to me in 2013, I needed to rebuild bridges, NOT burn them. We reconciled and are truly the closest we have ever been. But it was my concern for my spouse that got me off my pride horse. It was nights (starting a few months ago) listening to him practically choking on his vomit or acids from binging the hours before that woke me up to the darkness that comes with alcoholism. I’d shake him or try to push him over on his side to get him to clear his throat just so. He, all the while, still in a sleeping stupor, either unaware or too drunk to awaken. In the morning, off he went to work, functioning somehow, but definitely not happy. That was me just a year before, hung over at my job. No, my spouse has never physically nor verbally abused me nor our son in his drinking spells. No DUI’s, no lost jobs, no police at our home. But watching his body change (belly), his health affected due to that evening drink to relax his nerves makes me sad, very sad, and scared as hell for him. It was the first time I actually sought AL-ANON. I knew I had to face the realities of my own struggles.
How many times did Amy Winehouse choke on her vomit during sleep before getting help? Death won’t let us know.
I have gently informed my husband of these moments when his drinking has altered his sleep. And no, that hasn’t changed his habits, which I wasn’t surprised by. I know a person has to want to change themselves for it to happen. I leave him be. But the incidents prompted me to see how EASY our minds are twisted into thinking that we need a life with alcohol to “have fun” or “be fun” or sickly, to “function normally”. Can we remember back to when we were kids, when we could just be happy at will? When we could cry or get angry or be silly naturally? Why do we need fucking booze to be our “self”…our REAL SELF??? So I see now how a life liberated from depending on some “thing” (poison, literally) outside myself in order to feel is just that: LIBERATING. It is not a criticism nor a judgment… it is a fact. Imagine, letting yourself be. Drinking is a coward’s tool to face life and its spectrum of emotions. A pussy’s poison!! I’m done with being a coward. I prefer to stare down reality, no matter how evil, painful, or cold…AND believe me, I have seen a lot. And I hear all the excuses that come with drinking and drugging (cultural tradition, family sanctioned, functioning alcoholism). I lived them too. Lies from non-thinking minds. The habit is like playing around with a gun and saying “I’m just having a little fun”. At some point, you’ll fire that loaded weapon without control, and god only knows where the bullets will fly. Nowadays, metaphorically, I have laid down my guns. I prefer the sober asshole in me to the excuse-filled crying, depressive drunk of my old self. If you need help, get it, its out there, even in cyberspace. Step into a life of liberation, of clear thinking, of BRAVERY, of real happiness.
The following is a poem dedicated to my sister Pam, one of the bravest people I know, who has been living drug-free now for over a decade. I’m proud to be your sis. And, no, drinking does NOT make art…people do.
Good old Al‒
The fun gun at the party holding up the empty barrel to the big pussy rejecting the poison‒
His acidic eyes forever burning brightness into black.
Yeah, I’ll drink to that.
Not a holy black or
Halloween out of the trick-bag black,
more so, the absence of anything.
If only he knew.
He’s the original crash test dummy.
Calendars mark him by the day.
His truths read fiction.
People are his piñatas.
He is wanted in every state.
He’s the most interesting scam in the world.
No one expected to find him bleeding-out the laughter
to carry tradition into a sad-ass-sorry song.
You know it;
The oceans of lies that flow through father to daughters
and mothers to sons.
You know the tune,
the one with bridges to cross
or jump from.
You know it.
Your other-half sang it with medicinal moderation
between loveless kisses and fake lullabies.
Oh, the muse for excuse‒
Don’t mind me, I won’t mind you,
the coward’s fuel.
It’s the season for creating
artists and avalanches and arsenals of thought,
goes the songbird.
Hear here my dear;
Do you ache to numb your ear?
That fist-shot of furry
you welcome by the dime.
Diluting the hour,
same ol’ cliché,
You’ve struck the pain;
Give yourself a hand.
It comes lose for self-abuse.
it’s just a joke.
I saw it brewing with your name,
knocking down the judgmental ghost.
both imposters just the same,
we play the sobering game.
And the risk is sweet,
risk is dumb-luck’s falling star,
the child’s magic marker
for an angel or a devil’s scar.
A moment to act out;
A reason to be careful with who you are.
But, can you recall that floating carpet
where feelings weren’t yet fenced-in
and happiness was a piss-warm cup you drank from?
A talisman for tasting your soul,
you suckle the danger.
heart still heaving,
you raise the weapon and swallow it whole.