Roughly 10 years ago, when I was heavy in my addiction to alcohol, an important seed was planted in me in the most unexpected way. It would not be the first of its kind.
I was in a bar with friends and family listening to my husband sing in his cover band. It was the holiday season, and most of the women were dressed in fancier clothing drinking festive cocktails.
I don’t recall what I wore, but I do remember being thrilled about traveling to that old familiar drunken stratosphere of existence. Or, as I refer to now as, “The World Of Numb.” Bar attendees blanketed the walls in joyful conversations, while others sang and danced along with my husband as he sang. As always, his enthusiastic performance raised the energy level to the max. He has a way of rallying Peoples’ spirits, and the evening always ends with people wanting more.
I was both incredibly proud of him and insanely envious. Both feelings were uncomfortable for me. I was proud of him because I love him and he had a venue to express his creativity. I was envious because I hated myself and he had a venue to express his creativity. I felt like the boring, ordinary wife who had fucked up her kids and that is why they had autism. I saw myself as a plain and bloated shell of a human, married to an extraordinarily talented, kind, handsome, hard-working fella. I was a mere peon in his wake.
To cope with these negative feelings about myself, I drank as heavily as I could. As my state of drunkenness increased, the uglier my emotions became. With every sip, the feelings my soul silently screamed to have removed, were pushed deeper and deeper down into a bottomless pit. The more I fed that bottomless pit with booze , the greater my self loathing became.
I paid very close attention to two things that evening (as I did every time I drank with people):
- Who was drinking as heavily as me?
- Who was not drinking as heavily as me?
I was pleased when I saw others doing shots and visiting the bar often. That is how I identified my “Drinking Squad” for the evening.
The people who sipped at their drinks drove me nuts. I paid careful attention to what number drink they were on. Usually they’d be half way done with their first drink as I was buying my fourth. I hated them because they were normal. I hated them because they focused on the singing and conversation. They weren’t like me, distracted by tracking everyone else’s drinking patterns.
I took mental note of who drank less than I, and avoided them. If I stood near them, I may be found out. They may notice that I loved drinking a bit too much than your average Sally. I couldn’t have them witness my ever increasing slur in speech, or off kilter balance.
As I continued to scan the crowd, checking in on the “Heavy Hitters” and “Milkers”, I heard a familiar laugh. My eyes darted to where the jovial sound came from and saw an old friend, Kerry, laughing with her husband, Bill. I knew this laugh because she was one of my first childhood friends and her laugh has never changed. Our eyes met just long enough for her to see I was drinking, and that she was not. I quickly turned away in shame.
You see, 6 months earlier, I had gone to her house telling her I how I was enjoying drinking a little too much, and to ask her : “why did you two stop drinking?” I knew she and her husband “quit drinking.” Word on the street was that they were *GASP* Alcoholics. Not only that, but black out alcoholics!! Yeah, really that bad!! I invited myself to their home to do some comparison analysis. I wanted to hear from them that I didn’t have a problem. I needed to hear that they were the problem drinkers, and maybe I just needed to cool the jets for a few weeks.
Well, no. They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. Kerry was gentle in her response to my inquiries. Bill, on the other hand, was quite bold. “Sarah, let me put it to you straight. The fact that you carved out time in your busy life to invite yourself over to see if you are an alcoholic, means you are probably an alcoholic.”
My eyes nearly popped out of my head. When did I say “alcoholic”? How could he say that about me? He went way to far. Especially because I was there on a Sunday and didn’t have anything to drink. I didn’t need a glass of wine or beer while I was there! I was fine with water, thank you very much! And, by the way, I had never blacked out like HE always did! So, to appease them, I told them and ONLY them that I would quit.
I promptly made a plan to prove I did not have a problem; I just needed a break from the hangovers. For 4 months I put down the booze, and boy, did I feel good! So good, in fact, that I decided I had things under control, and I was ready to “try again.” But only on weekends, I declared. In no time, I added Sunday to the weekends, and eventually I added Wednesday, Thursday and Friday happy hours, and in a week, I was drinking 2 to 3 bottles of wine every single night, and drinking earlier in the day on Saturday and Sunday.
What. The. Fuck? How was I drinking MORE now? I just took a break! I didn’t get it.
Which brings me back to the evening of my husbands band performance:
Kerry caught me red handed.
What a loser I was. She must think I’m an idiot. I lied to her about quitting and now she caught me. She was no doubt going to give me looks of disappointment.
The rest of the evening , I avoided her like the plague until we accidentally ran into each other in the bathroom.
“Sarah!!!! Hi !!!! Merry Christmas! How are you !? It’s great to see you!!” Her eyes held mine as she spoke with such kind enthusiasm.
“What is she on drugs, or something?” I looked down at the sink as I frantically scrubbed my hands clean. Why is she being nice to me? She caught me in a lie! This has to be a façade to her disappointment in me. Why isn’t she calling me out?
As ashamed and embarrassed as I felt , I put on my acting mask.
“Kerry what a surprise! It’s been so long! How are you ? You look great! (Damn, she did, how unfair!?) How’s your daughter?” I squealed.
Not once did I make eye contact with her. Thank God I had my hands to dry under the blower. A diversion from my intoxication.
Just then, I heard my husband start singing a country song. “Oh my God ! My favorite song!!” I lied. I hated country music. Except for Johnny Cash. “See ya, Kerry!!”
I darted back into my comfort zone by the bar. I squeezed myself into a group of people who I knew were plastered. They were spilling drinks as the lowered themselves to the ground singing “I’ve got friends in low places….” I roared with over the top laughter while turning to a crowd of “milkers,” and mouthed “wow, they are so wasted!”
A few hours later, I felt really sick and really tired. Too much to drink…..again. I blamed it on how hard my life was, raising 3 little boys, 2 on the autistic spectrum and a vestibular disorder with horrible symptoms that was also slowly killing my hearing in one of my ears.
I sat on my bar stool, defeated, spent from the long night of heavy drinking, and on the verge of vomiting. I was hunched over, eyes stinging; barely opened. I didn’t care. I was in the world of Numbed Feelings.
Then I heard it again. That familiar laugh. Before I looked up, I knew who I was going to see. I knew what I would see. I didn’t want to look. My heart felt heavy thinking about what I would observe. But then I did. I looked. I saw her. Kerry. She was standing upright and alert. She was clearly lucid and enjoying herself at 1 AM. She wasn’t wobbling and seemed to be enjoying a coherent and controlled conversation. Her face looked just as bright as it did hours before when I ran into her. Why is she so fucking happy!?!? She quit drinking and she is happy?!? What the hell? She was arm and arm with her husband who was equally lucid.
I held my tired eyes on her longer than I thought capable. It was as if a force was Willing me to stop from turning away. For what seemed to be an eternity, I felt as if it was just me and her, alone in a bright hallway. Me, shackled to the sticky bar stool, and Kerry, a floating image of serenity. She looked so…..alive.
In that moment, I longed to be her. I never felt that way before. This longing, this almost desperate longing was bubbling up from the deepest and most unfamiliar parts of me. I could barely move. In my depressive drunken state, I was captivated by her and how she was.
I wanted what she had.
But what was it?
And, just like that, an important seed was planted.
But I would need more….