Warning: F-bombs galore, and some graphic description.
How’s life on the farm? What do you get up to there? M and I googled it, took a stroll down the road, checked out the greenhouses. Wondered about the food, about the snoring in the dorms at night. Or the thrashing of bad dreams. (Fucking carnival clowns. They do some of their best work at night.)
My last letter seemed so long when I wrote it, but it’s weird how it’s really just the bare bones of what happened.
Do you know AA’s list of 12 “How Do You Know You’re An Alcoholic” questions? They say if you answer yes to four, you may be an alcoholic. In September 1998, I answered yes to nine.
When I read these, it freaked me out. These people knew me. They knew I’d tried for years to moderate my drinking with self-imposed rules that never worked; that I drank before work to feel well enough to leave the house; that I called in drunk to work; about my lengthening blackouts with increasingly horrific bits of humiliating memory peeking through.
When I read these questions, I felt I had to find out if I truly was an alcoholic. I needed some answers. If I was, and I stopped trying to control my drinking, everything I’d read said I’d go off the deep end. And that, my friend, began the darkest three months of my life, where I hit a bottom and began to come up again. Thank god it was short.
It’s hard to communicate why it was so dark and terrible for me. Partly it was so bad because drinking that much is always bad; I could put a way A LOT by the end, and I was not big person. Metabolizing and excreting that sheer volume of toxic input is hard on a body; it uses up your neurotransmitters and taxes your adrenal glands for energy. Also, imbibing an enormous volume of a catalyst for negative, self-torturing emotions has its price in emotional backlash. Given how much I drank to start with, it was amazing I had the capacity to ramp up after I stopped trying to control it.
I’m trying to explain how bad it was, but I’m not sure I’m getting there. Thinking about it still fills me with grief, but on the surface of it, I don’t know, it might be kind of a pussy story.
First, I had access to A LOT of alcohol. I worked for a winery, and as a thank you for cleaning out her wine closet, my boss gave me the wine she no longer wanted. Twenty cases of it. (Thank you, ex-boss. You helped get me sober.)
For me, part one of figuring out if I was an alcoholic was ripping open the cases and going to work. I rolled up my sleeves, and put down about 12 cases of wine in the next 90 days. Please add in all I drank during all the nights and weekend days I spent at bars, the numerous and sundry six-packs I bought at numerous and sundry liquor stores*, and the shots of tequila or whiskey I’d take some nights, very late, when I couldn’t manage to get drunk enough.
So, there was fuel, and under its persuasion, in October 1998, I thought it would be a great idea to fuck my ex-boyfriend’s best friend. I slept with him on my bedroom floor one night, so we wouldn’t wake up my roommate. She had this huge crush on him, and walked in on us the next morning, going at it again, still on the floor, still drunk (at least I was; can’t speak for him).
I can still hear her, “Oh, god” in my head. Two words that, when remembered in her voice, can still reduce me to tears, because they stand for everything I’d done, and everything I’d become, which was nothing I’d ever wanted to be or dreamed of being, but was instead the antithesis of who I said I was, and what I said I valued.
For a while, I talked myself into believing I really liked this guy. I tried to manipulate him into a relationship with me. He wasn’t interested. When I drove him home that day he said, “You need to tour my new apartment sometime.” When we parked out front, he said “Let’s do that another time.” When I invited myself on his business trip to KC, I could hear the cringe in his voice when he said, “That would be great!” I left him alone after that.**
In November, my drinking escalated in an attempt to drown out feelings that were trying to come up about this night on the floor. Possibly one reason this time frame is very dark for me is the amount of time I spent either in a black out, passed out, or hung over. But the sheer volume of alcohol I poured into a 130-pound body was astounding. Remorse, humiliation, regret, resentment, and self-loathing are as regular a part of a hangover as nausea and headache, and I lived with those emotions daily. I stank of metabolized alcohol. I shook every morning. I no longer slept, just passed out. I hadn’t had dreams in years, just nightmarish memories repeating themselves over and over until it was time to get up.
The fear that my Ex would find out became overwhelming. If he found out, he would think I was the lowest form of life. What a bitch-slap then, to slowly put together, with the help of my therapist, the fact that what I’d wanted to get out of sleeping with his best friend in the first place was to hurt my Ex the worst I knew how to hurt a guy. Because I was in love with him and he didn’t love me back.
That’s what I wanted. That’s what made me plan to use this dude—and I did plan this, over several weeks—and put his friendship with his best friend at risk.*** Hurting people I cared about out of spite and vengeance. The Ex, his best friend, my roommate. I’d become someone who could believe, deeply and truly, that she was in love with a man, and yet look for the softest spot to stick a knife and feel good about doing it. Feel justified, and righteous, and revenged. I’d wanted to become the best friend’s girlfriend, get him to fall in love with me, so I could throw it in my Ex’s face.
That’s when my self-image began to crack. My image of myself as someone with integrity, someone nice, someone good. Smart, empathetic, interesting, fun-loving, lively, bubbly, carefree, loving, curious. Someone wonderful, and loveable. A big, fat pack of lies.
My drinking escalated again in an attempt to deny that realization. But it was too big of a dose of reality, and it wouldn’t dissolve in alcohol. Previously I’d blamed my emotional issues on anything but alcoholism. My father, my mother, the “mental health issues” that ran in my family. My own lack of discipline, motivation, or exercise. I was sure if I could just juggle the right cocktail of factors, my life would straighten out. The day I saw the pack of lies was the day I realized I was my own worst enemy and perhaps, just perhaps, alcohol was a culprit in my unhappiness. Perhaps I might try sobriety. For a while. Maybe.
I tell this story, and I feel like a pantywaist. People go to Six and Market, and come back from that. People flirt with death, and sometimes they find it. I just fucked the wrong guy. But man, did it ever fuck with my head. Partly I might have gotten sober in an attempt to quiet the self-loathing. And partly, I think I was finally ready. I saw, and finally understood, the price I was paying to drink, and it became, rather suddenly, not worth it.
Years later, I was trying to pinpoint my bottom and I realized it was that day, the morning I woke up on the floor, next to the wrong guy.
Shit, man. I’m worn out. I’m crying six ways from Sunday. Feels good. Think I’ll take a nap.
I’ll work on more soon. I miss you. I wish I could grab you and give you a huge hug right now and cry on you. You’d probably cry on me too, and that would be great. Matt would cry, just looking at us, and then we’d all laugh.
This makes me remember when you were staying with Matt and I for that week, and we’d have our tete-a-tetes out on the porch. You’re always so easy to talk to. Look how I go on.
*I shopped at seven different liquor stores, at least, so none of the employees would know how much alcohol I was buying.
**I had no idea how much bad news I was at the time; it only became clear to me afterward.
***Yes, two adults, consenting, and he did make the choice to fuck his best friend’s girl, I know; nevertheless, I used him, and no mistake.
Ps: here’s some fluff I’m spinning. The blue is wool and silk, and the grey is yak and silk. I’m also using an old-school method called “garnetting” to repurpose my dead father’s felted cashmere sweater into yarn. I might dye some of it, not sure. I think I’ll weave a scarf out of it, when the yarn’s done.
(For the rest of my Letters to Asher series, click here.)