We’ve been busy here. Matt’s settling into his new job, and I’m settling into my new unemployment. Did I tell you I’m taking weaving, American Sign Language, and bellydance classes? I’m so busy I don’t have time to wipe my butt, the textiles produced at the Van Ness Fiber Institute are out of hand, and I can say, “My boyfriend has a red mustache,” and “Bitch, please” in ASL. Good stuff.
We think about you all the time here; we’re so proud of you, and hopeful for you. We LOVED your head maze! How did you find your five-year-old pen pal? I think you’d be the best pen-pal ever. (waitaminite. I already know you are!)
In other news, I’ve continued to spin out my story for you, and have yet another installment: sobriety at last, even if temporary.
When last seen, our title character was hanging head down over a black pit. I’d just had three of the darkest months of my life, precipitated by the brilliant idea to “find out if I was a real alcoholic.” The next step in the brilliant plan was to see if I could stop drinking if I “really wanted to”: another short-lived process, but one that filled me with an unexpected joy.
January 3rd, 1999 was the first day of my first term of sobriety. While the stated goal was to “find out if I was a real alcoholic,” the hoped for conclusion was that I was not, and could therefore go back to drinking, asap. I stayed dry about six weeks. The joy of it was a little inexplicable, given that the beginning of my second, and so far permanent, term of sobriety was so emotionally difficult.
That joy was likely made up of several elements. I was proving to the world (my sister Wendy, in particular) I wasn’t alcoholic. Second, the effects of actual sleep, for the first time in years, were likely profound. Third, I didn’t come home with injuries, get myself into unfortunate situations demanding extrication, or ritually humiliate myself for weeks on end. And fourth, I immediately became capable of doing SO MUCH MORE. I had energy, time, and motivation that did not exist when I was drinking, because I used it to drink.
I can’t describe it. I was just happy. When I was young, I had so much creativity and imagination, and I always had a sense of the magic lurking around in the corners of life. When I got older, I lost that. But when I stopped drinking, for the first time in years, god this sounds SO cliché, but it’s true: that black cloud lifted and I could see something beyond it. I started sensing the magic lurking in corners again. Possibilities. Potential. A life leading upwards, instead of off, into the dark.
In mid-February, I signed up for a two-day cross-country group skiing lesson in Tahoe, and I had just an incredible time. I was social, I laughed, and I had energy to apply to the lessons. The last day, on the way down the mountain, cold and wet, exhausted and falling all over the place while getting snowed on, I was alone with one of the instructors and he apologized to me for how hard this last leg was.
And I said, “Are you kidding me? I’ve been sick for a really long time, and I didn’t ever think I’d be able to do anything like this. I’m having the time of my life.” Implicit here are two things: first, I was only where I was that day because I had stopped drinking long enough to motivate myself and to act, and second, I realized, somewhere within myself, that I was very, very sick.
I think he said something like, “Oh, wow.” He didn’t ask any questions, and I didn’t give him any details, but that moment stuck with me, and later, even while heavily pissed, I recognized the truth that popped unlooked for from my mouth in that moment of pure happiness.
And that’s all it was: a moment of happiness. As soon as it came, it went. I got back from that trip, held out for two more weeks until the next skiing trip, on which I was totally sauced and was a complete disaster. I was socially awkward, likely reeked of booze, and people kept their distance from me. I couldn’t keep up with the group, and didn’t even participate on the second day.
Strangely enough, during their outing that day, they met up with the instructor I’d made my “I’ve been sick for a really long time,” comment to—he wasn’t teaching that trip, but had a home in Tahoe, happened to be there, and met up with the group.
When they came back and picked me up, they gave me this giant group hug. I think my old instructor must have mentioned my comment to them. Before they left for the day there was tension; when they returned it was all love. It was strange, and it made me think even more about that comment, “I’ve been sick for a really long time…”
And I was. I was drinking sporadically at 12. By high school junior year I was drinking with friends, secretly tapping my dad’s Wine in a Box, regularly raiding the fridge in his garage, and already beginning to collect injuries and humiliating memories. I stopped emotionally growing up soon after that. My parents were good at providing, but not emotionally present. (My dad never even mentioned the fridge, for fuck’s sake.)
I was unguided and untaught, and was now doing my growing up in my therapist’s office. I was so sick I was afraid to die if I got on the bus, slept with random men I had zero connection and little chance of relation with, and regularly came home with injuries from falls and accidents, all while completely shit-canned. I didn’t have low self-esteem; I had negative self-esteem.
I was sick in body, mind, heart, and spirit. But. Even though I was drinking again, and telling myself I’d proven I could go weeks without drinking and therefore wasn’t alcoholic, part of me now knew I was. My therapist had been teaching me honesty, and it was too late. I’d spoken the truth out loud to somebody else, but I was the one who heard it.
(For the rest of my Letters to Asher series, click here.)