Ask a girl a question.
I hope you are doing well out there on the farm. Any news yet when you’ll be leaving, or where you’re going next? Do you have a choice about how long you stay? Like, if it’s going well, can you choose to stay longer? You addressed my fantasies about living on a farm in an earlier letter—something along the lines of “snoring, farting, bitchy dry drunks,” modern names for seven dwarves, and all ideas of cute farmy animals and rural bliss out the window.
Nevertheless, I dream nightly of rural bliss. The neighbors are moving in. They’ve finished rebuilding the Victorian next door. (We’ve been listening to construction for about two years now.) There are already six kids straight from college on the top floor. Next, the nine bedroom in the middle goes up for rent. With the 4-6 (depending on who’s single) above us and the 3-5 below us, well oh goodie, I can’t wait for the parties and the slamming the door at all hours. Just like living in the dorms. Welcome to the New Mission. Barf.
Let’s just say vomiting had become so regular I didn’t even notice it anymore. It was just something I did so I could sleep.
By mid-April, I was ramped back up to hard drinking, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was so torn. I could not conceive of a life—of a me—without alcohol, but because of my six-week dry stint, I was starting to understand how much my drinking had to do with my crazy.
Alcohol was euphoric for me. It’s that way for a lot of us. Is it that way for you? It’s a chemical thing that some people have a genetic predisposition to be more sensitive to. When some alcoholics metabolize alcohol, the first products that hit our brains are chemically similar to endorphins, our happiest hormones, and they just slot right in there, into our happiness receptors, and we get this euphoric, emotional high. However, because we then have a constant synthetic supply of happiness, alcoholics stop producing happiness endorphins on our own. That means, after a time, the ONLY way we feel happiness AT ALL IS WHEN WE DRINK. YAY! As if the rest of it wasn’t enough, right?
So, for me, when I choose to have that first drink, I pop the top, that scent blasts my little reptile pea-brain, and I’m already a little crazy; I drink, it hits my gullet, and I think I’ve come home. My stomach warms cozily, my imagination starts to perk, then to fly. It’s in my brain; everyone is funny, the world is beautiful, and I am in love with it. Only after two drinks the euphoria wears off, I can’t stop, and it’s a short road to remorse and humiliation.
It wasn’t always that way. When I was younger, I had choices, I didn’t have the euphoria, and I didn’t drink as heavily. But by college I was drinking 2-3 times a week, and a few years later, after both of my grandfathers, both of my grandmothers, and my father died, it was 3-5 times a week, and a full-blown addiction, progressing, getting worse and worse, as addictions do, as alcoholism does. Addictions always progress, that’s the way of them.
Then there came this one night in April, when I didn’t get sick. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten sober. Instead, I kept all the poison inside of me, all night long. I passed out on the phone with my friend Eddie at about 2am on a Monday morning. I was on my third bottle of wine, preceded by two six-packs and some shots of tequila earlier in the day. I never remembered anything I said to Eddie, only that I’d been on the phone with him, and then I wasn’t.
I came to on my bedroom floor. When I sat up, I found my face was stuck to the carpet. Red wine was all over my sweatshirt (of course I was wearing a sweatshirt) and the carpet. I was sweating. I was shaking. I was on the verge of throwing up. I didn’t remember the last time I’d eaten. I was still drunk. It was 7am. I had to leave for work in an hour. I lost it.
I called my sister Wendy. She immediately said, “Is everything all right?!” And I said, “No. I’m a fucking alcoholic.” I mean, who was I kidding? And Wendy, blessings on her head forever. She didn’t say took you long enough, or tell me something I don’t know, or I told you so. She just wailed along with me, in sympathy and compassion.
I’ll never know what was different about that morning, what it was that made me depart from all earlier behaviors, and instead call my sister and say out loud, for the first time, “I am an alcoholic.”
But I do know that saying it out loud to somebody else, maybe somebody who loved me, and who had known for a long time, made a difference. It took down all the barriers between us in an instant and made us two sisters, hanging onto each other in desperation and hope. Maybe that was it. Maybe it created hope in me, and I hadn’t really had that before.
Breaks my heart a little bit just remembering it. She had an infant at the time, and she didn’t get mad at me or anything, for calling at 7am. Just knew something was wrong, and was there for me. I’ve always remembered that morning, and it will always mean the world to me.
We didn’t talk for long, maybe five minutes. I told her what had happened. She listened. We told each other we loved one another, hung up. I had coffee, went to work, knocked off at 11am for an AA meeting, went home, glued myself to the tv until I couldn’t stand it anymore, had the last half glass of wine from the bottle that had spilled on my bedroom floor and on my dead father’s sweatshirt, and went to bed.
That was April 19th, 1999, and that was my last drink.
(For the rest of my Letters to Asher series, click here.)