My first real sobriety date was October 31, 2002. I obtained 2 months after that and that was the longest stretch I could think of since my age had been in the single digits.
Was I crazy? Halloween fell on a Thursday and that weekend involved lots of house parties, bar parties, and unabashed drinking. My birthday falls on November 4th – and that was Monday. Basically I was resigning myself to being sober on Halloween, for 2 nights of festivities and then the eve of my birthday AND my birthday when there was no shame in announcing it and collecting the free drinks and free shots and free mixed drinks and …. and …. consuming the Heinekens from AMSTERDAM that I had squirreled away in my mom’s fridge. Heineken from The Netherlands is another animal, if you are thinking of the green-bottle skunky things we Americans are exposed to. I kept them at mom’s because I knew myself well enough that if I was on a binge, those things would become fodder for deepening drunkenness – it would be shamelessly guzzled and not admired and sipped. I saved them for my birthday.
I started going to meetings. I hit two on Friday, two on Saturday, two on Sunday. By Monday? I was soaking in a hot bath and sobbing like a two-year old. I hadn’t told my mother that I was going to AA because then there would be no backing out. Once I told her? Those beers from Amsterdam were history. I sobbed and cried. I cried because it wasn’t FAIR. I cried because I wanted those god damned beers. I cried because I lost my best friend ……. and worst enemy. I cried because mom knew. I cried because I was ashamed. I should have seen it coming. I should have stopped ages ago. I cried because my body felt like a raw nerve – the shaking, the anxiety, the jumpiness, the sleeplessness, the sense that someone was standing just within my peripheral vision and I’d start when I turned to see them disappear – I had the sense it was a small man and he wore black. Was I hallucinating? I couldn’t be. Just one of ‘dem things. But if I didn’t look at him, he’d gravitate a little closer until I did. I had to hold a glass of anything with two hands, never filling it more than halfway. I wanted coffee so bad but it made it worse. I could hardly sit still. I guzzled. I guzzled soda. I guzzled milk. I guzzled water. I guzzled like some alcoholic desperately trying to cop a buzz but being impotent to do so. I cried because the cravings seemed insurmountable. I sobbed because this was how I was spending my f*^#@!g birthday ……. sobbing in a bathtub.
My bathroom was hideous (I rented and therefore couldn’t personally take credit for its tackiness). It was painted crudely in a sickly seafoam green with a stenciled design along the top with hunter green octopuses (or were they navy blue? Can’t recall), orange-yellow starfish, and burgundy sharks. This alone was a bad environment for someone that was, for lack of a better term, detoxing. I didn’t think of myself as detoxing. I mean …. I wasn’t THAT bad. I didn’t go to the hospital to detox because : #1.. I wasn’t THAT bad. #2. I wanted to be able to drink at the drop of a hat. I didn’t want to have to sign out of somewhere if I changed my mind. I didn’t want to argue with some nurse or some counselor. I wanted the freedom to revert back to what I know. I just felt safer knowing I could change my mind if the pain got too great.
The troubling matter was that I had told my mom. She was trained to work in a detox, but her nursing career took her elsewhere. There was no f*&^%$#g way I could tell her “I overreacted. I’m not an alcoholic.” I could do that with most anyone else in my circle of friends or family. But not her. And telling her was a big step.
I don’t remember anything else about that birthday, nothing but the sobbing as the steam dissipated, crying as the tub cooled from near scalding to tepid, cooled to lukewarm and then to cool. My skin was raw in places where I had scrubbed and scrubbed like I could clean away this ugliness. My feet and fingers were horrendously wrinkled. I wrapped up in a towel, threw myself on my bed, and cried some more. This time it was tearless.
At the time, it was the end of the world as I knew it. What I didn’t know was that I was that much closer to a most beautiful world, a glorious world beyond my wildest dreams.