The Voices in My Head ………

So ……. why did I drink?

Obviously I had full-body cravings, an epic lust, that just could not be ignored.  But there were times when I didn’t feel that way.  Empty nights when I came home and knew deep in my heart I didn’t HAVE to today.  Regardless … I always did.  I was a daily drinker and didn’t know how to NOT be.

Have you ever had someone come in the room, someone negative and obnoxious and rotten, and you just wanted to get up and walk away?  You see them coming, you shift your eyes, and rise to make your exit before they see that you see them and have made the connection.  Every word they utter – even if it’s not directed directly toward you – is like an assault.  They bitch incessantly and it’s such a buzz kill.  Well?  I was that person.  Even I wanted to get away from me.

Other people LIKED me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I could be funny, witty, smart, sweet … anything you wanted me to be.  But  that’s because I didn’t always have the audacity to voice the negativity that was spinning unchecked in my head.

“This sucks.  Why does SHE have to be here?  Man, I hate her.  Why me?”  This is the kind of stuff that churned inside like a brewing hurricane.  I’m actually surprised no one could see it.  It was a category 136 storm.

“I have to get out of here.  OH man, how much longer do I have to be here?  This sucks.  I hate my job.”  This was me at work.  The silent me.  The verbal me was cracking jokes and smiling, desperately trying to hide the part of me that detested where I was.  Detested WHO I was.

“This is f***king boring.  This sucks.  Why me? ”       This was me at home.      Alone.        “Life sucks.  This blows.”

So how could I possibly see this girl coming and sneak out of the room without her seeing me?  How could I avoid being taken hostage from this hostile, rotten wretch?

I drank.  I quieted her down.  She didn’t CARE if life sucked after a few.

For the most part, it was cravings.  It was a magnificent hunger I couldn’t ignore.  But on the days when the hunger was quelled, it was to shut me up.   Of course there were still other reasons.  But this was the biggie.

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Gateway Drug? Gateway to Rape……..

“Are you f**kin’ confused about why they call it Blow?” He demanded, jerking the mirror over to his side of the table to re-calibrate the lines.

I felt stupid for a second, but the drunken “I don’t care” mechanism mercifully kicked in.  I was too drunk to inhale on cue.   I was horribly drunk, horribly uncoordinated, and whenever I hovered near the mirror  air gushed through my nose and the white powder would splay into specks all over.  I didn’t answer him. I didn’t have an answer.  The guy he was with sat quietly, staring at the table.  He was stoned.  It was in the 80’s that night, and the little black-haired guy kept his black leather jacket on.  He didn’t sweat a bit.  I  never met him before now.

“You can’t HAVE any if you do it again.  $#!t’s expensive.”  His ashy blond eyebrows were furrowed, meeting deep creases at the place where the top of his nose and his forehead converge.  It looked weird.  I was fixated on it.  That and the boil on his chin thinly veiled with the peachfuzz goatee.

“Ok,” I muttered, folding my arms.

This wasn’t my first time and I didn’t like being spoken to like I was some amateur.

But how did I get here?

I went to school in the ’80’s at the height of Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign. Believe me when I say the education was there.  Did I say education?  How about:  Scare tactics.  Try heroin and you’ll drop dead.  Try cocaine and you’ll drop dead.  LSD?  You’ll walk out a window.  A 10th story window.  Smoke pot?  Welllll, you won’t die, but life will suck.  That was it in a nutshell.  And saying “no” is such a simple alternative, isn’t it?

I internalized this.  I did believe that sudden death was possible – and I don’t mean the bonus round in a game show.  What I thought was more likely was an instant baboon on your back followed by a life of crime.  So when I was buzzed one night and they were passing stuff around, my inhibitions were down.  It didn’t seem so bad.  Some guy chuckled at my reluctance and said, “It’s not what they tell ya.”

Then?  I didn’t die.  I wasn’t stealing old lady’s purses to feed my new-found hunger.    In fact?  There WAS no new-found hunger.  I walked away unscathed.  So?  The next time they passed it around? I did it again.  And again.  And again.   And I loved it.

Now, ‘mind you …. I didn’t bug OUT if so-and-so wasn’t home and I didn’t scramble to get to _______’s (insert name of local bar with a “powder room”) before last call to stalk some drug dealer.  I didn’t start barking at everyone and I didn’t start fretting about who else might have it and inviting myself to people’s houses unannounced so I could score ….. but I loved it.  And I usually accompanied these freaks who would ultimately drive me out of town – with the caveat that they BETTER have a bottle for me.  Humph. I didn’t understand their fixation on the stuff.

Ultimately I didn’t know what I was putting up my nose.  One night I had some stuff that wasn’t the shade of white I was accustomed to.  Beige isn’t the right word …. but it’ll do.  And it made me itchy and sleepy.  Some other stuff burned the inside of my nose one night and made me freakishly paranoid – did I instantly become [in that one night] one of those people with the skin burned/melted out, the skin that cordoned off one nostril from the other?  I kept tenderly twisting a finger around in there to make sure it was all still there.  I’d frantically look in the mirror and then hide when I heard an unfamiliar voice.  One night there was stuff :  kind of a golden tan with a more velvety(?)  texture …. it knocked me OUT and felt all warm and sleepy like a winter Sunday morning in a fluffy big blanket.  It was a nice big dose of “I don’t CARE.”  If it was what I had been looking for, it would have been bliss and probably an instant habit.  But I wanted to be up there [pointing to the ceiling], not down there [pointing to the floor].

However:  With the exception of a few unpleasant surprises, I thought of it as fun.  I could drink more – way more! – and stay up until the darkness gave way to that periwinkle morning light and that sliver of pink in the distance.  I would go home tired and crash.  I hated sleeping for as long as I did and never being sure if I would wake up in time for my evening shift …. but I loved it.

Getting raped changed that.

A cute guy asked me out.  In the late ’80’s looking like Keifer Sutherland was an outstanding perk.  He wasn’t much of a conversationalist –  with the clarity of hindsight, I’d now say he was dumb.  But at the time, I thought it was cute and perhaps meant I made him nervous.   I only wish he had been more nervous.  He had a house party at his mom’s.  His mom was there in her room upstairs save an occasional swaying stumble to the bathroom; she was a notorious lush.  She would stagger unkempt into traffic in broad daylight.  Everyone knew her and I was unpleasantly surprised to find out she was his mom.   She wandered down in a house dress to have a drink with us.  Her hair was in a compact gray bun with strands of hair fraying out from the sides.  She slurred some unintelligible stuff before pounding a beer and staggering suddenly upstairs for the night.

His friends left one by one.  We had smoked some potent weed.  We drank a lot, mixing drinks with not a care in the world.  It churned menacingly in my stomach, but snorting some coke took care of that.  My thoughts sharpened, but it didn’t pair so well with the weed.  I miserably wondered “why do I always wind up like this?”

I never meant to.  I just meant to feel good and always overdid it.  The switch was on and I could never stop.

When his last friend left, I was glad to be alone with him and get to know him better.  The quiet of the house was pleasant, and I was taken with his shy half-smile.

In an hour, I was running out of the house stifling tears.   My head was extremely clear.  The buzz was GONE.  I knew what happened.  I ran. I stumbled. I slammed the door. I clutched my button-fly shorts which now had the top three buttons missing, ripped off.   Through the screen to the open window I heard his slurry voice chuckle, “Come onnnnnn.  Where ya goin’?”

My skin was red and raw in the shower as I vigorously and almost violently scrubbed my skin with a big bar of Dial.  I sobbed snottily slobbery with hot water pouring down my face.  I could still taste his repulsive kisses.   I wasn’t going to the police.  What would I tell them?  I mean, which illicit illegal ill drug should I START with?    And the underage drinking.   That was a nice aside.   And why the hell didn’t his mother wake up?  She really didn’t hear that? I FOUGHT him.  And then that made it worse and it was happening anyway.  And that made me feel more ashamed – that I quit fighting.  It wasn’t until years into sobriety that I made peace with my instinct for self-preservation.  In that moment I thought he could kill me.  He just hated me and was so powerful.   It started with a kiss that went from zero to passion in three shocking seconds.  I pushed him away.  Smiling, I started with “knock it off.”  And it was all downhill from there.  With all of that Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” in my head, that night I found it sometimes was not an option – no matter how loudly you screamed it and no matter how much you kicked and punched.     But I never said no to anything being passed around when the party was in full swing.

I loved to hate him.  For years, my hate intensified and I loved it.  It felt powerful – like another drug.  The rape happened when I was 18.  When I was 28, I happened upon him in some dive bar I frequented.  I had a friend – a guy  who was always cracking his neck and looking for a fight.  I went over to him and whispered what that guy did to me, and he took care of it.  I took pleasure in watching this eruption of violence outside, pleasure in the bouncer closing the door to the bar with a shake of his head.  He did this when he was going to ignore it, and he would for my neck-cracking/looking-for-a-fight friend.  They were buddies.  So the fight went pretty far and I took such pleasure in watching him stagger stunned down the darkened street with blood and mud all over.  The pleasure was fleeting and was soon displaced with the same hatred I always felt.  I thought revenge would fix this feeling.  I thought the balance of power would shift.

I had to work hard to overcome that resentment I felt for him – and that’s probably a whole OTHER blog, but I’ll say it’s possible.  And that’s something I did for ME and not for HIM.

My point is how tinkering with chemicals not only led to me being with a bad mix of people.  It led me to having clouded judgment and misinterpreting nonverbal cues – such as the look he gave me.  It seemed shy at the time, that half-smile.  Now it seemed more menacing.  Or maybe my memories are changing history – and the facts are fixed.  It’s my access to them that changes.

Drugs led me to resisting pressing charges and seeking justice – real justice, not parking lot justice, not street justice.  I’m not blaming myself (and I hesitate to use the term “blaming the victim.” I am not a victim. The victim mentality is ultra bad for my sobriety).  But I think it’s good for me to feel that much more empowered by sobriety knowing that the likelihood that it will happen again has been fantastically reduced.  I am less vulnerable.  I am not a victim.

Sometimes My Liver Gets Horny …….

Last fall I went to a concert with some friends from AA.  Obviously the very last thing on my mind was drinking.  We took our seats in the old theatre with the ornate ceiling paintings and brass fixtures.  In its heyday, it was doubtlessly elegant. The seats are staggered in such a way that you always get a good view – and then the seats are situated on an incline so tall people sitting in front of you don’t matter.

So …. about that incline.  Someone behind me somewhere spilled their Peachtree Schnapps and its trickle took it down the incline and under my feet where its sticky sweet boozy smell wafted up.  My liver was horny.  I wanted that stuff.

Were I to make a list right now of my favorite drinks, Peachtree wouldn’t be a priority.  It might make the list.  Perhaps it would be number 76 on a list of 100.  But the smell activated something.

The everyday compulsion to drink is gone – thanks to my taking AA’s suggestion of praying and asking God to remove the  urge.  But once in a while it taps me on the shoulder.  Generally it’s too brief to even act upon – even if I wanted to.  My sponsor says this is GOOD.  It reminds me I’m not a social drinker – ‘lest I forget.

Another time I had this huge tidal wave of cravings overwhelm me was at Price Chopper on a Sunday morning.  I was returning my empty soda cans to a recycle machine in the front of the store.  The person who used it before me must have returned beer cans – cans that hadn’t been rinsed.  It smelled like a bar mat.  All sticky and stale and disgusting …. and I wanted to stick my FACE in there and suck it clean.  The Price Chopper that I go to DOES sell wine and beer.  It was maybe 63 paces from where I was.  I took the rest of my uncrunched cans and departed.  The feeling ebbed with the fresh air and the slipping shut of the automatic doors.

But it’s there.  It’s there anytime I want.  All I need is to be off my game for a while and to smell something or hear a song they played in bars I haunted or to see a neon light.  A neon light set me off once.  I could see it from the Mc Donald’s drive-thru.  Its warm red glow and cursive promises of Budweiser were hard to resist.  It didn’t help that the light was in the bar of a favorite old haunt. I could almost hear the bargoers singing “Beh-beh-beh!  Good times never seemed to goood [so good, so good!]  I’m feelin’ fine …..Beh-beh-beh!……..”  I could almost feel the glass in my hand and taste the ……

I drove away.  No hamburger is worth this.  The feeling grew smaller as I sped past the endless yellow stripe in the road.  Passing by blurred buildings and trees, it shrank until it was gone.

As scary as the urge is, I don’t have to act on it – no matter how big it is.  As long as I remember that I’m powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable and feel that healthy FEAR – I’ll be okay.

Milestone Birthdays ……….

The worst birthday I ever had (in many ways) was my 30th.  By all appearances, it was okay.  Mom and I went to New York City.   She was trained to work in a detox, so I could not drink the way I wanted to when I spent a significant amount of time with her.  In fact?  I turned down a free trip to Ireland with her for this very reason.  I labored over this decision, trying to think of a way to get away from her but I knew deep down that it would be too obvious.

Toward the end of my 30th birthday, that day in November 2001:  When it started getting dark, the cravings really set in.  We had dinner and I had a soda because having just one or two would have ignited that big fire in me and I would not have been able to put it out.  I thought it would be wiser to abstain until I could get home and unload.

But was this a reason for it to be the “worst?”  No.  It was my feelings about it.  Here I was entering a new phase of adulthood and these are the things I wanted and didn’t have:

1.  A decent job/career

2.  A husband/significant other

3.  A child (didn’t want one at this point/knew I couldn’t handle being a decent parent – and somehow knowing this stung all the more)

4.  A house

5.  A decent ME

Now let me tell you more about why I didn’t have these things:

1.  Career – I was a college graduate, graduated summa cum laude.  Not bad for a drunk, huh?  Graduating top of my class?  That was part of my denial.  What I easily forgot was that it took 7 years to get my 4-year degree.  When I graduated, mom’s relatives were asking if it was my Master’s.  It wasn’t.   I continued to work in a restaurant because I wanted the evening shifts to fill my time because I knew I could easily become a round the clock drinker.  I also knew I couldn’t get up in the mornings.  Ever see that t-shirt that says, “I used to hate myself in the morning, so I started sleeping past noon?”  Well?  That was partly me.  I didn’t have what it takes to get out of bed and face the day – there was that and the fact that I was still intoxicated in the morning from the night before.  I detested my restaurant job and felt superior to the people I worked with.  I felt contempt for the customers like it was somehow their fault that I worked there – and I felt a special contempt for the ones who treated me like a peon because they amplified what I was already feeling.

2.  A Husband/Significant Other –  All through my 20’s, I had a boyfriend who I loved dearly.  It took years for me to get over the fact that I drank him away.  A bulk of what bothered me was the what “could have been” with him and knowing that I was single (or hopping from one brief bad relationship to another with nothing sticking) because of ME.  Today I know I would have outgrown him.  It’s good that it didn’t work out.  But at the time, it stung profusely.  I latched on to ANY guy who showed interest in me. I detested being alone.  That was another component to this

3.  The Child –  When I was with the man I mentioned above, we had “an accident.”  I swiftly went to the clinic in the morning and took the Morning After Pill.  It wasn’t that I was anti-life and it wasn’t that I never wanted to have a child.  The urgency had mostly to do with knowing I could NOT quit drinking for 9 months.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. I couldn’t even think far enough ahead to think of what kind of a parent I would be.  So at 30, my feeling like I didn’t have a child and was subsequently a loser was different.  It was because I knew I couldn’t stay sober long enough to raise a healthy fetus.  There was also something about having a child as something “to show for” my life as an adult.  My friends all had one.  Part of me felt envy for them and part of them felt sorry for them. I mean, they had NO life!  At least that’s what I thought.

4.  House – I couldn’t take care of a HOUSE.  Neighbors would have HATED me.  My lawn would have been towering with tall grass and would have been a flowing Lyme Disease risk.    Dead leaves and decay would have stagnated there year after year while I didn’t rake – swearing “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  And the money …. I was paying my rent with a credit card.  Of course, the fact that “my bills were paid” was part of my strong denial system.  It never occurred to me that paying my bills with credit cards and sending them the minimum – $65.00/month – was NOT effectively “paying my bills.”

How would I have come up with a down payment?  How would I have paid a mortgage?  And how would I have maintained it?  The thing would have had peeling paint, a broken furnace, and who knows what?  It would not have been kept clean. It would have been given countless promises from me that I’ll “pick up tomorrow.”  And it would have sat there squarely and silently, rotting:   a testament to my sickness.

Turning 40:

On November 4, 2011 I turned 40.  By all appearances it was wonderful.  Surrounded by friends and family, I was the subject of a surprise party.  My son was there.  I drank diet soda and laughed a lot.  My boyfriend (who I was now living with in a HOUSE) was the one who arranged it with some help from Mom.  Co-workers were there.  Co-workers who admire me in my CAREER.  I now had all the things I didn’t have at age 30.  But you know what?  It’s better than I imagined and I’m at a point – sober for 9 years and working on my SELF and my character defects – where I can nurture the things I have and deserve them.  Here’s the difference:

1.  Career – Although my degree is in Writing, my career is in Human Services.  A friend in AA admired what I have some years ago, admired the work I did with sponsees.  He had a friend who was hiring at a homeless shelter. I interviewed and gained an entry level position.  In 5 months I was promoted.  Today I work with people who have disabilities for another agency.  I never would have been able to follow this path with my credentials alone. It was partly networking, partly doing the next right thing, and partly “getting it” – the “it” being people’s struggles.

2.  A Husband / Significant Other – I met him in AA.  He is the LOVE of my life – and thank GOD things didn’t work out with my boyfriend from my 20’s.  I cleaned house and maintained it for some years and I was ready for my guy.  He and I both have the same amount of years of clean time.  And speaking of milestone birthdays – we’re both coming up on 10 years in the next few months at the time of this writing.   Two of my ex boyfriends went to prison, so being with a nice guy is a change of pace for me.  In AA I was taught to deal with difficulties “one day at a time.”  Well? I learned to deal with the good things “one day at a time” because there’s that nagging voice deep down that says “this won’t last,”  “don’t get used to it,” “you’ll f**k this up!”  He excels at some spiritual things that I don’t yet.  Likewise, I have strengths that he doesn’t quite have yet.  We learn from each other.  And we live together.  Having lived together for 6 months at this time, we haven’t had an argument (yet.)  I’m sure we will and we’re not perfect, but our misunderstandings and miscommunications lead to discussions.  Sometimes they’re uncomfortable but I don’t have to get defensive and yell at him.  I sometimes swallow those damning words such as “I told you so” or “Why didn’t you listen to me?”  That’s hard to do.  I used to think good relationships were luck. I realize now they are WORK, but if you love someone enough … it doesn’t feel like a big sacrifice.

3.  A Child – The week I got sober I had a dream about his name. I told my then-husband and he thought it was cool.  Two and a half months later, my boy was on his way.  They say “no major life changes” the first year of sobriety.  I was nine months and three weeks sober when my boy was born.  My life was a shambles.  But I stayed sober for those nine months and I didn’t doubt I would.  I kept going to meetings.

I used to think people with kids had “no life.”  Well? When my little honey arrived, my life began.  What a blessing. He shows me things I never would have seen.  And the magnitude of love is amazing.

4.  A Home–   Notice I said “home” and not “house?”  I never knew there was a difference.  If you asked me the difference, I could have come up with definitions … but no lived experience to support the definitions.  My boyfriend and I are renting a house.  We’re taking things slowly – just seeing what it’s like to live together and if it will work with my son.  It’s a big commitment, and if it works out we might buy a house.  This house is lovely. It has a fireplace and SO much square footage (holy, I never thought I’d live in a house this big) so that we can all have our space.  It was the best place to celebrate Christmas and my boyfriend’s son and granddaughter slept over to spend it with us.

This brings me to something that hadn’t been on my list:

5.  Family – I had no idea that bonds such as this could be so strong.    Not only do I have my boyfriend and son, but I have my boyfriend’s grandchildren and his son and his son’s girlfriend (that seems an inadequate title for her since they share a child, but she’s close to us).  I love them all so much.  For my 40th birthday, my boyfriend’s son taught his little 3 year old daughter to call me “Grandma.”  It was an age joke, but I loved it.  The title does not denote an age so much as a role, and it was flattering to be called that.  I love her so much – and the other grandchildren , too.

Our Christmas included a fire in the fireplace, laughter, sneaking around and being “Santa,” and love.  Honestly, I had no idea that I could ever have something so beautiful.  It almost makes my heart explode.

We’re free to talk about feelings. I was never used to that.  We’re free to be ourselves.  We are all loved as we are.  It’s not perfect – don’t get me wrong.  There are misunderstandings and tensions, but it comes with the territory and we love each other enough to work it out – and to swallow our pride (I’m not used to that either).

So ….. being 40.  This is the BEST.  I never thought I’d feel this way, but it’s the best year ever.  Life just gets better all the time.  I’m tempted to say I can’t wait to turn 50, but things are SO good right now I just want to live in the day.

 

Social Drinkers and Social Diseases ……..

Sometimes a friend who can “take it or leave it” asks me, “What’s it LIKE?”

Of course they wonder what it’s like to be an alcoholic.  This question “what’s it LIKE?” means many things.  It asks other questions, too, like “how does it feel to try to have one?”  or “what would happen if you had one now?”  It also asks me, “can you help me understand something that is impossible to understand?”

How could I explain COLOR to a person who has always been blind?

When I was a kid, I was extremely judgmental of alcoholics.  I mean:  why didn’t they just drink MILK or TEA or SODA?

To describe the compulsion, I steal from an old man I knew in AA who has since passed.  He described an alcoholic resisting a second drink as “somebody taking a bottle full of laxatives and trying not to shit.”

An analogy I’ve thought of, but have been reluctant to use, is foreplay.  Say a couple is kissing and things are escalating.  At some point he or she or he or he or she or she might stop and say, “Honey?  I’m sorry.  I am not feeling well and I have to be up early ….”  and it’s OKAY.  But if you take that scenario a little further, the person on the receiving end of this sentence – of this apology, of this bow-out of intercourse/sexual gratification – it’s not so OKAY.  It’s frustrating.  Take it even further …. there’s kind of a point of no return.  When I pick up a drink, I have fast-forwarded to that point of no return.    But I’m reluctant to use this analogy because …. maybe it implies I have a sex addiction, too.

Truth be told, I have an exercise addiction (did you know you can O.D. on that?  I was shivering in a blanket on a hot and humid August day following a “workout.”)  Truth be told, I have a drug addiction.   Truth be told, my thinking has shifted and that switch went up during horse race gambling and I’ve never gone back – this happened following a fateful Trifecta bet where two of my longshot horses came in but the third didn’t …. this very nearly resulted in winnings of $20,000 and this was in the ’90’s.  My eyes got big and my hand went into my pocket.  Thoughtlessly I meandered toward the betting booth …. my then-boyfriend followed me and put his arm tightly around me, “We’re leaving now,” he whispered….

I don’t have a sex addiction.  But sometimes I’m sensitive to the prospect of having another addiction.  Crap.  I probably BREATHE addictively.  I’m probably very well addicted to oxygen.  I bet I’d die without it.

So how does one explain the compulsion to someone who has never felt it?  I’m sure there is some sterling specimen out there who has never eaten more than they should have, never gotten bombed, never tried drugs, never felt compelled to have more, more, MORE of anything.  How would a person describe the compulsion?

It’s an urgency.  Nothing is more important than feeding the craving.  Nothing.  Not family, not love, not consequences, not money, not your soul …. not getting into heaven, nothing!