Death By Misadventure

That was how I wanted to go. Having imbibed too much. Sounded nice – and neat and clean. No blood splatters or wrecked cars. Just alcohol poisoning. Would be like dying in my sleep, wouldn’t it? And sleeping people are pretty and peaceful looking. No harm done, right?

I didn’t think that choking on my own vomit and getting kicked into a life-and-death struggle to breathe for the last few minutes of my life wasn’t a thought that entered my mind — that acrid taste, that suffocating smell, and not having the physical ability to get up. I didn’t think about the horrible discomfort of hypothermia, my body temperature plummeting and being unable to get warm. Seizures would be possible, too.

I’ll stop and take your question now. “If one experiences death by misadventure on purpose , then that is suicide, isn’t it?”

Ohhhhhhhh, you raise a very good point. You do. But that was the beauty of it. I didn’t want to plan this. I wanted to experience it. I wanted it to be a surprise even to me. Ohhhhh, you got me. I guess this is what they call “passive suicidal ideation” in the psych world, right?

Of course how this would impact my family was beyond me. This was in part because I was so fucking selfish and partly because my self-esteem was at a crisis level. Death by overdose or alcohol poisoning or accident following a “celebration” is just so selfish; it’s the ultimate in having the last word on your bad behaviors.

But I think about what Layne Staley (former lead singer of Alice In Chains) said of his then late-stage addiction: “This f—ing drug use is like the insulin a diabetic needs to survive,” he said. “I’m not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this sh–. It’s a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning and I’m throwing up all the time and sh—ing my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It’s the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body.”

Yes, he did Heroin. Do you remember him like this?: Layne

Because remember he was once someone’s:
Layne Little

I identify with his quote, though. At first I drank to feel good. In the end I drank to NOT feel bad. That was the best I could shoot for. I couldn’t get drunk anymore. I just had to feel as close to normal as possible. Stop the shakes. Stop the high-voltage nervous system from doing its thing to my body and to my thoughts. Stop my heart from rambling on its bumpy-road-expressway. Dry up ……… dry up the sweats.

At that point I detested it. It was my master. It no longer served me; I served it , and I couldn’t stop. The consequences of not drinking were far worse and more immediate than the consequences of drinking.

Death by Misadventure. Sounded so appealing. Sounded so Hollywood. Sounded so Front Page. Sounded like the final , exciting crescendo before the final silence. And yet it sounded so peaceful. No more shakes. Just serenity.

Thank God my misadventures didn’t take me out. I remember everything seeming so hopeless and dark. I wanted the things other people had: families, houses, cars, jobs, etc. I had no idea how blissful it would feel to not only have those things but to know what to do with them. In early recovery I was like a dog chasing a car. If I caught one, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Poor Layne. He had fortune and fame. I don’t know about the family. I’m sure his relationships with everyone were pitiful and hurtful. He must have hurt people and known it. There must have been shame and all of the normal things we experience when we realize what we are doing to people. In his last interview, he asked the interviewer not to tell his sister Liz. He knew what it was doing to people.

How nice it would have been if he could have had the relationships worked out. We have that chance. We’re alive here today. We have that chance.

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Big Money Goes Around the World …….

When we last left our heroine, she was on the verge of bankruptcy and she was on the lookout for a roommate …….  that was 1999.  She found him.  Anthony.  And “she” was “me.”

Within two weeks I had halved my rent, halved the utilities, was able to have cable and now had internet.  This was a lot of breathing room – and it was good at first.  In stead of coming home alone, there was someone there.  There was someone to help cook and help clean.   No more VHS tapes at night to entertain myself – VHS tapes I had watched a kazillion times.  Now there was CABLE.  It was a dream.  What a relief.

I started drinking more heavily – and I never dreamed that was possible.  I felt like Miss Moneybags.  The load was taken off and ……. you might think I’d use the extra money to start spending down my credit card balance.  You might think that, yes. It would be most reasonable to think that.  But I was not reasonable.  I had all the time in the world to take care of that, I had a roommate, and besides ……. it’d been a long time since I had cash on-hand to do what I wanted.

So he was a big help.  But?  In time, he became someone to be fed and someone to pick up after.   He was someone who ate my food.  He left dishes in the sink.  He snored – and this kept me awake in another room.   This was the least of my worries – as aggravating as it was.  Anthony obtained my ATM card and became aware of the PIN number somehow.  He ordered things online with the ATM card/Debit card.  Not only this, but he emptied my account at one point – and it had a measly $85.32 in it anyway, so that wasn’t hard to do.  But he overdrew and my overdraft protection at the time meant I owed $25 for each overdraft.  He overdrew three times.  Soooooooo………… there was this “loan” he didn’t ask for PLUS $75 interest.  He made no apologies, just justified it by saying “I’m sorry. I was drunk. I’ll pay you back.”  And? He never did.   He called out of work.  A LOT.   He didn’t have money.

There were more heaps of beer cans being thrown out.  It was getting even more embarrassing.  He never bought beer.  Just drank mine – and I was buying more.  Now I had two mouths to feed.   I thought about playing chicken with him – just not bringing any home.  But to deny him was to deny me, and that couldn’t happen.  I thought about sneaking in booze and just keeping it in my closet, but the idea of skulking off to my room and sipping consumed me with resentment.  I shouldn’t have to do this.  Anywayssssss…………he’d probably call me out on it and I’d feel selfish for not sharing.  And I resented him even more for that.

His drinking was annoying.  Sometimes he’d cry.  Sometimes he’d get angry.  Sometimes he’d be cheerful and fun.  There was no telling what would happen.  It sucked.    What a buzz kill. Yeah.  He was killing my buzz. [And you’ll notice I’m not mentioning any of MY flaws.  At that time, I didn’t see that I had any.]

Now I had full rent to pay, utilities to pay AND cable and internet………and there was a slug on my couch benefitting from it all.  Actually. It was his couch.  But it was my livingroom.  The credit card came back out – the balance was growing.   The place was always a mess.  I was buying more groceries.  I was not getting reimbursed.

In four month’s time, Anthony was tossed.  Now what?

This Burnin’ Ring of Fire …..

“Wake UP,” the voice implored ….. and partly whined and partly pleaded and partly commanded.

I blinked stupidly at the morning light and the blurry smudge of a person swaying in front of me.  She wasn’t swaying.  My post-drinking morning vision was.

“What?”  I asked, annoyed.  I glared at my clock then squinted.  The 8 digits combined seemed to indicate it was 6 AM.

The smell of smoke permeated the air and the blurry smudge of a person who had been swaying in front of me disappeared out of my bedroom door.  I rushed out of my room, and followed the thick smoke to the kitchen.   She had set the oven to “clean mode” and the oven was hot enough to melt the candle that was on top of the stove.  It had gradually melted and commenced dripping into the burners which trickled into the oven.  If I recall.  Little flames occasionally shot up from the burner.

“I called 911,” she asserted, waving a towel at the smoke toward the open window.

The firemen arrived and extinguished the fire.  There was smoke damage, to be sure – a black streak akin to the sooty designs you’d see in a fireplace.  Gray dust settled on everything.  The firemen brought in a humongous fan – had the blades not been caged in metal, I could see this badass puppy playing a role in a horror movie.  It sucked the smoke out the window in five minutes.  I couldn’t believe it.  It also slammed shut doors and tousled papers.  Some of the empty Rolling Rocks rolled around the kitchen like fallen leaves on a windy autumn day.

Yeah, that was humiliating.  The heaps of beer cans.   It didn’t go unnoticed.  While they said nothing about them, you could see an eye surveying the evidence of heavy alcohol consumption.  You could see them scrutinizing the filled ashtrays.

One of the firemen was inspecting the smoke detectors.  I cringed.

I remembered my roommate and I smacking the hell out of it with a broom handle because the batteries were old and the chirping noise was unbearable.  We giggled about it, smacking it with the broom handle like it was a pinata about to drop us a load of candy.  She bent over, clutching her chest.  “Stop making me laaaaaaaaaugh!”  I laughed harder and smacked it some more.  The cover flew across the room.  In tandem we smacked at the battery which ultimately fell out.  Neither of us bought new batteries.

One of us was rightfully broke, the other thought alcohol a financial priority.

Now it was here, coverless with wires sticking out in disarray.

Her baby toddled out.  Actually, he was about three.  His big brown eyes were drowsy, the corners of his lips sleepily turned downward.  The fireman looked at him and smiled softly.  Turning his attention to the smacked, useless plastic overhead, he shook his head.  Another fireman approached him, and the first one gestured to the nonsense on the ceiling – the neglected smoke detector.  They looked at the little boy and then looked at us.  They made no effort to mask their contempt for us.  They were disgusted with us and I wished a big black hole would swallow me whole.

“You HAVE to have this working,” one of them blurted.  He folded his arms and glared at it.  Both walked away muttering and shaking their heads.

After I thought they had left, I heard heavy-booted  footsteps lumbering up the front stairs.  One fireman emerged with batteries that he had, perhaps, in the truck?  He smiled thinly and re-positioned the stepping stool to rectify the smoke detector that had once been our hockey puck.  Without a word, he got down and looked at us.  He raised his eyebrows and wordlessly wandered back down the hall.

That situation stayed with me.  It made more sense to me later.  But at that time, I thought the situation could have been avoided with the FIRE itself.  Then there wouldn’t be outsiders inside judging me.

Looking back …. I know if my roommate hadn’t woke me up I would have slept through it.  What if she wasn’t there?   I could argue she wouldn’t have been there to turn on the “Clean”  function of the stove either, but what if it was a DIFFERENT fire.  What if I was alone?  I’d be charcoal right now.  Honest to God.

A Place to Come To: Alcoholic’s Anonymous

I was wearing a green v-neck sweater and leggings.  I remember this well because my head was hung down as I trudged up the narrow cement path to the side door of the church.  This had to be the place to go …. there were people smoking outside.  I remember their talking and laughing and thinking how peculiar it was …. to laugh when you can’t drink.

It was a sunny September day – some September day in the ’90’s – with a balmy breeze and the scent of autumn leaves mingling with scents of summer.  The beauty of the day seemed misplaced considering how I was feeling.  I smelled the church – that woodwork smell with coffee and an underlying must.  The room was bright with wooden floors and metal chairs.  There were big blue books everywhere.  I snatched one and quickly started thumbing through it, trying to look busy.  I felt like I was in high school and I was the letch with no friends.

This was a noontime meeting.  The room was teeming with retirees and a handful of unemployed folks.  One teenager was there; she was pretty.  Whose kid was she?  The man sitting next to the gavel and brochures spoke in a low voice, a French accent.  People looked at me with curiosity, and I held the book closer to my face and affected a look of being engrossed.  I desperately wanted someone to talk to me and was equally horrified by the thought that they might.

The French man banged the gavel and read some kind of intro – which today I would call “the Preamble”:

Alcoholics Anonymous
is a fellowship of men and women
who share their experience, strength
and hope with each other so that
they may solve their common problem
and help others recover from
alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership
is a desire to stop drinking. There
are no dues or fees for AA
membership. We are self supporting
through our own contributions.
AA. is not allied with any sect,
denomination, politics, organization,
or institution: does not wish to engage
in any controversy; neither endorses
nor opposes any causes. Our primary
purpose is to stay sober and help other
alcoholics achieve sobriety.”

I remember being caught up in the requirement for membership (the ONLY requirement):  a desire to stop drinking.  I suddenly felt out of place. I wasn’t sure I had that desire.  I knew something had to change.

Someone read “how it works.”  In it are the 12 steps.  I couldn’t wrap my head around them.  It sounded like a lot to do.  I was drawn to the first step, I remember.  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

My life was damned unmanageable.  I had had my first REAL blackout.  I had them before, just a couple of hours here and there.  Sometimes I’d be amazed to hear that I was at _____________ [insert bar name] the night before.  I’d be baffled when so-and-so came up to me and laughed/reminisced about what we did the night before – and then I’d be angry.  They were messing with me.  I couldn’t NOT remember that, could I?  But this time was more than a slice of a night and it was more than an hour or two.  It spanned from 2 in the afternoon until the following morning.  My then-boyfriend was pissed at me and would not tell me why.  His roommate was livid as well.  No explanation.  Just a glare and folded arms, a quick head cocked toward the door.  They were so pissed they wouldn’t even speak to me long enough to tell me to leave.

And here I was.  I must be crazy.  I cautiously scanned the group of people in this church room, noting that they were from all walks of life.  Some were professionals, some were old , and what was the story with this teenager?

I kept thinking I was in my 20’s.  I had my life ahead of me.  My mind raced with scenarios such as my wedding day – and I wasn’t planning on my then-boyfriend being my husband; he was already married technically.  As I write this, he sits in prison for dealing drugs.  But my wedding day …. no champagne?  What about Christmas?  That would be here before I knew it.  No cognac?  And New Year’s Eve?  What about my birthday? I loved going out to the bar and having a nice chum tell everyone it was my birthday – free beers, free shots , free free freedom.  Now I felt chained to abstinence.  There was something about being in a meeting that felt like a call to action.

“Hi. I’m __________ and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, _________________!”

I sat and sulked.  People announced anniversaries coming up and there were rounds of applause.  I was sober for about 8 hours, I think.  They read a chapter from the Big Book. I don’t remember the story, but I remember hungrily reading it and identifying with it.  The ensuing discussion went around the room.  People talked about being homeless.  Shit, I wasn’t THAT bad.  People lost jobs. I wasn’t THAT bad.  Shit, if I ever got THAT bad, I’d stop.  Jeeez.  Lost husbands, lost children, lost wives, crashed up cars …….. one man talked about his worst blackout when he ‘came to’ in a train station and didn’t know where. It turned out it was in Chicago – which is halfway across the country from here.  I leaned forward, hungrily consuming his words.  I knew that might have been me.  I mean, who knows?  Apparently he was BENT on going to a Cub’s game and his friends couldn’t talk him out of it.  Someone had to wire him money to get him home.  He had to wander around and read the teleprompters to ascertain where he was.    He had no idea.

Then my turn.  I gushed about the blackout.  Not only had I blacked out, but I had broken one of my rules. I drank before noon.  With every pause, someone would shout “keep talking.”  I’d pause again, choking back tears:  “Don’t stop!”  At the end, an older lady who had been knitting during the entire meeting led every lady over to me.  They hugged me and gave me their phone numbers.  And that teenager? Her, too. I resented that.  How could some KID know more than I do?  She was sober for 18 months – but she looked squeaky clean.  How could she possibly relate to me and my sordid life?

I can’t say my sobriety started there.  I think I got a week.  What led me to drink was a friend moving away and our having a going-away party for her.  I couldn’t just …. drink SODA, could I?

So that wasn’t my start in AA, but their support for this newcomer was remarkable.  I knew I had a place to come to.  And I came back many times spanning many years before it started to sink in.