August 24, 2006

First: a can of Budweiser, stolen from my grandparents’ refrigerator and consumed while hidden among sand dunes on the Lake Michigan shore. Maybe twenty years ago or more. It was metallic, cold, bitter, delicious.

In high school, forty-ounce bottles of cheap high-octane beer. Old English 800. “Old E”, we called it. Swilled and passed from hand to hand, the bottom of the bottle always warm and flat and tasting of someone else’s saliva. Bottles of wino wine: Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.

Early twenties: six-packs of Henry Weinhard, the green bottles. Microbrews. In the winter, Snow Cap Ale (“Go to jail ale”). Sweet Riesling. Chardonnay. Red wine. A progression of the palate, of the minimum requirements.

Crown Royal and 7-UP. Beam and Coke. Bacardi Limon and Diet Coke. Absolut Mandarin and ginger ale. Beer. Beer. Pitchers. Pints. Imperial pints. Grey Goose. Dirty martinis. Shots. Tequila, lime, salt. Margaritas. On the rocks. Blended. Tanq-and-tonics. Double, please. Better make it a double.

Then: vodka, vodka, vodka. Because it’s easier to mask on your breath, because I could tolerate it straight. Blue Skyy bottles, clear Absolut bottles; later, plastic pint bottles of the cheapest gut-burning garbage. Hidden in drawers, in purse pockets, under cabinets, poured into unsuspicious containers.

At my worst I would get up in the morning and feel sickened through and through, I felt like I had an internal rot like a dying tree. Everything was dirty, everything was black and hateful, and I knew exactly what had caused it all and yet I would check the bottle levels, look and look again, because if there wasn’t enough I would have to get more, more, more. Get through the worst of the day by thinking of the bottle. Take the first drink and for the first time in hours the mental shouting quiets, the self-hatred is dialed down, the pounding headache starts to retreat.

Over and over. Get up and do it again. Drinking at work, while driving a car.

Sometimes I would get drunk and cry and try to write down why it wasn’t working and why I should remember, the next day, that it wasn’t worth the pain and the lying and the endless life-fuckery. I’d read my blurry scrawl the next day, take three Excedrin, drive to the liquor store.

It was like being with someone who beats you senseless every night, leaves you bloody and gasping, and waking up every day to kiss him hello. I wanted to stop. I wanted to drink until I disappeared. I wanted to physically gouge out the sickness from my body.

I saw no end. No possible end.

Antabuse. Therapy. Drugs. Threats. Nothing worked.

Then: a DUI. A horrible, expensive, shameful, life-altering legal mess. A night in jail. Fines. Court appearances. I can’t bear to describe it in detail.

Then: a pregnancy. The best thing that’s ever happened in my life.

I never drank when I was pregnant with Riley. That is probably not something to be particularly proud of, but I am.

I don’t drink today. I am only able to write about this now because it is at bay, it is a safe distance away. I feel strong. I feel I am on top of it. I don’t want to numb myself, I don’t want to re-visit that hell, I have so much to live for now. I want to remember every moment, I want to be clear and present.

There are long periods of time when I do not think about drinking at all. I spent years of my life chasing the next drink in my head, being eaten alive from hour to hour by something I could not control. I can’t begin to explain the freedom of not thinking about drinking.

I am scared to post this.

But I am telling you this because to tell the story is to accept its truth. To lay it out where it can be seen, to admit to this part of myself, and help diminish its power over me.

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