11 months

A couple days ago, I reached eleven months sober. A year is coming, and a dark thought occurs to me: a year would be enough. A year and I can relapse. And I can come back. There’s no part of me that does not think I won’t come back. No part of me that thinks drinking again would be anything but miserable. Yet there’s that part, that dark part, that thinks a year is enough. Thinks I should do it. Thinks things are too hard. Thinks things are so bad anyway. Thinks I can fuck up for a bit and come back. Thinks it would be something like a relief.

That dark part lives in hopelessness. I am hopeless more and more when I’m not in touch with recovery. When all I do is work. When I get afraid to call my sponsor because of what he will think of me. Because I don’t believe I’m allowed to be in touch with recovery when things are hard. Because really I put work as #1. Recovery is somewhere else. Hopelessness rises.

A year is not enough.

11 months ago, I got on a plane to rehab. Willingly. I was hopeful, excited. I had decided to go and it was going to be good for me. It would be a quiet place where I could read. When I got in the cab that the treatment center had arranged for me, I panicked. I would not be able to drink again and look people in the eye. Everything was different. The cab was not mine; I couldn’t redirect it. I couldn’t stay in a hotel in Minnesota for a month and come back as if it had worked. As if I could drink without anyone noticing.

11 months ago, I had those dark thoughts: that I could fake it in a hotel room and take a different direction and be fine. And now I have this one: that I can go back out. I said to my sponsor that I was coming up on a year and it felt strange and he said he could see why it would feel that way and I felt like a failure. Someone with 11 months should look different. He should go to more meetings. He should have more friends in sobriety. He should not still be in the middle of his fourth step. He should have a practice. He should not put work first and always feel like all he needs to do is sleep in for one day and everything would be fine. He should not have dark thoughts.

Tonight I am posting this, even though I don’t like it. Even though it’s rough. I’m posting it because I know it will bring me closer to recovery. It will prove that I can do something to stay sober instead of work and go to bed anxious and fearful. It will diminish hopelessness. It will be one less dark thought.

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I have a lot of friends who are not alcoholics or who are not in recovery. Most of my friends are not. A lot of them ask me, or they did in the beginning, “Is the goal to drink in moderation eventually?” which is a fair question, which is evidence that they do not understand addiction at all, which is ok. I don’t really understand it, either.

Really, there’s no goal. One day you just stop. You do a lot of work and people help you do it and you keep stopping every day. You find ways to replace drugs and alcohol. You keep doing those things because your life is no longer miserable, even when it’s hard, even when it’s harder than it was before.

I used to get annoyed when people at meetings would close their eyes and nod. I said I didn’t like the people in AA, especially the ones that closed their eyes, as if no one else was there, and breathed deeply when someone read “The Promises.” My sponsor said “Man, you don’t like people to be happy,” and I thought he sounded like my dad and that he didn’t really get it and both those things were true, but they were irrelevant. He was telling me I could be happy.

The last few times I’ve heard “The Promises,” I’ve cried. When they say “self-seeking will slip away” I can feel it slipping. I can think of self-seeking without shame. I feel hopeful and grateful. I close my eyes.

When you’re an alcoholic in early recovery, your friends who are not alcoholics or who are not in recovery don’t often know what to say. Usually, they want to know. They want to know if it’s rude to leave a wine glass out, or to mention how much they drank the night before. They ask if it’s ok to order a beer at dinner, awkwardly, thoughtfully.

Really, they don’t have to worry. I might not want to hear those things, but I’ll say so. It’s not rude to leave a wine glass out. The hard part for me is picking it up and carrying it to the sink and thinking about wanting to have been the one that drank it. It’s the obsession that comes back when I’m feeling lonely. When I’m forgetting. It’s inviting someone to my party and explaining that I don’t drink so it might not be the kind of party they’re expecting. That’s the difficult part and that’s my own action. The person who ordered a beer at dinner has nothing to do with it. And, really, there are difficult parts to everything. Really, there’s no right way to act.

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I remember shoveling mud out of a drainage ditch in an elementary school in Pacifica. It was part of the Sheriff’s Work Program that followed DUI school. I remember not trying very hard. I remember parking near the sheriff station with my temporary license, or my suspended license, remember not being sure which it was, and panicking as I pulled away at the end of the day, waiting for sirens.

It’s been coming up a lot lately, in meetings. Stories of rolling the car, twice, and trying to start it and drive on. Of failing to start it and falling asleep. Of sideswiping semis and walking away.

There were many dark nights.

I’ve been reminiscing about my first AA meetings, the ones I went to when I first started trying to get sober, when I was in and out of the program, a few years ago. But I’ve been forgetting: My first meeting was 6 years ago. It was court ordered. It was the first time I said I was an alcoholic and I said it because I had to and I said it without believing it. I went to the DMV when my suspension was lifted and they said it would take several weeks to get my real license in the mail and I said, “But how am I supposed to get into bars?”

I remember Highway 17 that night, dark and empty. I remember going to San Francisco to find something, remember concocting a backstory for the guys in the bars. Something about coming up there for a friend’s party and having him flake on me. It was already after 2am. I was on my way to nothing. I remember crying in my handcuffs, so fully, big teardrops falling on my lap. I remember the cops saying that they wouldn’t take me to jail because I was cooperating, because my dad was a cop. I remember one other guy in the rehab center where they locked me for the night in a cot on the other side of the room. I remember trying to get his attention.

The first time I drove drunk, it was a surprise. I wanted to go to my new boyfriend’s dorm room on the other side of campus and I didn’t want to walk. I got in the car calmly and drove there. The line had been crossed. I had crossed it. I didn’t know it then, but I had made a deal with myself: as long as I felt under control, as long as no one got hurt, as long as I didn’t get caught, it was fine.

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is for

I made flyers for the blog: a photo and a URL and a quote. I thought I’d leave them at dedicated meeting places, maybe only outside my hometown. My friend suggested leaving them at bars. I said I didn’t want to be preachy; the blog isn’t here to recruit people. I don’t know if leaving them at bars would necessarily be a recruitment effort, but I also don’t know exactly why the blog is here.

The blog just happened. I put it off for a long time and then I didn’t and then people started reading it. I don’t feel like I had a whole lot to do with it.

It’s here, in part, for addicts and alcoholics and people who know them, which means everyone.

It’s for:

  • addicts and alcoholics who want to get sober, but want to read something anonymously, something behind the scenes, something approachable, in order to get started.
  • addicts and alcoholics who have been sober a long time, but want to remember what early recovery was like.
  • people who are not addicts or alcoholics, but who connect with literature, stories, and hope about living life honestly and without control.
  • addicts and alcoholics like me, in their first year of recovery, using every resource they can to stay sober, and wanting to sometimes hear from someone like them.
  • people who are not addicts or alcoholics, but who know someone who is and want to know more about what they might be going through, or what recovery is like, or how they might be able to relate to them.
  • writers and those interested in writing.
  • me, to take an active role in my recovery, to remind me to pause and remember my addiction and my recovery, and to process what’s going on for me as I gain more time sober.

I went to a meeting in New York at one of those places that only has AA meetings. One of those places with “Think, think, think…” in script, framed on the wall. This particular place used to be an after hours club. It’s transformed. Here it is now. It’s that place, in SoHo, where I spoke last time I was in New York. I’ve come to love it.

I asked the secretary after the meeting if there was a place I could leave the flyers for the blog. I was scared to ask. I was ready to defend myself, ready to hear no. I said that I don’t attach my name to it, that I don’t make any money from it, that it isn’t a promotional thing. It’s about my experience. She didn’t seem to need to all that. She gladly showed me a bulletin board where I could post them. She thought it was a great idea.

This meant a lot to me, because I already admired her after hearing her speak for 10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting. She had been talking about not having control over her partner’s illness, her partner’s suffering. She talked about needing to put recovery first in order to show up for her partner. She chose a reading about addicts and alcoholics having an ego, an obsession to be the master of their own destinies. I listened and remembered. I was obsessed with being the master of my own destiny because it was the only way I could possibly survive my circumstances as a child. No one I knew was looking out for me. I needed to make it to 18 and needed to leave and needed to make a name for myself. It’s how I could be safe. Could be saved. It stopped working. Now that obsession takes me to really dark places. Now I need help. Now I listen and remember and ask questions. I write about it.

I could have figured that my blog was a selfish act and that it was inconsiderate and audacious for me to post a flyer about it and could have left, but I asked a second opinion instead. That was something I did not often do before I got sober.  It made me think of all the things I give up when I decide I can’t make a meeting. All the things I miss when I don’t ask questions, when I don’t share, when I don’t post. It made me happy to be here.

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in between

One day last week, I was in the bathroom before a meeting. I washed my hands and fixed my hair. I saw myself and smiled. I got a rush of excitement. I was so glad to be there. That had never, ever happened at a meeting before. I suppose it was because I was proud of myself for going and grateful for how recovery had saved me, how it had dropped me there, alive. I suppose it was an in the moment kind of thing. I was happy, I was grateful, I had not often felt like that before, so I was excited.

Before recovery, I had no spirituality. I rarely felt connected to anything. Often, still, and always, then, I am a little boy who didn’t get asked a lot of questions. I think of all the work I’m doing, the meetings, the therapy, the meditation, the writing and talking – the work that I don’t think a lot of other people have to do, even though I see other people doing it all the time. I remember being a little kid, drawing on the floor of my bedroom, alone, remember staying up with a flashlight under my Duck Tales sheets and marking X’s on a calendar, of not wanting to go to sleep or wake up or face the next day. Later, I saw it in my writing. Everything I wrote was about despair. I sounded so disappointed, because I was. I believed I was doomed by my past. I had evidence for that belief. Nothing I had done before I was 18 ever made a difference in how I was treated. I still had to go to unsafe places. I still was not asked. I felt like I was outside the realm of human experience.  I didn’t feel anything like connection until later, after 19, when I was drinking, when I was walking down the street with a buzz, with my headphones on.

The only way I could feel okay was to have an ever-growing list of accomplishments and achievements. I had a checklist instead of a life. Now, in recovery, I realize that I’m there in between the things I check off. I’m able to exist in the present moment, regardless of my resume or my looks or my past. I’m still connected, still human.

I start spinning on something now, something that I can’t get past, and the anxiety burns and twists in my chest. I think: How will this ever go away? And then I simply say: “This isn’t mine.” It’s something like turning it over to the care of the universe. It’s realizing I’m just one little part. It’s a relief. It’s a joy.

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I spent two weeks in Italy when I was 7 months sober. I saw the Vatican, the Trevi fountain, the River Arno sitting green and still in Florence. I was nervous about traveling. I thought about geographics, about how as long as I put recovery first, I could be anywhere in the world and be fine. I also thought about how every time I tried to get sober before AA, I’d relapse when I was away from home, usually halfway into a trip, because it felt safer, felt less like real life, felt temporary.

In Milan, a man with many, many years in recovery spoke. I wrote down two things he said:

  • Every day is not a struggle, but many days are a struggle.
  • There have been many levels of actions and many of levels of understanding.

I struggled in Italy. I was on a guided tour with 40 people. We saw every major city and historical site, but rarely had more than an hour or two wherever we were. It felt ungrateful, but the truth was I was tired and annoyed. I didn’t realize what I had signed on for. I wasn’t calling my sponsor. I wasn’t writing. I wanted to drink so badly. People like to drink on vacation. They like to talk about the limoncello in Positano, the wine in the Chianti region, the sambuca. I was listening. I was spinning.

You can find an English-speaking meeting in almost every part of the world. In Puerto Rico, they were in different parts of the island each day. In Cancún, there was one a day in the same spot, downtown. They are for tourists and usually run by ex-pats. They are always there.

I am learning what putting recovery first can do. I am learning it over and over. I am changing, slowly. In these nine months, I have traveled a lot. I have put recovery first and I have not. I have gone to a meeting every day of a trip and I have gone to just one. I have resented meetings and I have embraced them. I’ve thought: I will be fine on this trip because I am more self-aware than the people cautioning me against it. I have thought: thank god there are meetings here. I’ve escaped relapse thanks to pride, thinking that I couldn’t bear to come back as a newcomer and prove everyone right. I’ve thought about how no one was cautioning me for the sake of being right. There have been many levels of actions and many of levels of understanding.

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something spiritual

I’m trying to say something about belonging. About what drinking did for me. About feeling tapped in to human experience. About not feeling alone.

It’s about a buzz. About things making me laugh. About not caring.

I want to talk about putting Santigold on my headphones and walking down the street listening to “Creator” and drinking Miller Lite from a can, my favorite beer for a while because I could drink a lot of it and because saying “tall boy” was funny. I remember walking through the grittier streets of the city, on the way to someone’s house who I had yet to meet. I remember feeling genuinely happy, feeling like a genius, making connections between all the street signs and my memories and barking dogs. I felt like everything was connected. It was something spiritual. I don’t remember it all clearly.

I remember trying to recreate the scene, months later, after I had said I was an alcoholic, after I had tried to stop so many times, after I had convinced myself once more that drinking would be something like a good idea, something spiritual. It didn’t work. I got off the bus and went to a liquor store and bought vanilla vodka to put in Cherry Coke, the effort already doomed as I had been looking for vanilla rum, which they no longer made, and Wild Cherry Pepsi, like I used to drink when I was 19, like my first drink, like the drink I always asked for for my birthday, because it made me nostalgic. I walked up the hill to my house and it felt wrong, felt blank.

I want to talk about drinking three beers at home and taking two more with me for the 10 minute walk to the restaurant where I was meeting my friends, where I’d buy the next round. I’d get dressed up. I’d put music on. There would be the promise of the night. I would feel tapped in, connected to all things. A healthy buzz. A smile. I would be attractive and confident. I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t censor myself. It would never end.

Really, those things never happened, except right then, in my head, when I dreamed them up. Or they happened, but only sometimes. Or they happened less and less.  Really, usually, I was just mixing a drink in my living room. I was just blacking out. Really, eventually, pretty consistently, it wasn’t that great.

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