My friend was telling me about a woman she had recently met. This woman was newly sober, just a couple weeks in. She was concerned that summer was around the block. Her husband and her were renowned for their pool parties, and she was worried that if they did not serve alcohol, no one would come. Two weeks sober and she’s are worried about pool parties? I would have laughed if I hadn’t known she was dead serious.
When I first got sober, I had my own obsession: my wedding day. As I remember, early on I met a girl who had met a boy on AA campus and had gotten married. She was telling me about their relationship and life, but I didn’t get further than… “Wedding? Hold up, you had a sober wedding? No one drank? No endless champagne toasts? No open bar? A dead sober wedding?” I could not imagine such a thing. So, I obsessed about it, what my sober wedding would look like. Would we serve alcohol, and I would just not drink, or would the whole wedding be dry? Would we have water in club soda in champagne glasses or would that just look tacky? Would anyone dance? All this time, I didn’t even have a boyfriend, let alone a fiancé.
And that, my friends, is how I know I am an alcoholic.
I read a startling statistic the other day: 60% percent of women drink at least one drink a year. That is not the part that startled me. What shocked me was that if 60% drink at least one drink a year, 40% of women do not drink at all! Nothing!
I think it is hard for heavy drinkers to fathom that many people do not drink. We think that if we order a Coke at a party, the record player will come to a screeching halt as the attention of the whole room focuses on our lack of a proper cocktail. The reality is no one cares. Wait… what I should say is no one cares, but the other alcoholics in the room, the other people who cannot imagine that one might forego a drink.
In our disease we only hung out with people like us, who did what we did. They acted like us and drank and used like us. It’s how we justified our own actions. Then when we get sober, I think our minds just grasp on to whatever we can. There’s so much going on and changing, the idea of changing everything, even our pool parties and wedding aspirations gets a little overwhelming.
I wish I could have talked to that lady. I would have told her not to worry. Some people won’t go to her party, the active alcoholics won’t go. But 40% of the population goes to pool parties to swim and 40% go to weddings to see the actual wedding. 40% don’t drink. Period. So find them. Be friends with them. Make the 40% your 100% and you’ll have rocking parties once again.
Heck, I’ll go. Let summer begin!
Lydia did not know how it had happened. Well, she knew how it had happened, and yet she did not know how it happened. She knew the steps, knew the exact actions that led to her lying in a crumpled mass on the kitchen floor. What she did not know was how a seemingly innocent day could turn so quickly into a nightmare…
As part of her general dissatisfaction with her life, Lydia had started to methodically clean out the large house in Memorial. It had begun innocently enough on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. She had spent the morning reading and sipping tea, but then she turned a little restless, walking from room to room.
She eventually found herself standing in the doorway of her master closet. Once a room of pride, a space that spoke of indulgence and luxury, Lydia now looked upon the space as a choke around her neck. The designer clothes, the pristinely laid Choos and Louboutins, the large purses displayed as works of art, seemed not a reflection of affluence and ease, but a mausoleum dedicated to a former life of indulgence and superficiality. The sight disturbed her. Many of the clothes no longer even fit on her recently acquired fuller body frame, and yet there they hung.
Slowly, and with a feeling of grateful remorse to a past life, she carefully folded and packed away shirts after pants after skirts after cocktail dresses after ball gowns of clothes, once lovingly purchased and adored.
When Lydia finished her room, she moved on to her son’s and then her daughter’s. With each macramé school project and participation trophy, with each seashelled vacation souvenir and mother’s day card, a fond memory was ignited, appreciated, and then quietly closed. The items she did not feel were worthy of keeping, she threw away with no regret. With each passing garbage bag, she felt lighter, freer. The nicer items, the things she thought the kids might honestly want, Lydia set aside in one of two piles. If they wanted them, they would have to come get them. But her and Henry’s house, her house, would no longer be the exoskeleton of a time past. Lydia was living day by day, step by step, and all she wanted was for her surroundings to reflect her new founded simplicity.
So, it was with some confusion that it was a simple sweatshirt that had paralyzed Lydia that Sunday evening. A sweatshirt. Any other day, she might have simply folded it and placed it in his dresser drawer. Old, frayed around the edges, but perfectly worn in. When she and Henry first started dating, Lydia had confiscated the sweatshirt as a form of territorial display. She would wear it up to the hospital and kiss him in full view of the nurse’s station. Not usually a woman prone to jealousy, she knew from her own stay in the hospital that Henry was often sought out and flirted with. Lydia was not going to let him fall through her fingers. She was determined to fight for him, fight for him in the best way she knew how, in his Colombia sweatshirt and a tight pair of jeans.
But it was in that moment, in the moment when she raised the sweatshirt up to her nose to inhale his scent that she realized she had not fought for him. She had given him away, pushed him aside as she reached for another bottle. She blamed him. She accused him of desertion, but really, she the one that deserted him. She may have physically been there, but her mind was always fighting and struggling somewhere else. In her heart, in that moment, she could not blame him for leaving.
She looked up and straight into the sideboard mirror. The reflection startled her, for the woman who stared back was not the woman she had expected to see. She had looked in mirrors; she had to have. Always a woman properly put together, Lydia had spent hours applying make-up and coifing her perfectly styled hair. So, she must have look. But had she really looked? Lydia moved closer to the mirror, placed her hand against the cool glass. There, staring back at her was not the dignified and beautiful woman she envisioned, but an aged woman, worn and creased. Her hair, thought by her to be golden and lustrous, was a dried and brittled bleach. Her face was puffy and yet somehow simultaneously drawn. There were circles under her eyes. Her skin had a yellowed hue, the color of prolonged sickness and self-tanner. Instead of cathartic recovery gravitating through her arterial system, a wave of bile, anger, self-loathing, disgust, and hated swelled up from her stomach.
Without warning alcoholic desire screamed at her. It knocked her body backwards with a physicality that forced her to break eye contact with the mirror. Suddenly clinging at the neck of her t-shirt, she couldn’t breathe. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. After a few seconds, Lydia looked up and ran from the room, the sweatshirt lying on the ground.
She sprinted down the sweeping spiral staircase to the living room. When she got there, she looked wildly around. Think, think. The bar wouldn’t have anything. She had cleaned it out. Think, think. The cabinet above the refrigerator! Lydia pulled over a counter stool and stood on it to reach one of her most favorite hiding places. None. The pool house! Lydia ran to the guest quarters and pulled open the refrigerator, once stocked for parties, only to find it barren. The outdoor kitchen. No.
Panic overcame her as she ran back to the house and furiously started pulling out drawers and looking in behind furniture. She couldn’t have gotten it all. She must have forgotten something, overlooked something, anything. Lydia ran to the kitchen. Sherry, cooking wine, something. Lydia spotted the bottle of vanilla extract. She grabbed it off the shelf. She held it tight in her palm and looked down at it. 35% alcohol. It would work. It would quiet the thoughts until she could get to the store. And then it clicked. In a moment of realization, Lydia realized she was of the variety of alcoholic that would drink vanilla extract. She closed her fingers around the bottle and sank to the kitchen floor.
A couple of years ago, through a series of unusual events, I found myself swimming along with my aunt in the sea off the coast of Cancun. My aunt, the wife of a Lutheran minister, is an incredible woman of natural spirituality and grace. So, we were bobbing along in the ocean, talking about life when she said, “It must be interesting to have a relationship where from the beginning, you each knew the worst thing about the other person. So many times, people in relationships try to cover up and hide the worst parts of themselves, hoping the other person will not see it.”
I’ve thought about that sentiment many times over the last couple of years. It is true. When I had two years sober, I got my very first apartment all by myself. Up until then, I had lived in sober living. I was struggling. I had those thoughts of “If I drank, no one would know.” And it scared me. One night I found myself at a ten o’clock meeting. In short time, I found myself comfortably sharing in the quiet dim of the candle light. Free from imagined judgment, I was able to share my deepest insecurities and fears.
It was in this setting that my love and I spent many months sitting across the room from each other, before we ever went for our first cup of coffee. In fact, if you asked him, he would readily admit that he originally felt sorry for the poor, lost girl who didn’t believe in God. What I remember about those times was his honesty in admitting his social anxiety and how we both bonded over our shared hatred of driving. (I do most of the driving now. I figured living in Houston, one had to work through this fear. He’s fine with letting me process my recovery as he sits in the passenger seat.)
I’ve had a lot of conversations with lot of different women over the years regarding whether or not one should date within the program. I know many people who are attracted to the idea of dating a “normie.” I get that. I get the idea of swaying away from the fear of potential relapse and the emotional baggage that follows in the wake of any given alcoholic. “But it is from our twisted relations with family, friends, and society at large that many of us have suffered the most. We have been especially stupid and stubborn about them. The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being,” (Twelve and Twelve page 53) Trying to align oneself with a narcissistically immature misanthrope can be a bad idea.
Yes, there is something to my aunt’s words; we do know the worst about each other. But we also know the best. I know my sweetie wakes up each morning and prays. I know at some point in the day, he will read and meditate and go to a meeting. I know he will talk to another alcoholic and ask that man for a slice of wisdom. I know he will help someone.
And I know with my sweetheart, I never have to apologize for working my own program. I never have to procure a reason for going to a meeting. A sentence like, “I’m going to call my sponsor,” doesn’t send him into a spiral of insecurity. Saying, “I’m crazy and I don’t know why” or bursting into tears for no reason doesn’t require really any more explanation than that. Cause he knows why. I’m an alcoholic and some days are just like that.
Our love is predicated not on fear of relapse but on the combined spirituality and growth that active recovery ensures. I can tell you in all honesty, we are better people today than we were five years ago when we met. Over time, some of the anger, jealousy, and fears have subsided. We have worked through abandonment issues, monetary insecurity. When we argue, phone calls are made and inventories are taken (our own, not each other’s). We look at our character defects, apologize, and make honest attempts to do better next time. But y’know, it is not even how far we have come that calms me; it is the thought of how much more we have to grow. I look forward to seeing what will become of us, for I am sure, “The most satisfactory years of [our] existence lie ahead” (BB 152).
On January 8th, Bob got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said, “Yes.”