I’ve heard it a few times now – that if you don’t remember your last drunk, it probably wasn’t your last. I don’t think that means that if it was a blackout drunk, it doesn’t count. I think that means that as an alcoholic, I need to remember, vividly, the pain and desperation that came with my drinking.
My last drink was on a Saturday night. It wasn’t anything special or outrageous. I don’t remember what exactly I drank, but I can assume it was a large bottle of red wine and maybe some fizzy vodka drinks to top it off. That was what a Saturday night looked for me. Sitting alone, on my couch, in the mess of my tiny, damp apartment, just glad to be alone. I chased the numbness of alcohol every single day in the last years of my drinking. I couldn’t imagine what life looked like from a sober angle because by that point, it had been so long since I’d seen anything through sober eyes. Life had become a daily struggle – an internal and external battle. I was trying to figure out a way to balance what I had always been able to balance before – I wanted to drink every day so I didn’t have to deal with the darkness and pain inside of me, but I also wanted to hold onto the very small fragments of dreams and hope that were buried inside me. It’s contradictory, I know, because with every drink I took I secured that hope a resting place inside of me that I couldn’t access. I couldn’t understand why everyone else was having such an easy time growing up, living life, finding success, finding happiness. Why did it evade me when I wanted it so bad?
I need to remember what that felt like. It was utter hopelessness, for me. I have heard it in the rooms before, but I understand it to be true for me now: I was absolutely bankrupt. Morally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – I had nothing left to gather, nothing to bring to the table and nothing to offer myself or the world. My well was dry. And I didn’t see any other option, besides drinking again to deal with the pain that that reality had brought me to. I didn’t see my own hand in any of the failures or struggle in my life – I think I really believed that I was dealt a life that was bound to end up this way and that was my lot in life.
I need to remember how painfully and absolutely alone I was. In a room of people, embraced by my loved ones, in a relationship with a caring and kind man – I was never present enough to be able to offer anything back. I was always, always just concerned with the next moment that would offer me some relief from the terrifying reality that was being me. How could I find gratitude in any of that? It simply did not exist for me. I knew that there were things I was ‘blessed’ with – but couldn’t see how they meant anything when standing next to the mountain of crap and pain that my life was.
I was alone and I did everything I could in order to make sure that I stayed that way. It was a struggle to survive – to keep my head above water. In doing that, I had to keep a drink in my hand. It had become my only hope for survival – the only possibility that I was going to be okay.
I need to remember that every day was a struggle, even when it wasn’t. Waking up sick, stomach aching, mouth dry, head pounding and anxiety running rampant – a hangover became my go-to. I set my life up so that the hangovers and blackouts affected my daily activities as least as possible. This meant working late nights at restaurants (that had a fully stocked supply of alcohol which I assumed was free for my taking) and sleeping all day in order to avoid the reality of the hangover from hell which abruptly hit me like a freight train every single day that I woke up. I did whatever I had to do in order to deal with the anxiety that came with having to go the next few hours at work, or whatever commitment I had mistakenly agreed to, in order to make it home and drink again. I pushed the hazy memories out of my mind of bad decisions, worse choices and everything I knew I couldn’t remember.
I need to remember the absolute ball of pain, sorrow, loneliness and death that I felt when I drank. I need to remember that just because the sun is shining on me now, the darkness is still available for the taking any day. I know that without the pain of my past, my life would not taste as sweet today. I am not immune – I am not totally free from the disease that controlled me before – but I am not a slave to it anymore.
I don’t remember my last drunk exactly, but I remember it happening. I remember drinking the same cheap, shitty red wine out of the last stemless wine glass I hadn’t smashed yet. I remember smoking cigarettes all night, until I passed out and the booze was all gone. I remember the hangover the next morning, the same dread I had come to know so well – the dry, painful throat, the rotting interior of my body as it reacted to the poison I had dumped into it. I remember the anxiety, the pain, the flood of regret and despair that I had also come to know so well.
What I have to accompany those memories now are a dinner that evening, that I was invited to, hangover and all. Two friends, who happened to be members of AA, invited me to a restaurant where a bunch of women were gathering to have a meal. I agreed – simply to escape from being home alone and too sick entertain more alcohol at that exact point. They warned me, as we walked in the parking lot toward that dinner, that all of the women were members of AA and although I didn’t have to be and wouldn’t be required to talk about it or anything – it would be best if I didn’t order a drink. I could do that – I could go one meal without a drink. And I did.
The next night I went to support one of those women as she got a chip to celebrate her first year of consecutive sobriety – the meal had been a gathering of friends, support and love for her. I don’t think I even considered that, as I focused on the struggle, headache and irritation I felt from my hangover that night. But that next day, as I talked about in my last post about my first meeting, was the meeting where I heard what I needed to.
I never planned on changing my life – although there was a pain and desperation within me that ached for it more than anything. I had no idea where to start – but I was, thankfully, put into situations which showed me the way. I thank God that he put those women in my life that hungover Sunday. I thank them for reaching out to me, despite me never expressing an interest in attending their sober events and never expressing a desire to stop drinking. I thank God, AA, the fellowship, those women.. I am so grateful that I got to that meeting because that was the night that I realized that those feelings of dread, despair, pain, terror and isolation were not my lot in life.
I had other options.
I cannot forget the power that alcohol has over me – the absolute isolation and loneliness, the terror and pain. The belief that there was no other option for my life..
I remember it all today, from a place of gratitude and freedom.