People Can Change. Can People Change.

When I quit drinking it was for of a reason. The reason: I didn’t want to be a huge fuck up my entire life. At 30, I felt I was at a seminal moment. Sometimes you have these flashes, these insights where you crystalize every flaw and fault and misadventure and disappointment in your life. You roll these all up and form them into a ball—into a single determining factor. For me, this factor was determined to be drinking. I needed simply to excise the bottle and the rest of my life’s minor and major demons would take care of themselves.

Surprisingly, nay, shockingly, this did in fact happen. But it did not happen totally. I still had problems, issues, demons. I was still late for work in the morning. I still found myself calling out for “mental health days.” I still had the big questions, the what-does-it-all-mean’s and the is-anyone-out-there’s and is-this-all-there-is’s. I still stayed up too late and wasted time perusing web sites of screen shots from movies about girls and love and life. I still went for a run no more than twice a month, same for yoga, same for the random walk around the streets near my office or home. I still looked at my husband with the same profound love, and yet with the same quizzical view: Are we going to make it? Are we going to be happy forever? Are we going to have children? Should we? Do I want them? And I still believed that order, rules, demands, and schedules were boring.

So, after a long time (more than a year of complete abstinence, and a year of near-abstinence prior to that) I began to consider drinking again... you know, in social situations, when the mood was right, whenever, you get the idea. Specifically, I decided to have a beer at happy hour. I was with three ladies, all of us nearly the same age. All of us studying to become teachers of Secondary English. We got a seat in a swanky yet semi-trashy bar in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of Philadelphia. The waitress asked what we wanted to drink and I ordered mine as if I’d done the very same thing only yesterday. As if I hadn’t spent the last year searching my soul for answers, looking at my history, my life, my family, my friends, my romantic involvements, my motivations and impulses and triggers and deepest feelings. I did it like someone who’d been planning on doing it and now found herself enacting the plan. Because the truth is, I had been planning on it. I’d talked to my husband, my therapist, my journal, and several friends. I’d talked about it with people who’d given up drinking and were committed to a life of sobriety and I talked about it with people who’d been sober and returned to drinking, and I talked about it with people who hadn’t known three consecutive sober days since the year 2000. The non-drinkers said: if you’ve already stopped, why start? They said: it’s the disease talking. The drinkers said: you’re not missing anything. They said: I’ve been thinking of quitting, actually. The people who’d stopped drinking for a period and then restarted said: it’s a choice that everyone makes; you’ve just thought more about it. They said: A lot of people talk about giving up alcohol, but you actually did something about it--now decide how you want to proceed. All of this had been rattling around in my head, and although the act of ordering a drink felt as foreign as familiar, I’d made up my mind well before the moment I placed my order for something other than a diet coke.

Back in the booth, we were having a ball; an intimate ball. The drinks came, then the food, then the laughter. One of the girls said to me: “I celebrated my last birthday here. I puked in the bathroom.” I nodded and waved it away as if that was no big deal—at least something she didn’t have to feel judged about, by me. It felt good to show empathy in the present. The conversation was nonstop. It was lovely. It was easy. It was the familiar feeling of getting a drink with the ladies. Of talking about relationships. Sexuality. Fears. Doubts. Dreams. There was a moment when I thought, will I get drunk? Will I lose control and want more? Will I feel that feeling of wanting to obliterate? Wanting to utterly decimate? Will I feel instant anxiety about doing something that I’ve decided is taboo, that I’ve proclaimed is taboo? And then a thought came into my mind: Don’t evaluate. Just be in the moment. And just like that, I was. And when we were done, we blew air kisses and walked off into the night and the city, towards our cars or the train or our rides.

That’s what I did. I got into my ride. My husband picked me up. I told him almost right away. If sobriety teaches you anything, it teaches you that secrets aren’t good. That secrets are pretty much the way backward. That secrets fuck you, and everyone who cares about you, up. I’d told him previously that I’d been considering “reintegrating” drinking into my life. That I wanted to see how it would go. Naturally, when I’d told him that, I wasn’t expecting him to say “that sounds great!” but I also wasn’t expecting him to say “I support whatever choice you make.” However, that second statement is what he said. And his saying that made me feel better equipped to make a choice – a choice that I would have to live with and deal with whatever the outcome may be. If it went fine, that was on me. If it went awry, that was on me. If it went so-so, that was on me. Whatever happened, I was the one who needed to own the action, and, as always, I needed to be honest about what I was doing, and why. Although, by alerting everyone through the world wide web (and in person) what I was doing/feeling/thinking on a virtually hourly basis, I couldn't expect that I was the only person who needed answering to.

We drove home and had popcorn and watched an episode of Law and Order. I texted back and forth with the ladies about what a good time we had. Then my husband and I kissed goodnight. Then we went to bed. At three in the morning I woke up. I felt almost dizzy, but I knew instantly it wasn’t physical; it was psychological. The first thing I thought was: I drank. After a long time of not drinking, I drank. I immediately began the self-incrimination. How do you feel? Are you regretful? Are you mad at yourself? Are you nothing? Are you totally fucked? Are you freed from the bondage of being a certain way? Are you kidding yourself? Are you self-sabotaging? Are you a mess? Are you – OMG STOP! I got up and went to the bathroom. My chihuahua, Henri, came with me. He sat on my lap while I peed. I looked out the bathroom window at the watery blue night sky and said a little prayer for peace of mind. Then I went to the couch with a pillow and blanket and my little baby jumped up and licked my face and in no time at all, I was asleep.

So. Now what? What’s next? I have no idea. I can say that I don’t have a game plan. And I don’t know what the future holds. I know that the happy hour took place nearly two weeks ago and I’ve been at several functions since then where da booze was flowin’, including a surprise birthday party in Chelsea at a very luxe restaurant where everyone (and I mean everyone) was drinking; there was an open bar after all. A glass of Montepulciano was poured and set by my plate. I didn’t even consider drinking it. I just passed it off to my husband when his glass was drained. I am not worried that I’ll fly off the handle and down a bottle of wine in one sitting, or pour a shot of tequila and slam it, just because. I’m worried that I’ll be fine. That I’ll drink here and there and be just fine. That I’ll be so fine I’ll forget there was ever a problem and lapse into something like nonchalant boozing, where the night never ends and the fun is never enough and the consequences are never real. That’s what I’m afraid of. And I think it’s a reasonable fear. A healthy fear. Some might say, a fear that needs not be tested. But that wouldn’t be me, would it. That wouldn’t be true to my desire for change. I like to test things—not people, unless you count myself. And all of this is only a test.

On a side note: this week I went to Bikram Yoga for the first time in my life. I went after work, with a wonderful girlfriend. And that experience generated a feeling that felt truly awe-like. And went it faded, it was still there.


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