Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Comfortably Numb

Seattle, October 2, 2012
It almost happened without me realizing it.

I'd always despised it in other people, drinking when they were upset, or bored, or alone. I had never been one of those people. I never drank by myself. I never followed the phrase, "God, I could use a drink," by actually drinking. I'd say it as a joke, then quickly dismiss it as such. Many evenings, Peter would open a bottle of wine, and I'd drink a Coke instead of having a glass with him, to quietly prove to myself that it was a choice, that it was always a choice.

"It's a false comfort. Whatever's wrong is still going to be wrong in the morning. You deal with it or you don't, but getting shit-faced isn't going to magically set everything right." I tried to drink myself to sleep the night that Molly was killed, but, in truth, I only got through a beer and a half before stopping myself. "It's not going to help. I'm just going to wake up in a few hours and be hung over as well as horrified. I need to feel this."

But something in me cracked last year, after losing Mol, and Uncle Warbucks dying, and the stress of being awakened at 3:00 almost every morning for work, and the aftermath of what I refer to as "The Montebello Incident." It was a helluva summer, and I dealt with it on my own as best I could, given that I couldn't talk to Doc about any of it, because, as everyone saw coming months before I did, Doc and Peter had started dating.  By the time October rolled around, they were in the middle of a long, romantic trip across the south of France.

Sitting in the hotel bar in Seattle while Hardt attended several days of conferences, I quickly became very comfortable with drinking by myself. I'd drink waiting for him to finish for the day, and we'd have a drink before falling into bed, asleep before we could even say goodnight to each other. I'd wake up at three in the morning, work for an hour or two to fix whatever had broken, take a nap, get up after Hardt had left for the morning session, and start over again. I drank because I was stressed, because I was bored, and because I was all alone and far from home.

That particular morning, I took my computer down to the restaurant with me, because I had to do yet another writeup of the Montebello Incident. ("We were sitting at a table in the hotel lobby, and he suddenly reached across the table and asked if he could kiss me. When I told him no, he did it anyway. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. No, I didn't tell anyone right away, because we had work to do, and I needed him there to do it, and I'm a professional.") I ordered a Bloody Mary, because it seemed like the thing to do. When it was finished before I'd completed my writeup, I ordered another one. I'd ordered the first one because I thought it would be a funny story - enjoying a drink that had so much garnish on it, including three olives and a couple of cocktail shrimp, that I could barely get a straw through it, while typing out the ridiculous encounter from a couple of weeks prior. One Bloody Mary made for a funny anecdote.  But there was no good reason for ordering two.

I don't remember if Hardt and I even saw each other that day. He might have gone to dinner with other members of his leadership class, while I sat in the bar and drank Salty Dogs and the beer pictured above. I know that I paid for all of them myself, because we were there on his company's dime, and I couldn't charge anything to the room. I could go back and look at my credit card statements, because everything I personally charged while we were up there was liquor, but there's no point. I know that it was a lot.

The next day, after downing several vodka martinis while Hardt grew increasingly distant, I fell apart completely. Total emotional breakdown that culminated in him telling me that I should take Ambien so that I could sleep, because I was "turning into a little crazy person."

"I'm not crazy!" I wailed. "I don't want to be crazy!"

He stood at the foot of the bed while I curled into an anguished ball, then walked away. There had been no comfort in the drinking, and now, frustrated and pissed off, he wasn't going to give me any, either. We broke up not long afterward, for a number of reasons, that day being a big one, at least for me. I was so ashamed of where I'd gone with it.

When I got home from Seattle and looked back at that trip, I was mortified. I hadn't done anything like that before, and I haven't done anything like it since. I have a full bar, thirteen cases of wine, and three kegs of beer in my house, but I rarely drink more than half a pint of ale a week. I don't even joke about "needing" one anymore.

 Comfort, No Joy
My mother is an alcoholic. For as long as I can remember, I've been disappointed by her unwillingness to acknowledge it, and her inability to do anything about it. My childhood friends tell stories about her drunken proclamations that they were like daughters to her, and they laugh when they tell the stories. I laugh along with them, although it isn't funny to me. They haven't been around it as adults. They haven't seen her get mean. The last time she got drunk in front of me was the last time that we spoke. It's been more than a year.

So much of my life has been spent trying to be different from her, trying to be what I think of as stronger. But I can see how it would be so easy to let go of the reins.

It almost happened without me realizing it. Almost.


jabblog said...

It's clear you don't have the 'alcoholic gene' - small mercies add up to greater happiness, eventually.

judith said...

I think everyone has the alcoholic gene, some people can deal with it better than others. You seem like one of those people who can and is dealing with it. Just like people who can handle their liquor and people who can't, we all have to deal with it. Just know your limits or your triggers and arm yourself. I'm afraid that my 30 yr. old daughter is becoming an alcoholic....