Into the Weird — Alcoholism and American Flag Parachutes
Jul 7 2013
The author in her second week of sobriety.
My MRI results are in. I don’t appear to have epilepsy. Add it to the list of labels that have vomited on me from the mouths of others, some true, others false: OCD, whore, anorexic, crazy. Neither the doctors nor I know what caused the loss of vision and seizure symptoms I experienced. Perhaps, it was related to a medication I was on or the subsequential withdrawal.
I’m not a fan of labels, but there is one I must accept—alcoholic. Typing that was really fucking hard. Getting out of bed this morning was really fucking hard. As I type this, I’m in my second week of sobriety and feel like absolute shit. I’m depressed, I’m shaky, I’m not sleeping, and I’m extremely irritable. I apologize if I’ve been hogging the bathroom at work—it’s been rainy here in New York, and I’ve been using the space to sit and meditate and smoke my e-cigarette and concentrate on not killing anything. I’m Sophie the Scorpio, going through aggressive alcohol withdrawal trying to calm my stinger as it raises up ready to stab those who agitate me in the neck. Thankfully, while I may have verbally stung a few during this period, I have (barely) physically stabbed no one.
I wasn’t ready to come out with my recent sobriety; however, in all honesty, it’s all I can think about. Writer’s block is another unfortunate side effect of withdrawal, and as many before me can attest, alcohol was a great writing tool. I have notebooks full of columns, show pitches, and jokes that came to me when I was drunk. Another recovering alcoholic creative has promised me I’ll still be weird and things will get better, and I trust their words.
I don’t remember my first drink—it was sometime in middle school in the Caribbean. (I’ve made jokes they don’t even have a word for “alcoholism” in the islands, because drinking is so engrained in the culture.) One of the first memories I do have of drinking was at a chili cook-off on a beach in September of 2001. I was about 13. My friends and I took some of our parents’ liquor. I remember the actor Mekhi Phifer was at the beach for whatever reason, and we tipsily introduced ourselves and thought we were soooooo cool, because that movie O had just come out and he and Josh Hartnett were hot shit at the time.
My family’s close friend Eddie—an extreme sports expert, adrenaline junkie, and one of the best men I’ve ever met—was skydiving and using an American flag parachute to land on the beach, in honor of the recent 9/11 attacks. After my family’s old house was destroyed in Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, Eddie hooked my family up with a house his construction company built—probably the most beautiful home I will ever live in. The view from the porch was a clear cut of the Caribbean Sea stretching out to the Atlantic Ocean. I spent hours on that deck staring at the line where the sky met the sea.
A view from the deck.
Eddie was not only a good man, but also a loved and respected man with a beautiful family and very high-regard in the community—the crowd put down their plates of chili to watch him descend onto the beach, American flag parachute blazing. Eddie hit dead air and dropped 40 feet to his death. Despite the newly discovered vodka that ran through my blood that night, I have never forgotten the sound of Eddie hitting the beach, the screams of observers (mostly his friends) and the sight of the crumpled skydiving equipment and Eddie being loaded into an ambulance.
To make us feel better, people would always say, “At least he died doing what he loved. It was how he would have wanted to go.” Eddie died in a freak accident during an act of bravery with a fucking American flag strapped to his back. It doesn’t get much more badass than that.
My problems don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same page as this man’s memory. If I have unintentionally offended his family or loved ones, I apologize with all the sincerity in my heart. It’s just I’ve only witnessed death a handful of times, and this remains the strongest vision in my mind. It had become a life or death decision for me to get treatment for alcoholism; if I continued to drink I would surely die an early death.
“Sophie Saint Thomas died doing what she loved…drinking” doesn’t quite hold the same sentiment as Eddie’s death. Legacies are different for those who die from a blackout suicide, drunk driving accident, or drunkenly consuming too many drugs. I’ve been jumping out of a plane every time I’ve used alcohol for sometime now, and my shoddy parachute has collapsed. I must get sober and find healthy methods of exhilaration if I want a shot of accomplishing all those things I envisioned standing on that deck Eddie built, staring at that divine blue line where the sea met the sky.
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