It’s 1 AM on a Saturday and I’m sober. I definitely don’t want to be, but I am. Sobriety at this hour is completely alien to me, as bizarre as the idea of being drunk at 8 AM, which is something, I shit you not, I’ve never done – despite the fact that everyone and my mother now sees me as the world’s largest lush.
I’m sober tonight because I wasn’t last night. Last night, I was shitfaced. My excuse? It was someone else’s birthday. A cavalcade of pals at the party I attended complimented me on the piece I recently wrote about my drinking problem, raising their glasses to meet mine. I accepted their kind words with the only grace I could muster in my highly altered, bleary-eyed state. I drank enough to brag about my junior high wrestling career. (I received a bronze medal for placing third in the state, but only because two other girls were in my weight class.) I drank more than enough.
I woke up at 3 PM today, ruined for the world, just like old times. I allowed myself to get fucked up because I did so in the context of a social gathering – my new rule is to never drink alone. But when surrounded by other warm-blooded mammals, I have permission to knock down a can (or eight) of shitty American macrobrew. Telling myself I can’t drink alone only means I stay up as late as humanly possible, imbibing in the presence of others. My new rule, as rules go, is fairly useless.
After an afternoon spent staring into the void and gathering my bearings, I performed comedy tonight and – wait for it – didn’t drink while doing so. It wasn’t that I wasn’t around alcohol. There was bourbon, my favorite, backstage. I chose, however, to ignore it, in spite of the fact that every fiber of my being screamed for it. It was free, for fuck’s sake! What was I, crazy? I couldn’t tell if my performance, normally “enhanced” by hooch, became sharper or more neutered without it. Realistically, it was better. Cogency, after all, makes communication easier.
Afterward, I went to another birthday party, located in a slightly la-di-da bar in Hollywood. Nursing my club soda, I patted myself on the back for not spending $8 on a cocktail. The smug satisfaction I took in saving money, though, was the only pleasure I experienced. With a blood alcohol content of .00, I found myself at a conversational loss. Eight dollars is small price to pay for social comfort. I left early.
Since I’ve cut down on my drinking – all eight fucking days, or however long it’s been – my hydration level has increased substantially. I now chug water with the same aplomb I formerly reserved for bourbon. I mean, you’ve gotta drink something, right? My bladder is heavy. I slosh when I walk. It’s becoming a problem.
Photo by Jamie "Lee Curtis" Taete
I used to drink in order to fall asleep – my ex bequeathed me some pot to try instead. It doesn’t work. After smoking, I stay up late doing the same stupid things I did when I was drunk (watching Veruca Salt videos and episodes of MTV's True Life while chain-smoking cigarettes). I wake up groggy, just like I did when I drank. How the fuck do people function smoking that shit all the time? I know asking that question makes me a mediocre Californian, but still.
Sleeping is, indeed, an issue. But it’s always been an issue. I fall asleep, wake up, fall asleep, wake up, stay up. The ceaseless drone of my white noise machine echoes the ceaseless drone of the thoughts, fears, regrets, and to-do lists that keep me awake. When my mind isn’t altered, they’re even louder. Goody.
Exercise. Meditate. That’s what my friend Merrill told me to do to in order to squash the demons within that lead me to demon alcohol. She even gave me a mantra to repeat. It’s similar to hers, but not hers, because in order to obtain a mantra of one’s own, one must go to the Transcendental Meditation Center and pay some sort of shaman a hefty fee. I don’t make shaman money. The mantra she gave me is just a combination of two meaningless syllables (and by “meaningless syllables,” I mean “a meaningful word in a more enlightened language”). I decided I needed to create my own – and in English, damnit! I settled on “in, out.” That’s how babies are made, machinery is produced, clocks are punched, and lungs work. It’s the source of all life. In, out. In, out.
I laid on my bed with the covers over my head and repeated my self-appointed mantra. In, out. It’s normal for unrelated thoughts to drift into my mind, Merrill told me, but I needed to ignore them as best I could. I tried my best to stop thinking about who my ex was fucking, and if my mother feels proud of me, and so on and so forth. I made a pretty decent go of it – until my cat started violently attacking me through the covers. He wasn’t a thought, he was a cat. And unlike thoughts, he was impossible to ignore. I gave up, unenlightened.
I actually used the rowing machine I normally smoke cigarettes on to, y’know, row. Thirty-five minutes is what it takes to get enough endorphins, or whatever the fuck, going, Merrill told me, in order to make me feel good. I found the activity unbearably tedious, every moment felt 35 minutes long. I made it halfway to nirvana before giving up.
I asked my friend Karen why she stopped drinking. “The seizures,” she replied. Fair enough. That’s a wonderful reason to quit. I’ve never had a seizure because I drank, but I have watched an entire episode of Last Call With Carson Daly because I was too loaded to change the channel, so, really, who had it worse? (She did. She definitely did.)
People ask me why I decided to cut down. Because the way in which I was living, I tell them, was untenable. To this, I receive many a blank stare. I’ve also received many compliments on how well I seemingly held my liquor, which is like complimenting a heroin addict for hiding her track marks. The fact that I never made a Zelda Fitzgerald–esque show when I got loaded impressed people. (But I did, full disclosure, fall down a staircase once.)
Since I wrote about my drinking problem, I’ve received dozens of Iliad-length emails from people who also struggle with booze. Their problems, by and large, appear to be worse than mine, which makes me feel like a fraud. I’m not a fucking expert. I’m just a lush. I like responding to them, though – they make me feel less alone, in spite of the fact that I’m sitting by myself when I reply.
The piece I wrote wasn’t a cry for help – it was more a statement of fact. It wasn’t me being resigned, either, though my default mode is resignation. It was me giving up on giving up. Forcing myself to try.
Actually trying is as foreign as not being loaded. I hate it. I hate trying. But I’m used to hate. That’s what got me here.
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Previously: OK, so I Have a Drinking Problem