Sunday, August 8, 2010

On Being A Recovering Alcoholic in a Party Town

Now that I've had a few days to recover from New Orleans, I want to talk a bit about the range of emotions I experienced while I was there, speaking as a person who has been sober for just a month shy of a year.

My first response was horror. We walked down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter our first night in The Big Easy, and as I mentioned in another post, the first thing I saw was a drunk woman. She looked to be in her fifties or so (but you can't really tell if she's a chronic drinker--she could be significantly younger). She was staggering, disoriented, with two guys, one in front of her, and the other to her rear. They stepped off the street onto the curb. She walked two or three paces and BAM! Right into the side of a building. Hard.

The guys with her just kind of stopped, looked at each other, and then each took one of her arms. Then they all kind of staggered and lurched their way on up the street.

Open containers everywhere. BIG BEERS HERE signs. Hurricanes. Every other place was a bar, or, further down, a strip joint. Drunk people yelling and carousing.

I felt horror. At first I had the sinking, awful feeling that I was going to hate this trip to New Orleans. But, no, we discovered that if we avoided Bourbon Street after dark, the French Quarter is just fine. And it's a great old city, lots of history and many things to do and see.

The next day was a processing of my emotions. I'd felt horror, I guess, because a part of me knows very well that THAT woman could've been me. There but for the grace of God go I. And the horrified feeling transformed into sorrow. Sorrow for her, sorrow for every alcoholic out there who is still using and still living that life. One thing that I keep coming back to is the impression people all seem to have that drunks and addicts are just out having one helluva time. That's not so. It is NOT fun.

The absolute worst feeling in the world is waking up hungover, finding blood or bruises on your body, not remembering how the fuck you got home, and having a vague feeling that you've done something really wrong. Hurt a stranger, or worse, hurt a friend or loved one, made a fool out of yourself ... just not remembering. The night before is a big blank after a certain point. You panic. What did you do?

It's a terrible feeling. You feel physically sick anyway, with the shakes and the headache and the queasy tummy, but your heart and soul are also sick.

You get into a fetal position under the covers and wish you were dead. You know you ought to call the friends you were out with and find out exactly what the hell you did. And apologize profusely for being an idiot. But they've heard it all before. They've heard you say you'd never do this crap again. How many times can they forgive? You're too ashamed to make the calls.

So, I felt horror, then sorrow and sympathy. Next in line was exasperation.

When you encounter drunk and out of control people day after day, you begin to feel a certain amount of revulsion. This feeling materialized for me on our last night in New Orleans, as Chelle and I were walking back to our hotel after dining at NOLA. There were some pretty ordinary, good-looking people pouring themselves out of a bar onto the street--folks I might, under any other circumstance, like to meet. But why not now?

I turned to Chelle. I said, "Why bother interacting with anybody who is that much under the influence? It's not even THEM."

And that's the truth. An intoxicated person is not in their right mind. They may be sane all right, but they're not themselves. Even a normie (a non-alcoholic) is more animated, more loose, less inhibited, louder, sillier, in varying degrees until they slip over into "too fucked up" land. They do things they wouldn't normally do. And as for chronic drinkers, I know from personal experience that when you drink all the time, reality gets twisted around in very bizarre ways in your own mind. I've said before that when I was drinking, I was positive Chelle didn't love me anymore. (I was projecting; I was finding myself pretty unlovable at the time.) When I'd had too many, I would explode and have a total meltdown, accusing her of all kinds of things that weren't even remotely true. Yet in my fucked up brain, I was completely convinced of the truth of what I swore I knew. It was nuts. I'll say it again: a chronic drinker--even when they're sober--is not in their right mind. Alcohol has devastating effects on your brain and on your brain chemistry.

Which brings me to the last feeling. It's gratefulness. Gratefulness that all of that is behind me. Gratefulness that, when all was said and done, I didn't have to lose too many people when I finally got sober. Excepting one person, all of my non-alcoholic friends have forgiven me and we've all moved on. They all like me much better and find me to be a hell of a lot more fun to be around. They can enjoy their beer or their cocktail and it doesn't bother me. My relationship with Chelle is stronger than it's ever been (six years together on the 15th, y'all!) And, I have a much healthier and closer relationship with the woman who is now my sponsor. They're liking me much sharper and more reliable at work, too.

I'm so grateful for this second lease on life. It is a blessing. Gifts of every nature keep coming to me.

As for my few alcoholic friends who are still drinking and who remain in denial, well ... everyone has to hit their own bottom. They're still my friends; I just don't drink with them anymore. So, those relationships have altered. They know where I am. And if they ever need me, they know I'll be there.

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