I am trying something new. I have no idea if it’ll work. I’m trying to be more genuine on my blog, STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES, and write about what’s on my mind and in my heart and in various other organs, even if it isn’t funny. This is Part One of the story of my life with alcohol. The honest truth (as opposed to the lie-flecked truth) is that I have the outline for Part Two, but I haven’t touched Part Three yet, because I simply don’t know what it’ll be. And I have no timeline for posting it, other than when it feels right. Cliffhanger. I realize that this has the potential for being annoying and disappointing. If you feel that way, take a number. Thank you for letting me do this.
I had a boyfriend, a long time ago, and he was an alcoholic. It was exciting that he was my boyfriend because he was handsome and nice and my parents liked him, but the alcoholic part was, I won’t lie to you, a pain in the ass.
His alcoholism was different from the type I’d known from my childhood. Like Alexander, my parents’ friend, who lived down the hall from us in the Bronx in the early 1980s. One night there was a fire in our apartment building and when my parents and I went to knock on his door to alert him and his family to get out, he insisted that we have a drink for the road (down the three flights of stairs). My parents demurred; he brought the vodka, Smirnoff, I think, with him and huddled with it as the Fire Department did what they needed to do.
My boyfriend wasn’t like that.
He was a sober alcoholic, in recovery, but as I learned early one, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I was just out of college, working at my first job in NYC and we were dating and happy and everything was great but also sort of going nowhere and even though I loved him early on I knew that I couldn’t bear to listen to the stories about his sobriety anymore. Back then I was pretty much at the take it or leave it stage in my relationship with alcohol. I liked a good beer in high school (I went to one of those schools where students and faculty would often drink together after classes), gin and tonic in college and wine in my newly adult life, but alcohol at that point wasn’t a character in my narrative. But it was in my boyfriend’s.
He talked about alcoholism a lot, the relationship he had with his sponsor was significant (I met him and his wife on multiple occasions) he talked about what it was like to drink, in the past. Together we spent a lot of time with people in recovery, and I quickly learned that everyone had a story, sometimes more than one, about why they did not drink. And although the stories varied, there was always the showcase one, the verbal money shot, that involved a wild night of partying, the stuff that I imagine The Hangover is made of, of passing out and vomiting, and sleeping it off for days, and remembering exactly who was there, and laughter. There was always laughter. For my boyfriend, terrifyingly, it also involved a night of trying to outrun a subway train in the tunnel and then ducking to the side so that the train could pass, but to preserve my own sanity I always assumed the story was exaggerated. What I do remember about these stories, many of which I’d heard multiple times, was how fun they sounded. And how nostalgic everyone seemed when remembering. Wistful, almost.
There were darker stories, too, of course, of parents at their wits’ end, of academic failure, pumped stomachs, college dropouts, months in rehab, stunted development. But even those seemed tinged with glamour, of a life lived hard, albeit for no particular reason.
I was spending more and more time with people in “recovery.” They weren’t people I necessarily liked nor were they people who had any interest in me once they learned that I was not a fellow traveler.
One December afternoon after a Bloody Mary brunch with my college girlfriend I joined my boyfriend for a party, celebrating his sponsor’s significant number of years of sobriety. I can’t remember how many. I had the warmth of the buzz as I walked into a dark room where people were sipping Sprite and eating pretzels. If there was music, my memory muted it. My boyfriend greeted me and I knew he smelled vodka on my breath. He introduced me to a few people, some of whom he met only an hour before I got there. “How much time do you have?” one of them asked me. “Not quite 30 minutes,” I said, pseudo-checking my watch. I was all in for an evening of sympathetic nodding but I wasn’t going to pretend to be one of them. No one thought it was funny. I was the drunk girl in the room. Except I wasn’t. I had two Bloody Marys and a hamburger and I was happy.
My boyfriend and I had an unpleasant conversation that night. He thought it was insensitive of me to have had a drink before showing up, I didn’t see what the BIG FUCKING DEAL was. I was all bold caps and he was all italics. We both knew what we were dancing around, though. He wanted me to say that I didn’t think alcoholism was a real disease. He wanted me to say that I thought the people who were there just didn’t know how to hold their liquor or say when. And I delivered.
Because I totally did think that.
I didn’t think that alcoholism was a disease, I didn’t think alcoholism could descend on someone and ravage them the way cancer, or multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia or depression did, while they were minding their own business. In my mind, alcoholism required complicity. You had to have that drink and you had to keep drinking. You had to not give a shit about your bullshit high school term paper or the PSATs, the SATs, anything that required you to fill in the bubbles, college tours, college interviews, college applications. “While you were getting high and partying with your glamorous friends, I was reading about Hester-fucking-Prynne,” I yelled at him one night, convinced he was responsible for my high school wallflower- loser status. He didn’t say anything.
We broke up, of course we did. He was my starter post-college boyfriend, we were not meant to last. So that should have been the end of that particular chapter, but of course that’s not how things work.