Sunday, September 24, 2017

Evidence: The Story of My Last Drink

I didn't buy my last drink and I didn't finish it. Actually, I didn't even start it. The night of my last drink started out like most other drinking nights. Dinner and three glasses of rosé with a friend. Gave her a hug when the train pulled into my stop, told her to get home safely, said I was doing the same. Didn't go home. My night was just getting started. Dinner was my warm-up. This was a very familiar pattern.

A few weeks prior to this night though, I'd realized it was okay for me to stop drinking. I didn't have to do it anymore. It was such a relief. I couldn't believe it. It felt like someone had suddenly eliminated a huge debt I was thinking I'd never pay off. It was gone in an instant. This burden, this thing I secretly dreaded, I could stop it now. The realization came to me when I connected with another person who also wanted to stop drinking. To know that I wasn't the only one and to know that someone I admired was feeling some of the same feelings I'd felt for years - feelings I'd assumed made me garbage - suddenly made it feel less impossible.

Anyway, I stopped. And then I started again that night when I went to dinner with my friend. I wasn't sure why. It was okay to stop now, so what was my deal? Why was I having wine? Habit? Maybe. Anyway, I got off the train under my usual guise of going home and instead headed to a bar. If I was going to drink, I might as well drink like me. I chose a bar where there was very little chance of seeing anyone I knew. More wine please and thanks. Yum. I was coasting into the familiar cozy tunnel of drunkenness. So nice. Everything is great. I'm confident. I'm fine. I'm just a 37-year old woman on her way home stopping for a drink. As far as anyone here knows, it's the first one I've had tonight. I'll speak in my super articulate voice and sit up very straight so they'll believe me. They'll think I'm a normal person. Fools.

The bartender was stretching his legs, and we talked about the soccer game he'd played earlier. Seated next to me at the bar - a guy around my age and his wife. Next to her and wrapped around the corner of the bar - four dudes in their 40s and 50s. One of them shouted to me that he wanted to buy my next drink. Shrug. Fine with me. At least he wasn't getting up to talk to me. The bartender put a shot glass in front of my wine glass. The married guy next to me explained that it was to indicate I had a drink on deck. He could tell I was confused. Then he struck up a conversation. He told me the story of how he'd been shot in the back and chest in Ireland and almost died. Apparently it was pretty bad, but he was tough. "You can't kill me, I'm like a cockroach," he said. I loved that. I wrote it down. Hearing that story flung me into familiar drunken territory. I was tough, too. You couldn't kill me, either. I loved this part of being drunk. I'd get up in my head and walk around the gallery of my mind gazing at all the lousy things that had happened to me like they were big beautiful shiny trophies. "Look at what happened here, look how ugly it was. I survived it. Look at what I've accomplished. Can you believe I taught a fitness class only HOURS after that happened!? Look at that one. Look at THAT one." I loved going up to visit with those memories when I got numb enough. I'd pat myself on the back. Think about how nothing could touch me. I had survived multiple traumas and I was sitting here in a clean dress tricking all these people into thinking I was a responsible grown-up. I was a cockroach, too. You couldn't kill me. Bottoms up. I shared some of my trauma trophies with the married guy. His wife was chatting with the four other guys in the bar. I now had two shot glasses in front of my wine glass.

I felt daunted and tired.

Normally knowing I had limitless wine made me feel better. I honestly could never stand splitting a bottle of wine at dinner. It's one of my favorite things about sobriety, the lack of that particular stress. I'd always sit there worrying. What if the other person got more? What if we ran out? Was it gross to order an additional glass? What if the server didn't come back soon enough and I had to wait a long time between glasses? What if I started to come out of my tipsy tunnel before I was ready to face reality again? These were actual thoughts that ran through my brain. But now I looked at the shot glasses lined up in front of my half-full wine glass and just felt overwhelmed. Then, the kicker. The married guy suddenly said to me, "I'm going to say my phone number out loud. I want you to look away from me while I say it. Put it into your phone and send me a text message so I can reach you." I was so confused. Was he an undercover cop? Was this like The Departed or The Town? Nope. I really am an idiot. He wanted to cheat on his wife. He called her a "green card wife" and said she was headed out of town for a few days, so we should get together. Bye. I left my wine and wine-on-deck behind.

I walked to another bar. I felt like a piece of trash. I needed to feel better. I approached the door and put my "responsible grown-up voice" back on so they'd let me in. The bouncer told me he liked my blue dress. Nice guy. I sat down at the bar and said to myself, "Okay. You get exactly what you want. You're the best. Everyone else is mean. You get whatever you want to drink. Screw that married guy who made you feel like garbage. Get a drink. What do you want?" I heard myself order water. Water? Yeah, water. It was delicious. I was so thirsty. I ordered another one, and another one after that. (I don't really do anything in moderation it turns out.)

After my three waters I was feeling excellent. Still pretty lit, but nowhere near as drunk as I have the ability to get. I decided to head home. On my way, I started to feel what I guess was happiness. I'd recently started dating a man I really liked. He was a good person and he seemed to like me. I thought about him and it made me smile. I felt good in my blue dress. That bouncer was right. I wasn't all that hideous. I liked my jobs. I liked my neighborhood. I was walking up Richmond Street in the North End. It was 12:41am and I snapped a photo. I started to feel like maybe I could move forward and stop drinking after all. I wanted to so badly. I was so sick of it. But first I had to forgive myself for screwing up that night, and that would be hard. I've never been great at forgiving myself or anyone else. I collect all my bad experiences, all my mistakes. I even made a mental trophy case for them.

I turned the corner onto Hanover Street and BOOM, I crashed right into one of my ex-boyfriends. Great. We used to live together. It was terrible. He'd agree with me, he was just as miserable as I was. We were never the right fit. I hated his desk. He hated my frigid air conditioning. He wasn't a bad guy at all, but I always felt crappy when I thought of him because we didn't part well. The last time I'd seen him we were in the Prudential a few years ago. Not a good day. I said things I didn't mean. He said things he didn't mean. We walked away from each other and that was that. Now here he was. We stared at each other for a few seconds. I can't remember which one of us spoke first but we had a really brief, really positive chat. All was forgiven. He was happy. He was walking home to Beacon Hill. I heard myself telling him I was happy, too. Then I heard myself telling him I was happy for him. We said we were sorry, we hugged, we parted ways.

I walked the rest of the way home with the same feeling I'd had a few weeks prior when I realized I didn't have to drink anymore. I felt lighter. I didn't have to hold onto that resentment anymore. I could let those negative memories go. I didn't have to wallow and I didn't have to stay angry and I didn't have to feel guilty. He forgave me. And I forgave him. It didn't happen because we randomly ran into each other, it had already happened. That night was just the evidence. But I needed it. Knowing that forgiveness was possible, seeing it happen.

I got home and snapped another photo outside my front door. 12:51am exactly. It was of my shadow and feet. I told myself this was the last picture that would ever be taken of Drunk Me. This was the end. My self portrait of the end. Evidence. I was done. I was moving on. It was okay that I had one more night of drinking. I needed it. Just like I needed the evidence of forgiveness. I needed to have a drink in front of me and not drink it. I needed to walk into a bar and choose water. Evidence that it was over. That is the story of my last drink. That was about two months ago.

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