About a month or so ago I was at a dinner at The Rieger, hosted by our CSA farmers. Local, seasonal fare in familiar surroundings with great people. When dessert was about to be served, they carted in a gigantic dish that must have held about 900 pounds of peach trifle and began putting it onto plates. There was a lady sitting right next to me all night, and she was a huge foodie. You knew she was a huge foodie with plenty of expendable income, because during her loud conversations throughout the meal she would not stop dropping the names of restaurants and their proximity to her McMansion in a Northland neighborhood. Oh, and she had her own catchphrase…..everything she enjoyed was “TO DIE FOR!” Hey, I realize I’m just another fucking foodie, but I try to keep that shit a little closer to my chest when I’m shoulder to shoulder with strangers. These alpha-foodies are everywhere, so you just kind of get used to the weird sense of entitlement they give off. In a nutshell, they always want something just a little different than everyone else, and when they get it they chalk it up to their foodie credibility rather than recognize it as an example of great customer service.
So ANYWAY, dessert was being served. I’m thankful to have a wife who is basically the canary in the mineshaft when it comes to food and drink that may or may not have booze in it. More often than not, trifles contain some kind of straight/uncooked liquor, so as I had done five hundred times before I asked her to taste it when it came around so I’d know whether or not to eat any. If I can’t eat something, either she can have it or someone around us can. I’m not one of those PUSSIES who sits there factoring in the cost of the course they missed out on, especially when it’s a set menu. It generally evens out, because for every bite of food I’ve missed due to my zero alcohol policy, I’ve gotten about twenty complimentary bites of food for just going with the flow. For EXAMPLE, here is where the magic of The Rieger kicks in….right before dessert was being set in front of us, I got a heads up from one of our servers that “Howard has a different dessert for you”. Different story for a different day, I’ll just say that my friends have my best interest in mind and for that I am deeply grateful. It turns out, 400 of the 900 pounds of trifle was pure bourbon.
But back to Mrs. To Die For…she was on about her third or fourth glass of wine she had to order special because whatever they continued pouring as part of the meal didn’t cut it for her. Desserts came out…trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, GIANT GODDAMN PEACH AND ICE CREAM DESSERT IN A CRAZY POST-MODERNIST BOWL, trifle, trifle trifle……and that little gem did not fly under her radar. She didn’t SAY anything, but I swear to God she’d stare at my dessert, then stare at me, then at her dessert….back to me, then my dessert….she really mixed it up there for a couple of minutes. And I won’t lie, that shit is PRICELESS to me. You could just see the squirrels racing around that brain as she tried to piece together some possible explanation as to why she was not aware of a second dessert option. I guess in Magnificent Ambersonville the proper etiquette would have been for me to answer her weird stares with some explanation, as my lower social status dictates. I did not do that. I wanted to though. Because when you get the chance to look an annoying person in the eyes and totally deadpan “I’m an alcoholic”, it is glorious. I let the moment pass, but I wished she had said something. I wished she said something because I wanted to get all serious and tell her, “You don’t want any part of this dessert. I had to earn this dessert. This dessert has a dark past that you do not want to hear about. The price of this dessert is cheating death. It is LITERALLY to die for. How’s that trifle? Tell me where you girls like to go all Carrie Bradshaw these days.”
My 3rd sobriety birthday was actually July 12, so the lateness of this post is either a sign of progress because I’m busy with life, or I’m just lazy and unoriginal as shit. And now that I’m writing so much food related content, my yearly retrospective will seem a little clunky. These long rambles are one way for me to preserve some major moments, and in the off-chance someone in recovery gets a laugh or someone who needs to be in recovery relates to something, it’s really for them.
For the benefit of newer friends, or those who have never been bored enough to peruse the archives, my openness about stopping drinking doesn’t come from a place where I’m evangelizing, or wishing to god I could have a drink, or trying to get attention for learning the basic life skills the majority of mankind already possesses. I just don’t ever want someone to feel weird about it, because I sure as hell don’t. It’s kind of like discovering you have a severe peanut allergy…except instead of peanuts it’s bourbon….and instead of getting a shot to keep your throat from closing up, it’s several days of medical detox to make the hallucinations go away followed by a basic maintenance regimen. I can’t express how grateful I am for all of the kindness and consideration I’ve received at god knows how many dinners, but I don’t want anyone to ever feel like my proximity to their drink or the abundance of wine and beer on the table has an inherent risk of me deciding to fly off the wagon. If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be there. It took me a while to get to that point, and I still don’t have a cavalier attitude about it…..there’s the old saying “hang around a barbershop long enough you’re going to get a haircut”. That’s why you’ll see me at a million different “foodie” events, but I generally don’t meet up at the bar before or after. I don’t do wine/beer/liquor sponsored or themed events, and even though I know Amigoni’s space is THE SHIT, I don’t have a valid reason to be there on a random Saturday. I’m just thankful to be where I’m at, so I stick with what makes me happy.
I know tons of people, like my wife, who can drink normally. I know tons of people who can drink ABnormally and not let it derail their lives. To all of them I say- fucking drink up! It’s just something completely different for me, my mind doesn’t work in a way that allows for moderation. It’s like iced tea…I love some tea. Depending on how thirsty I am, I can drink several glasses. But when I’m done, I’m done. I don’t feel compelled to drain every glass and I don’t rationalize having ten more before running back to my stash at home. To think that there are people who view liquor in that way is something I literally cannot wrap my mind around. There are still people who look at it like dick measuring…..they sometimes will pose the question “Well, how much did you drink?”, like if I didn’t drink as much as them or someone they knew there’s no way I could really have a problem. Whether it’s random folks or newbies down at the hall, my stock answer is always “I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore”. And that’s a true statement. I could drink enough to pass out or black out, but at some point I crossed that fucked up line where there’s no stopping because you’d get really, really sick. That’s why I literally crack up when some random free drink from a well-meaning server or bartender will land in front of me, and someone I’m with is just shocked or appalled by it. I’ve got about five places to buy booze two minutes from my house, so there’s no fucking way I’m going to be one of those preachy drunks and go “Pardon ME Arturo! I cannot HAVE this free taste of your mother’s boozy egg nog recipe!”…..I’m just like “who wants to drink this?” Unless every person is sitting at the table with two massive steins filled to the brim with a quality beverage that only comes from Kentucky in front of them…..I really don’t rattle. At the top of my gratitude list is the fact that I just honestly have no desire for a drink.
So long story short, life isn’t just about not drinking for me. If you’ve been sober for three years and it’s still only about not drinking for you, then you’re just a dry drunk. I don’t know how else to put it. You either don’t have a program or the one you have isn’t working for you, and you need to fix that shit. Now, when I’m talking to new folks down at the hall or when I visit my alma mater to speak to the fresh crop of recruits, I will say “always keep your bottom close to you”. I keep mine very close, but I don’t dwell on it. It’s like muscle memory, lying in wait on the off-chance I get fidgety or my mind starts to wander into euphoric recall mode. I guess it would work something like this…..if a shrink was showing me flashcards of various items to have me name them, it would be a lemon and I’d say “lemon”, it would be a castle and I’d say “castle”, the moon and I’d say “moon, a bottle of Knob Creek and I’d say “these spasms are ripping out my spine, and I can’t see whoever it is that won’t stop saying my name”. Am I merely programmed? Did I just use some Pavlovian conditioning or the Ludovico Treatment as a crutch? Don’t know, don’t really care. I just know that a little over three years ago I could not function without drinking, and now I have a great life with a wonderful family and all sorts of new friends I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get sober. I go to meetings, have a sponsor, and I help other people who want to stop drinking. My program takes work, it takes time, my sobriety has been hard fought and hard won, but fuck all of that….what a small price to pay for living the dream.
Now, I’m not saying I made it out unscathed. It kind of fucked up music for me for god knows how long. I still listen to the radio, have my favorite bands and whatnot, but I have what can only be described as serious PTSD symptoms if I hear specific songs or let myself get into a music-driven emotional state. They’re really random, nothing anyone I know has probably ever owned or is ever played in public spaces, but it all stems from a pretty dark period when they held prominence. And honestly, if you could figure one out and spring it on me, I’d be pretty impressed. Visibly shaken, but impressed. I think even my wife only knows one of them. And I will take them to the grave unless my sponsor goes “You need to get that shit out….that crap does not make you unique or special. Get over yourself.”
In my rambling I probably make all of this sound like more than it really is. But after you remove the booze and get used to living life, it’s really only about learning the things you should have learned in kindergarten. Drugs and alcohol have a way of limiting your ability to recognize and deal with things like your fear, need for control, selfishness and ego. So you yank booze away from a sociopathic egomaniac, you are still left with the sociopathic egomaniac. There is zero magic in the cessation of the substance. And learning to deal with people and life events fucking blows. I just always try to be learning something, and as I draw closer to a new sobriety birthday I start reflecting on what the year has taught me. Biggest lesson this past year? It will blow your mind with its INTENSITY….it’s “count to ten”. Think before you speak. Take some time before you react. NOT reacting takes a hell of a lot of strength, but nearly 100% of the time you benefit from not having to clean up a huge mess.
I’ve got a long way to go. It’s an election year and I love to reel in some fish. Some big, fat, evangelical fish. And that’s fun and everything, but it’s merely a symptom of a much larger issue. When angered, threatened or disrespected, I always only knew the nuclear option. I only wanted to break something in a way that could not be repaired, and I have several assorted years of my life that I’m not proud of and are generally only spoken of in detail in a one-on-one setting when some good can come from sharing. I’ve never been to prison, never even been arrested, haven’t killed anyone, but I’m jaded in ways that sobriety has forced me to come to terms with. You meet people with some genuinely fucked up history, in sobriety, and that history becomes their identity. The problem is, it becomes a caricature because that’s as deep as they go. And if that’s as deep as you go, you’re going to relapse. Period. Full stop. Around the tables I have heard some of the most soul crushing stories you can possibly imagine, and I have heard them come from the mouths of people you would never expect to hear them from. People who would not let it define them, who took the promises offered by the program at face value and carved out a new life. So that’s part of what I learned. I want to be like THAT person…anyone can be the douche with the checkered past and street-cred chip on their shoulder…they can be entertaining but they lack depth and substance and have very little to teach others.
Sometimes “count to ten” can take months. And in my quest for that goal I was tested pretty well last year. A major, prolonged situation involved family who embody everything about evangelical hypocrisy that I loathe….an arrogant sense of entitlement, poisonous self-righteousness, a way of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that defend their predetermined answers, and a gift for showing one face to the people in church and an entirely different one to the family. In short, the situation was…a gesture of kindness from family members morphed into drama where everyone being in the same room has to be pre-planned and micro-managed. There is a twisted, faux-Christian sense of entitlement that tells the worst part of someone’s nature “Yes, you did irreparable damage to your family, you took advantage and held them hostage with your love, used your faith as a weapon to cast blame and hurt, but hey, you told God you were sorry, so if they can’t rise to your standards and get over it then it’s their problem to deal with.” No amends, no making things right, just rationalize screwing people over and use your exit strategy from one fake and eg0-based ministry to another as a sign that you’re doing what God intended.
So that’s the short version. I wrote about four thousand words JUST about that situation at one point, so please appreciate my mercy in scaling it down to a couple of sentences. I mainly bring it up to emphasize what I’m trying to learn about life. If it were three years ago, the story which I allude to would have had a very quick, extremely excessive and unprecedented conclusion with zero consideration for collateral damage. But that’s the problem with the nuclear option…collateral damage. The thought of having to ever apologize for something keeps me out of a lot of trouble. So I let that one pass, and I protected myself by being bound to a promise to someone that I would not let anyone get hurt. But hey, it’s STILL ME….so during the months when I was talking myself down from the overly dramatic, I went with the gentler option of compiling a massive amount of extremely telling and highly un-Christian information unbeknownst to these idiots that, given the proper audience and delivery, would unburden them from having to worry about working in ministry ever again. I’ve made huge impacts on very large, very popular and corrupt ministries just for fun, so…when I’m highly motivated? “Hypothetically”…their words against them courtesy of plenty of vicious text and audio, as well as publically available information and data (possibly involving monetary troubles at one point from porn addiction), lists of hundreds of current and former acquaintances and dozens of churches with emails, websites, and social media all processed through approximately twenty hilariously customized domain names that mirror an awesome website for the entertainment of all of the interwebs.
So basically, a “hypothetical” Doomsday Device. And hopefully someday I’ll reach a stage of enlightenment that allows me to deconstruct it or at least change it to where it would take longer than ten minutes to disperse some shock and awe. I just don’t trust stupid…some people get some distance between them and their mess and get cocky, or they get some weird self-righteous vision where they think you MIGHT be bluffing and want to challenge you or talk some shit as a way of communicating their toxic definition of love. I just want to keep learning as I go and have my “don’t start no trouble, won’t be no trouble” policy as a cautionary statement. Because honestly, as you talk yourself down from one ledge to another, the secondary option is really no less nuclear than the first. Knee-capping someone is bad, but constructing and using an involved technological answer to the same problem is bad too…AND creepy. The moral of the story is that time passed….I made it from one to ten. Progress, not perfection, was achieved. Thanks in no small part to my aforementioned dedication to a program, as well as learning from other drunks with longer sobriety that animosity is just baggage, and the momentary relief you get from decimating someone is quickly replaced by even more baggage caused by the fallout. Taking pride in being “the guy who can destroy but doesn’t” is the same cheesy copout as being the douche with the checkered past.
All things….that could have been learned…..in kindergarten. It can be tedious….has to be a little bit like relearning basic skills after coming out of a coma. Acknowledging other people exist, being happy for others, always letting someone merge into traffic, learning that humility isn’t the same as humiliation, doing something for someone without a hidden agenda, and processing emotions without freaking out ain’t exactly rocket science, but the journey is dotted with confirmation that I’m on the right track. I never have to wake up in a panic about what I may have said or done the night before. I can recognize boredom as an opportunity just to enjoy a moment. I am available for my family and my friends in a way I never was before. A million things…the best of which is being on the brink of a completely new family reality and knowing that everything is going to work out just fine. Of course it’s always just one day at a time, and the cost is factored into all of this with a mandatory regimen of going to meetings, keeping it simple, and working with others. Early in my sobriety, three years sounded like an eternity. Now I sit at three years plus some change and the benefits I can recognize from all of the work along the way is what will keep me moving through the next three.