I felt it, stirring within, searching for a way out. I used all my wit and strength to keep it contained, never wanting to come face to face. Growing inside me– it was something… no, it was someone. Someone whom I would eventually come to recognize all too well. His strength was growing, and my resolve to hide him from the world was waining. I didn’t know how much longer I could withstand his ever-present nature, always insisting that he come out to play.
When I was nearly 19… that’s when I caved and respected his wish to fully emerge. I had allowed him to come out briefly on special occasions when I was younger, he was so sneaky like that, but those were momentary lapses. Letting him out for just a few minutes was all I could handle. It was all that others could handle. But when I was 18, I was done fighting… and I gave in to his whisperings in my ear, Come on. Let me out… we will have so much fun together.
Finally, I obliged.
Over the span of a decade, I came to understand the potential he had. He allowed me to do things I never imagined possible, like a super hero. A really fucked up super hero. I could conquer the world when he was with me… or at least that’s how it felt when I was with him. As time passed, and we became more like inseparable summer camp buddies, I started to see him for who he truly was. No longer was he giving me the confidence to do things I never dreamed I could do, but he was asking me… telling me to do things I never WANTED to do… but in the moment, I succumbed to the pressure and made choices I was previously not comfortable with. I put myself, and others, in danger for him.
Then, one night just over seven years ago, he took over. Completely. It was time for the reckoning.
September 15, 2009– 10:36am
Shit! I am late again! I walked into work, a restaurant that once fancied itself a finer diner, and then under new management became nothing more than a mediocre diner trying to keep up with its previous iteration, featuring low-grade ingredients and modified recipes aimed at saving money. But all was going to be okay that day, because I was working with one of my favorites, another holdover from the original ownnership. She would tend the bar, and I would wait on all the tables, a dynamic duo that would, if nothing more, enjoy each other’s company.
The day started like any other, preparing the service station for a lunch shift that promised to be less than busy, eating pickles in the walk-in cooler, and cranking up the music of our choice. The bartender and I laughed a lot together, and then at 11:00am (or probably 11:08am or so) we remembered to unlock the door and let the people in. There were always a few people waiting– Ugh! We hated that! We were always so irritated by the people waiting, desperate to be entertained and fed. And so, I grabbed some menus, brought them water, and then sidled up to the bar. “Wine shots?” I said in a leading way to my bartender friend. She laughed… no, she cackled. (To this day, I love her cackle.) We both threw our heads backward with the signature cackle, then threw them back again with a shot glass full of Pinot Grigio.
The lunch shift continued, tables came and left. I must have waited on them, I couldn’t really tell you… but what I do know is that I insisted on doing wine shots at least once hourly– eventually, I believe, that shifted to Jameson shots, but again… I couldn’t really tell you. All I know is that in order to get through those days, I needed to have my “juice.”
What time is it!? Fuck! I am late again! I quickly sent a text message, “Hey, on my way. Just getting off work and will be there soon.” I had been done with work for a while, but sat at the bar for too long, eating my “lunch.” It was a liquid lunch, so I easily lost track of time. I had a meeting– nay, a happy-hour-meeting– across town to discuss a show for which I was designing costumes– I had scarcely done any work for the show. I previously told the director with whom I was working that I would have renderings ready to go for that meeting. I was on bicycle, so I saddled up, no helmet, and sped across town, weaving in and out of traffic. Seeing as how I left 5 minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, I was feeling proud for only be 40 minutes late. Proud?! Yeah, I actually felt that way. “Hi! So sorry! Long day at work.” He looked at me; I distinctly remember his hesitance when he saw me. He asked, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, totally! Sorry, just feeling a little flushed from the bike ride.” At that moment, the server approached, “Yes, you CAN get me something to drink. I’ll have your happy hour white wine.”
The director and I started catching up, then the conversation shifted to the show. “Let’s see what you’ve got!” He seemed excited to see what I had prepared. I resoponded, “Well, I am a little behind, but I have some ideas… and I am a little stuck. I am not sure what to do or where to go with most of the characters…” I vamped. Then I showed him the ONE drawing I had done. ONE. Perhaps knowing me better than I had thought, he said, “Ok. Great. I have lots of ideas,” and pulled out a ton of photo copies of sources he liked, basically doing my job for me– which was great in that moment. It was as if he expected this from me, and at that time, I was ok with underperforming, even though I remember feeling that I wanted to do a good job and design the shit out of that show.
The meeting concluded and by that time, I had at least 3 or 4 more glasses of wine. Maybe more. “Do you want a ride home?” He insistently inquired.
“No! I am good! I have to meet up with some friends for dinner later, so I am just going to head that way.”
September 15, 2009– 7:37pm
I rang the buzzer. “Hello?” I had made my way across town again, on bicycle, and was now at my best friend’s condo.
“Hey, it’s me! Can I come in? What are you doing? Want to have drinks?” I was excited that she was home. She buzzed me in. I made my way down the hallway to her apartment door. I knocked and she was there with her boyfriend. “You want to go out for drinks????”
They both looked at me and laughed a little, and then her boyfriend said, “It’s Tuesday.” I looked at him earnestly Yeah? He chuckled again and continued, “We are going to stay in tonight, but we will have a drink with you here.”
“Ok! What do you have?”
The boyfriend responded, “Vodka.”
“Perfect. Martini, please.”
I recall the glass it was served in, and I believe the boyfriend insisted that the glass stay full most of the time, but it was at that point that my memory started to fade in and out. I remember where I was standing in the apartment, but the conversation itself is gone from my flight recorder. I recall seeing a notification come in on my Blackberry. Are you ready to go to dinner? Where shall I retrieve you? I responded with my location, and just as unexpectedly as I had arrived, I was gone from my best friend’s abode. I likely thanked them, but left a trail of stemware and toothpicks that had previously skewered an army of olives.
September 15, 2009– 8:52pm
I stumbled out of my friend’s place and got in the backseat of the car. “Drive!” I cackled. I was starting to come unhinged. Starting? I think I was far beyond unhinged.
We arrived at the restaurant, one of the best restaurants in the city and I was looking forward to having a few cocktails and some good food, even if I was starting to let the sloppy side of myself shine through. We were seated and when it came time for me to order a beverage, I said something like, “Alchohol, pleazhe. Lotzuvit.” Much to my surprise, the server said, “Maybe something of the non-alcoholic variety?”
I laughed in her face, “No, I don’t think that will do. I will have a vodka martini.”
She stood her ground, “I am sorry, I can’t serve you.”
I glanced at my friends with whom I was to dine that evening, “This is bullshit! I am not going to spend my money here if you’re not going to get me what I want!” The server didn’t seem to mind if I left or not, so I stood up and stormed out, leaving behind my messenger bag that contained one sketch, a full/blank drawing book, and a laptop. Luckily, my sweet friend who picked me up, chased me down and intervened on the sidewalk.
“Do you want to go somewhere else for dinner?” She was too kind to me; handing me my bag, she gave me a look like she was concerned.
I returned her glance, unwilling to accept her generosity and refusing her pity, “No! I don’t want go anywhere else. You go have a nice dinner!” I snatched my bag, and started walking away from her, which just so happened to be a busy street. I stepped out into traffic and my friend shouted, “Lil baby! Be careful! Please don’t run out into the street.” She called me lil baby, because I was exactly that. I looked back at her with the confidence that I could take care of myself and continued forward.
Darting across the street, traffic honking, I knew that I could get a drink somewhere. I was on the hunt.
September 15, 2009– 10:15pm
My first stop, post-dinner, was a music venue. I must have had a couple of PBRs there and saw some band play– again, my only evidence is one picture on my Blackberry of a male singer crooning into a microphone. There was stage-lighting, the venue was near the restaurant, and so I deduced that I went to a concert. There was one flash of memory from that stop, as well. I was in a very well-lit hall, I looked at my hand under what seemed to be a spotlight, and that’s where I saw the Pabst Blue Ribbon can. What kind of music was it? I have no clue. I have tried to search the events calendar from that night to no avail.
September 15, 2009– 11:05pm
On the rooftop of the city’s hottest sushi lounge (the hottest and only– perhaps anywhere), I was amidst the glowing red tables and countertops, with the bass pumping and a beer in-hand. It was out-of-town-business-man-central. If I could get a drink anywhere, it would be amongst wealthy, suited men who were likely as shit-faced as I had become. The only reason I remember being here, was because I found a photo on my Blackberry the next day– of course. There were businessmen in the photo, and a glowing, red bar. I wish I could tell you that I remember the breeze of the cool, night air. I wish I could tell you that I struck up a great conversation with some uptight suit, but all I know is that I had a beer (or three?) and I hung around for a while.
September 16, 2009– 12:17am
I approached the door of the gay club in town. It wasn’t the only one, but it was the one that had the most people on any night of the week. I pulled out my i.d. The bouncer looked at me and said, “I can’t let you in.” He was kind and gentle.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“Have you been drinking?”
“Yeah, I had some drinks tonight, but come on. Can I please go in?”
He looked at me, “Sorry. No, you’re too drunk.”
Nothing is more sobering than hearing that you’re too drunk. The beast, all the while by my side that evening, decided to take control. “Do you know WHO I AM!? I basically keep this place open! I HAVE SPENT SO MUCH MONEY HERE! And you’re going to tell me I can’t come in!? This is fucking bullshit!” My tactics were spot-on for someone trying to make a case for not being too drunk. “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” I continued. He gently grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.
“I am sorry, man. Not tonight.”
I pulled out my Blackberry, and dialed the my friend, the bartender and dinner companion whom I had so abruptly left hours before. Standing right next to the bouncer who wouldn’t let me in, I made my phone call. She answered, “Oh my god. Are you ok? Where are you?”
“THIS FUCKING ASSHOLE BOUNCER WON’T LET ME INTO THE CLUB!” Turning back to the bouncer, “DO YOU KNOW WHO THE FUCK I AM!?”
“Yeah. I’m here,” I replied.
She said one more time, “I will be right there. Just stay put.”
September 16, 2009– 6:47am
The sun hit my face and caused me to stir. Ugh, what died in my mouth? I opened one eye and I looked around. Why was I on the floor at the top of my stairs to my bedroom? Why was I naked? How did I get here? I picked myself up, just enough to make it the extra 12 feet to get to the mattress on the floor. I fell onto the pillows. About to go unconscious again, something rumbled inside me. I quickly stood and ran to the bathroom that was across the room, grasping the rim of the toilet with both hands, bracing myself from what was to come. From inside me, the demon started to emerge.
September 16, 2009– 9:32am
Hours passed and I was traversing the space between the bed and the bathroom repeatedly. Heaving over the toilet in the half-bathroom of my third story partial studio, I wanted to die. I could not imagine feeling worse than I felt in that moment, but I was still breathing, still gagging, still trying to evacuate the demon I had trapped in my body, albeit via my esophagus. The pressure behind my eyes felt as if it might continue until the orbs were out of socket. The wretching, oh… the wretching. It was violent and dry. There was nothing left, but my body still resisted and tried to exorcise the beast within.
I finally stood, looked at myself in the mirror while leaning on the sink, barely able to hold my body erect– I wanted to cry, but tears were already streaming down my face from that session over the porcelain bowl. If I were to cry, they would be lost in the mess that was already pouring from my eyes. What was the point? The person in the mirror that morning was all too familiar; the boy-turned-man who, until that moment, was grasping onto the idea that he had his life under control… that he was the boss. I brushed my teeth for what seemed like the twentieth time that morning, and emerged from the bathroom, greeted by the brightness of the sun. Why???! My head is pounding! Have some fucking decency! Decency, what a novel idea.
I crawled back onto the mattress that was on the floor; why was it so painful to get into that bed? It was more difficult to get down than it was to get up, requiring more effort to gently set myself on the unmade bed that lacked sheets, and had only a comforter and some unsheathed pillows. My priorities were in other places and finances were reserved for other activities. As I stared up at the ceiling, I felt alone and scared. I looked at my Blackberry; no one had called or texted. I wanted to reach out for help, to talk to someone, but I knew that I had started to burn bridges with my friends. Of course they cared, but they were exhausted by the maintenance required to be in my life. So, instead of calling friends, I started calling rehab facilities.
I must have called at least 7 or 8 places that morning; I was crying, aching, and asking for help. With each call, it was the same conversation: Do you have health insurance? No. Are you unemployed? No. Are you mandated to seek treatment? No. Can you afford to pay out of pocket? It would be about $20,000. No.
And that was that. Not only was I underperforming in my life, I was unfit for rehab. I wept uncontrollably in that poor excuse of a bed. In that moment, the thought of killing myself came up more than once– ending it all because I didn’t think I had anywhere to turn. I had fallen so far from the standard I had previously held myself, that I couldn’t see another way out. I was lost and I honestly believed that my friends would want nothing to do with me. Instead of taking action on my thoughts, based primarily on the fact that it hurt to think, I decided to stay in bed. Movement and action would have been excruciating. Sleep was the only thing I could bear… so I closed my eyes, slept the day away, knowing that I had plans later that night to see some friends and watch the new hit series, Glee. Oh, the glee I felt. In and out of consciousness for the next 8 hours, I continued to feel like death, but there were signs that it might pass.
Turns out I didn’t actually wait in that location where I was screaming at the bouncer and my friend did not pick me up… not because she was unwilling, oh no– She showed up. I just wasn’t there. And I have no clue how I got home that night. I may have walked, but that would have been a long walk. Maybe I hitched a ride? Maybe the bouncer put me in a cab and paid it to take me home. All I know is, I didn’t get home based on pure luck– something or someone was watching over me that night. That was the last night I drank alcohol.
I don’t tell this story that often. There was time I lived in fear of people knowing the depths of my past, how ungrateful and selfish I was. I sometimes still get asked if I think I will ever drink again… and knowing what I know, and knowing how I feel– it’s a non-negotiable. I am a better person when I am not drinking. The story above is just one night, one example of the beast I can become. The 24 hour period described doesn’t encapsulate all of the times I was ruthlessly callous and intentionally venomous. Will I ever drink again? I hope not, but it’s a choice I have to make daily.
Why do I share this story? I share it now because I am ready to move beyond it, to no longer live in fear of something that I have learned to control– the choice to not pick up a drink is one that I look forward to daily. I am not master, no guru… nor am I a monster. But I am in control of my life, no longer flailing and looking for something, anything on which to grasp.
Clarity of mind is something that I have come to appreciate– even so, I still get lost in the dangerous thinking of my past. There are people out there whom I have not treated as delicately or kindly as I would have liked to– hindsight informs me of that. And to those people, I am sorry– you all deserve much better. When I am thinking clearly, and not wrapped up in my ego, I have the capability of being great. We all do. Every day presents a new challenge, and I used to fear the next day, knowing that I was unprepared or unwilling to commit myself to something. But now, I have the ability to look fear in the eye, to take it on, even when I know I made a mistake, and own it. And this isn’t some beast that is within me, whispering that I can do whatever I want… this is me, knowing that not only do I have the potential to prevail every day, but that I can, and will, conquer the world.