float

a36fa46201d9184e0a75eb9b21ac537b

11-year-old me would be pretty damn excited to learn that one day he would live downtown, in a condo with two cats and someone who loves him. But he’d actually be the most excited that said condo has a swimming pool. 11-year-old me, although a boy from unquestionably landlocked Colorado, was actually a mermaid. This was confirmed when he saw Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. Hannah’s character Madison, a once cool for mermaids only name that has been appropriated by suburban moms (When will the horror of mermaid appropriation end, honestly?), was immediately identifiable. For those who don’t remember, Madison comes ashore to New York City and is forced to acclimate fast to a weird, harsh world that she didn’t belong in. I mean as a gay child that was literally my experience everywhere I went–from baseball games to camping trips and beyond. The one place this mermaid child felt at home was in water. Pool, beach, river didn’t matter. I came alive when I could just bounce in the water. My favorite was swimming underwater. It was quiet and I could hold my breath for a long time so it was just me and water and not the other things in daily life that seemed hard and alien.  Like Madison, I didn’t stay underwater and I  always returned to an awkward life landlocked.

Some 34 years later, this mermaid-merman has learned how to live among non-merfolk. Sort of. I mean I don’t know if I’ll ever pass as someone who gets this whole life thing but I’ve found some ways to make it feel less painful and less alien. I should stop using alien in a negative way. Misunderstood mystical beings from other places should be cherished. (Oh when will our stigmatizing of aliens ever end?) The point is I’ve accepted and even begun to love merself. Even when hanging out at my condo pool.  On one of those Sweet-Jesus-Is-It-Possible-To-Die-From-Summer-Exhaustion days where the air is stifling and hot, I trotted out to the pool after work. Just a quick dip, a little float to help rinse off my day. Naturally, the bonus for pool situations for nosey people like myself is to spy on other swimmers. What are they wearing? What’s the group dynamic? Which one of those blonde girls in the denim cutoffs and bikini top is named Lauren? Why is that guy fixing his hair obsessively and taking selfies? There’s a lot to unpack at the condo pool and I’m ready for it. On this day, I was grateful that the omnipresent group of drunk people wasn’t there.

The last time my husband and I went out together, we were bombarded by a group of boozy forty somethings (or thirtysomethings who drank enough to look a decade older). They were day drinking, which was always a favorite pastime of mine, and swimming. The longer we hung out at the pool, the faster we could see them deteriorate. A woman in pigtails on a rainbow raft kept barking at us to push her to the other end of the pool. A large, loud man pounded cocktails from big plastic tumblers and stumbled in and out of the water. The other friends who hadn’t drunk as much packed their things and scooted off before they got messy, an ability I myself never possessed. As for the husband and I, we laughed and paddled to other, more sober parts of the pool. We causally looked at the booze fueled train wreck but didn’t make direct eye contact, for fear of more slurry speech interaction. It’s always enlightening to see drunk people in broad daylight.  Like now it feels so weird and out of place. My daytime hours are so dull and on such an autopilot, I forget that I used to live my whole life like those people at the pool. Yet the minute I wanna get super judgey about daytime drunks, I have to remember that I once drank and took ecstasy on a Tuesday afternoon just for something to do. It’s just a different life now and a sort of return to that mermaid existence where I am again a creature not doing what everybody else is doing.

Th large, loud and now certainly most hammered guy in the group soon was organizing where they all would drink and play pool one they left. In no shape whatsoever to drink more but had enough wits about him to get together a plan for more alcohol was a mission I certainly identified with. How can you enjoy a drunken daytime moment when you have to figure out how and where you can keep drinking? Anyway, we shuffled off to the hot tub as they left the pool in a wet huddle of swerving, yelling disarray. It was amusing from a distance. It was deserving of a few one-liners and eye rolls. But it certainly didn’t wreck our moment at the pool.

As we hopped back in the water, shivering from the temperature shock, the now silent area felt more like those waters where this merchild first floated. Just me and the water and my merhusband. When we went to the Caribbean a few years ago, I remember this amazing smile on his face as we jumped in the warm waves. That same smile comes back sometimes even when we’re in the pool. He doesn’t always fit in on this earth either. He doesn’t like what everybody else likes. But he loves the water and me so we can float through all of this together.

Seasonal Alcoholism

spring-event

The people on the patios. Oh, the people on the patios. All the oh, so many people on oh, so many patios. They drink on the patios. They smoke on the patios. They drink even more on patios. In fact, they drink so much on these quaint little patios that you start to wonder if anybody anywhere does anything else on patios. Oh sure, you might see a half-eaten order of some pedestrian artichoke dip on the table or a few barely picked at hot wings. But these people are really on these patios to drink. They so look comfortable on these patios too. Like the minute it gets warm, the people defrost, as if they’ve been sitting there all winter. Like they live there. Me? I just walk by all these patios. Sure, I can sit with the sober girls and drink our iced coffees but we quickly move on. We’re not meant to linger there. It’s no longer our turf and we know it. The patios already have their people and we are not them. And sometimes, God help me, I’m like fuck those people on those patios.

A newly sober friend and I were talking at the tail end of winter about what a trap the allure of patio drinking is once the weather warms up. We mainly laughed about how a quick trip to have a few drinks on a poor unsuspecting patio turned into a real life drunker version of Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch.” Perhaps not just drunker but gayer. Like “Ladies who Lunch” at a leather bar. Shots, cheap beers and a restroom handjob–and one for Mahler! Something about patio drinking just seems like it’s something we’re supposed to do though. I mean every episode of House Hunters has at least one scene of a lady with bad hair saying, “I could just picture drinking wine out here, couldn’t you, Chad?” As if entire pieces of property were sold strictly on how cocktail friendly their patios were. Maybe they were and it actually doesn’t sound that insane. I’ve bought a lot crazy shit to further facilitate my drinking so buying a house with the perfect outdoor space to get loaded in isn’t too much of a stretch. The pull of patio drinking is just that strong, y’all.

One day at like 6 years sober, I called my sponsor in Denver and blurted out, “I walked by a patio and people were drinking margaritas and it looked like a really good idea!” I was freaked out that momentarily my brain was so easily romanced back into the pull of patio drinking. He laughed and reminded me it was summer and I was an alcoholic. But it isn’t just the patios of summer that are a trap. It’s also the weather. When I lived in Los Angeles in a series of apartments with no air conditioning, something I would not recommended, I convinced myself for several summers that I drank more during that season so I could pass out at night. Surely, I could have gotten a swamp cooler without the amount of tequila I drank but who had time for logic when it was SO HOT! Summer also brought about outdoor festival season in Los Angeles which was really just a great excuse to drink outside. The same goes for backyard barbecues, Fourth of July and outdoor sporting events which I of course do not attend but don’t get it twisted I definitely found myself at more than one Dodgers game based solely on the allure of beer and hot dogs alone. Summer and drinking just went hand in hand yet for a dedicated drunk like myself self, couldn’t that be said of all seasons?

I remember an episode of Oprah (how every great story in literature starts, by the way) with Kirstie Alley. The Cheers actress and Scientology devotee is something of a mental health barometer. Ask yourself is this something Kirstie Alley would do say or think? If you answered yes, please pause and rethink whatever it is your about to do. However, in this particular interview the star of Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too said something I’ll never forget. She was spending an entire hour with La Winfrey discussing her weight which is such an odd thing that we ask actresses to do. This entire genre of interviews and books that are basically “Former Hot Star Became A Pig But Then Became Hot Again!” is just fucking bizarre to me. But I digress.

Anyway, she had become hot again and she was telling Oprah that for her, binge eating really started around Halloween with the trick or treat candy her kids brought home then it went right into all the delicious food for Thanksgiving which lead to candy and cookies at  Christmas which lead to a big dinner on New Year’s which lead to Valentine’s chocolates which lead to, well you get the picture. What the beloved star of Veronica’s Closet was trying to illustrate was her pigging out really didn’t get a break and the mere idea that Halloween was a trigger was laughable. My drinking, much like Kirstie’s eating, was all-season and her story was immediately identifiable. Stars–they’re just like us! I didn’t actually need it to be summer or Halloween or Easter to get drunk. Sure, those things made it easier for me to hide behind the guise of being “festive.” But I was just as happy to drink alone on a bland Wednesday in August and that was the truth. The allure of summertime drinking wears off quickly when I remember it usually lead to summertime vomiting or summertime screaming matches in parking lots. Oddly enough those things usually came along with springtime drinking and holiday drinking too. Getting to that place, snaps me back to the reality that it isn’t the patios who are the problem. It’s me.

I guess with now nearly a decade sober, I should have some bravado about reclaiming patios. I should start a movement so formerly drunk people can now sit on patios for as long as they want, dammit! But that sounds like a lot of work and sort of dumb. Like maybe people sit on a patios for so long because they’re hammered and can’t stand up? Or maybe it’s too damn hot to sit outside for my delicate ass anyway? But maybe me and my sober girls have our iced coffees and bounce off of summer patios because we have shit to do, honey.

what if I was no longer sober?

4999435930_6740a03df1_z.jpg

what if I was no longer sober?

what if I started drinking again?

what if drugs were something that I all of a sudden just did again?

what if this part of me for the last 8 years just melted away and suddenly wasn’t?

what if it turned out to be not a big deal? 

what if it could be normal?

what if I could be normal?

I wouldn’t say I live there. I wouldn’t even say I hang out there. But I would be lying my face off if I didn’t say I still slowly drive by there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally look in there and see what I might be missing.  I admit it. I have been known to peak in the windows and wander around a bit just to see what it might be like: if I was no longer sober.

WARNING: This is entire thought process as well as the conversation we are about to have is probably a whole lot of wrong for a sobriety guru and all-around spiritual inspiration to be having. So thank god I’m not one of those assholes. I mean seriously. How exhausting. I’m just some writer jerk trying to be less of a jerk and stay sober while doing so. My brand has very low standards, people, making it easier for me to pass the sassy smartass savings onto you. If I was perfect and had totally nailed this gig of recovery, I’d pretty much have to stop talking about myself which would be a travesty. Also, I’d most likely be a robot because from what I’ve seen struggles and real, crazy thoughts don’t stop happening just because you’ve stopped drinking or using drugs. Bummer, I know. But them’s the breaks.

As you might have guessed the crazy thought popped that in my mind was what if I just stopped being sober? I’ve been sober for over 8 years so the idea of how it would be if I suddenly started drinking again is an intriguing and terrifying one. Based on 20 years of dedicated field research, I tend to think that the experiment would be a catastrophe.  Back in 2008, I had a specific period of time which illustrated this theory nicely. I had been sober for 5 months. And by “sober” I mean dry, pretty much insane and doing it myself all the while hanging out with daily drinkers. This is a god awful plan, by the way and I wouldn’t recommend it. Nevertheless, she persisted and somehow managed to stop drinking. But my life was pretty terrible and got even more so in May when we were evicted from our apartment. I remember texting a friend telling her I was just going to grab a bottle of wine and her words were, “Just be careful.” Well, I wasn’t and the next 6 months were a nightmare from hell which led me to getting sober in January 2009.

So I know from firsthand experience what it looks like when I go back to drinking. I’m lucky to have this incredibly painful and shitty experience to draw from and to remember whenever I see glamorous people in their damn sunglasses drinking their damn frozen drinks on their damn patios. Yet I have the brain of an addict and that brain is going to ask me, “what if?” I mean, hi. Drug addicts and alcoholics think about drinking. It’s what we do. So sometimes, no matter how happy we are in our sober life, we will do just that. And wondering what life would be like if I just was no longer sober seems normal too. While I have no crystal ball or physic abilities (again, bummer) I know for sure that if I wasn’t sober I’d lose connection with people.

First off, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have time or patience or the stomach to put up with my sober circle of friends and family. Relations with them would be counterproductive and annoying. They know too much and therefore they would have to be removed. Secondly, the re-established connections I have since I got sober would once again be wobbly due to the fact that I was no longer who I said I was trying to become when we got reconnected. Lastly, I know for a fact the actual circle around me would shrink. I needed people less, the more I drank. I couldn’t handle their perfect lives or judgement. Being alone is just easier.

But how long could I go on? Or how long before it got out of control? Or would it ever get out of control? These are things I don’t know and things that, for today, I don’t actually want to know. I’ve recently watched a few friends drift further and further away from their sober selves and that’s probably where this post comes from. Despite the near-click-baity title which suggests I’m on the verge of a dramatic relapse, I’m mainly curious. What happens to the brain to bridge it from passing thoughts of drinking to slipping right back into your old life? What happens to the soul to make it shrug and think “Eh. Why the hell not?” Again, I don’t know. But I do know being honest helps.

Recently, three people I love have had really open conversations with me about not feeling inspired by sobriety and not really wanting to do the work anymore. These conversations have opened the door to very real, “Oh my god. You too?!?” types of exchanges that suddenly help the task of staying sober feel less daunting and more fun. These people are alcoholics like me whose first instinct is to tell you they are fine and that everything is wonderful. So the fact that we’re able to get real with each other and laugh about our insane thoughts is really powerful and an antidote to the very thinking that ails us. These thoughts become less scary and more funny and our bonds become tighter. Plus, and this is really worth mentioning, we’re all still sober.

Conversely, I’ve also witnessed a few folks whose worlds have gotten smaller, whose connections are less and less. These people look like they’re drifting away. They don’t seem like they’re doing all that well. But they also haven’t opened their mouths and they haven’t reached out. They seem okay going back to ideas that got them drunk the first go round with hopes that it might be different. Seems like a scary game to play but like I said, I get it.

So what if I’m never “normal”? And what if I have thoughts of drinking or using for the rest of my life? Okay. But what if I could still be happy too? What if my world could still get bigger? What if I could still feel more love than I had ever dreamed possible? And what if there’s even more magic coming if I just stay sober and continue to try to get better? Now, that’s a “what if” truly worth pursuing.