I never had many rules when I was drinking, and I bet that doesn’t surprise you. I didn’t adhere to them, and I didn’t place many on myself, because, really…wasn’t that the point…to escape and let your hair down? To break the rules and buck societal norms in the first place? To be the wild and free one, the lunatic…the gal with no boundaries or filters . . . that’s certainly the romantic notion I had conjured up in my head as a justifiable explanation for my outrageousness. However, the one ridiculous rule of my own making that I tried desperately to observe was, to 1. Make my way back home, and/or 2. Pass out before I heard any fucking birds. I invented this rule early on in college as a barometer of sorts of my drug and alcohol soaked debauchery. If I could just get home, or pass out, BEFORE the birds started their dawn chorus I was golden – and if not, and I heard the first chirp of a morning song, I knew I was fucked. My entire day was. I might as well smear that mascara back up from under my eyes and look for my damn bra because that meant a new day was here, and I had partied and wasted away another one. The point I really can’t emphasize enough is this; I was never, ever, ready for the dawn to come. Back then I desperately wanted the night to absorb me, permanently – because it was then that I felt alive.
I’m sure many of you have pulled all-nighters of all sorts. Restless or sick babies, cramming for finals, insomnia…what have you. I’m also sure that some of you have also experienced a deafening cacophony on your own way home, as well, perhaps? Maybe in a distant flashback you can recall that feeling of sticky fly- paper eyes and the vile bitterness of last night’s cigarettes on your parched tongue? Anyone? Bueller…?!? I mean, it was the 1980’s for crying out loud. Excess was haute couture, y’all.
Except then it wasn’t just the 1980’s anymore. It was the 1990’s, and I was crawling home from Sunset Boulevard with a nose full of blow, bruises on my body, and sloppy phone numbers scrawled on my arms. I fled to New Mexico in hopes of a geographical solution to my internal problems but alas, the persistent bastards only followed me there, and I found myself dodging the noisy grackles in the morning as I careened my way back to my apartment after closing down the bars. I’d often stop to wave to my friend Bob in the window of Milton’s, a 24-hour greasy spoon, as he prepared for his morning breakfast shift. Bob was either around forty, or he was seventy-five years old – I have no idea. He had a stoma-trachea-hole in his neck from years of smoking, and wore a blackboard sign around his neck with chalk in his pocket to communicate, as well as a blue bandana to conceal it. He wasn’t vain – it was just good manners, I think. He also lived in my building and we’d spent many evenings with our neighbors and assorted human strays back behind our run-down Victorian house, which had been divided up into smaller, shittier apartments. We’d grab lawn chairs or make-shift stumps for seats, and it was a comfy hang on many nights. He knew my bird rule well and even though he couldn’t actually speak, we had many hilarious and poignant conversations I’ll remember forever.
Then the year 2000 came and went, and I found myself racing loud and aggressive mockingbirds in a whole other country, England – desperately trying to flee from myself, yet again – but this time I’d tacked on an abusive and co-dependent relationship to boot – yay, me! Wait, what? Fuck.
Once, after a hostile argument with my boyfriend, I’d fled the apartment in a drunken blind rage and “came to” under a large concrete bridge column with hundreds of pigeons squawking at my pathetic intrusion. Pigeons in small groups aren’t that annoying with their gentle cooing, I know – but you get a gang of them together and they’re loud and judge-y douchebags. That shit show quickly imploded and I found myself limping back to the states with no money, no job, and an appetite for a bottle of Jack every 48 hours. One could say my drinking really “went pro” whilst overseas.
Over the next decade I would quit for days, or weeks – and then come screeching back. I’d sober up monthly and swear off it for good, only to seek therapy, read all the damn books and then turn right around and pick it back up after everything failed me, yet again. Like the song says, you can try drowning your sorrows, but my sorrows had learned to swim. Like fucking Esther Williams they swam – seemingly immune to the bitter current of whiskey I tried desperately to submerge them with.
I call it the Abyss and I lived there for years – no, decades. Not full time, of course – that’s the really fun part about alcoholism, it is wildly progressive and the drinking worked for a loooong time, until it didn’t, and then I didn’t have to worry about the birds – because they had disappeared, and I could no longer hear them, or myself, anymore. Everything went blurry, gray and numb. Then, in 2015 reality smacked me across the face with a figurative 2 x 4 (complete with rusty nail) and I found myself hospitalized with liver failure. I remember focusing on the tubes in my arms, and then out my window at the birds roosting on the roof of the building next to mine, feeling only envy at their freedom. My addiction had literally tethered me to a bed, and what’s more. . . my worst fear was actually surviving it. My birds had become vultures and I even though I couldn’t see them, I could hear their wings and feel their coldness as they circled me.
Now as I stand on the precipice of five years of sobriety, the birds are singing a completely different tune, as you might imagine, and I’ve learned a lot from them. What used to be a mournful ending now sounds like opportunity, and feels a lot like gratitude. Now, I want to stand smack dab in the sunlight, in all its brilliance, because now I can actually feel the light, and it no longer threatens me. Before, I was forever running – an exhaustive incessant race from myself, and the darkness corroding inside of me. But now? Now, I don’t run anymore, even though there are times (oh fuck there are times y’all) when I still want to – that’s life. Life is challenging for a lot of folks right now and we’re experiencing an unprecedented global situation, but even in all of this uncertainty and fear, I know the light is still there, and that, my friends – is peace.
In the mornings, you’ll find that the birds are still wildly optimistic. Maybe they already know the gift of today. I do now, and sometimes on my early morning walks I laugh aloud at their deafening songs and chirpy chatter. They’ve forgiven me for what I didn’t know back then, and I wish I’d gotten here sooner, believe me. I’m not going to tell you it’s been easy, but I will tell you it’s been worth it. I had to claw, scratch and fight my way out of the Abyss and it was a lengthy amount of time before I could see the light, I assure you – let alone feel it. Now, I can feel the light inside of me – I just had to find it again.
So, listen to the birds, they know what’s up. And, I know, I know . . . the early bird gets the worm – but remember, the second mouse gets the fucking cheese.
*Thanks for reading and please, take care of yourselves and each other.