The present of presence

We alcoholics are big on gratitude and that’s really kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it? I mean, if you’ve been to rock bottom and managed to make it back, you’re REALLY thankful. Most folks I know in recovery are grateful for big things and little things and EVERY thing and I am as well but the more time I put between me and the The Trainwreck That Became My Life,  I am consumed my gratitude and will bend the ear (and gag reflex) of everyone I know and tell them all about it.

If you stick around recovery programs for a spell you’ll hear words and phrases used over and over again. Phrases like “show up” and “live in the present” and words like awake and aware. Drunks are infamous for not really being too keen on the present. In fact, rather than be present we’re often self-medicating by downing a pint of vodka in lieu thereof. Why do you think we drink until we pass out? Because we don’t want to feel what we’re feeling, whatever it is. Sadness, loneliness, obsession, anger, resentment, loss, and pain. For years I told myself it would be okay if I could just “get through” whatever it was I was trying to survive; like an old farmhouse where I felt like an invisible apparition, or a new family and non-familiar surroundings. Paralyzing grief over the loss of my Father, or relationships that were failed or strained. You name it, I had one coping strategy, and that was booze.

I still look through the old photos of the ghosts of Christmases past and feel the pangs of regret when I realize I don’t remember much about those holidays. Sure, I have some funny anecdotes, but more often than not I was checked out thanks to booze and usually ashamed of my performance and/or consumed with heartache from something I may have said which usually was out of insecurity or just plain meanness. Worse yet, sometimes I felt nothing afterwards.

This year was different. This year I was IN IT, for better or for worse. Of course when you’re present for the good stuff you’re also present for the crap and that can be challenging at times, sure. This year I didn’t just think about myself (for once) and kept my head (for the most part) out of my own ass. I cooked and cleaned and I helped where I could. I didn’t share every single thought in my head that was snarky and unwarranted and there was a time when I would’ve prided myself on how fast I could have torn down each situation, for nothing more than self-satisfaction and malice. Then again, none of my relatives are Trump supporting racist fucking douchebags, so it was relatively easy for me to hone my zen. I’m sober, you guys, not freakin’ Wonder Woman.

This year I got to spend time with people that I love and I did so without whining and grumbling about my ridiculous sacrifices or rolling my eyes at every comment. Was I perfect? Oh hell no. Was it easy? Mostly. It’s a change of perspective, really. When you’re constantly obsessed with the past and busy projecting the doom and gloom of the future, it’s hard to enjoy the here and now and that’s something I still struggle with and try to work on, on a daily basis. It takes practice, trust me.

This year I was present. This year I didn’t get rip-roaring drunk before when it was time to carve the turkey. This year I was able to laugh with my friends and family and enjoy spending time together because we all know that yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t a promise. All we have is today and when you really boil it down, what really matters here? I don’t know how many Christmases my Mom has in her and I hope it’s like 27 or so but the fact is, it’s a real number. It’s a real number how many days or years I have in me, isn’t it? Same with you.

I spent enough of my days wallowing in self pity and resentment. I wasted enough time being wasted, one could say. An old friend of mine used to remind me that it was easy to forget what’s important, so don’t. Simple enough, isn’t it? And that’s another thing I’m grateful for, the never-ending reminders of how it was, then, and how it IS, now.

Now is better.

Jender Bender

willandgrace

Ben and I liked to consider ourselves the original Will and Grace.   Our sarcastic personalities and codependent intertwined friendship is where the similarities stop, however.   Our Los Angeles residences were never very swanky although I can attest that Ben’s digs were always way more vogue than mine.  He actually had furniture, for starters.  And real dishes.

However, the chemistry between the main characters always made us laugh.  We often found ourselves finishing each others sentences and reading each other’s mood with a glance.  He was better than a brother or a sister, he was both.  He was bitter, surly, and hilarious.  Will can be a bit caustic and cranky.  One of the things Ben was constantly saying to me was “don’t fuck up”, in a clenched-teeth-side-whisper-kinda way.  Sweetly encouraging, isn’t it?  Grace, of course, is a free spirit but unorganized and a bit of a chaotic train wreck.  I *may* resemble her from time to time.   Just like the characters in the show, together we found we filled in each other’s blanks and we often remarked that we had finally fused into one big bitch.  His strengths were often my weakness and vice versa.  Except booze, we were both slaves to the sauce.  And happily.

People often referred to us as “Bennifer”, as we were always together and super annoying and most folks begrudgingly accepted us as a package deal.  We sometimes laughed and called ourselves Jender Bender because our stereotypical gender roles were often reversed.  I’d change his flat tire, he’d make me a chocolate mousse.  It all worked out, really.  He helped me with fashion and hair and I’d help him unclog his sink drain or hang up some photos.

The only true constant in our friendship was laughter.  My fondest memories are the times NOTHING was special about what we were doing.  There wasn’t a party or a holiday or an occasion or a trip abroad.  You know, just life.  A trip to Ralph’s for beer hamburger buns.   Window shopping on Melrose Blvd.   Sitting at home flipping through magazines.  Eating a taco in a gas station somewhere.

I’m stunned at how much I’m reminded of him daily.  I’ve absently reached for my phone to call him more than a few times and I’m immediately slapped with the painful reality that he’s not going to ever answer the phone again.  There’s some laughter too, of course.  Plenty of times this summer a situation arose that I knew would have delighted him.  I know that Will and Grace coming back to television would have tickled him, too.  I imagine we would’ve watched together on the phone and then dissected and re-hashed every nuance of the show, giggling like ninnies.

Again, this is where the similarities end with our reality and the hit show.  The Will and Grace on TV will likely go on for a few seasons but Ben and I’s traveling show is over.  I guess I just have to hold on to the re-runs in my memories.  I’m looking forward to a day when there is more laughter than tears when I remember.  As I type this my eyes start to well up and I find myself swallowing hard.  He’s only been gone 5 months now but it feels like an eternity to me.  I can’t even bring myself to delete his number from my phone.  I don’t want to delete him.  I want him back.

I had a job interview last week and as I got out of my Jeep and smoothed out the crinkles in my pants I laughed as I heard his voice in my head say sharply,  “Don’t fuck up“!

I smiled and proceeded to enter the building feeling confident and capable.  Then I heard his voice again.

“I can’t believe you wore those shoes.”

I miss him more on some days than others.

 

My Dead Friend Ben

Ben died this morning.

Ben was a fabulously hilarious person.  You’d have liked him.  Well, then again, maybe not.  Truth is, he was wildly opinionated and stubborn.  He could have me gnashing my teeth in frustration one minute and laughing until I shit peed my pants the next.  He was also my best friend, confidante and partner-in-crime for the better part of thirty years.

We would finish each others sentences, read each other’s minds and at times we’d joke about the eventuality of our fusing together as one gigantic bitch.   Ben and Jen,  Jen and Ben.  The original “Bennifer” we called ourselves.  We were inseparable.  Even as I moved from state to state, Ben was just a marathon phone call away.  He would come see me every Christmas, no matter where I landed.  We took countless trips together – Las Vegas, Chicago, Key West, New York City and many many more.

We would pick apart our boyfriends.  We would bitch about work.  We would comment on pop culture.  “Richie Sambora?  Girl, he’s like a Chanel suit, he NEVER goes out of style”.   We both fell in love simultaneously with Nate Berkus.

Often, extremely late at night when it was just the two of us we’d settle onto a sofa or a beach or roof somewhere with a bottle of SKYY Vodka and have a summit in which we would actually get serious and share our dreams, secrets and aspirations.   We’d talk about anything and everything.  Our accomplishments and failures.  Our embarrassments.  Whatever true story our heart was holding, we’d share it with each other and over the years, it was like we knew each other from the inside out.

Except that we didn’t.

Ben drank himself to death and I couldn’t stop him.

It took a long time, but I know there was never another outcome to our story.  I watched and listened over the years when quiet concern gave way to paralyzing paranoia.  I heard lie after lie come out of his mouth.   I never understood what demons he was fighting, as he increasingly became more withdrawn.  It was like his skull was full of razor blades and I hardly recognized this person he had become.

I tried to help but then became more and more frustrated when he’d dismiss my suggestions.  He’d laugh and tease me with his caustic opinions on recovery or any other organized addiction groups.   It was too late in the game when he finally came around. I think over the years there was depression, mental illness and what they refer to as alcoholic dementia.  My best friend was gone, but he wasn’t, and that’s a difficult mourning process.

In the days ahead I’ll have plenty of grieving to do myself.   Right now I’m still in disbelief, as insane as that sounds.

He was family.  He was my best friend.  He was the olive to my martini.  And now I’m sober and he’s gone.   I’m angry that instead of joyful memories of the past I’m left with rueful snapshots of frivolity and recklessness instead of just good times.

It wasn’t supposed to go this way.

 

 

We like to stay in the loop.

A friend of mine and I were sitting at a local café after work the other day.

Suddenly, everyone’s phones went off in unison.

“Oh, that’s an Amber alert”, said my pal.

We both picked up our phones to silence them and I noticed that my phone also had a CNN update that read:  “Ben Affleck completes alcohol rehabilitation”.

I laughed and showed her the face of my phone so she could read it.  Her facial expression was one of sheer confusion.

“Oh, wait,” she finally said, “do you drunks get special notifications or something”?!

HELL YES WE DO UPDATE YOUR SETTINGS NOW FOLKS

Peanut or plain?

I bought a new purse today at lunch.  Just a basic hippie-boho-looking-faux-leather-every day bag.

Salesgirl:  I unpacked these purses yesterday, they are so cool.

Me:  I love it!  I especially like this little semi-hidden pocket.  I can smuggle in contraband!

Salesgirl:  Contraband?

Me:  Yeah,  you know…like little bottles of booze and some weed or something.  Maybe a crack rock or two?!

Salesgirl:  *visibly concerned*  Or like maybe candy at the movie theatre?!?

Me:  YES OF COURSE THAT IS TOTALLY WHAT I MEANT TO SAY,  M&M’s AND SHIT.  (suddenly I’m shouting)

Salesgirl:  This is awkward.

Me:  YES IT IS.  (still shouting)

Apertif


Drinking has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  My parents believed in pre and post dinner drinks and of course the occasional night cap.  They threw epic parties.  I can remember my father teaching me how to mix the perfect drink, when I was around 7 or 8 years old.  One tall glass.  Four ice cubes.  Two overflowing *jiggers* of Lord Calvert (handle bottle) and top it off with a symbolic splash of 7-Up.  Stir with index finger and taste.  If your face screws up like an onion and you gag, it’s perfect.

Oddly enough, I never touched the stuff in high school.  Whilst my pals were partying under the bleachers during home football games, I was annoying Miss Goody Two-Shoes working in the concession stand or rooting on the team clear eyed and squarely sober.  I wasn’t afraid of alcohol, of course, but I knew the rules and it never occurred to me to sneak a sip at any juncture.  In fact, I found myself mortified when my high school sweetheart caught me trying to stealthily pour out most of what was a Bartle’s and Jayme’s strawberry wine cooler during a hay ride.  I couldn’t tell him I didn’t drink, I mean, all the cool kids did, right?

Now.  College was another story altogether.  I found myself out of town and off my parent’s leash for the very first time.  The party simply never ended.  I learned how to shotgun a beer and take off my bra (without removing my shirt) within the first week.

Naturally my next move was to California.  The call of the beach and long-haired rock and roll boys of Sunset Boulevard were too much for me to resist.  Insert frying pan to fire metaphor here.  I spent the next ten years roaming from state to state and honing my skills.  Party girl.  Wild child.  Reckless and independent.

And just like that, I was about to go Pro.

 

*it would serve to mention here that my father wore the balance bar off of that jigger not once but twice in its lifetime and my grandfather, a tool and die maker by trade, soldered it back together.  Both times.

Last Call

Alcoholism

July 30, 2015.

That was the last day I had a drink. It’s been over 500 days now (consecutive!) and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ll say that it’s certainly been worthwhile, and an extremely long time coming. I was a hard drinker for most of my adult life, say twenty-plus years, but last year or so of my drinking,  you could say I went “pro”. No particular reason, really.  My job changed, my dog died, and I think I battled light depression I suppose. All of that is really just life in general and no one thing made me pick up that bottle. No, that was all me.

Happy hour was usually at 7pm. Then seven became five. Before I knew it, 5pm had become 3ish and I was “rewarding” myself for mundane household chores with a stiff martini or three. I wasn’t driving or hurting anyone. I don’t live under a bridge alongside the interstate. C’mon, I’m not pushing a shopping cart down the road laden with recyclables and a molted live Owl in its basket. I own a home and have a solid education, I can’t be a rueful and pathetic old soak…right?

Wrong.

What your brain refuses to acknowledge your body will not ignore. In turn, I got sick. REALLY sick. I was hospitalized. I had a blood transfusion. I had a wire thread shoved into my jugular vein and threaded down into my liver where a shunt was placed to connect my portal vein to my hepatic vein. My body took on an extra 20 lbs in a greenish Gatoradey-looking bile that was drained via a huge needle periodically. My liver had enlarged to three times it’s normal size. I was given a 35% chance of survival if I kept up the boozing. According to my Doctor I would easily be dead within three years. A liver transplant was discussed but only briefly. They don’t dole those things out to drunks, turns out. You do NOT fuck around with those liver people, let me tell you.

So, those are the Cliff Notes.

That, my friends, is REALLY last call.

So, pull up a stool and come join me while I navigate sobriety, and a second chance.

All served with a splash of humor.