My Stolen Life

what was SUPPOSED to be. i’m not kidding, even down to her Chucks it’s perfectly me in another lifetime but in THIS lifetime that brown bag was filled with rotgut whiskey instead of fresh daisies and the bike was actually a police squad car

Of course sobriety is awesome, and of course I wish I had found my way here sooner . . . MUCH sooner.  I try very hard not to play the “what if” game because that ends well for NO ONE but as a flawed and imperfect human being, I cannot help but obsess over what COULD have been sometimes, instead of what was and is, even though I’m beyond grateful that my story is one that I’m still privileged to be here to tell.  That is, I’m alive.

While in Germany I was able to escape to Amsterdam for a few days and it was mostly awesome, when it wasn’t completely chaotic and anxiety inducing.  Busy folks everywhere.  Tourists and locals meshing together through the canals and side street eateries.  Pungent and competing smells from every bodega and bakery. Public trolleys and trains whizzing by with spaghetti-like crossing tracks and no discernible patterns. I watched a young gal peddling her bicycle through the cobble stone streets, with her groceries placed neatly in her front basket and a small short-haired dog in a little seat on the back.  She donned a straw hat and was wearing a vintage yellow embroidered dress.  She looked carefree and full of promise.  Naturally, my first instinct was to quickly glance around for the movie cameras that were surely going to be visible to me at any moment, as this scene was just too sublime to be real, but I assure you, it was real, and my disbelief quickly turned to jealousy and simply put, sour grapes.

You see, THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ME.  She is clearly living MY LIFE.  You know, the one I pictured in my head while I was sitting upon all those bar stools, spending money I didn’t have, telling tales that weren’t true, sleeping with people I didn’t know.

My gaze burned holes in her as I recalled every single minute of my life I’ve spent sitting behind a desk staring at a clock and willing it to move faster.  I quickly recounted all the days and months and years collectively I’ve spent hungover and ridiculously useless. How pathetically accurate AND ironic is it that the word I’m using is wasted? Time I’ve wasted, money I’ve wasted, and that doesn’t even touch the POTENTIAL I’ve wasted, and save getting me started on opportunities. They were wasted, because I was wasted.

my amsterdam bicycle experience was a tiny bit different

Some people never recover so in the great big scheme of things, of course I’m grateful for every single second of every moment, but I also can’t help but look in the rear view mirror and wish hopelessly for a “do-over”, and I know that’s not a notion specific to drunks.  I’m certainly not saying my life is one big regret, not at all – quite the opposite.  My life is so freaking ass-kickingly awesome that I am furious at myself for not getting to it sooner.

And here’s the thing, I’ve done my share of living, believe you me.  The point is not that I wish I could go back and make completely different decisions, but of course that is absolutely true as well.  No, what I want is to go back in time with the knowledge, compassion and clarity I have now. I want to see those “missing” years through SOBER eyes, not just as blurry memories like dirty streaks on a window where you can only see the vague outlines of what actually happened.  If only I had hit rock bottom sooner.  If only I had given sobriety a shot years ago.  If only I had LISTENED to all the warnings and advice.  If only.  Let’s also remember that I am still new to sobriety.  I don’t have everything figured out, not even close. Many would argue I wasn’t near ready back then and I wouldn’t have listened, anyway, and they are one hundred percent correct.

It’s not that I think if I’d gotten sober years ago I may have invented the fucking Kindle or cured Cancer or anything as fruitful and contributory as all that, but I can’t help but wonder how different my path would have been, if we had been introduced earlier.  As it turned out, I had to be introduced to some policemen, a few jails, multiple courtrooms, a few counselors, and ultimately some grim yet realistic liver Doctors who told me I was going to die before I would hold out my thin yellow hand to shake hands (tentatively) with sobriety.

Here’s my simple summation; my fear of dying outweighed my fear of living sober, but ONLY JUST.  It was a barely discernible amount, but that was all I needed.  A half ounce of hope.

It’s hard to forgive myself, but most days I still try.  Some days things still just aren’t far enough away in that rear view mirror, you know?

*sigh*

I’m not unique.  We all have a little bit of “woulda- coulda -shoulda” in us, I believe.  But I also believe it’s where I go from here that counts now, and that’s a darn good thing because as luck would have it, that’s all I have; this moment and forward.

That’s all we have.

So, tell me.  Do you guys lie awake at night and re-live every regrettable decision you’ve ever made and replay things over and over in your head like a terrible b-grade movie until there are tears running into your ears as you stare at your ceiling fan and wonder where thirty years of your life went?!?

No!?

Never mind.

Believe

As the holidays approach I find myself thinking about Ben daily. Due to both of our illnesses, we haven’t spent a Christmas together in a few years but I think we had a 10 year run before we broke our streak. On the years we weren’t able to reunite we still squeezed in some trips but something was always special about our holidays together. Most of my friends knew Ben so his visits during the holidays were always cause for get togethers and celebrations.

I guess when someone you love passes away it’s normal for you to retrace your steps in the woulda-coulda-shoulda  department and although not usually helpful or insightful, I find myself doing exactly that a lot lately. I think that most people end up feeling that they didn’t do enough, but what they did do, they hoped helped. Ten years later and I’m still wrestling with guilt from my Father’s passing but this is different. My Father led a long and exciting life. He was an adventure, and so was Ben, but Ben’s time was cut short and I find myself re-living every conversation we had before he passed this past May.

I spoke to him the week before he died, and remarkably he seemed almost like his old self. His confusion was minimal and his smartassery was fully in tact. You know what we discussed? Fucking ginger ale.

Today as I was on my morning run I talked to him as I ran along the river. It was early and it was foggy, grey, and still. I told him about my weekend, and the parts where I thought of him. I told him I missed him and I’m still pissed about his leaving me behind. As the tears started to well up I told him I wished he’d give me a sign of some sort. A sign he’s listening, a signal that he’s still with me. The request was part nonsense and part hopeful. Just then Cher’s song Believe came on my iPod (yes that’s right I still have one and you’ll pry it out of my cold dead hands, assholes) and although I put the damn song on there in the first place and it was on random shuffle I began to laugh out loud as I ran and then burst into Oprah’s ugly cry and had to stop running and wipe my eyes.

During one of our trips to New York years ago, Ben and I had wandered into a gay bar on the upper east side but it was after we’d been “over served” at many establishments and had found this place purely to bogart some air conditioning and re-hydrate. It was early afternoon and there were only a few folks gathered around the horseshoe shaped bar. We were not in the best of shape. We’d been partying for four days straight and it was the end of June and hotter than the hinges of hell. We were exhausted, and we stunk. I truly think it was one of the few times where Ben and I just sat in silence. As Ben later would lament, we’d had a little bit of enough.

And then it happened. One of those old queens crammed a crinkled up bill into that tragic jukebox and on it came with what seemed like 10,000 decibels, BELIEVE, by Cher.  It wasn’t rehearsed and it wasn’t choreographed, it was just ridiculous. Ben leapt to his feet and began dancing and I jumped up with him, laughing and incredulous at his sudden burst of energy. In seconds the few folks that were in the dump began dancing too and our bartender handed me a tambourine while shouting encouragement to all of us. Ben was doing his very best Cher as I banged the tambourine on my hip in what I thought was the beat, laughing hysterically the entire time. We danced and spun ourselves around and the bartender poured pink shots of something delightful for all of us. As the song ended there were cheers and applause and Ben and I collapsed into our martini’s giggling until the point of snorting while we high-fived the rest of the impromptu ensemble. For years we joked about that spectacular shared moment with complete strangers in the awful heat of the summer in Manhattan.

That was a long time ago but it came flooding back with cutting precision this morning and although I felt lucky to remember it in such detail, it cut loose a piece of my grief that I’d been clinging to like Ben’s memory.

WHY?  I want to know why. WHY didn’t I just go to him when he first got sick?  Why didn’t I call more often? Why didn’t I call his Doctor’s and get more information? WHY WASN’T I THERE FOR HIM? He would never have left me like I left him.

Of course, I know in my heart that’s not the case. I know it’s not the truth and it’s my guilt and remorse talking.  I sobbed by the river and slowly came to the realization that at the time I simply couldn’t go to him.  I COULDN’T have helped him because I was in the fight for my life at the exact same time that he was. I wasn’t in my right mind, and I couldn’t make decisions for myself let alone think through a process in which it would take for HIM to recover. The difference between us is that I had help. I had a husband and a family and people in my life that would not let me give up. Ben had ostracized everyone and that is exactly what alcoholism does to you in the end. It tells you what you want to hear and common sense and  rational thinking go out the window. He shut everyone out and one by one, we all tried to help him in our own ways, but he just wouldn’t let anyone in. Looking back I feel like I didn’t really try listen to him because in my heart I knew in the end, it was all lies. He, in turn, told me what I wanted to hear and he kept it up until the day he died. It was a dance of sorts and we both knew it. We knew the last time we saw each other that it might be the last time but we didn’t discuss it. I still don’t know how I feel about that.

I truly believe in my heart that the real tragedy is that by the time Ben was willing to accept help, it was simply too late. His body and brain were ravaged by his disease and it was just too damn late. And that’s the heartbreaking part of this whole thing, his hope at the end. Now the world is short one hilarious, kind and gifted person and I’m short one best friend. Like I’ve said since he passed away, now I have to make MY life count twice as much.

I hope he knows. Knows it all, I mean. How much I loved him and still do. How much I miss him and will always. How every Christmas from now on will be bittersweet in his absence. I profoundly hope that he’s found the peace that he so desperately searched for while he was living.

Can he see me? Is he watching me on my journey? Does he know how I feel and how I wrestle constantly with the choices I made for the both of us?!  Does he know he mattered? Does he know my heart feels emptier now that he’s gone? I hope so. I hope he knows that we are all better people for having known him.

 

Yes, I think he knows. That’s what I choose to believe.