July 10, 2017

A 39-year-old actor named Nelsan Ellis died from alcohol withdrawal today. While the opiate crisis continues to be sensationalized, debated and discussed, nearly 90,000 people quietly die from alcohol-related causes every year in the U.S.

But because booze is apparently the only thing that allows anyone to speak to each other, we'll never fully address the havoc that it wreaks on our bodies, our relationships and our country. Because it's more normal to need to fuel yourself with a literal poison in order to step foot on a dance floor than it is to ever admit that your body doesn't handle that poison so well, we will continue to quietly condone the death and suffering of the addict and alcoholic as something earned or deserved: "He should've just stuck to beer and wine; Why don't you try stopping after two?," we'll say. So long as we can maintain the myth that addicts are people in alleys who shoot hard drugs with needles and not ones who have two bottles of wine for dinner, we'll be able to go on ignoring the fact that alcohol is linked to an increased occurrence and severity of domestic violence or that 40 percent of all violent crimes are fueled by booze.

I surely didn't care about any of that when I was drinking. My maternal grandfather died because of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He began seizing while he was behind the wheel and crashed his car. I never got a chance to meet him. When I was 15, I drank so much vodka that I nearly killed myself — I woke up the next morning strapped to a hospital bed with a freshly pumped stomach and no idea of what had happened the night before. My father watched his aunt drink herself to death, alone in her fancy apartment. None of these horror stories convinced me to give up my drinking. For so long, living sober seemed like the absolute worst option for life. I would've rather died a drunk then have had to live without booze.

Recently, a friend was talking to me about someone close to her and how nasty he can be when he drinks. I asked if she thought he might have a problem and her reply was: "No! He's not an alcoholic. He just gets full of rage when he drinks."

When we've become so desperate to cling to booze that "rageful drinking" isn't a good enough reason to evaluate your consumption, something is wrong. It's time we encouraged people to get help before they're at death's door. If you don't like who you are when you drink, it's ok to try to stop. It's ok to try to stop a million times. It took me about a million and one. It's ok to relapse — treatment is not a magical cure and recovery doesn't always come in one fell swoop. If you're drinking and you want to stop someday but not today, that's ok. If your drinking makes you sick, but you still can't stop, it is not your fault and you certainly don't deserve it. If you're sober just for today, you don't need to offer anyone an explanation as to why you aren't drinking. There is nothing wrong with not drinking. We need to all stop talking about alcoholism (and the subsequent sobriety) as though it were a death sentence. There's nothing shameful about not being able to tolerate liquid poison very well. Fuck, most of us can't even tolerate gluten these days.

About six months after I got sober, someone very close to me began the fight of her life — in and out of hospitals, going to rehab, detoxing and relapsing, coming close to liver failure and death. She did this for about a year. Somehow, she hung on and today is a vibrant, sober woman who inspires me daily. I hate to think that the world would have missed out on having her if she hadn't gotten the help she needed, when she needed it. If we're going to continue to push a booze-fueled existence as the default option for life, we have to offer better help for those of us that can't hang. We can't keep killing ourselves.

Thank you to the family of Nelsan Ellis for talking honestly about his death. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made to Jenesse.org or RestoreMinistriesChurch.org.

 

Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life. His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others. (Credit: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/true-blood-actor-nelsan-ellis-died-due-alcohol-withdrawal-complications-family-says-1019634)

Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life. His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others. (Credit: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/true-blood-actor-nelsan-ellis-died-due-alcohol-withdrawal-complications-family-says-1019634)

June 27, 2017

Today's my 33rd birthday. I didn’t get any gifts.

In the past, birthdays were always a melodramatic mix of unmet, unrealistic expectations and me expecting people to read my mind. I’d act meek and humble, insisting that I wanted no gifts, no recognition, no appreciation, when really, I’ve always been monstrously self-centered and would prefer if every day were based around paying attention to me, celebrating me, talking about me. So each year, I would lie about wanting nothing and also quietly wish and hope for some grand surprise celebration, and each year I’d be let down because my birthday didn’t look like Disneyland. (The one time my husband did plan a grand affair was for my 30th and I was a miserable human being the whole time — see previous post.)

So it was kind of of a shock this morning when really, in all honesty, I didn’t feel that gaping whole in my belly that I always thought had to be filled with attention and gifts (and previously, with booze/men/dieting/drugs).

It’s only recently that this slight shift has happened, that I’ve been able to mellow my seemingly endless search for external validation. 

My life today is quiet. It’s nothing like what I’d imagined in my teens and 20s: big city, big job, big nights out. I relied on everything around me to keep me entertained and enthralled enough so that I’d never have to just hang with who I was. I’d start each day by letting my scale tell me how confident I could be that day and I’d end it by getting drunk enough to keep me distracted until I fell asleep. One minute of boredom and I’d be reeling (which was tough, because I’m a pretty boring old gal). But this striving for FUN! left me with a life void of anything else. When we first got sober, my husband and I would go to dinner and stare blankly at each other. We'd sit there in long, awkward silences, grasping at conversation straws. I had no clue what my interests were, what my personality was, if I even liked myself (I didn't). 

Now, I’m that asshole who, on my birthday, “sleeps in” till 6:30 and goes for a morning run 'cause it makes me feel good. (It turns out, I'm a morning person who likes a little bit of exercise. Who knew!) I’m not spending today angry at my husband for not properly recognizing me and all the hard work I do (which is crazy because I don’t really do anything beyond just existing, let’s be real); instead I’m spending it in awe of how happy I turned out to be living in a kinda ho-hum city and going to bed at 9 pm. I replaced my exhausting quest for excitement and newness with real human connections — and I no longer need a bottle of wine to be your BFF. 

Anything is possible. 

33 

33 

June 18, 2017

Three years ago yesterday, I took what would turn out to be my last drink. It was a bad glass of airplane wine on a flight that ended up leaving me stranded in Dallas for a night. I’d intended to drink more when we landed, but it was after 2 am by the time I got out of the airport. I’d been struggling with my drinking for a while, but the shitty part of struggling with alcohol is that you also simultaneously love, adore and cling to alcohol. The idea of living without it felt so limiting. There were so many things I was so sure I wouldn’t be able to do without booze — dinners, weddings, concerts, holidays, date nights, bowling nights, pool parties, airplanes, brunches, work happy hours, non-work happy hours, post-workout happy hours, basically any meal, trivia nights, baby showers, wedding showers, events involving humans.

But I was also a pretty bleak person when I was drunk and I often did things I was ashamed of, so all these dinners, events, parties, and conversations ended up void of any joy as I would spend the next day trying to a) figure out what I’d done and b) eat a large pizza to myself. Even on my “good nights,” I was never able to actually be anywhere, to just stand on my two feet, holding a glass and having a conversation. If I was talking to you and I wasn’t drunk enough, all I was thinking of was getting another drink.

I got sober 10 days before I turned 30. My husband flew us to Chicago for my 30th birthday and we went to dinner at Topolobampo. I was so mortified to have to order a mocktail, and I spent the entire meal staring at other people’s drinks, tears and eyeliner dramatically streaking down my face.

All of this over a beverage. I imagine myself swearing off Sprite and then spending a whole evening angrily glaring at people who could drink Sprite. Booze is a strange beast.

There’s a picture of me that my husband took at that dinner. I look great. I was thin, I had good hair, the hours I'd spend obsessing over what to wear had paid off. Nowhere in that picture does it show how I kept apologizing to the waiter for not ordering real drinks or that I had to actually sit on my hands to keep myself from grabbing someone else’s cocktail.

It was a lifetime ago.

It still comes as a shock to me sometimes that I stayed sober. And it also feels like a surprise that I ever drank.

The thing I didn’t realize back then is that it was never sobriety that was limiting — it was the drinking. There were so many things I thought I couldn’t do without booze, but there were even more that I knew I couldn’t do because of the booze. For so long, alcohol limited and ruled my life. When I was drinking, I always told myself that I was far too selfish to have a child and far too weak to experience anything less than 100 percent fun, 100 percent of the time. So I just did nothing. I lived my life from my version of the sidelines: the bar’s sad smoking patio.

It's wonderful (and still slightly stunning) that I was wrong. That I turned out to be a fairly capable woman sans alcohol. I’ve quit a job, started a job, lost a job; I’ve gotten pregnant and miscarried then gotten pregnant and had a baby; I've bought a house and paid off a car; I’ve come out the other side of postpartum anxiety and depression, fueled by my inability to breastfeed; I’ve gotten to stay married and watch my husband and partner of 14 years become a father; I’ve been a part of some of my closest friends' weddings; I've lost weight and gained weight; I’ve believed in god, not believed in god, not cared about god; I've learned how to sleep without chemical assistance; I've started working on asking for what I want and saying no to what I don't; I've even managed to enjoy talking to strangers every once in a while. And I don't drink. Anything is possible.

 

Misery and mocktails on my 30th birthday.

Misery and mocktails on my 30th birthday.