I stopped drinking many times before it stuck. Sometimes for months, sometimes days, sometimes just hours. They were each an eternity unto themselves. Always excruciating. Sitting in that hot aloneness while the feelings rushed on in was terrifying. Being with myself when all I wanted to do was flee was a war, fought and won moment by moment. Sometimes I'd remember that I was supposed to not drink forever, and I'd think that if I felt like this forever I would die.
On those nights when I was at home, I'd cradle myself away and try to distract my mind. My patience was so thin that it broke at the slightest pressure. Anything could set me off, because I was so damn angry that other people could drink like "normal people". And I was so incredibly devastated that I couldn't. I thought that it made me broken. But it turns out that not being able to handle something that was engineered so that we could not handle it? Makes me honest, not broken. I know that now. But on those days and nights, I didn't have anything to hang on to.
On other nights, I'd go out. Be in places where people were drinking. I'd put on mascara and pretend that I was fine. I was so worried about seeming fun, as if "Fun" was some kind of price I owed for my right to be present. I was so self-conscious, I didn't know where my limbs ended or what people do with their hands when they aren't holding a drink. And then, sometimes, most times, the questions would start. "You can't have just one?", "What are you…pregnant?", "Are you sick or something?". Each innocent question burned when it hit me, like fire made out of shame, that threatened to expose me in the dark. They seemed to point out all of my wrongness. I'd mumble out some answer about not wanting to drink or taking a break and they would nod knowingly. Then they would usually start answering questions I didn't ask. They don't have a problem with alcohol, you see. They have a very high tolerance, you know. But their one friend, Cathy? SHE is an alcoholic.
I want you to know, person who said these things and asked these questions, that I love you. Truly, I do. I say this because I am you. I have stood where you've stood and said what you have said. I have wondered why anyone would ever give up alcohol. I have thought of drinking as my one vice, justified. I am not here to judge you or your drinking. I am not so far removed from your spot that I am capable of judgment, and I hope I never will be. But what you don't know, or what you may know all too well, is this:
No, I literally cannot have just one drink. I have tried. Many, many times. It never occurred to me that a single glass of wine with dinner could be enjoyable, I always wanted at least a bottle, preferably two. At home I'd buy the large wine bottles so I didn't have to acknowledge drinking more than one. I have never understand alcohol for any other reason than for getting drunk, no matter how much I tried.
And when I think of having one drink, I know there is no way that it would stop there. Drinking, you see, was a dark hole I'd fall down before I even noticed I was off balance. There were so many nights where I'd pledge to have just three drinks, but wind up unable to stand or remember coming home. Walking into my apartment building, my mind would shut down. Like my body somehow knew it was safe and needed to conserve resources. There was always a blank space where the lobby should have been. I was so ashamed of this. I thought that white-knuckling it was the only way. That I would struggle forever. Of course, that wasn't true.
I'd quit for months and then think I could moderate. And I would. For a little while. But slowly, slowly, it would creep back in. I could never stop it once it started. I didn't know how, and checking out was so much easier than staying with the messy humanness of my life. Yes, I have tried to have one drink many times. But I am grateful to be in a place now where I know that one drink, at least to me, is a lie. One drink means staring around me and wondering how everyone is drinking so slow. Wondering if anyone would notice if I ordered another. Counting down the minutes until I can go home and drink alone in peace. One drink means thoughts and worries and shame, chasing each other in my head. One drink means that I won't hear a word you say.
So friend, before you ask me to have just one drink, I want you to pause. Ask yourself why. Why are you asking? Are you asking me to have a drink because think I want one? I assure you, my friend, I do not. Consider your hospitality permanently off the hook.
Or, maybe, just maybe, are you really asking me to not break our routine? So that our dynamic will feel safe and unthreatened? So, that we won't have to face why that might be? I cannot answer for you, that answer is not in me. But know that I cannot trade my safety for your comfort. Not anymore. I hope you understand. I can't. My life is clear and focused, and sometimes so damn painful, but usually beyond beautiful. I cannot give that up for something that I know is fool's gold. I want to remember talking to you. I want to hear what you say. I want to think more about your words than the content of my cup. I want to be a real, true friend to you, now that I am able.
The next time you are around a sober person, or someone who you see who is struggling to climb out of their old life and into a hard-won sobriety, do not ask them to have just one. If they say they are not drinking, if you cannot say "I'm happy for you" or "You are strong", say nothing at all. Their demons are already telling them that they will never be accepted, and it is your job, dear friend, to prove those demons wrong. Isn't the beauty of friendship being able to say to a loved one "I don't understand" and while still holding them all the closer? Think about it. I love you.