Day: August 7, 2015
It’s an interesting thing you notice when you quit drinking: everyone talks about drinking. Everyone. It seems the number one thing writers want to talk about on social media is how they’re settling down with a glass of wine to write, or spouting the old “write drunk, edit sober” adage that is apocryphally attributed to Hemingway (himself the patron saint of drunk writers). Writers seem to drink more, or at least talk about drinking more, than anyone else on the planet.
So what happens when you’re a writer with a drinking problem? Let me tell you.
As of June, I’d been sober for the longest I’ve ever been in my life. That is, I hadn’t had a drink since the New Year’s Eve before. That doesn’t sound like a very long time, but for me? It was practically an ultra-marathon of sobriety. One of the things that helped me out a lot was the fact that combining alcohol with my meds and my out-of-control epilepsy is just a bad, bad idea. I don’t want to end up dead, right? But on my annual writing retreat I told myself the lie that every alcoholic tells themselves: I’ll just have one, just this time.
Why did I do it? Every night, my friends would grab their laptops, put their feet up and relax with a drink of some kind while they churned out their words. They never once asked me to drink with them, and I assured them that I was fine having alcohol around. So, what were they supposed to do? Refuse to believe me? I would have gotten so confrontational. Honestly, I didn’t even want a drink, so much as I wanted to feel normal. Because I don’t feel normal around people when they’re drinking and I’m not. Because in our culture, especially in writer culture, alcohol is as casually consumed as oxygen. So I had one beer–despite my friends’ concerns–and decided that was that.
But with sobriety, once you break the seal, it’s kind of like a free-for-all of temptation. You’re always looking for an excuse to have “just one.” After my book release this week, so many writers, readers, and bloggers told me to “pop the champagne” or “celebrate with a glass of wine.” While I was at the grocery store that day, I decided to follow that advice. I argued with my husband that I could have just a glass, and after all, it was a special occasion. He reluctantly consented, but added, “Why don’t we get the four pack of little bottles, instead. That way I don’t have to worry about you chugging a whole bottle.”
Sometimes, living with an alcoholic means enabling to minimize the potential damage. Sad but true.
The problem was, I didn’t have that one tiny bottle. I drank half of it, then left it on my nightstand. And the next day, I took another tiny bottle out of the fridge and drank it. And then another. I was feeling kind of down and depressed, as I often do after a book release (I don’t know why; I think it’s because of all the emotional build-up beforehand), and it just seemed like it would be okay to do.
I woke up the next morning feeling terrible. It was, to borrow some delicate country phrasing from my grandmother, “coming out both ends.” I had a headache. I had muscle aches. I was sweaty and I had chills. I thought I was coming down with something, until I remembered how easy it was to trigger withdrawal symptoms. Even though I’d had just small amounts, spread over two days, my body totally remembered how much it wants alcohol, and it threw a tantrum. Though my symptoms were mild and thankfully didn’t worsen to DTs or withdrawal seizures (though I did experience seizure auras due to not taking my medication–it would have been “dangerous” to mix them with booze, after all, and I am nothing if not desperately stupid when I’m in the grips of alcoholic logic), I was scared enough to realize that yeah, I couldn’t have just one. It was time to get back on the wagon.
Until that night, when I realized that half-bottle was still on my nightstand. It had been open for two days. It was room temperature and flat. And when my husband made me pour it down the bathroom sink, I still hesitated. I could smell it on the sink and hand to god, I had a hard time not putting my fingers in the little bit that was still clinging to the porcelain, just to have a taste.
Ask your nearest alcoholic what the most brutal part of sobriety is, and they’ll probably give you some variation on this answer: you feel really, really fucking left out. Nearly all adult socializing involves alcohol of some kind. Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you to change your habits and to not be around people who drink. But who are these people?
They certainly aren’t writers. The “write drunk, edit sober” cry doesn’t stick to social media. At conferences, the place to be is the hotel bar. The parties all have cash bars, where authors and readers alike joke about how crazy (read: intoxicated) they plan to get. Then there are the invitations to hotel rooms for booze and craziness. And craziness? It isn’t really that fun when you’re the only person who isn’t drunk. It’s like being a six year old sitting in the backyard while the kids next door have a birthday party with cake and balloons and pony rides just on the other side of the fence.
If we look at our writing culture and replace very mention of “wine” with “meth,” would we see how troubling the trend is? Every now and again I’ll tweet about being high, and inevitably I’ll receive a few responses along the lines of, “we get it, you smoke weed.” But I’ve never, that I can recall, seen a reader or author object to someone saying they “need all the wine,” even if that someone tweets or makes Facebook status updates about drinking several times a day. Alcohol is so enmeshed with the romantic notion of writers hunched over manual typewriters in freezing Parisian attics that we’ll probably never break away from it, and with the normalization of alcohol consumption in our society, no one seems to feel the need to examine that stereotype, anyway.
This may come across as whiny or blaming the world for my problems. Ultimately, I realize that my sobriety is my responsibility. But I just can’t imagine any other job where the clientele would be happy to hear that the person whose goods or services they were purchasing was shit-faced drunk when those goods or services were rendered. “Oh my gosh, my oral surgeon got so drunk over the weekend. The pictures are all over Facebook. She’s such a wild card!”
I mean, I’ve definitely read books and thought, “This author must have been drunk,” but it does concern me to think that most of the time, it could be true. So many writers make it sound like intoxication is the key to creativity that it begins to seem like it’s true. And to writers who are alcoholics, the unintentional message is that because we don’t write drunk and edit sober, we’re not legitimate creators.
So, Rory and Cyrus have just escaped a government facility, and they’ve got to go find Dr. Z. Rory is soaking wet and she’s wearing Cyrus’s sweater, and also her elbow is apparently flayed down to the muscle.
My toes were almost frozen and ached with every step. Cy’s pullover was warmer than my sweater, and keeping up with his pace was keeping my body temperature even.
This might be the only optimism we’ve ever seen Rory express. Yeah, we’re on the run from the government, and my elbow is ripped open, and I’ve got frostbite, but at least the rest of me is warm.
Cy details how they’re going to run from building to building in order to avoid being seen by the helicopters, but first, there’s romantic subplot to deal with!