Bigger, Better Plumage

Being sober on a bus is, like, totally different than being drunk on a bus. ~ Ozzy Osbourne

It’s like when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to work to conjure up enough saliva to peel your sandpaper tongue off the roof of your mouth. That happens to me all the time! ~ Me, to a group of friends who, if they didn’t already know, realized, just from that subtle comment that I was, in fact, a drunk

Recently, I found myself in a circle of acquaintances who were drinking whiskey. It wasn’t just any whiskey. It was Jameson. And, it wasn’t just any day. It was St. Patrick’s Day. A drinker’s holiday, a bottle of fine spirits, and a room full of jovial artists!

But, yeah, I no longer drink and to me the room absolutely reeked of the sweet, pungent odor of brown liquor. The scent floated from the bottoms of glasses and reached its cunning fingers up to singe my nose hairs. I didn’t know whether to inhale deeply or to breathe through my mouth. While everyone raised their glass for a toast, I didn’t even have a coffee to sip on. And, while I sat looking modestly at the table and practically twiddling my thumbs, I thought that maybe I should’ve worn my nun’s habit. I actually contemplated bursting into a pained version of “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

Still, in a few days I will hit the 7 month anniversary of my sobriety. That’s 210 days without a drop. That means no smooth California red blends, no Dale’s Pale Ale, no Lemon Drops, no Maker’s Mark Manhattans. 210 days and I’m as dry as the Mojave. Yay me!

A year ago—hell, 7 months ago—I never would have thought that I could go 210 days without a drink. In fact, prior to the morning of September 22nd, the thought of giving up alcohol would send me into a whirlpool of panic. Nope. I don’t think so. Absolutely not. Are you effing crazy?

The decision to get sober wasn’t exactly planned. I didn’t head out for one last bender thinking “Tonight, I live! Tomorrow, I live the straight and narrow!” No. I had thought about it. Therapists had questioned me about it. Friends gently nudged. But, on the night of the 21st, I had no idea I would wake up, literally and figuratively, and tell myself “Girl, you can’t live like this anymore.”

It was, I believe, a sort-of miracle.

September 22nd also happens to be the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I didn’t get sober on my grandmother’s birthday. I didn’t get sober on some random day that she may have placed a Band-Aid on my skinned knee. I got sober on the day that her soul slipped into the Great Unknown and perhaps there is the possibility that her hand still guides me.

My grandmother was a gentle, powerful, beautiful force in my life. She often provided comfort when comfort was difficult to come by. Among other things, she lived with my sisters and me when my parents were thousands of miles away tending to a daughter who would eventually die of cancer.

I recently wrote about her in a memoir class that I am taking:

My grandmother lifted my swollen face from the toilet lid where I had collapsed in a fit of sobs and pulled me to my feet. I sank into the warm bath of her arms and the talcum powder nest of her breasts. The bathroom was the green of newly blossomed hydrangea and it blurred before my eyes as if it were a faded sea. I wasn’t strong enough to stand as rough waves of emotion crashed through the shore of my body. So she sat on the toilet and pulled my head onto her lap, gently burrowing her fingers through my hair.

Still, miracles or no. Guiding hand or no. There have been ups and downs to this sober thing. Sometimes, my inner teenager flares up and resistance takes over. “But I wanna hang around in seedy bars! I wanna! I wanna! I wanna!” I’m twelve-stepping this shit and that ain’t for the faint of heart.

A month or two ago, while listening to the rapper Rick Ross, I started and stopped and started and stopped a post about the fear of sainthood. Because I fluctuate between wanting to be all good and all bad instead of focusing on the in between, I couldn’t finish it. However, here is what I wrote:

I like desperate men, with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways… ~ Charles Bukowski

It’s sainthood that frightens me most.

Right now. In this moment.

It is not falling down into some dark chasm of which I cannot escape the ruin of my life. No.

Right now the fear is just of being too damn good.

A few years ago, during a period in which I was all sorts of defeated by a fear of driving on the highway, a friend gave me a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I never read the book. And, I never returned it either. I’m that much of a bastard of a friend.

And, if I want to get completely honest, I should say that I haven’t read the book because I smugly believe that all of the content is summed up in the title. Yeah, I get it. You know, feel the fear. Then do it. Anyway.

Swell.

I also just, one day, stopped being afraid of driving on the highway.

But, now, maybe I should take that advice. I should stop fearing sainthood and just, you know, canonize myself.

But, obviously, and for so many reasons, I can’t do that.

Today, I realize, no I can’t do that and there is no reason to do that. I do like men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways. They’re fun and interesting. But, I must shift my perspective a little. I must find wholeness and balance and goodness and joy and still have fun. Maybe that won’t be at the seedy bar. Who cares?

Still, my identity was and is all sorts of wrapped up in letting loose, in being free, in being a wild child. And, it’s all ego. One must, I suppose experience some level of complete decimation in order to experience change. But, decimation? That’s friggin’ scary!

So, in my great wisdom, I have turned all indie movie. I have turned to coffee and cigarettes (much to the dismay of my family) and to writing, writing, writing. The writing is all good, but addiction is addiction. I am afraid to quit the lattes and the smokes for fear that I might turn to peanut butter again. I can’t afford to gain any more weight. But, I suppose I also can’t afford to smoke myself into a stroke. I keep saying to myself (I am the great justifier!) that I chug caffeine and inhale nasty chemicals because I have nothing left. Nothing left of what?!? Of escapism? Oh, the strong hold of substances! Oh, the eternal stuffing!

So, why? Why must I be addicted at all? I suppose it has to do with fear. Fear of feelings, of hurt, of being recreated. (Maybe I should read that book.) Because, it is as Osbourne said: Being sober on a bus is, like, totally different than being drunk on a bus.

My bus travels a tumultuous, beautiful road and I’ve never put my $1.50 in the change slot and ridden along with complete clarity, without substance or escape. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to. I’m afraid that I’ll fall apart.

But, I’m not falling apart. I’m smelling whiskey and not tasting it. I no longer have to pull my sandpaper tongue off the roof of my mouth. Being sober on the bus is watching the world go by in vivid color instead of in a blur. It’s awareness and humility. It’s both frightening and wonderful. I can do this thing!

I am thankful for the miracles in my life. I just have to get all phoenix instead of all indie and fall apart. I know I’ll come out on the other side with bigger, better plumage.

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