My sober anniversary was last week. It’s been seven years since I stopped drinking.
If you don’t stop drinking you will die. Those were the words of my doctor. He didn’t put it so bluntly at first, but eventually he would have to.
That was enough, it was all I needed to hear. I’m not saying it was easy and I was able to stop, lickety-split. The telling of my doomed fate if I stayed linked to alcohol came in stages. At first the medical personnel sort of hinted around it, in particular my primary doctor who I had only met for the first time during an appointment to find out why my breathing was so labored and why I was so cold all the time, especially my hands which were like ice, every day, for months. My doctor, who was younger than me by at least ten years, — you know you’re getting old when doctors are younger than you — talked and stared, unblinkingly, into my eyes. He was not shy with his probing questions about my personal habits and routines. I tried to answer him honestly, but those unblinking eyes, digging into mine, it felt as if those eyes were challenging me, like the doctor believed only half of the answers rolling off my tongue.
I was unaccustomed to such lengthy eye contact, especially with someone I had only just met less than half hour before. Yes, I offered, I drink every night. How much? Umm … oh I don’t know, two or three shots of vodka, I think. At least four mixed drinks, I confessed, vodka and cranberry. I quickly added it helps me to sleep, I had terrible insomnia. He nodded brusquely, still looking into my eyes and said, You have to stop drinking. Of course, this is where I blinked and looked away, smiling embarrassedly. He suggested Alcoholics Anonymous and then he directed me to the emergency room for a blood transfusion.
I was hospitalized for four days following the blood transfusion. I hated every one of those nurses, I thought they were all a bunch of meanies. But my opinion may have been skewed by the lack of alcohol in my system and a fresh, gripping fear choking me rigid, so who can really say? All I know is laying in that bed, hooked up to tubes and an IV, I felt helpless and vulnerable, left to rely on hope for a kindness which some of the nurses seemed devoid of. If I wasn’t so weak I would have liked to neck punch at least two of them. All these crappy strangers, I thought, no wonder I drink every day. My alcoholic self was bucking and railing in my mind, unleashing the voices which were clamoring along the walls of my thinking. What will we do?! What about our high?! We need to drink! A substitute! Find a substitute! We don’t work on sober! What will we do?!
But death, you fools, I countered. Death. Everybody, please just calm the fuck down.
It was the beginning of the voices, silent fights within myself.
I can do this, I thought. Just let me go home, God and I promise I will stop. I focused on four things: the faces of my two daughters, gray hair and wrinkled skin. I wanted to live long enough to see the juxtaposition of all four. At the time my girls were each barely out of college, unmarried and single. I couldn’t die yet, there were weddings yet unannounced, unborn grandchildren, mother-daughter friendships were barely blooming. I desperately wanted to see gray hair and wrinkled skin. I want to live, I kept whispering silently, I want to live.
But once I was home, alcohol called to me every single night. I held strong with my abstinence for three entire weeks, even as the voices crescendoed and my will pushed them down into whispers like a leaky faucet, the hissing sound never quite went away. When I gave in to them after what felt like years, it was because they convinced me I was cured and out of harm’s way. Three weeks wherein two blood check-ups revealed marked, improved health, so I let the voices convince me that the doctor couldn’t have meant for me to stop drinking forever. So I drank.
More on My Journey in future posts…