You Realize

Wake up heart pounding at 3 am. You’re in a sweat and the part of your brain that causes anxiety (How do you not know how that works? Remember to look that up sometime.) necessitates that you pick apart last night’s conversation now, in the dark warmth of your bed, in case anything you said is worth killing yourself over. Two of the three sobriety memoirs you’ve read this week refer to repeated 3 am awakenings, the horror of the booze wearing off, and the third said it happened for her at 5 every morning. Who the fuck are these people, you’d thought, who are done drinking and in bed by 5 am? They’d pray, or cry, or drink again, then, but you’re a binge-drinker, and only know the noon sun on a hangover always worse than the last.

But you didn’t drink last night, anyway, so it’s not that. You had your intake interview with the rehab counselor assigned your case. You remember that you’re not supposed to say you’re going to kill yourself, when you have a counselor, unless you’re actually going to kill yourself. Strike that, you think. Was anything I said bad enough to drink over?

“Do you have any thoughts of harming yourself and others?” she’d asked, as they always do. You answered in the negative, instinctively, but now, in the dark warmth of your bed, you’re unsure. You don’t want to, that’s true, but what about that other guy? That Hyde who takes over at 3 a.m. or at 5, when your jovial Jekyll started drinking at 6, 5, 4 the afternoon before? He’s thought about it a few times, hasn’t he?

“So why do you think you need treatment?” she’d asked, later. You’d bobbed your head side to side, spun in your chair some. You’d wondered if you weren’t doing a good enough job explaining how fucked up you are.

“Well lately when I drink,” you say, only half-joking, “I get these horrible breakouts. It’s like a fucking scarlet letter, isn’t it?” You frame your face, a dance move muscle-remembered from your childhood. “Just wham, wham, wham, you fucking drunk, every time I look in the mirror.” It’s true, you are that vain, but now you wonder if that was really the right direction to take things.

A bunch of childhood stuff to discuss, then, the really chest-tightening stuff, and you say, “yeah, just all of it,” to the horrific list she makes. You take a deep breath, say, “listen, 100 times I can not over-drink and be just fine, but I live knowing that that next time is going to happen at some point, I’m going to overdo it, and does it matter if I’m a happy, sad, or angry drunk? Whether I hide it from the kids or not? Is that me living my best life? Is that what my family deserves from me?”

So she asks about your family. Your now-family. “Your whole demeanor changes, when you talk about them,” she says. “Dare I say you even look happy?” She smiles. It’s an easy teasing, she’s good at what she’s doing. “Did you realize that?”

You did realize it, now that it had been pointed out. “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am in life,” you said. You were deflecting again, you realize now. It was subtle, you almost don’t catch it, remembering.

Lying here now you think about the things you didn’t tell her. That time you woke up the next day to find all of the knives missing from the kitchen drawer because your wife was so worried you’d gotten depressed enough to harm yourself that she’d hid them all. The front porch rocking chair you shattered when you got so frustrated about not having anyone to hang out with, after that falling out with your sisters. That last morning, a week ago, lying there in a puddle of your own vomit, just thankful that you made it home to your own driveway before starting to drink again, when you sobbed, still drunk but convinced that if things went on like this you were going to end up killing yourself in one way or another. Your wife had nodded. Sat there next to you in the leaves and brushed your hair back with her cool hand.

“I know,” she’d said.

This list of sins is a far cry from the, “I’m a happy drunk,” face you’d put on last night. The thing is, though, you’d thought you were telling the truth, at the time. None of that stuff came to mind, sitting in that chair cracking jokes. And you realize now that that says something very scary about the way your brain works when it comes to thinking about this particular habit. You sit up, pull out your laptop, and begin making a list. It’s 3:15, and the fog is wearing off. The booze’s hold over your brain is easing up, just a little. It’s 3:15 and you’re writing again, tugging that lone gossamer string that ties you to the only higher power you’ve ever known.

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