Of Wagons and Pink Clouds

*sweeps off the dust*

I’m re-reading Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story right now.  It’s something of a touchstone for me; I bought it the same day I decided once and for all in 2007 to get sober–you know, the first time.  I got through the 15 or so months of sobriety manically–I used every manner of distraction I could (blogging included, if I recall correctly, at least at the end)–knitting, cooking, reading, writing (ah, the fiction.  Oi).  I hopped off the wagon–far too deliberate to call it a fall–on July 4, 2008, or thereabouts.

By December of that year, it was clear that this was NOT working.  Knapp observes that this is a common trait among alcoholics–“surely, but surely I can learn to control my drinking.”  She notes:

More important, the moderation philosophy seems counter to one of the most essential aspects of alcoholic experience–namely, that most of us have already tired, and consistently failed, to moderate our drinking on our own, experimenting time after time with control….The story is classic.  The struggle to control intake, to modify, to cut it back, deploy a hundred different drinking strategies in the effort–is one of the hallmarks of alcoholic behavior. (130)

Knapp points out–rightly, at least in my experiences, that we often attempt to govern our consumption with rules.  Mine were (this is general, as I tended to blow most of them off within a few weeks, but I think the list captures the majority):

  • No drinking if the kids had a sleepover.
  • No drinking unless the kids had a sleepover.
  • Drink only good wine.
  • No drinking during the week.
  • No more that two drinks a night.
  • No drinking if hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, and it’s correlative, no drinking alone (note that this was a bizarro corruption of an AA philosophy known as HALT).
  • No drinking around extended family.
  • No drinking to the point of blackout.
  • No going to work hungover.
  • Drink only beer.
  • Avoid bourbon.
  • No whiskey of any variation.
  • No drinking at work.
  • No driving after more than two drinks and less than one hour.

Dude, you have to give me something on the specificity of the last, which is pretty much the only one I didn’t violate–in fact it is one of two:  the last two were the only ones.  I could go on; I should have written them down along the way, because they tended to become progressively convoluted (no drinking while standing in the kitchen prior to dinner, for instance), but writing them down might have, in my somewhat twisted way of encountering the world,  been something I had to follow.

I dragged myself back on the wagon in February 2009, the progress of which was noted in these pages.  My primary distraction was, of course, training for a marathon.  I spent a good deal of the following fall ignoring a foot injury (up until I had absolutely no choice and dropped out of the Surf City 2010 marathon at almost the last minute).  My foot eventually healed–I’ve run two half-marathons and *think* I’ll be good for the 2011 GA Marathon come March, but in the interim–round about early June 2010, I started drinking again (for anyone who is keeping score, yes, it was 15 months again, which I’ve lately come to understand is not terribly unusual.  Sad, yes, but not unusual, particularly for someone hellbent on sobering without help and without community).

As the fall–and the year, 2010 not having been a choice one around here–progressed, my drinking increased.  I gave myself a pass in October, largely because I was patting myself on the back for not taking most of the narcotics I was given after the dog attack (sigh) and that pass led exactly where one might expect it to have.  I realized in late November how bad off I was when I blacked out four nights out of 7 during Thanksgiving week.

Complete and total shutdown.  Now, whether I was blacked out or passed out, I really can’t say.  I woke up where I was supposed to, dressed appropriately for having gone to bed (that is, not still in my jeans or whatever), and more or less at the appropriate time, often early.  I just couldn’t recall much about the nights before, leading me to believe I remained more or less functional.  No one said anything to the contrary, either (the silence of my family is perhaps the most disconcerting thing.  Surely this has been a noticeable decline.)  Of course, to maintain my facade of denial, I never asked, either.

So, in November–the 28th to be precise– I half-halfheartedly quit drinking for the third time.  I’m sure you can imagine how charmingly that went, what with the lack of commitment and all.  I blogged nearly every day (not here, clearly) about progress, noting how sick I felt (ah, detox), but the rising levels of balance, clarity, and excitement.  What Knapp calls the “classic pink cloud” (247).  I embraced my inner 15-year-old and pierced my ear, something I’d been wanting forever.

And then went to a party and got tipsy.  Subsequently, I went home and got bombed.

During all of this, I also ramped up my physical routines,  adding 1 day of yoga and 6 days of cardio to my four days of running per week (yes, some days are doubles; no, I’ve not lost sight of how many days are in a week).  Funny how Knapp’s remark about exercise caught me last night: ” That’s a pretty common strategy among alcoholic drinkers–sweat away the hangover” (21).  I generally referred to it as sweating out the poisons.

What really caught me in Knapp’s book was a paragraph I don’t really remember resonating the first time–perhaps experience has made me sensitive to it.  She talks throughout the book about the habits of the alcoholic species, and, specifically,  she points to hunger, which may manifest physically, but, more often than not, alcoholics experience it psychically:

I sometimes think of alcoholics as people who’ve elevated [the search for a fix] to an art form or a religion, filling the emptiness with drink, chasing drink after drink, sometimes killing themselves in the effort.  They may give up liquor, but the chase is harder to stop. That’s why you hear people in AA meetings talk about thinking or acting alcoholically long after they’ve put down their last drink. The search for an external solution goes on: I want something.  I need something. “My husband is acting like an idiot,” a woman said at a meeting not long ago.  “I have to remember that the solution is not ‘Get a new husband’.” (61)

I laughed out loud when I read that, though I declined to read it aloud to G, fearing that it would most likely be heard as hurtful to him, while the concept was merely familiar to me.  It’s my old friends: run and obsess.  I suspect that what I tend to refer to an obsession (since, well, it is), is at least parallel to Knapp’s hunger, a word more resonant for someone with her particular addictive background (which included anorexia).

I expect (hope?) detoxing won’t be quite as horrible as it was in early December; it shouldn’t be, but this is the fourth time I’ve put my poor body through it (to say nothing of my mind), but when I looked down earlier this week and saw my hands visibly shaking (more so than is typical for me–I’m never exactly stable-of-hand), I surrendered.  Gave it up to whatever higher power will have me this time.

I’m tired of being a high-functioning active alcoholic (and, at present, am questioning how much I was slipping in the last few months anyway)–it’s fucking exhausting.  I’d rather be a high-functioning alcoholic-in-recovery, though, as I recall, it’s not exactly a walk in the park.  I’ll return to AA–not the meetings I attended before, since those are now held at the church I left last year, and, well, no thank you, but there are several in the area.

I’m told I should read Mary Karr’s Lit as well, so that is likely up next.

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5 responses to “Of Wagons and Pink Clouds

  1. I’m listening. Always. ❤

  2. i had no idea my friend. :hug:
    i too struggle with my own demons, although these days it is not alcohol and hasn’t been for a long time. my demons strike in many forms, but the biggest one that i struggle with is addiction itself.
    you are so brave. anytimg you want an ear or any support you feel you need, please feel free to either pm me at monsters, or email me. i am sure we have much more in common than either of us thought. i will keep you in my thoughts and be sending you healing energy and whatever that higher power that is looking out for you this time lets me know you need.
    and like i always say, be gentle with yourself, we are our own worst enemies and punish ourselves more than others ever seem to, so remember to breathe and be gentle with yourself when you are feeling low. love viv

    • Maria & viv–thank you. Your kindnesses are so very much appreciated right now. Many hugs to you both.

      And viv–yeah “the biggest one that i struggle with is addiction itself”–I get that. Completely.

  3. me three. all you need do is ask. you are loved and supported, woman.

  4. Pingback: Of Faust, Anniversaries, and Another Sober Night | Beautiful Disease

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