Whiskey on the rocks. No mixer. No room-temperature shots. Just harsh brown liquid barely diluted by the slowly melting ice. But who am I kidding? The way I drink, the ice doesn’t have time to melt much.
Jack Daniels, probably. We have high-end, small-batch, local bourbons distilled here in Colorado now. They are too expensive for my purpose. They are meant to be sipped. I know better than to pretend. Gut-rot, bottom-shelf, sold-in-a-plastic-bottle whiskey would feel like failure. I am trying to reestablish an identity here. Jack will do nicely. No need to return the bottle to the cabinet. It can sit on the end table next to my glass until they’re both empty.
“I know you never lie to me. I believe you. You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”
The rocks glass, perched on the old steamer trunk in the basement, contains a pale pink liquid.
But I know he drinks cranberry juice out of his rocks glass. Bright red cranberry juice. The warm plastic bottle of it is sitting right beside the rocks glass, on the old steamer trunk covered with the labels of our past wine bottles (those bottles our main means of travel).
I can never bury the familiar internal alarm deep enough. Something is not right here breaks out like spring sprouts from the dirt as I walk past the steamer trunk on my way to the laundry. I’m an experimentalist, not a theorist, though, so I grab the rocks glass and knock back a quick swallow.
I didn’t write about the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. I didn’t talk about them in our Echoes of Recovery group. It wasn’t a writing prompt for our SHOUT Sobriety program. Not a word about it was mentioned during our monthly Marragevolution session, and I don’t even remember a related side discussion on our Untoxicated Podcast. I didn’t ignore it, Far from it, in fact. I internalized and anguished about January 6th. But as the most hyper-political and toxic event of my lifetime (if you think I’m exaggerating, please challenge me in the comments), I didn’t want to pour fuel on anyone’s fire by sharing my thoughts and emotions.
That was a mistake. People relapsed over January 6th.
You are not just an emptiness that breathes and walks and eats…
The melting point of chocolate is the temperature of the human mouth. It’s one of those happy accidents in the universe, like the apparent sizes of the discs of the moon and sun being the same, so that total solar eclipses can even happen at all.
I cook my own drugs. I confess that raw concoctions, like the batter for my chocolate chocolate chip muffins, are often superlative to the finished product. It’s the way they coat your mouth. The sugar, fat, and salt are just merging. The baking soda and powder are starting to fizz. The whole chemical reaction is taking off, right there on your tongue, studded with solid cocoa pearls that immediately begin their surrender.
But you’ll get the jitters so quick. You’ve got to take the edge off, cut it with baking, or it’s too pure, too strong.
It’s May, and a friend I haven’t seen for ages emails me out of the blue about an alcohol ink painting class she’s interested in. Do I want to go with her? My first thought is that it’s one of those paint & sip, wine & design numbers. I’m six months sober at this point (and someday I’ll unpack the fact that I quit drinking, after a lifetime in enthusiastic pursuit of intoxication, so I can donate my liver to my husband).
I tell her I’m not drinking, expecting that she’ll want to go with someone better suited. You know, someone fun.
My friend patiently advises that alcohol ink is actually the painting medium, and that there’s probably no cheese to go with the no wine, so we should plan on dinner before. She has her eye on a new place not far from the paint studio.
It’s Christmas, and a stranger, not much older than me, comes to the door to ask for help.
I’m lucky, and I know it, especially at Christmas. It’s not just the presents, although there are always plenty of those. I live at the local nexus of two big families, and with Christmas comes the convergence. Aunts, uncles, cousins from multiple other towns and states all gather in what I won’t realize are small houses until much later. We’re nestled in, all together. Dad even takes a few hours off from work to be there.
Grief is an amputation, but hope is an incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.
Author’s Note: This is the very first piece I wrote for the Echoes of Recovery group, by way of introduction. The prompt was: How are you preparing for Thanksgiving?
I’m preparing by remembering.
I’m remembering the last hopeful Thanksgiving.
Two years ago, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my husband and I woke up in separate beds at four in the morning. Time to go. We slipped off our wedding rings. I stacked them on the bathroom counter and took a picture of them in the soft overhead light.
Someone is saying my name. Or so it seems. It also seems like I’ve been hearing it for a while, fading in from far away. Easy to ignore in the soft, quiet nowhere I am.
But I’m starting to remember. I’d just gone to sleep in the OR a minute ago. I know they’re planning to check out my liver with a scope to make sure it’s okay for donation. (The surgeon really didn’t like some of the cysts and small, stiffening spots that showed up on my MRIs. Turns out, you don’t have to be an alcoholic either to abuse alcohol, or to have scars from it.)
There were few worse sentences John could have slurred into the phone, his voice broken down into bits and pinging across six hundred miles worth of cell towers before reassembling itself in my horrified ear.
“No, you’re not.”
There were few sure things in that moment, with the physical miles separating us suddenly the shortest distance between us, but that was one thing. My previously calm Maine evening had been taken hostage by unbidden images of piles of unfortunate, unsuspecting, and quite dead delivery people at our doorstep, not to mention the thought of my own bespattered demise on attempting to rouse him from a signature catatonic state at just the wrong time.
He absolutely was not going to bring a gun into our house.
When you need help, really need help, you’ll take it wherever you can get it.
It had been almost two months since our initial visit with the transplant team, when they’d unexpectedly advised us that a liver transplant was not just the next step, but the only remaining step available. John had subsequently, spectacularly, failed tox screens for both alcohol and pot. And instead of being fast-tracked for the transplant list, so I could be reviewed for donation, the team told us they wouldn’t do anything until he was seeing a substance abuse counselor. Steps vital to survival were suddenly, maddeningly, on hold.
He didn’t want to do it, to go to a counselor. He told me, standing there in our kitchen, that it would be easier to just let him die. He’d prefer it.