The laughter of children echoed off the oil paintings, open shutter photography and charcoal drawings hanging from the walls of the expansive gallery. What seemed a scattered and random arrangement of art to me surely had a methodical placement contrived by my good friend, Mike, who was the exhibit curator and gallery owner. I am not a connoisseur of art, but I appreciated the toil of the artists as I munched on my appetizer plate filled with crostinis topped with olive tapenade and fontina-and-garlic-stuffed mushroom caps. I cautiously navigated the spacious room amidst a massive game of tag played by the dozens of children at the family-friendly party graciously hosted by Mike and his wife, Missy. I knew more than half of the bustling attendees making the evening as comfortable and festive as it was sophisticated and refined. There was an abundance of conversation, laughter, hors d’oeuvres and, of course, drink.
There were bottles upon bottles of Merlots and Cabs and Red Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs on the bar, and in an ice-filled stainless-steel tub chilled Chardonnays and Rieslings and Gewürztraminers and Pinot Grigios. The bottles served both as gifts to our hosts and as contributions for the enjoyment of the revelers. My appetizer plate was balanced carefully atop my pint of New Belgium Brewing’s 1554 black lager – the true focus of my attention. Mike had carefully chosen and generously supplied a keg of one of the finest, most flavorful and fashionable micro-brews available from our home state of Colorado. As suave and worldly as the occasion purported to be, for the beer swillers in attendance, it was a good-old-fashioned keg party.
It was late in the first decade of the 2000s, and hard liquor simply wasn’t in fashion for such occasions. As the party wore on, and, for some, the beer and wine flowed more copiously than for others, polite courtesy evaporated and playful mischief ensued. My friend, Carmen, and I began rooting through the bar. I’m not sure what we were looking for, but what we found was an unopened bottle of tequila surely left behind from a wedding reception or charity fundraiser hosted at the gallery. Full of alcohol-supplied rascality, we didn’t bother asking for permission from Mike or Missy before opening the bottle and pouring shots for the party’s more enthusiastic imbibers.
At the beginning, Carmen and I had some takers – some fellow serious drinkers who were up for anything – or at least up for a shot of tequila. As we continued to pour, our encouragement for others got louder and more obnoxious, and our fellow partakers drifted away until we were the only two willing to drink ourselves into oblivion. My wife, Sheri, and Carmen’s husband, Lawrence, looked on with feigned laughter and exasperated sighs as they watched our road-show of disaster get louder and less coherent. Sheri knew, and I assume Lawrence did too, that interruption at this point would have been met with loud slobbery resistance. They also knew it would have been futile. Like a car accident that you don’t want to see yet can’t look away from, Sheri and Lawrence knew they had to watch us go – let us drink until we were done – and simply ride out the evening as disgusted and reluctant bystanders.
And so we drank and laughed and drank and hugged and drank and cheered and drank and disrupted and drank and annoyed. As the tequila drinking continued, our cuteness and enthusiasm turned to clownish gluttony. The hour was late, and the sippers and polite casual drinkers had long since departed. As the last few of our friends collected their children and made their way home, the party was over for Carmen and me as well. We were escorted to our respective cars by our respective spouses. Because our children were still quite young they thought their exceedingly drunk parents were merely acting loud and silly. We weaved our way out of the gallery with most of our dignity still intact. Sure, we had clearly turned a sophisticated occasion into a bit of a fraternity party, but we were still laughing and friendly and – after all – no harm was done. No harm to the artwork. No harm to the children. No harm to our friends who thought Carmen and I cut loose a little more than usual. No harm at all. At least no outwardly visible harm.
I passed-out in the passenger seat almost immediately. I do not know this from memory, but rather from the story as told to me by Sheri the next day. When we arrived at home, her attentions were, appropriately, on getting our young children to brush their teeth, put on pajamas and climb into bed. She had neither the tolerance and patience for me, nor the time and energy to get me from the car into our bed. So she left me in the locked car in our driveway to spend the night.
I awoke drenched in sweat from the hot morning sun covered in my own vomit. The classy hors d’oeuvres, refined micro-brew beer and biting tequila covered my chest and pooled in my lap. My head pounded from dehydration and my throat burned from the acidic middle-of-the-night upheaval.
I was disgusting. My-80 proof vomit-soaked clothing was the very least of it. Again, I had taken a charming occasion and lost control of my drinking. I turned a fun night for my wife into a nightmare of single-parenting and fearful anticipation about her husband’s next drinking antic. My friends would later describe the occasion as a lively party where Carmen and Matt were entertaining and probably drank a little too much. I would describe the event as a soul-crushing failed attempt to control the uncontrollable – like trying to stop a shark when there is blood in the water. I set out that night to eat, drink and have fun. Instead, I poisoned my brain into oblivion. Thank God my wife left me in the car so I was sitting-up when my involuntary systems ejected the poison. I could have died in the middle of the night by choking on my own regurgitated drink – my own fun time. That morning after was the first of many times to come when I wished I was dead.
The whole next day I felt like death. The physical discomfort was excruciating, but it paled in comparison to my mental anguish. I spent the day slowly putting the pieces back together. I cleaned the car and myself. I apologized sincerely and continuously to my spouse. I dragged my carcass around the house full of despair and regret. I was filled with shame. I was ashamed of my drunken over-consumption. I was ashamed that I could not pinpoint the tipping point from boisterous partying to out-of-control recklessness. I was most ashamed that I had no hope of preventing it from ever happening again.
As day turned to evening, my hopeless despair overwhelmed me. In spite of my continued alcohol-induced nausea and headache, in spite of the guilt and shame I felt about my drinking, in spike of the pain my drunkenness caused my beloved bride – I did what we alcoholics do to ease the pain drinking causes. I opened a beer, and then another and another, and I drank until it didn’t hurt anymore.