I want to include some journal entries that I wrote back in 2003 when I started my first long cleanse. Just in case you're in a long cleanse - or even a 28-day one - and are starting to feel disheartened, I want to share some of the challenges and problems I had when I cleansed. It really helped me to know I wasn't alone when I read Caroline Knapp's book - and I hope to show other people that they're not alone, too. So if you're finding your cleanse not quite as easy as mine now are, here are some words from the dark side of 2003 ... just a month before my first novel came out. By the way, it really helps to write about your feelings, whether in a private journal or in a public blog. And you'll love looking back over them and seeing how far you've come ...
July 18, 2003
I'm going shopping today. Looking forward to it. Want to start thinking about the wardrobe for my book tour (isn't this hilarious? And I want to be taken seriously as a writer? Ha!) Plus I need a kettle to really get into this whole new ritual of drinking tea.
I was pressing a shirt for Mark (ah, domestic drama indeed!) and thinking about my shopping list when all of a sudden, once, twice, three times, as hot and steady as the steam in my iron, came the urge to have a drink. Lots of drinks!
I wanted one of those days where I poured the first glass of bubbly at around 9am and then didn't stop until a couple of bottles of wine were gone. Those nothing days. Those days where hours slipped by. Where the odd telephone call was made. Where old songs were listened to and sung to and danced to. Those sloppy days that would find me running out, half-drunk already, to the liquor store during the middle of the day to replenish my stock. One of those days where I bought a plastic bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade and carried it around in my tote bag, following the stick figure signs to ladies' rooms where I could sip quietly in a stall. I know where practically all the women's washrooms in every mall within a ten mile radius are. And if teh washrooms were busy, a fitting room would always do. Slurp, slurp, giggle. Watching my eyes get redder. My balance get unsteady. Giggle, giggle, slurp. Trying on things I knew for a fact I wouldn't wear. Or sometimes trying on nothing at all, just snapping the elastic of my bra or unzipping my jeans or crinkling shopping bags - to cover the click, hiss! of the plastic bottle opening and the glug, glug of my greedy slurping.
But it'll just be me and my sobriety carrying around a tote bag of Evian today. Wandering from store to store, aisle to aisle, rack to rack. I wonder what it will be like.
I suppose those days were over anyway. I knew they were drawing to a close. I had been making (unkept) promises to myself to stop drinking in public for months. I don't know how close I came to getting caught. Who smelled liquor on my breath - or in my bag for that matter. Who heard me. Who suspected me. After Knapp's book, though, I know that liquor stores are at least partially designed for alcoholics who sneak drinks. Those little liquor bottles by the cash registers? I've always suspected they were for people who had to duck somewhere and down a shot. But I didn't know that for sure. I've never done that, you see. I hadn't quite got to that point yet. Thank God. I never liked the idea of drinking hard liquor anyway. Thank God again. I just don't think it's good for you. They've been drinking wine for millennia though. There seems to be something wholesome, even sacred about it. But what I meant to say is that liquor store clerks see it all. Did they know when I bought my little Henkel Trocken piccolo's that one of them would get popped in a fitting room somewhere? Or that the bottle of expensive French wine I bought was just to cover up the fact I was really there for a portable bottle of Mike's Hard? So easy to drink. So light to carry. So yummy. But then, poor me, I'd end up having to lug around full wine bottles for hours and hours, my shoulder aching, my feet getting sore, just so I wouldn't be too obvious to anyone.
Did they know those times that I showed up first thing in the morning? It happened only a few times, and just around the end. I made sure it coincided with a trip to the grocery store. I bought lettuce and bread and fruit - big healthy things - that stuck up out of my shopping bags. I made a big deal of flopping it all out onto the counter when I dug for my money (cash, always cash, never a paper trail of credit!). I wanted them to think I was just out shopping. See my healthy groceries? I didn't really venture out before 11am for this wine. But I saw the others. The rubbies and the homeless people right outside the door, some of them selling those "Outreach" newspapers fora buck. Sometimes I'd leave two bucks, just because I felt I owed it to the gods. They had red noses and dirty fingernails and beards. "Thanks, sweetie!" they'd say. "Thanks very much, sweetheart! Have a nice day!" And then they'd flash me a yellowed smile, gums red or blackened or bare in places. They were so skinny, except for their guts. They could wrap their thin legs around each other several times like the stripes in a barber shop pole.
And then there were the women: the older women with their silver push carts and their shopping bags. They bought big magnums of wine or forty ouners of vodka or rum or gin, a cheap brand, usually. They carried on chipper conversations with the clerks (all of whom recognized me I'm sure, regardless of which hat, pair of sunglasses or makeup technique I used). "How're you this morning?" "Just fine, dearie. How much ya say? 18.45? Let me just see if I have the change." They always had the change.
That's me in twenty years, I'd think, watching them. And the clerks all know that. I may not look like the winos sitting out front begging for change. Yet. I may not look like the old ladies with their shopping carts. yet. But I'm one of them. I'm part of their club. And the clerks know. I'm sure they do. I wonder if they get curious? "Why doesn't the blonde ever come in after 5, like most of the other young women? She's married. See the ring. Never any children. Doesn't have any I guess. What about a job? Student? Housewife? Unemployed? But a drunk for sure." That much they knew.
There was that bleach-blonde woman with the deep voice at the store at Yonge and St. Clair. Then the friendly dude at the one at the grocery store who once (gasp) called me his best customer if I heard right. Or what about the check with the long faded highlights, a former headbanger for sure, now making a decent wage, who always wore her hair pulled back in a barrette, who never talked or smiled, just did her job. What about her? Yikes. I almost died when I saw her not at her usual store, but at the one up at Yorkdale when I went in one time (I had to always use different stores so people wouldn't see me EVERY day). I was sure she "knew." She saw me down at her regular store all the time. And I use this one too? She must've known that drunks go to different stores all the time not to get found out. They must learn about this when they get staff training. There must be statistics, newsletters, conferences about such things. Or maybe just gossip. If you see them more than a couple times a week, you can bet they're going to other stores, too. And that day, I proved it to her. If she recognized me, which I'm sure she did, she didn't say anything of course. But she never does.
I'd buy different kinds of wine, too. A nice red was always a good cover up if I was feeling particularly guilty - so that it seemed as if I was just getting ready for a party. Sometimes, when things seemed really suspicious, like when I trotted down to the Wine Shop a block away in the middle of day (many times!). It was always quiet. The same clerk worked just about every day. He had long, curly hair. I think his name was Peter. I hated running into him because I saw him so much. It was just so damn convenient to have a wine store less than a block away. Even going to other shops all the time, I still saw him too much, I know that. I would walk in, hopefully not too drunk already, and say things like: "A friend's coming over for lunch. What would you recommend with seafood salad?" Seriously. And then he'd recommend something and I'd hem and haw as if really considering. "Is it dry? She really likes dry." Or maybe I'd mention something about a celebration or ask for advice. "My husband likes a heavy red. We're having pasta. What would you suggest?"
When I cut down last year for a while (and then finally gave in again) and started showing up regularly again, he actually said "Long time, no see." Just so I wouldn't bump into him I often phoned before I trotted down. If he answered, I'd either hang up or disguise my voice. An English accent was best. "What time are you open until today?" I'd ask. Then because I knew he was there, I'd have to change my plan. Shit, I'd think. Now I have to walk all the way over to such and such.
If I was really desperate, I wouldn't bother. I'd just bite the bullet and make up a lie about having that seafood salad with my friend for lunch. Or whatever. I wonder if he knew. Probably. I wonder how many times I stumbled just a bit, or fumbled too long with my money, or smelled, just a hint or even a lot, like stale wine? I wonder how many times I went in at odd hours or during a bad storm that kept most people locked up inside. But sleet, snow, rain, hail, it didn't matter. If I needed wine, I was as dependable as the daily mail.
It's over now. I knew it was over the last time I saw Peter. He had a cold, poor fella. And his nose was running like crazy. It ran, in fact, straight into the till while he was getting my change out, a big, long, slimy, clear line of mucous, two feet down into the cash drawer. He was so embarrassed - I'd be, too. But I knew it was my chance with him, whatever happened with the drinking, I knew I had to cut him out. He'd know too much when the book came out. I knew it was my escape hatch. "The reason I'm not coming in here anymore, Peter, is not because I'm on the wagon or afraid that people will know I'm a lush, but because you really grossed me out with your swinging snot last time and I'm so embarrassed for you, I want to spare us both the pain of seeing each other again."
He was in the bank yesterday when I went in with Mark. Just ahead of us, at the nearest teller, doing Wine Shop business I guess. He and the teller chatted with each other. I wondered what would happen if he saw me. Would he say: "Hey, sorry about that cold the other day. I was feeling like hell." Or worse, "What did you think of that chardonnay?" I kept my back turned to him and he walked out without seeing me, or at least without saying 'hi.' Probably still embarrassed about the booger incident.
(*note March 16, 2011: Funnily enough, the Wine Shop - open for years in our neighborhood - closed up barely a couple of months after I started my first long cleanse. I guess without me going in all the time, they went out of business.)