Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 13 - Reuni-non

It was the 25th reunion of my university graduating class earlier this month. Since I hardly ever attended class while I was actually going there (and was usually hung over when I did), the idea of dragging my ass to a school-related event that wasn't obligatory didn't appeal to me. Especially because we had just got back from the trip and my alcohol cleanse had started.

It also helps that about two or three years ago there was an impromptu reunion - our 22 1/2 or something like that - and most of the people I wanted to see after a couple of decades of being out of touch were there and we all had a chance to catch up. It was an awesome night of reminiscing and drinking and hanging out with (surprise) the drunken slackers I usually hung out with when I was actually in school. Fun! 

There were however some no-shows at that reunion. You know, the people who had gotten quasi-famous as reporters on TV and/or moved to Hollywood to make it big (I took broadcasting). I looked around the room at the people who had become teachers or ... teachers or ... teachers ... and I felt pretty proud of myself, reporting that - yes, I actually had become a novelist (my dream) and yes, I actually had published two books. And by that I mean - no, I didn't pay $10,000 to publish them myself. Actual New York publishing houses were involved. So big deal if the books didn't hit the bestseller lists (actually it was a big deal, personally - but the tears had dried by that time so I didn't bring it up - natch). People seemed suitably impressed and - what's more - my hair had turned out. So all in all the night was a big success. 

Anyway, one of the people I ended up talking to was my ex-boyfriend. We still bumped into each other occasionally and he even worked with my husband sometimes, so we were still friendly. The old clique was there, gathered around, drinking and laughing and occasionally watching screens that were running old photos from our yearbooks. (Why is it that I never warrant a random shot in yearbooks? I mean - never. Sure, I got my little mug on the main class pages, but I've never been one of those people on the volleyball team or dressed up at the Halloween dance, or hanging out on the stairs just smiling and being a teenager ... I was even cajoled into becoming secretary of the Student Council by the class president of my high school - a cute senior I couldn't refuse. Being secretary gave me a great opportunity to skip class - "I have photocopies to do, sir" - but I don't think I even made that photo, either. I think from a very, very young age I cared an awful lot about being 'cool' and mugging for the school photographer didn't seem cool. Drinking and smoking, on the other hand, did. But they didn't take pictures of underage kids in bars and/or in the smoking area (we had smoking areas back then) so I didn't make the yearbooks. Btw, I quit smoking more than twenty years ago. I'm a great quitter! Ask anyone! ... End of digression ...)

Well, the night of the reunion, I got an email from the ex. "Where are you?" he wrote. "I don't even recognize anyone! They're all 50!" (Or close to, unfortunately.) He was probably drunk when he wrote it. My feeling is, exes only write to married exes when they're drunk. And he's never done it before. 

I didn't see the email until the next morning and I wrote back that we'd been out of town and that I didn't get back in time. I also mentioned that I wanted to look "cool" by skipping it. ;) Just like those quasi-famous and/or Hollywood transplants that didn't show up for the last reunion.

Anyway, I didn't mention to the ex that I was on an alcohol cleanse and that this, too, would at least slightly discourage me from something as potentially traumatizing for a woman as her 25th anniversary college reunion. (To wit ... the hubs got me the new 'Grease' BluRay for my birthday cuz I love the movie and there were lots of extra features I'd never seen. One of them was a reunion of the cast in the 90s - more than 20 years after the release of the film. They performed 'Summer Nights' and there were at least three times more men on the stage than women. Stockard Channing/Rizzo didn't show (though the silver-haired waitress from the malt shop did ... feh.) Olivia Newton-John was there, of course. Her arms looked a little unfortunate in the harsh lighting during her solo of "Hopelessly Devoted" but otherwise, ONJ looked lovely - and how could she possibly miss the reunion of the film that cemented her in our hearts and minds even more firmly than seeing her in leg warmers and sweatbands in "Let's Get Physical." Still, I couldn't help thinking that some of the other women didn't show because women are more self-conscious about being in their forties and fifties than men are ...) 

So as I was saying, I didn't mention the cleanse to the ex. Though I could have. Because the ex was certainly on the receiving end of countless - and I mean countless - of my angry, drunken, raging binges when we were together in our 20s. Like my mother, I would get ruthless when I was drunk and I unloaded whatever negativity I had on him. And I was brutal. Nothing went unsaid. The more I could hurt him, the better it felt at the time. Though I would feel terribly remorseful in the morning and promised I'd never do it again - the #1 lie/promise of alcoholics. 

I didn't know back then that most of that negativity was because of the fact I was suffering from Dopamine-Depression due to alcohol abuse and addiction, but in the end, it probably didn't matter because ... it happened. And you can't take those things back. Just like I can't take back the horrible things I said and did to my husband when I was lost in the throes of addiction. 

But the fact that the ex knew about my heavy drinking wasn't the only reason I could have felt comfortable mentioning it. He was also obliquely involved in what I did to turn my problem around ...

It was almost ten years ago - late spring - when I learned about the book that would change my life: "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp. I was actually getting my author photo taken for my first novel. I had had a couple glasses of wine before I left the house just to 'loosen up for the lens' - but, as was my habit back then, I'd also taken some wine with me. In this case, 2 or 3 mini bottles of sparkling wine which I tucked into my knapsack and sipped on while I was changing outfits for the photog. 

It was the makeup artist who mentioned the book. She was dabbing at my skin with her various products and she commented on how irritated it was. I told her I had rosacea ... though I know what she had noticed were the tiny broken blood vessels on my nose and cheeks - swollen and/or burst from drinking way too much ... every single day.  

"It's about a woman who deals with alcoholism," she said, dabbing, patting, primping. "You'd like it I think."

I felt self-conscious as she mentioned it, cringing inside, in pure agony. Why on earth would she bring up a book about drinking? Can she smell the booze on my breath? Does she know why my skin is so red and irritated? 

I was extremely depressed from my dopamine depletion at this time, by the way. It was baffling to me. My 'dream' was coming true - I was getting published! What the hell was I so depressed about all the time?!! 

Anyway, over the next couple of weeks things continued to escalate/deteriorate and I finally reached my breaking point. After drinking probably four bottles of wine by myself all together (and all alone), spending several hundred dollars on a cross-country long distance conference call between myself and my two best friends from childhood (talk about a drink 'n dial $$$) and passing out listening to the Beatles only for my husband to come home and find me blinkered in bed. 

"What the hell happened in here?" he snapped, pulling the headphones off my head. "Smells like a distillery." 

"Fuck off," is all I said. I rolled over and waited for him to leave the room. Then I reached down into my bed stand and polished off the last bottle of wine by myself in the dark. 

The next morning, I woke up very hungover. My husband had already left for work, though I could feel the angry chill he had left in the room. At that point, I was at my lowest and these horrible drunks were happening several times a week. I woke up late, so hungover I couldn't even stand up. I glanced at the clock and realized I was already late for lunch with a friend. I called her and told her I couldn't make it. But when I hung up the phone, I knew things had gotten way out of hand. I mean, they'd been out of hand before ... but they were definitely waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy out of hand. I could feel it in every bone in my body. I knew I had to 'do something.' I just knew it. 

I probably surfed the A.A. website that day - I usually did after a bender. But rather than giving my name at a meeting, I decided to go find that book the makeup artist had mentioned. "Drinking: A Love Story."

The hubs and I headed out on a warm sunny day ... We went to one of our favorite bookstores in town. He headed off to the business section ... I gingerly stepped into Self-help. I found the Addiction aisle. I found Caroline Knapp's little black paperback. I also saw a big green book with the words: "RESPONSIBLE DRINKING" emblazoned on it. I picked that one up, too. Then I went to find my husband. 

But as I was leaving the self-help section, who did I bump into? That's right. The ex. 

The "Hey, howayas" went down as I blushed crimson, feeling my cheeks get hot as I inconspicuously tried to make sure the names of the books in my arms were covered. I must've looked guilty or something because the ex said: "Whatcha readin'?" 

"Nothin'," I said, literally shoving the books behind my back.

"C'mon! Whatcha readin'?" he said again, laughing. And he started circling around me, even spinning me to see the names of the books. 

I will tell you that with the possible exception of two people on the planet - one I'm related to by blood, the other marriage - there is almost no one in the world who would badger me about what book I was buying in the self-help section, except for the ex. And figures I'd have to bump into him. I tried to shove the books into my Burberry tote before he could see, but the big green one wouldn't fit and he saw the title. 

He stopped fooling around and a serious look came over his face. "Oh," he said. He gave the sort of smile that was half sad and half encouraging at the same time. "Good for you," he said. 

Then the hubs came over from the business section and we all caught up for a minute or two. I left the bookstore feeling mildly ashamed - but only a bit. Because if there was one person in the world who knew about how bad my drinking was (besides the hubs) it was the ex.

Within a couple of days I had read Knapp's book. I had learned about the connection between drinking, my depression and dopamine depletion ... I decided to take six months off drinking to "heal" my abused brain and coax it into starting to manufacture happy feelings again ... It was only the first step and I had no idea what would become of me or my 'experiment' - but I was actually on my way to changing every aspect of my life for the better ...

16 days to go! Almost halfway there! 


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