The day started unlike any other of the past decade. I was sober, well rested, cradled by 3000 count sheets at the L’Auberge Del Mar. The white down and my daughter’s body created a warm, fluffy nest of hope and gratitude.
Thirteen days earlier I had attended an AA meeting in Phoenix. I sat in a grey plastic folding chair with a cup of bad coffee. I listened. I judged. After the meeting a stranger approached me. “You belong here. Do 90 in 90. Get a sponsor. Work the steps.” What the hell did that mean? Fuck that guy and his unsolicited advice. I could do this on my own.
My husband’s friend was getting married and Phoenix in September is brutal. While most parts of the country are enjoying turtlenecks and turning leaves, we Phoenicians are still melting in triple digits. We made the trip a family vacation, visiting Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and Ventura Beach. I didn’t drink the entire time.
I was going to make this stick. Nothing was going to stop me, not even the glass of robust Cabernet spilled on me by our server at dinner one night at Legoland. Tommy eyed the cab dripping off my chin. “Are you ok?” he asked. His voice held a tone of concern normally reserved for the terminally ill.
“I’m fine,” I lied, smiling and patting my face dry, my mouth watering.
The wedding festivities kicked off with a day on a yacht in Coronado Harbor. Hordes of beautiful people descended onto the lobby loudly in bright summer colors. Their peaches and hot pinks silenced my black and white. Their blonde suffocated my brunette. I was a weed in a garden of roses.
I needed a cigarette. Tommy joined me outside.
“I’m going to have a glass of champagne.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I want to. I’ll be fine.”
The truth is I started planning my relapse the moment I began applying my makeup that morning. I layered on inadequacies with each stroke of my blush brush, as radio station KFKD played its favorite jingle, “Who the Fuck Do You Think You’re Fooling, Kim?”
It started with one glass of champagne in a tiny plastic flute. Four ounces. That’s all. Then I got resourceful and swapped out that Cinderella shit for a Red Solo cup, filled to the brim with 16 ounces of the finest rosé money can buy.
I’m a classy bitch.
Soon I was hiding out in the cabin, inhaling roast beef sandwiches trying to slow down the effects of bucketfuls of booze. In my mind, I picture a wild woman with razor teeth in a cave devouring her prey. In reality, I was a drunk, sloppy mess, dressed to the nines on a motherfucking yacht.
Tommy and I got into a ripper as the group headed back to the hotel (or so I was told). I woke up alone in the back of the bus, a partition cutting me off from the shiny people on the other side. Either I was too much of a mess for them or I said “Fuck you, no one come back here.” I never bothered finding out.
We took a nap with our kids and woke up late, neither of us hearing the alarm that was meant to give us time to prepare our son, the ring bearer, and our daughter, the flower child, for the wedding rehearsal.
Tommy and I argued as we hustled out the door. I don’t remember what about. We rushed through the lush grass, the sound of ocean waves breaking a jarring contrast to our cursing each other about the forgotten directions. With every step a stiletto sunk into the ground. The gimp sink only added to my frustration and my ability to feign sobriety.
I fell behind and found a path of least resistance: rocky, wood-strewn terrain that provided more solid ground. I was oblivious to the world around me, fading in and out of every moment. I heard Tommy yelling words. Through the fog of my senses I felt more than understood his exasperation and rage, then desperation. The meaning of his words was lost in the fugue state brought on by the alcohol in my bloodstream.
Another sound was growing in the background. A whistle or a car alarm, getting closer.
I stood still, my reptilian brain sensed danger, my animal self tried to take over but was leashed by intoxication. I looked up from the ground to see Tommy yelling at me, his words inaudible as the background noise grew. My son, dressed in his tiny man tux, was crying and screaming. My daughter was motionless and wide-eyed, frozen in shock.
The sound was becoming familiar.
I knew this sound.
A moment passed.
The noise increased.
The ground began to shake.
The sounds of my childhood.
I remembered smoking joints with my sister on the big grey rock overlooking the Delaware River next to our trailer.
Tommy let go of Lawson’s hand and sprinted towards me with Naya in his arms. I saw our daughter’s blonde curls bouncing in slow motion with each urgent stride. I felt his grip strong on my arm as he yanked me off the train tracks.
I was angry, but relieved. In the time it would take me to throw back a shot, a train going full speed brushed the back of my body, whipping my hair into disarray. I used Tommy’s arm to steady myself, the cars of the locomotive like waves behind me, a rip current pushing me down, pulling me under.
I looked around, stunned into clarity. Naya’s face was buried in her dad’s shoulder, her small frame heaving with each sob. Lawson was trying to disappear into his dad’s leg, seeking something stable, shaking. Tommy comforted them, his eyes holding mine, silently pleaded, “What the actual fuck do you think you are doing, Kim?”
A man who could have been a bum or a millionaire taking a barefoot stroll on the beach said to me, “You better look up or you are going to die.”
That could have been enough.
But it wasn’t.
Instead, I negotiated a deal with myself. “OK, Kim, you’ve got the next two days to get royally fucked up. Then that’s it. No more.”
By the rehearsal dinner I had scavenged several Adderall and became the driving force of fun at all the parties, careening full-speed ahead – not unlike the train that nearly took my life a few hours before. At the wedding the following night, I was in doing key bumps of cocaine in the hallway while my son did the Cupid Shuffle on the dance floor.
I overheard my husband tell his friends: “Make sure she’s drinking water.”
Everywhere I turned, I was offered a water bottle. By the tenth person and the tenth bottle I was over it. Arms laden with everyone’s mission, I sought the nearest bar. I ordered a shot of tequila (or maybe it was vodka) then ordered nine more. One for each bottle of water, a silent fuck you very much as the liquor hit the back of my throat ten times over.
Thanks but no thanks, Coach.
The next morning we packed our bags and drove back to Arizona. I haven’t had a drink since.
I don’t know what made this deal any more true or special than the thousand other deals I’d made with myself, but it stuck. Quitting drinking was equal parts miracle, willingness, and God. Learning how to live sober would prove to be that trifecta on steroids.
Life as I knew it was over. I began deconstructing, then rebuilding myself in 24 hour increments. I went to 90 meetings in 90 days. I got a sponsor. I worked the Steps. I did what I was told and asked for help. I learned about humility, how to keep my side of the street clean, and how to do the next right thing. I made a lot of mistakes. I still make a lot of mistakes.
And I never drank again.
Alcoholism a blood thirsty beast. It wants you dead. For me, it wasn’t about getting drunk. It was about not feeling. I was broken on the inside. Fear was my baseline for living. I woke up “restless, irritable, and discontent” (The Big Book of AA) daily. Sobriety taught me – is still teaching me – how to remember wholeness.
I used to think the world around me was the problem. Then I thought I was the problem. Now I know there is no problem. “We are all just walking each other home,” as Ram Dass says; trying, failing, and trying again. We search for answers in the trees and poems prescribed as heart medicine. We seek moments of joy in the everyday. We breathe. We forget. We fall down. We stand back up, brush the dirt off our asses and prepare for the next 24.