It’s really hard to believe that July is already at the doorstep. Where I am in Northern New Hampshire, the local kids just got out of school this past week. (That’s what a lot of snow days will do.)
I have such fond memories of the last day of school — of stepping off the bus and feeling that huge weight of the public school shackles being removed. An entire summer of no homework, no responsibilities, no bullying. Summer vacation was this vast expanse of uncharted territory waiting to be claimed by whatever fancy might strike: staying up and sleeping late, reading whatever I damned well felt like, more time for playing piano, writing in my journal, watching movies, swimming, solitude. It seemed endless — time appeared to move so slowly through the months of July and August.
Now, as an adult, six months seem to pass in the blink of an eye (wasn’t I just in Las Vegas with Shawn…? Oh. That was in January?!) and I’m left holding a bag half full of intentions and plans, thinking, “Where has the time gone…?”
Cliche, yes. But so true!
It’s also hard to believe that this week marks the sixteenth anniversary of an unusual decision. Well, I say unusual because I was the only 21-year-old that I knew of at that time making this kind of decision. (Yes, I’m 37. And a half. *gulp*)
I was living in Lewiston, Maine, in an apartment near the college slums, on Elm Street, just a couple of blocks from the hospital. I was working as a store manager for Bull Moose Music and gigging in a trio (with Don Jandreau on acoustic guitar and Bruce Hobart on fiddle and mandolin) called Soup Sandwich. I would also sit in with other musicians on occasion, and that summer I was hired to play with the McKenna-Dow Band for a handful of gigs, including the big July 4th celebration in Lewiston.
After our final band rehearsal on July 3rd, 1997, we all went to the Blue Goose on Sabattus Street for drinks, foosball and tomfoolery. As was my SOP, I had one (or maybe two or three) too many and proceeded to get into my car and make the very short drive home.
Yes, I shouldn’t have been driving. But I told myself and my companions at the bar that I was fine and that I’d see them tomorrow.
I arrived home safely at 24 Elm and proceeded up the stairs to my second floor apartment.
I wasn’t at all expecting what happened next.
I went into the bathroom to wash my face and get ready for bed. I took one look in the mirror and I saw a version of my mother’s reflection: an old, haggard, angry face staring back at me, stitch in her brow, a frown perverting her lips. A feeling – one that I had not felt before and seemed to appear out of nowhere – began to creep over me.
Out loud, to no one, I said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
And just like that, I swore I would never drink again.
And I haven’t. Not once in sixteen years.
Since the age of thirteen, I had been drinking (often binge drinking) as a way to deal with depression and anxiety. My parents did let me drink at home but I also regularly stole alcohol from them. Considering the rate at which they both drank, I knew that a few missing cans and bottles and fingers of scotch from time to time would never be noticed. I would even sometimes step onto the school bus in the morning with a Pepsi can full of one of my mom’s wine coolers mixed with just enough soda to mask what I was up to.
There have been many times over the years when I’ve wanted to have just one drink.
When I first made the decision to be sober, I quickly realized that I had to learn how to deal with my depression and anxiety head on.
(I’m still learning.)
I started going to Al-Anon and 12-step meetings with a friend. It helped for a while, at least, to know that I wasn’t alone. And I never considered myself an alcoholic. Just the daughter of one.
Even before the bells and sirens starting going off in my head at the Al-Anon meetings I was attending (sometimes three times a week), I had been starting to realize what my mother’s alcoholism had done, and was doing, to me, to her and to our relationship.
Ironically, the beginning of the end with her was when I told her I had stopped drinking. She interpreted it as a judgment on her own behavior, rather than as what it was – a decision towards making myself healthier and, hopefully, happier.
The only thing that got me through those first few months was just holding on, for dear life, to that sudden realization I’d made on July 3rd. A voice in my head kept saying, “This cycle ends with me.” I just knew I was doing the right thing.
Then, my father died in November 1998.
What a terrible struggle that was. I nearly lost the battle to stay sober then — but, somehow, I got through it.
I’ve been told I’m a pretty tough cookie. I’m also a pretty rare breed, especially among musicians. In the last three years, I’ve spent more time in bars than I had in the previous ten. Whenever someone asks me, “Can I buy you a drink?” I simply smile and say, “No thank you.” I used to try and explain, “No, I don’t drink” but now I only explain if people ask me about it.
Although I don’t think about it much anymore, I do still sometimes think:
But the thought doesn’t usually last for very long, because I know that just one wouldn’t be enough for me.
Alcohol is the ubiquitous social lubricant. I come in contact with people who drink – responsibly and not – all the time. I don’t judge. How can I? I’ve walked the walk, I know what it’s like.
My mom died quite suddenly in January 2007. She never got help, never got sober, never even admitted that she had a problem. We never made any sort of amends. When she died, we hadn’t spoken in over two years.
Everyone has to find their own way.
I’m still finding mine.
One day at a time.