Goodbye Letter to Alcohol

My wonderful A.A. sponsor assigned this letter to me, as my homework for Step 1. Step 2–FINALLY, after two years and two months of A.A., is next! It’s about damn time! I have some feminist qualms with A.A., but I’ll save them for another day. Today, I’m in the practice of taking what helps and leaving the rest.

To Alcohol: My Ex-Lover, My Only Comfort, My Savior, My Demise and Devastation,

When we began our relationship, we were only acquaintances. You were good to me the first six years, in the beginning. And I stood in the right by you. You marked my transition into adulthood. I remember how, with you, for the first time in my life, I had the experience of feeling beautiful.

As a child I did not have friends in school. I was bullied in middle school. Then, in high school, I finally had friends; but I was an awkward and tall teenager who was never asked on dates. My pants were too short—“Still waiting for the flood?” my friends joked. I exuded confidence, though I felt anything but that. Later, a male friend would tell me that he had had a crush on me, but that I was too intimidating and too smart to ask out. Then another told me that. Then even a third. Perhaps I had been likable all along, but nobody had ever displayed any romantic interest in me…until I met you.

I had lost quite a bit of weight. I was an introvert at a prestigious university full of introverts, at a school known for not partying. If you want to party, don’t go to my school, the college guides said.

And so I didn’t party. Or not much, anyway. Usually I shared you with the company of just a few friends, or at a dive bar with a small dance floor. You made me feel social, made me feel warm and relaxed, encouraged me to dance. You quieted my social anxiety. We had a great six years together.

You helped me ease into the queer community until I could call it my own and really claim my place in it, and come into my sexuality. I remember my first party, with an old high school friend who was studying at Pepperdine, where being gay was unacceptable. He had found this whole underground network of gay boys, and he threw a big gay party in his apartment. I remember staring all night at how beautiful his roommate, Hailey, was. She had long blond hair and was wearing a top that showed just a little of her midriff and lower back. I didn’t know I liked girls; thought I just wanted to look like her—but now looking back, I remember that first night drunk as being the first time I was aware of my attraction to women. We took Jell-O shots. We drank Malibu rum straight. Lemon drop martinis. At the end of the night, I was checking the breathing of a guy passed out on the bathroom floor—perhaps a warning I did not heed. As far as parties go, I’d say it was a successful first. I was twenty at the time. And I knew that that warm, social, sexy feeling was exactly how I wanted to feel for the rest of my life.

Not long after I met alcohol, I fell in love with a beautiful girl. We were attending intensive outpatient for eating disorders at our university’s research clinic together. We hated the program. (And to be fair, it was awful.) So we dropped out. We’d dress up and go out to bars in Pacific Beach, San Diego, where guys would buy us drinks in hopes for a kiss. She, a year younger than me, would wait outside the grocery store while I bought tequila and rum, then she’d pay her half and we’d take it back to her apartment where we’d take shots of tequila chased by lime and mix margaritas and rum with Diet Coke. We’d dance to top 40 songs. We’d sit on the carpet and talk about everything under the sun. I don’t remember our first kiss, but it came completely naturally to us—when neither of us had ever been with another girl before. We experimented. We fell in love.

Drinking helped me come into my sexuality. Trepidatiously, I accepted that I was attracted to women, although I wasn’t sure what that said about me or my future.

I was purely a social drinker from twenty until I turned twenty-six. I suppose we had a good six-year-run of it. I drank occasionally during college and after, but only every couple of weeks. When I turned twenty-four and began commuting to Los Angeles is when I began partying. I’d grown up in poverty, and suddenly I was surrounded by people who had money, the wealthy even, and what’s more, they accepted me into their circles. We drank all over Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Hollywood Hills. I had a sense of abundance. A sense of belonging. A sense of wonder and ease and beauty and hope.

No, that’s not quite true. It is easy to equate the perfect picture in my memory with how I might have felt. What I remember most about those years, in addition to the drinking on hotel rooftops in tiny cocktail dresses with models, taking shots around my friend’s fire pit and sharing intimate stories, sipping on mojitos with sugar cane sticks while clubbing with gay boys and tipping drag queens—what I remember is my deep depression at the height of my anorexia. I was literally dying—I was considered emaciated by medical standards, my resting heart rate a dangerous 36 beats per minute. I was running half marathons and training for my first full. Running late at night in hopes I’d get murdered, because all I could think about was suicide and ways to keep myself from it, because I couldn’t bare to hurt the people I loved in such a profound way. It wasn’t just for the people I was drinking with. It was for friends across the country and even all the way in London who loved me. It was for my nieces and nephews—especially them.

I packed my schedule to the brim until I was totally exhausted between the long work hours at the startup nonprofit I was directing, the time I spent with my boyfriend, my miles and miles of running, my Los Angeles commute, and so much partying. I remember when I stopped being an adorable “lightweight,” all xxx pounds of me, and could match anyone’s drinking—even the boys’. I remember how I began to get impatient for my friends to finish their drinks so we could order another round. Mostly, I remember how much I wanted to die.

I can almost pinpoint the moment I became an alcoholic, the moment I crossed over from partying and social drinking, to an utter dependence upon alcohol. Although now, looking back, the signs were already there—the need to escape the depression and despair, the impatience for my friends to empty their glasses because mine was already finished, the looking forward, counting down the hours, to when the workday was over so I could just unwind with my friends over wine or over vodka—and these days, let’s be honest, it was becoming more often vodka than wine.

My already-shaky world came crashing down in a trifecta: First, my therapist, whom I’d been forced into seeing while I treated her with disdain, threatened to involuntarily hospitalize me if I did not begin eating. Second, my sister was misdiagnosed with stage IV cancer and given less than a year to live. Third, I broke up with my boyfriend, who had been sexually and emotionally abusing me for more than six years. I was wholly heartbroken. So heartbroken I thought I might die from the pain. And so, in the unfurnished apartment my sister had helped me move into, I bought myself a housewarming gift: a bottle of Absolut, and some diet ginger ale. I sat on a pillow in front of the heater and sobbed and sobbed, and drank and drank, until my sobs subsided, my eyes drooped, and then I awoke to a sharp burn from falling asleep against the heater. I’d swig more vodka and then crawl onto the futon my sister had given me, only to wake up at 7am and begin another long day of working, driving, running, and partying.

From then on I poured through the bottles of vodka every night when I got home in the same routine: crying on a pillow in front of the heater, drinking vodka, eating tofu, falling asleep, awaking to a burn, then swigging more vodka and climbing under my blankets. Repeat. Repeat. I began eating a little more to narrowly avoid the hospital, and drank the pounds back on in this way as I trained for my first full marathon.

And that is how I seemed to have traded anorexia, my “good girl problem,” for a “bad” problem overnight: alcoholism.

That was just the start.

I was fully in love with all parts Hollywood—East where I lived, West where my queer friends lived, and the estates in the Hills. It is easy for me to romanticize Hollywood to this day. If I think about the real beginning of alcohol and me, I think about Los Angeles and the warm lights there, the openness and smiles of its people, the farmer’s markets, the beaches and the palm trees and the sunshine. The glamor. In many ways it was glamorous—or at least it began that way.

But it became ugly and dark quickly. The nonprofit where I worked went out of business, and suddenly I found myself unemployed. I attempted suicide, impulsively one night, under the influence of a bottle of white wine and who knows how much vodka. I’m lucky I survived. Those scars I’ll never be able to get rid of.

The next morning I woke up alive, bandaged myself, and picked up right where I left off. I went to a massive party with one of my best friends, got drunk, and made out with a beautiful girl, who was a figure skater and a model. The dance floor cleared around us and spectators commented on how “hot” we were together. My world was crumbling, and I was lucky to be alive—but drinking, could it save me? Alcohol was my only comfort.

My dog came into my life just a week later, a stray in bad shape who showed up in my driveway. She literally saved my life. Though suicidal still I was, I hugged her and promised her to always stay alive to care for her. I promised her that I would never leave her. At times it has been a hard promise to keep, but it’s one I’ve stuck by.

With encouragement from a trusted mentor, I packed up and moved to New York to follow my dream of working in publishing, with no more to survive on than unemployment benefits and a little money from the car I sold—a sporty little manual BMW that I loved, although it was old and not worth much—my only income. I arrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and was stranded in a dangerous part of Brooklyn because the subways were still flooded. During the days, I applied for jobs and ran and ran and ran with my dog—but mostly what I did was drink. This was when whiskey entered the picture, which I never much cared for—but I would drink all my vodka and find myself needing more late at night, so I’d steal my roommate’s Wild Turkey Whiskey from the freezer, and replace it the next day. Every single night I’d blackout this way. My weight was dropping again and I found myself bingeing and purging on the cookies he kept in a high kitchen cupboard, and this pattern seemed inescapable as I’d always have to replace the cookies, so they were always there. Running, vodka and whiskey, and bingeing and purging on Keebler’s cookies marked my transition to New York.

Then I was devastated again. While preparing for interviews, I was raped on a date, sober, just a month after I’d moved to New York. I didn’t really process this or realize what had happened, but I continued to drink and drink and starve and binge and purge.

This is how my pattern of drinking and blacking out alone was solidified.

I landed my dream job as a junior editor at one of the largest academic publishing houses. My career was taking off, and my drinking was still worsening.

I didn’t seem to have any serious consequences from my drinking for my first three years in New York, aside from always having “mystery” bruises, which I could rarely recall getting. I went out to bars with editorial assistants and always left the drunkest of everyone, and it was a great time. They adored me and my bubbly personality that came out when we shared fishbowls. I was incredibly likable, and incredibly thin. But my drinking didn’t end at the bar—I’d go home and drink more until I blacked out, only to scramble out of bed late the next morning to start the workday over again, my thoughts slow and never as sharp as they could have been.

There were many instances that should have flagged the end of my drinking once and for all. The night I came close to death stands out as my clearest marker. I was visiting my sister—my best friend, who had turned out to be safe from the misdiagnosed cancer—for a family reunion on my paternal side. We were drinking margaritas that night, as we had both graduated from robust Napa red wines (not strong enough). Suddenly a conversation about gun control turned deadly. As I tried to explain why I could not own a gun because I feared I would turn it on myself (were it even possible for me to obtain a gun in New York), without admitting to my suicidal feelings—we ended up in an argument. She assassinated my character, saying all the things she knew would hurt the worst in the way only someone very close can. She went to bed and I went to bed, but I could not overcome my sobs and fall asleep. After an hour of crying, I’m told, I grew quiet. This was when, without thinking, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen, propped my foot on the counter, and began slashing my inner thigh. I did not plan this; it was merely an action, an impulse, a need as urgent as pulling a hand from a flame. In my memory of this incident, there is lost time. The next thing I knew, I was in a screaming ambulance, struggling and fighting the EMTs to stop touching me in such a private place. I received thirty stitches and two bags of fluids and was placed on a psychiatric hold. I was devastated and terrified by what I had done. The EMTs told my sister that I had missed a major artery by a hair, that I was lucky to be alive. And had our other sister not found me and dialed 911, I would have bled out.

I was shaken, but I chalked this down to a one-off after a terrible fight. I made no resolve for abstinence, let alone moderation.

I needed to drink. And so I drank.

I did this for years, seemingly keeping things together, until a series of sexual assaults devastated my mental health and I began to have trouble at work from the PTSD symptoms. I’d drink and drink and drink to try to control my panic attacks and flashbacks and wipe out the memories, but I wasn’t succeeding. I was jumpy at work and afraid to go out after sunset. This is when I began changing jobs before losing them, and I successfully applied for promotion after promotion for a few years in a row, building up a resume that looked like I was excelling and rapidly climbing the publishing ladder on an annual basis, when really I’d just change positions or companies every time the shit hit the fan with my work performance. I couldn’t get to the office on time because it was impossible to get out of bed, and I was crying and panicking and startling badly at my desk. Although I was drinking to cope with my PTSD and depression, it was only making them worse.

One of my best friends told me she was in love with me somewhere during this time, and we became a couple, although I was very unsure about this. When our leases were up, we moved in together along with a friend. We had always matched each other’s drinking at bars and parties, so it seemed we should be compatible; but when we moved in together it became very clear very quickly that I had a problem and she did not. She could stop drinking, but I could not. She became distant from and cold toward me almost immediately; our relationship never stood a chance with my alcoholism. At the end of our lease, we parted ways, our relationship thoroughly demolished and our friendship beyond repair. I regret this to this day.

During our time together, the consequences of my drinking became more clear than ever, because now I had a witness to them. I was breaking down into puddles of tears often; and, as I always wanted to be alone when I cried, I would buy two pints of vodka and drink them in solace on my way home after dark, then sit down and collapse into still more sobs on the sidewalk. Sometimes I was able to make my way home after composing myself, but oftentimes I could not walk, and I’d be there until someone found me and helped me get home. Twice an ambulance came. Other times men came and kissed me and touched me everywhere and I hated myself for this.

I began drinking during the day several months into my job as a senior editor at another major publisher. I was miserable at work and life in general and could no longer wait until I got home to drink. So at lunch I’d go to a little Irish pub a few blocks away and order two or three Long Islands, until I felt like I was numb enough to be able to continue my day.

I was also living paycheck-to-paycheck, and when I’d run out of money, I had three liquor stores who would give me vodka on credit and wait for me to pay them back on payday. George, a family man, owned the Astoria liquor store on the corner where I lived with my girlfriend. During my weekend long runs, I’d stop by to say hello and make small talk, then in the evening would make my purchases. He was randomly murdered one day by a young man. His blood from the stab wound covered the store in wide pools, which was condemned as a biohazard. Through the window I could see that it was months before they cleaned up the scene. I started dreaming of the blood, and “seeing” it behind my eyes during the day, and crying at his loss, until I began a new medication that calmed the flashbacks and stopped the bleeding.

I was truly helpless to this substance that now completely ruled my life both day and night.

When my new company began putting things in place with Human Resources to fire me, I went on disability leave and began searching for another promotion. During this time I came down with ulcers and was in bed for weeks, but this did not stop my drinking. I had to drink—by this time I was physically dependent on the substance and would go into delirium tremens without it. I remember lying in bed, clutching my stomach in agony, then propping myself up and retrieving a giant bottle of Absolut (which I now kept at my bedside), chugging it, doubling over and wincing in pain, then repeating until I’d had enough to make me drunk, while my stomach felt like it had daggers in it. If lying in bed on disability and drinking straight vodka on ulcers is not powerlessness, I don’t know what is.

Several doctors and endoscopies later, I was on medication for the ulcers, and warned against alcohol, but even that could not stop me.

My stepfather died during this time, and I was devastated. Rather than honoring his memory by taking care of myself, I drank my way through my grief. For months and months and months the grief seemed boundless. I was never able to properly grieve because I stuffed down my tears with alcohol.

Within a month I had landed my absolute dream job as a very senior editor at a small publisher that was female-empowering (compared to other publishing houses, which everyone knew were old boys’ clubs). I found myself managing world-renowned journals. I excelled at first, grief-stricken though I was, and they loved me. But soon enough I began coming in late to work and hungover, and I was being disciplined for my tardiness. It was not long before I began drinking cocktails at lunch in a little Thai restaurant again.

I had enough money to just barely afford my own apartment by now, which was a relief because I couldn’t have roommates with the way I was drinking. My previous roommates had given me a number of ultimatums. My new studio in the Bronx was closer to work and was a place I could call my very own—but those were about the only pluses. I couldn’t walk outside without getting catcalled. Then it soon became apparent that my whole building was absolutely infested with roaches, and there was nothing I could do to get them under control. And now that I was alone, I was drinking even more than I had before, if that was possible. It soon became that the only things I did were work, cry, drink, and sleep. The apartment quickly got out of control and became a disaster: it looked like a place where a suicidal alcoholic who did nothing but drink, cry, and sleep lived, which is exactly what it was. I was not walking my dog regularly, so she was defecating in the apartment and the place reeked. Words cannot convey the filth I was living in.

Meanwhile, when I ran out of money, I had a new liquor store that would give me pints of cheap vodka and bottles of cheap wine on credit. But the man who gave me them would stroke my hands when I paid and blow me kisses and ask me out every time. I thought myself a whore, but enduring his advances and touches seemed something I had to do for my substance.

I had tried to get sober a couple years earlier through an intensive outpatient, and I lasted a full month before I gave in and relapsed. During that brief period of sobriety, I picked up smoking cigarettes. Now I found myself getting wasted in the apartment, then walking downstairs to smoke on a bench by the park across the street from my complex. Here gross men would approach me and kiss me and touch me everywhere, and I was too drunk to stop them. I always hated myself and drank even more because of my self-disgust.

I thought my bottom was losing my dream job where I was managing world-class journals and being groomed for leadership in a female-positive work environment. After just nine months there, they realized that I’d been drinking on the job, and, after a series of mistakes, they fired me on the spot. I was devastated. Without an income or health insurance, without my health or dignity, thoroughly depressed and plagued by trauma memories, I lost any hope I had left. I could not keep my promise to my dog to stay alive.

That’s when a series of miracles began to occur to get me sober. I had begun seeing a new therapist who specialized in addiction at a sliding-scale, and she found me a plush detox to go to on scholarship. They, in turn, found me a celebrity-class rehab to go to on scholarship. They also found me a sober companion on scholarship to fly to and from rehab with me. I could not believe the gifts I was being showered with. I’m told that these scholarships are rare—but others seemed to see value and potential in me that I could not.

Rehab was a wonderful experience, and I was filled with hope and peace for the first time that I could remember. The program was based on the Twelve Steps, which have been a great resource in my sober journey. There, we went to a tropical beach every weekend to build happy sober memories. My new friends and I snorkeled and pointed out all the colorful fish and urchins. But a month after discharge I relapsed, drinking a little one day, and then more and more progressively by the week. I was not prepared for the real world where I was struggling to find a job and my search seemed more hopeless by the day. My mother was supporting me by a string, tight though she was—and I was running out of time before I had to leave New York and, it seemed, give up all my dreams. I began making plans to end my life, despite my promise to my dog. Within a month, jobless and without hope, I was back to blackout drinking. My reasoning was, if I wasn’t going to be alive for much longer, then I may as well be drinking.

I lost my dog one night in a blackout when it was just 12 degrees outside. This was my true bottom. To this day I have no idea how it happened. Fortunately she was not outside where she could have died a freezing death—she was in the hallway of my building. Someone called the police and she was taken to a shelter, where I was able to get her back the next day. This is when I resolved once and for all to quit drinking. Losing my job was one thing, but losing my dog was on a whole new plane, worlds worse. I would choose my dog over my job any day. That was when, two months after leaving rehab, my sobriety really took off. With the lessons I gained in rehab, and the skills I was developing in my new intensive outpatient program, which was entirely evidence-based, I managed—with great difficulty—to stop drinking. I’ve had some slips since then, but have remained mostly sober since January 30, 2019.

There’s so much more I could say, but this is enough, for now.

So, alcohol, this is the end of us. Although you were fun for a time, and you helped me find my queer community, and then helped me cope with painful emotions and trauma memories for some time more, in the end you robbed me of nearly everything. You took many friends from me. You took my health and my career. You fed my depression and fueled my PTSD, which you were supposed to be helping me with—but in the end you only made them worse. I became entirely reliant on you, and I prioritized you above all else—above my friends and family, above my career, and above even, it turned out, my dog. You enabled multiple sexual assaults and rendered me too compromised to fight back or look after my own safety. You compromised my health and devastated my finances, which I am still working on recovering. You made me a bad friend, girlfriend, daughter, sister, and aunt. You took and took and took from me. You left me with grotesque scars I’ll never be able to get rid of. My life revolved around you, and all my plans I formed around the question, how soon can I start drinking? I gave up all my hobbies because all I cared about was drinking—no more running, no more reading, no more painting. I was living under physical conditions that no human should live in. You made me dishonest. You made me gain weight. You made me hate myself.

In my time without you, I have been rebuilding a life that is more beautiful than I could have imagined. I am finding possibilities open up to me in more and more ways. The temporary relief and escape you brought are no longer worth the devastation that comes back one-hundred-fold. I am done with you. This is my final goodbye.

KC

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