I was 29. Why had I become an alcoholic? Was it was because I wore a bad wig to Grade nine?
Was it because I was the oldest, a Leo, or because I had psoriasis? Was it a biochemical predisposition, or was it because most of my blood uncles suffered from the disease and I had the same genetic mutation?
Was it because I am a feminist and I thought anything men could do I can do better.
I didn’t know then. And I don’t know now.
All I do know is when I first got sober; my brain seemed to be on endless 24- hour news cycle flashing back and forward in time. The past and the future were unfriendly.
The endless recovery meetings and slogans helped as long as I was surrounded by people, but give me ten minutes alone with my brain, and I was a knotted mess.
At two months sober, I felt worse than I did in the first week of sobriety.
Sue kept telling me:
“You need to trust in a Higher Power.”
Oh, here we go. I know what was happening. She had waited until I trusted her to bring up This God -nonsense.
I was not going to have any of it.
Oh yes, she called it a Higher Power! Wink. Wink.
But I knew what was going on, there were some big wigs in a back room, waiting for the day they could serve me up some Jesus.
Every time Sue talked about the Higher Power, I carped, “I am not praying to any sonofabitch God.”
I had kneeled and genuflected long enough. I was fine being in the basement of churches, but I was not going to go upstairs back to the land of dogma. Sue said, “I didn’t say you need to go back to Church. But you need a Higher Power that works for you. It can be a chair. A car. As long as it’s not you.”
A chair? Well, I’m hardly going to make my God, something people can sit on.
Or a car! Cars run out of gas and break down on the side of the road.
All of this seemed something I had to put on my to-do list.
1) Don’t drink.
2) Speak Up for Me.
3) Set Boundaries.
4) Create a Deity.
Then one day I was standing on the platform at the Bloor-Yonge subway. I don’t know whether it was the oily smell of tar coming off the tracks or the smell of piss, but an overwhelming urge to drink came up.
The thought was not a fluttery romantic notion of me sitting on a patio. I was consumed by rabid desire what Buddhists call the land of hungry ghosts. A place so full of craving, I was salivating, gnawing the inside of my mouth. I didn’t want a glass of Chardonnay. I wanted to down a bottle of hooch so ripe you could still smell people’s feet stomping grapes. The type of brew people drink out of paper bags in a seedy haunt at Sherburne and Queen, to drink in a place with blood and sawdust on the floor, a place where people routinely choked on their own vomit.
A train roared into the station. The subway doors opened and closed and took off. And there I stood, lock-kneed. Fear glued my feet to the platform.
If I move, I will drink.
I held on to the garbage can next to me. I remembered the words from the book the shrink in Regina had given me.
Float. Breathe. Let time pass.
I breathed. I floated above the body. I noticed my thoughts.
In my mind, I saw a Medusa-like creature with endless hair extensions wanting to choke me with her tentacles. I uttered a primitive plea.
“Please, God! if you don’t want me to drink you stupid sonofabitch, you re going to have to help me.”
This was not a prayer that Father Tom would be strumming on the guitar.
I couldn’t imagine him saying, “Lets all rise and sing God You Stupid Sonofabitch Help Me. It’s Number 42 in the new hippie songbook.”
Within seconds of beseeching the sonofabitch God, a homeless man approached the garbage can I was gripping. He put his head into the bin and puked. A bit of vomit splashed on my fingers.
I jumped back. “What the hell are you doing, man?”
Un-fucking-believable. He burped again, and I jumped out of the way of his second hurl then a train roared into the station, and I jumped on.
As I held the pole for balance, I could smell vomit on my fingers.
What the hell? I pray to you and do what I am told, and this is what I get! Well, thanks! Thanks a lot.
It reminded me of the old joke.
A guy falls off a cliff, and as he goes over the edge, he reaches out for a rock and holds on for dear life.
He prays, and God says, “Let go.”
And the guy says, “I can’t let go. I will die.”
And God says,
“No. No. Trust me. I will catch you.”
And so after several exchanges like this, the guy lets go of the rock, and he lies at the bottom of canyon broken and bloodied and dying he says.
“What the hell? You said you’d catch me.”
And God says,
“You have always pissed me off.”
I went home, had a shower, and went to sleep, I was afraid I might hurt myself.
A few hours later, I sat up in bed with a start, soaking wet. I remembered that a few years before, I had puked at the same subway station because I was so hung-over.
No, it wasn’t the same garbage can.
It was a different can and yes I was younger, cuter, and had a more beautiful outfit on than the homeless man, but I had been on my way to Mari’s house to bitch about another drug-addicted man.
At that moment, I felt a click in my head, like the cocked gun had opened the bullet chamber, and all the bullets rolled onto the table.
The desire to drink left me.
For days, after I kept looking over my shoulder to see if it would come back.
But it didn’t.
Was someone listening to my prayers? Was it my Higher Power who sent that homeless guy to puke next to me?
Or was I just a messed up person who found meaning in things that didn’t contain any?
I didn’t know then. Some thirty years later, I still have no answers.
All I know is in the middle of urban decay, someone puked in front of me, and for a split second, I saw who I was, and what I might become if I tried to go back to where I was.
(From my memoirs: Window Shopping for God -to be published December 2022)
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Excellent writing. I could hear and feel and smell the subway train coming as I read you descibe it. The settings were so vibrant. And the thoughts. Thank you Deborah.
thanks mike for your kind words.
Thank you Agi! I appreciate it.