Whenever I saw her I was reminded of a phrase she spoke to me when we broke up a decade earlier. “I just can’t take another sip of Nate.”
She was an alcoholic who struggled immensely with my lifestyle, me indulging in libations during most dealings of my life, whether it was interviewing a subject over cocktails or wrapping up the writing day with a six-pack. I know for certain she was exhausted from picking me up intoxicated from bars, and sometimes a newsroom desk, but to imagine the temptation she drew to drink from kissing my lips so heavily soaked in alcohol. It never occurred to me that I too was becoming an addiction.
“I just can’t take another sip of Nate,” she said, standing in the doorway to my studio apartment handing me a plastic bag of my belongings I’d left in a drawer at her place; a Glad bag no less.
She was an alcoholic, which is to say she is an alcoholic according to addicts in recovery. But what if a person has recovered? Is there such a thing? A cure? Or is the abstinence from alcohol, that long haul on the wagon, a disease from which no one can recover; remission if you will, always awaiting a relapse?
I’m trying to answer these questions while reminiscing about a deep history with this former partner, a person who once denied me because I was detrimental only to invite me in because I was empathic.
She was eight years sober when we met, making it nearly two decades when I found her bellied up at a local watering hole weeks ago beer in hand. I answered her text that evening. It sounded desperate, for which I understood the reason why upon seeing her.
It wasn’t long until we delved into the topic at hand. Was she over being an alcoholic, a woman who not only attended Alcoholic’s Anonymous but mentored people through the twelve step process of letting go and letting God? Was she healed? Or was this a momentary lapse in judgment she’d regret, inevitably counting day one once again?
Her theory, passed through lips moist with a pale ale, was that alcohol was not so much the problem as much as an abused answer to the real issue. Her father passed away while she was a teen, which left her with one parent who deteriorated due to mental illness. She became a family nurturer at a very young age, unskilled with coping with her own problems therefore used the bottle to suck out the pain.
Eventually, over the years, through various other modalities of healing, she learned the power of manifestation. What a person focuses on, be it verbal or through thought, will come to fruition. This would contradict the round robin admission of “isms” and addiction many twelve-step programs promote because, in her eyes, as long as she said she was an addict she was. Now, after years of therapy, she doesn’t feel powerless over alcohol. Instead, she can speak openly about hardship and what she’s learned, confident that she’s changed.
I’m unfamiliar with twelve-step programs. I’ve attended AA once, but refused to say anything but my name. Even that might have been a lie. However, I do know that my own abuse of alcohol ended when one of my best friends never woke one morning, thanks to a concoction of narcotics and drink.
He too was eight years sober when we were deepest in our friendship, meeting regularly for coffee when our families weren’t entertaining one another at our households; play dates, politics, poetry, pining for life. In the end, he left the supportive circle of people who met bi-weekly to take matters in his own hands. And in those hands he held short dogs of cheap vodka sold at convenience stores, downing them on his walk home from the late shift each night. In the end, one evening, he swallowed that vodka with methadone and Xanax and never awoke.
The morning of his death, a morning on which we were supposed to meet for coffee and rant and rave as we normally did, I heard sirens of an ambulance and knew. Moments later my phone rang and I answered to a hysterical woman screaming the loss of her husband. My wife went to her, and later on so did I taking her fatherless sons to escape the uniformed men working on a lifeless body.
So, despite feeling positive that I was available for my former partner to share her ruminations, I couldn’t help thinking about the some of the phrases associated with addiction that I was most familiar with, the primary being “denial.”
Was she denying the inevitable truth, that she was an addict and once an addict always an addict? Was I being manipulated? Was I enabling? Or was she onto something, forcing me to reexamine the very foundation that, for the most part, makes every believer a believer.
If I am to believe in any power it is that of manifestation. We will become our wildest dreams, for better or worse, if we put forth that energy into the universe, be it through invocation or intoxication. We are not powerless. We hold all the power, either using it to conquer or cover up, nullify or numb.
As for my friend, the one refusing to count days, she has a new story to tell, ironically rehashing the plot and punch line over and over again, not much different than she did sitting amongst strangers sipping coffee. The context is much different than her years sober, this time graciously bowing out, suggesting the program helped when she needed it.
And it did help.
I’m not convinced.