I miss alcohol. I’ll just tell you straight up: I miss it. No bullshit.
When I go to my Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, everyone there is full of stories and cautionary tales about that sweet liquid deliverance called booze. But I remember clearly that my marriage to alcohol wasn’t all bad. We had some good times. We stormed many castles and tore up many dance floors.
I miss the smell of it. After you’ve been away from liquor for a while, it begins to smell medicinal, like what your mother used to tilt your head back and pour into your mouth that made you pull a disgusted face but ultimately made you feel better.
After you’ve been away from likka for a while, you remember why they call it alcohol, because that’s what it smells like to you. It smells like straight rubbing alcohol that your mother used to clean your cuts and it stung like hellfire until it subsided into a coolness that took the pain away. That’s what alcohol seems like to me now. From a distance, when it becomes unfamiliar to you again, the pain and the burn of it seem negligible when compared to its almost magical healing qualities.
I have been sober for almost six years, and I think about alcohol every day. Every night, on my way home from work, I stand in front of a bar to wait for the bus. Outside the window of this fancy hotel bar, I have a fully unobstructed view of the bartender cleaning glasses and polishing bottles, preparing for her evening dinner crowd. The bottles are positioned in such a way that they reflect the sunset. The bartender’s stark white shirt and black trousers—the whole thing just look so classy. I miss feeling like an adult. Recovery has taken that away from me. I miss being able to saunter up to a bar and have someone recognize me as a grown-up and prove it by handing me a glass of brown liquid, no chaser. I miss being old enough to drink.
I am not from a family of drinkers. There are no people who totaled tee harder than my parents, so I don’t know from where my alcoholism derives. All I know is that, from my very first drink, I knew that I would never be without alcohol again. It makes me charming. It smooths the rough edges of my double consciousness. It makes me brave. It casts a sheen of glamour over every evening, making the streetlight glow just a little bit brighter. Everything is more filmic when I drink, and the people around me are supporting actors in a movie starring yours truly. Buttoned up, suave and dangerously sexy.
So I stand outside the fancy hotel watching the bartender shine up her wares and I think to myself, “No one will ever know.”
No one will ever know if I slip inside for just one. The bartender doesn’t know me and will treat me like a normal person who deserves a drink after a hard day’s work and I will feel like an adult again. Not some child being told what to do, what to think. Surely, I could have just one and walk away and no one will ever know. I can continue to tell people that I’m sober and just occasionally enjoy a smidge of brown liquid served in an elegant, gleaming glass that this fine barmaid has just polished up.
It is only the bus arriving, bringing with it all its noise, that snaps me out of this fantasy.
On the ride home, I realize that my memory is faulty, blacked out in places. I remember that I’ve lost not one but two jobs for being a drunk. As the bus travels on, I remember that I lost my best friend, who will never speak to me again because of my drinking. I’ve staggered, abandoned, down every Pittsburgh street with people pointing, laughing and throwing me looks of pity.
When the bus turns the corner, it hits me that I was never dashing or handsome when I was drunk, just loud and sweaty. I wasn’t “storming castles” so much as I was just starting fights and being asked to leave the premises. I stumbled around on dance floors making a fool of myself and causing the decent people to back slowly away.
I remember how many bars in Pittsburgh that I am still not allowed to go into. Banned for life. And then I don’t miss alcohol anymore. I don’t miss the lies it told me. And as for being an adult, well, part of that is knowing your limitations.
Since I’ve been in recovery, I’ve graduated from college. In five short years, I’ve been published multiple times, including my own book. I’ve repaired many of my friendships and my bills get paid on time. I haven’t been evicted even once. My health has improved, and just last month, I received word that starting in the fall, I will be a fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.
This is all unreal for a person like me. I drank so much because I hated myself, and some days, I still do. But I sit with it. I learn from it. I don’t wash it away down a river of brown liquid. Sometimes it hurts so bad I don’t know what to do. But for the first time in my life, I’m grateful, hopeful and curious.
So I let the bus driver carry me away from her bottles, attractive and gleaming though they are. I may decide to catch the bus at another stop tomorrow. But part of me truly believes that I really don’t need to.