Several years ago, I wrote letters and schemed to get my boss fired. It was a Friday afternoon when I got the news that he had been canned. (Please don’t waste any time here worrying about whether he deserved it– everyone was grateful to see him go.) A coworker appeared in my door and delivered the news. I said, “I really want to kiss you right now, but I won’t.” A sixty-year-old gay man, he got a Kermit the Frog look on his face and backed out of the room, chuckling.
That year, I broke Lent to have a drink with my elated colleagues. Over pitchers and pitchers of beer, we raved about our happy plans for turning things around, now that the dark clouds had lifted. I thought, It’s wrong not to celebrate something that will only happen once, just because it happens during Lent.
During another Lent, there was a death. The violent death of a kid I knew. After the shock and well into the outrage, there was another barroom support group. That time I didn\’t break Lent. Not because of any great willpower. One of my Catholic friends sweetly said, This doesn’t count. You can have a drink. I just didn’t want to. I ate a grilled cheese and fries. It was so greasy it made me sicker than if I’d had three drinks.
I always notice how hard it is to judge the effects of alcohol when I stop drinking. I drove home that grilled cheese night and felt woozy, spacey. I couldn’t blame my haze on alcohol.
And I couldn’t blame my hysterics on alcohol, either. My face hurt from smiling and my stomach hurt from laughing. There’s no funnier group than a group that just came from a funeral. I don’t think I laughed any less or was any less engaging with friends because I was sober.
But the weird thing about using drugs is that you really don’t know. They impair your ability to evaluate yourself, and the ability to evaluate yourself is shaky in humans anyway.
When I had a tooth pulled, I got narcotics. I took them for one day. By the end of that day, I had become obsessed with the fact that I couldn’t feel my feet. I sat on the couch with my boyfriend, and he said, “You’re fine. You CAN feel them. Feel that?” And he smacked the top of my foot. In a kindly way. I could feel my feet, sort of, but they were as blurry as an Impressionist painting. I kept seeing myself tumbling down the stairs and snapping both ankles, then shrugging. Oh, well. Guess I broke my ankles. I went back to the Advil the next day.
I don’t know how these artists who drank so heavily and used so many drugs could still feel. It seems like being able to feel, and experience your life deeply, is a prerequisite for creation. Maybe they were so sensitive to begin with that they had to numb out a lot just to catch up with the rest of us.
When the kid was killed, I could have had enough to drink to loosen me up, or enough that my mind was blown. I was feeling so blank to begin with, maybe I couldn\’t even imagine altering my emotional state. Or maybe taking any step to soothe my grief would only have emphasized that nothing could help.