“One Step at a Time” is a series of original essays we will be running monthly. We are excited to have writer and mom Patty N. share her fresh perspective as she embarks on the road to sobriety.
by Patty N.
The Fourth Step – a searching and fearless moral inventory – is not so much a step as it is a personal fact-finding mission, a sort of self-guided tour of the past designed to help us figure out why we drank. Just after my 90th day of sobriety, a clue appeared in my Inbox.
Doug Harrison* wants to be friends on Facebook.
I clicked on the link expecting to see the freckle-faced boy I knew in high school. Instead, a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a face I no longer recognized greeted me. But just seeing his name – Doug Harrison – sent me right back to the summer of 1981.
I was fifteen years old, heading into my junior year of high school and had absolutely nothing to do – no job, no camp, no family vacation, no responsibilities. Bored and a little lonely, I spent my days at the country club pool where my best friend, Amy, was a life guard. Doug, also fifteen, worked at the club as a golf caddy, and he would come swimming every day after work. One evening, he showed up with two cans of Budweiser for the three of us to share. I hated the taste, but I loved the buzz. That was my first drink.
Soon after, Doug invited me to go tubing down the Truckee River with his brother, Steve – a senior – and a group of his friends.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked. Steve Harrison was the most popular guy in high school. He was the star of the basketball team, dated the head cheerleader and drove a brand new Camaro Z-28.
“Steve told me I could bring a friend,” Doug said. “And I want to bring you.”
A couple days later, Steve’s Camaro roared into my driveway.
I can’t believe I’m in Steve Harrison’s car, I thought. It smelled like new leather and Coppertone. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared from the cassette deck. Steve’s blue eyes met mine in the rear view mirror.
“Welcome aboard,” Steve said. “Do you know Deb?” He nodded toward his tan, buxom girlfriend, who was dressed in a bikini top and cut-off shorts.
Of course I knew Deb. Everyone knew Deb. But she had no reason to know a geek like me.
“Hi,” she said, flashing her bright white homecoming queen smile.
“Hey,” I said, flashing my mouthful of metal. I self-consciously crossed my arms over my flat chest.
As we drove toward Truckee, Steve tossed two Mickey’s Big Mouths into the back seat. I studied Deb, her polished toes resting on the dashboard, as she effortlessly drank her beer. When I took a sip of mine, I actually gagged a little. Beer tasted bad enough and this cheap malt liquor was even worse. But I forced it down anyway.
I was definitely lit when we got to the river and, by the time we finished tubing, I’d had at least two more Big Mouths and a bag of green grapes. I stumbled into the back seat of Steve’s car. Everything was spinning. Then, knowing I’d never make it to the bathroom, I leaned out the window and vomited on the door of the Z-28 in front of Steve, Doug, Deb and all of their friends.
They all started laughing and chanting, “Grapes! Grapes! Grapes!” That’s the last thing I remember before I passed out.
I woke up just as Steve was pulling into my driveway. My head was pounding and I felt so humiliated that I’d thrown up in front of the popular kids – and on Steve’s car!
What if my stomach acid ruined his paint job – I’ll never be able to go back to school, I thought.
“Sorry I got sick,” I said, unable to make eye contact.
“Hey, that’s okay,” Steve said. “It was pretty funny.”
“Yeah,” Doug said, “It was fun.”
My mom was in the kitchen when I went inside.
“How was it?” she asked.
“It was fun,” I said. “It was really fun.”
The next day at the pool, Steve and Doug cheered, “Grapes, grapes, grapes” when they saw me. I was still a little embarrassed, but I loved the attention.
“Wow,” Amy said, “It sounds like you had a good time.”
My definition of fun became distorted that day on the Truckee River and, as I dig deeper into this personal excavation that is the Fourth Step, I’m able to see how often I confused self-destructive and even dangerous drinking with fun. Being the center of attention, making people laugh, and joking my way out of uncomfortable feelings – all of these became staples of my drinking life for the next 30 years. I denied my disease and dismissed my behavior, choosing to believe I was just a fun drunk. But nobody goes to A.A. because they’re having fun; we go because we can’t pretend anymore.
Doug Harrison wants to be friends on Facebook. CONFIRM or IGNORE.
I wanted to just click IGNORE and get rid of that thumbnail sized reminder of my embarrassing summer of ‘81. But A.A. promises that if we thoroughly follow each Step, “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Or in my case, throw up on it. I knew what I had to do – I had to click CONFIRM.
*Names has been changed.
To read Patty’s earlier entries on Drinking Diaries, click here.