The First Step: We Admitted We Were Powerless Over Alcohol…

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“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.

STEP ONE

by Patty N.

After years of trying (and failing) to stop drinking on my own, I decided to go to A.A.  last November.

I had tried (and failed) to go to A.A.  once before: I was 29 and heading up the launch of a weekly magazine, in the process of converting to Judaism, and about to move in with my soon-to-be fiancé. And I was drinking heavily.  On the recommendation of my therapist, I agreed to go to an A.A. meeting.  But as I walked toward the cluster of people talking and smoking outside that upper west side church door where the meeting was being held, I chickened out. I was too embarrassed to go in, and I convinced myself I could cut back on my own. So I kept walking.

I managed to keep my drinking mostly under control (minus a few crazy nights here and there) for the next fifteen years. But as I got older, I started to feel like I was playing Russian Roulette every time I drank. Sometimes the gun didn’t fire; I could have one or two drinks and be fine. Other times when I pulled the trigger, the gun would explode and I would find myself bingeing, blacking out and then beating myself up for days afterward. After one such explosion – a booze-filled Saturday night last November that left me so hung over I missed my kids’ soccer games on Sunday – I felt I’d hit bottom (again). And on Monday, I bumped into Sam*.

Sam and I worked on the same floor at the Conde Nast Building; I was on staff at a fashion magazine and he was in Office Services. We had formed a casual, water-cooler friendship, and I would often plop down on his welcoming couch when I felt like procrastinating. At one point, he had shared with me that he was a recovering alcoholic.

“How was your weekend?” he asked me on that November morning.

Normally I would have said “fine” even when it hadn’t been. But not that day.

“I drank too much, I don’t remember most of Saturday night, I’m still hung over, I think I have a problem,” I blurted out, all in one breath.

“Okay,” he said calmly. “Let’s go to your office so we can talk.”  He then shared with me his story: how he’d worked for a fashion designer, how he was hospitalized for an alcoholic seizure in his 30s and how had been sober for 18 years.

“There’s an A.A. meeting a few blocks away today at 12:30,” he said as he wrote down the address. “You really should go.”

I looked at the Post-It note after he left:  St. Mary the Virgin on West 46th Street.

Great, I thought. An A.A. meeting at some church basement in Times Square. This felt way too seedy for me, too Taxi Driver, too Midnight Cowboy. I imagined myself in my skinny jeans, sky-high boots and designer sunglasses, walking into a windowless room full of smelly, unshaven men and strung-out, toothless women drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Or even worse, I imagined seeing someone I knew.

Forget it.  I am too busy. I just need to be more disciplined. I don’t need A.A.

And yet, just as I’d surprised myself by opening up to Sam about my drinking problem, I found myself walking up Broadway at 12:15 toward St. Mary’s.

When I arrived at the side entrance to the church, I poked my head in tentatively with my feet still outside the door, ready to bolt.

“Hi. You’re in the right place,” said a nice looking lady with short blonde hair. “It’s so great you’re here.”

She looked normal, I thought, as my 4″ heels click-clacked up the stairs toward the Beginner’s Meeting. I left my sunglasses on and sat down on a seat next to the door–in case I had to make a quick getaway.

But I didn’t leave. I looked around and felt like a jerk for my crazy thoughts about who would be in this room. The crowd looked like a typical cross-section of New Yorkers, an eclectic group you might see on the subway during a morning commute. One by one, they shared their powerful stories. Unguarded and unafraid to be completely honest in that space, they talked about feeling unloved and abandoned by parents who also had problems with alcohol; about their harsh self-judgments and constant self-criticism; about trying to control everything all the time; and about not knowing how to feel or express anger and not knowing how to ask for help.

As the tears rained down beneath my dark glasses, I knew I was in the right place.   Their stories were my story, and I did see someone that I knew in that room – I saw myself.

*Sam’s name and work details have been changed to protect his anonymity


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One Day At A Time

images-2by Patty Nasey

Last month, my 11 year-old daughter and I were playing Kadima on the beach in the Dominican Republic. It was early evening and we were waiting for my husband and youngest daughter to get ready for dinner.

“Let’s meet them at the bar,” I said. “You can get a mango smoothie and Mommy can get a Presidente.”

“Why do you keep ordering beer?” my daughter asked.

“I thought you didn’t want to drink anymore?”

She was right. Sort of.

Almost two years ago, I quit drinking. There was no intervention, no DUI, no court-ordered rehab, no AA.  I didn’t think I had a “problem.”  Sure, I sometimes had one too many and was often the last one at the party, but it’s not like I carried a flask of in my bag or drank every day.  I just liked to have fun. Then I turned 40 and the drinking became less fun.  I had trouble remembering conversations after two drinks, yet I would keep refilling my glass. And my hangovers had become debilitating, sometimes lasting for two days.

My self-imposed abstinence began in April 2008. I was consulting for a fashion magazine and had been invited to a staff dinner at a Mexican restaurant. After two (or three? or four?) cucumber agave margaritas, I rallied some friends to meet me for a nightcap. I remember champagne, Grand Marnier and a plate of fries. I do not remember the cab ride home. I do not remember losing my phone.  And I do not remember anything my friends and I talked about.

The next morning, I had an 8am breakfast meeting at Conde Nast with the magazine’s publisher and her management team.  I slipped quietly into the executive dining room and kept my throbbing head lowered, trying to avoid making bloodshot eye contact with anyone.  I hoped nobody would notice my trembling hands as I picked up a piece of plain toast and a cup of coffee, and prayed I wouldn’t have to speak since at any moment I could start projectile vomiting like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

people drinking beer

“Are you okay?” one of my colleagues asked after the meeting. “You looked like you were dying in there.”

I was dying. Instead of feeling like the successful, accomplished professional who enjoyed a social drink once in a while, I felt like a pathetic, out-of-control, sloppy drunk.

“I’m quitting drinking!”  I announced that night at dinner with my husband and kids.  Perhaps because I’d worked for so many magazines, I had a habit of making big, headline-style declarations of some new self-improvement campaign.  They had heard me announce with great gusto…

“I’m getting organized!”

“I’m through with carbs!”

“I’m joining a gym!”

“I’m not coloring my hair!”

…only to see me come back from the salon with fresh highlights, eating a bagel while trying to find my gym membership card in my messy, disorganized purse.

But this time the stakes were higher than the number on the scale or the shade of my hair color. And I managed to stay off the sauce for a full year. My husband doesn’t drink much so my sobriety didn’t significantly alter our lifestyle.  My friends assumed I was on another one of my self-help kicks so they just rolled their eyes as I brought my own Fresca to their dinner parties.

In April 2009, I celebrated my year of sobriety with a glass of Veuve Cliquot.  Nothing bad happened. I didn’t get drunk. I remembered the conversations.  So I decided I could start drinking again – but only in moderation and not in front of the kids (interestingly, I wasn’t ready to admit to them that I had caved in on one of my resolutions.)

But the hiding was hard – I found myself lying all the time.  I’d put beer in an opaque glass and say it was Fresca. I’d decline a glass of wine and then gulp down my husband’s when the kids weren’t looking. I got so drunk at a party that I fell down and broke a rib, but told the girls I’d tripped on a step.  When I was bedridden with a hangover after my 44th birthday party – an event that began with mango margaritas and ended with belly dancing at some Middle Eastern restaurant –I pretended I had the flu.  And when I ordered a Presidente in the Dominican Republic, I told them it was “grown-up soda.” But they knew it was beer.

“I’m on vacation,” I told my daughter as I tried to get her to leave the beach and go to the bar with me.   “Mommy can have one drink.”

She stopped playing Kadima and looked me right in the eyes.

“You know what happens, Mom” she said. “One drink leads to another, then to another, then to another. And before you know it you’re drunk.”

I was dumbstruck.  How did she know what I didn’t yet know –that it’s the first drink that gets you drunk?  How did she know what I was still unwilling to admit to myself – that I cannot drink?

So I didn’t.  I didn’t order a beer that night. Or the next night.  Or the next.  I’m not making any promises or grand declarations.  I’m just trying not to drink. One day at a time.

Patty Nasey is a 20 year veteran of the magazine industry. She has worked at Time Out New York, JaneLucky, Teen Vogue, Mademoiselle and SPY, and written for a variety of publications, including Time Out New York Kids, New York Magazine and PAPER. Patty currently works as a retail marketing consultant for Women’s Wear Daily, a division of the Fairchild Fashion Group. She lives in New York City with her husband, two daughters and a dog.

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Booze and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

45823-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-A-Romantic-Bride-And-Groom-Toasting-With-Champagne-On-Their-Honeymoonby RhoRho

I’ve always said that I don’t trust people who don’t drink (yes, even out loud), so it’s only fitting that I’m married to someone who shares my affection for the booze.  We’re married with children, a dog, a mortgage and a ton of bills, and we do what most parents we know do to take the edge off at the end of the day: we drink. We don’t take any prescription or street drugs, we don’t smoke cigarettes or gamble away the family’s money on slot machines. We drink.

Sometimes my husband, who typically drinks quite responsibly, can get off his game. A few times a year, he gets around an old buddy, starts mixing it all up like a kid in a candy store, and gets good and shit-faced. He starts with vodka and Red Bulls, then goes to beer, then maybe some of my wine. He loses any shred of common sense. But me, I’m too fuzzy myself in those situations to notice, and sometimes, he doesn’t even appear to be all that drunk. But the next morning, he awakens, throws his arm across his forehead, lifts one knee up toward the ceiling, and coughs a little bit. This is when I know. The Hangover.

Now, normal people like me awaken, acknowledge the Hangover, moan a little bit, and get on with it. We have kids to feed, duties to perform, coffee to make. Not my husband. He is famous for the all-day hangover, and when he “pulls one,” as I have come to call it, he is either in the bed or hugging the toilet until about seven o’clock at night, when he suddenly pops up, takes a hot bath, and starts cleaning the house or something crazy like that.  He may not drink for a week or two after a really bad one, and I get lonely for my drinking buddy. If I do suffer from overindulging, I am out of commission (meaning wine) for one, two days, tops. What if I pulled an all-dayer, I ask?

When I see the first sign – the arm flinging over the forehead, I get furious. And I don’t mean furious on the inside, I mean steaming mad and threatening him with his life.  It’s not like, at the time, he has much control over his body, but my point is that, by God, he should’ve used his head last night and stuck to Michelob Ultra. I can’t be the booze police and have my own fun too! He has to be in fresh air to even try to recover, so on the last one, he got his ass up and out of the bed and into the yard, where he chopped wood in the rain… as he puked. What must the neighbors have thought? “That bitch runs a tight ship,” that’s what they thought.

At this point, yes, the booze is our stress relief, but when we think about the thousands of dollars that could be sitting cozily in the bank, we do question ourselves. And those dozens of hours lost on all those Saturdays, while the kids are asking, “Mommy what’s wrong with Daddy?” are irreplaceable, and he lost them to something as ridiculous as bingeing like a frat boy.

I do get nervous before a night out, and start threatening him before he even thinks about mixing. He doesn’t want The Hangover any more than I do. And me, I want a husband I can take places. But to his credit, it has dwindled down to only a few times a year.

We don’t really see ourselves ever giving it up totally, and we question what we would do if there were ever an ultimatum. Spouse or alcohol? Could the former even cope with the other if not for the latter? Make sense? So for now, we’re trying to be responsible drinkers, take taxis so the DHS doesn’t come get our kids, and enjoy it rather than depend on it. We’re trying, I said. Our own little Days of Wine and Roses.

RhoRho is a mother of two, wife, freelance writer, blogger, kid taxi service, budget traveler and wine enthusiast, among other things. She has been freelance writing here and there for several years, with writing for a magazine like National Geographic Traveler being one of her many ultimate goals. Rhonda lives with her husband, two kids, a Welsh Corgie and a Dwarf bunny, and travels whenever possible. Her blogs are: Momwhodrinksandcusses and Wine4poorishfolk

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The Six Stages of Hangovers or, How Hungover Are You?

hangover “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Turns out my favorite line from Anna Karenina also applies to hangovers.  I used to think that all hangovers were alike–your head pounds, your mouth feels stuffed with cotton, you feel shaky, dizzy, pukey–but apparently, I was wrong.

Just in time for the holidays–your personal guide to the “Six Stages of Hangovers” (reprinted from About.com Cocktails, but this hangover rating scale has apparently been passed around for years, albeit in different versions):

  • One Star Hangover:
    No pain. No real feeling of illness. Your sleep last night was a mere disco nap, which has given you a whole lot of misplaced energy. Be glad that you are able to function relatively well. However, you are still parched. You can drink 10 sodas and still feel this way. You are craving a steak bomb and a side of gravy fries.
  • Two Star Hangover:
    No pain, but something is definitely amiss. You may look okay but you have the mental capacity of a staple gun. The coffee you are chugging is only exacerbating your rumbling gut, which is craving a rootie tootie fresh and fruity pancake breakfast from IHOP. There is some definite havoc being wreaked upon your bowels.
  • Three Star Hangover:
    Slight headache. Stomach feels crappy. You are definitely not productive. Anytime a girl walks by you gag because her perfume reminds you of the random gin shots you did with your alcoholic friends after the bouncer 86’d you at 1:45 a.m. Life would be better right now if you were in your bed with a dozen donuts and a meatball hero watching the E! fashion awards. You’ve had 4 cups of coffee, a gallon of water, 3 Snapples and a liter of diet coke, yet you haven’t peed once.
  • Four Star Hangover:
    Life sucks. Your head is throbbing. You can’t speak too quickly or else you might puke. Your boss has already lambasted you for being late and has given you a lecture for reeking of booze. You wore nice clothes, but that can’t hide the fact that you missed an oh-so crucial spot shaving, (girls, it looks like you put your make-up on while riding the bumper cars.) Your eyes look like one big vein and your hair style makes you look like a reject from the class picture of Grover Cleveland HS, class of ’84.
  • Five Star Hangover:
    AKA “Dante’s 4th Circle of Hell.”
    You have a second heartbeat in your head, which is actually annoying the employee who sits in the next cube. Vodka vapor is seeping out of every pore and making you dizzy. You still have toothpaste crust in the corners of your mouth from brushing your teeth in an attempt to get the remnants of the shit fairy out. Your body has lost the ability to generate saliva, so your tongue is suffocating you. Death seems pretty good right now. You definitely don’t remember who you were with, where you were, what you drank and why there is a stranger still sleeping in your bed at your otherwise empty house.
  • Six Star Hangover:
    passedoutwomanOtherwise known as the “Infinite Nut smacker”
    You wake up on your bathroom floor. For about 2 seconds you look at the ceiling, wondering if the cool refreshing feeling on your cheek is the bathroom tile or your vomit from 5 hours ago. It is amazing how your roommate was as drunk as you, but somehow managed to get up before you. You try to lift your head. Not an option. Then you inadvertently turn your head too quickly and smell the funk of 13 packs of cigarettes in your hair. Suddenly you realize you were smoking, but not ultra lights… some jackass handed you Marlboro reds, and you smoked them like it was your second full time job. You look in the mirror only to see remnants of the stamp “Ready to Rock” faintly atop your forehead… the stamp on the back of your hand that has magically appeared on your forehead by alcoholic osmosis. You have to be to work in t-minus 14 minutes and 32 seconds and the only thing you can think of wearing is your “hello kitty” pajamas and your slippers
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Dry Dating

womandrinkingcoffeeBy Laura Barcella

You don’t want to know the ludicrous number of possible love connections I’ve squashed by getting sloshed on a first or second date. The things that have come out of my mouth — both figuratively and literally – on nights out with essential strangers make me want to crawl into bed and stay there.

So it’s probably – no, definitely – a good thing that I decided to give up drinking in the summer of 2006. I’d had enough embarrassing nights out. I’d woken up beside more than my fair share of unattractive strangers, and was, in turn, more than ready to bid farewell to the drunken rants, crying jags, and ridiculous battles with  boyfriends, friends, cab drivers, cashiers and waiters. I thrilled at the notion of never having another hangover. (My hangovers were baaaaaad.)

But when I said goodbye to alcohol and its commensurate drama, I didn’t intend to bid farewell to dating. I saw my romantic future shimmering atop a cotton-candy cloud of contentment and stability. Without the crutch of alcohol, I told myself that my once-jumbled love life would fall easily into place. Now that I was sober and ready, Mr. Right would surely be waiting for me (albeit at the local coffee shop instead of the next bar stool).

It sucked to discover that alcohol-free dating was still, well, dating: an ouchy dance of anticipation, expectations and artifice. And for those of us who don’t drink, dating can be even more of a mixed bag. Why? Because, in case you missed the memo, most Americans are all about alcohol. We meet for happy hour at five, dine with wine at seven, meet lovers at a bar later on, and make every excuse to have another round. When love and sex get mixed in, the whole shebang gets even stickier.

To be honest, dry dating hasn’t been as smooth as I’d hoped. Most of the men I dated in early sobriety were drinkers. Not alcoholics, but average Joes: the kind of guys who had no trouble stopping after a couple of glasses of wine; the kind of guys who couldn’t remember the last time they puked up all 12 of the Stella Artois drunk the night before.

Guys like these sound good to most women. “Those men are stable,” you might be thinking. “They’re normal!” And yes, indeed – they are. But, see, Normal and I clash like hot cider and summertime. Normal gives me uncomfortable side glances and keeps me at a perpetual distance. Normal makes me feel crazier than I actually am.

I learned this lesson the hard way after dating a man named Craig. Tall and dark with long eyelashes (my weakness), he was sexy in a skater-boy way (I never got over my sixth-grade propensity for Vans and bowl-cuts). He was a friend of a friend, who I’d casually admired for months, and his warm, easygoing manner won me over right away. He was a considerate guy who held doors open, carried my bike up the stairs and offered to feed my cats when I went away. Sweet, right?

Right – and things progressed nicely until, cuddled on my couch one night, Craig said, “It makes me sad that we can never have a glass of wine together.” Which, to my hypersensitive brain, sounded like, “the fact that you don’t drink is a deal-breaker.” He claimed he was just being honest, and we tried to talk it out. But it bothered me deeply that my sobriety – something I was proud of, something I’d worked hard for – could be an issue for him. His uber-casual comment made me feel like there was something wrong with me for being unable to drink like a Normal Person. (Damn those normies!) My therapist urged me to break it off, worried that Craig’s cluelessness might drive me back to the bottle. But I liked him, so I waited it out; and we ended things a month or so later.

Craig wasn’t the first guy who seemed unsure how to handle the fact that I don’t drink. More than a few internet dates have magically disappeared after learning that I was sober. They didn’t try to sugarcoat their disdain with any “met someone else”-type excuses, either. Nope; we’d exchange a series of perfectly pleasant, getting-to-know-you emails, and then the dude would suddenly evaporate when I mentioned that I’d prefer meeting for coffee instead of beer. Odd.

Then there are the men I wouldn’t dream of dating – the party boys (ahem, cough, alcoholics) who don’t drink remotely like Normal People, who see nothing wrong with pounding six shots of Cuervo at the taqueria. I had a close encounter with a member of this species on a brunch date last year. A carefully constructed hipster with tattoos lining each arm, Steve was cute, unkempt, and unshaven. He ordered a mimosa as soon as we sat down, and mentioned that because he works from home, he goes to a bar every night “just to be around people.” (Apparently he’s never heard of restaurants or book stores or coffee shops or libraries or…) Steve also noted that, a few years back, he was “a dog” who slept around and tried to collect as many women’s phone numbers as possible. He said he had “grown up since then.” (Um…okay.)

Guys like Steve make “Normal”  men — a la Craig — look like dreamboats. But, like I said, I’m not looking to date someone too average, too boring, too well-adjusted. I like flaws, I like edge, I like quirks — heaven knows I’ve got plenty of them. Guys who are Normal don’t usually get me. Though I admit: Thanks to sobriety, I’m much saner than I used to be, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

I decided to stop drinking when it started doing me more harm than good – when it started contributing to the deterioration of both two-hour dates and two-year relationships. Like lots of people, I ride a rickety daily roller coaster of moods and emotions, but my overall frame of mind has improved a lot since the summer of 2006.  I’m 32, single, and sober, and I’m ready for a little companionship with a funny, sensitive but not-too-Normal man. I know he’s out there — inquire within.

Laura Barcella is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Salon, the Village Voice, Time Out New York, and the UK Guardian’s Comment Is Free. You can find her on the web at www.laurabarcella.com

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