It’s not that I don’t have some beautiful memories of the once-in-a-lifetime, two-week trip to Hawaii I was fortunate enough to be invited on, back in August of 2015. It’s that the “bad,” or at least cringe-worthy, ones are so hauntingly vivid that they crowd out everything else.
I suppose I’m lucky to have any recollections at all of that time, given how much of it I spent intoxicated.
Part of early sobriety, I’m finding, is flashback attacks that hit at random moments, without warning. It’s like my brain is healing itself by scanning for sores and starting to apply ointment, creating some ugly, pus-like seepage in the process. 🤢
Sound gross? I’ll tell you, it is. Picture me relaxing on my deck at 14 months sober, listening to a peaceful, calm “beach massage” meditation track and suddenly, WHAMMO, I’m back to slipping on the wet tile stairs of a cabana in Kailua while double-fisting bottles of Corona I was drunkenly carrying back to the beach, then lying there bleeding profusely in a pile of broken glass while my traveling companions look on disgustedly, no doubt noting that just a few days earlier, they watched me drunkenly horsing around at the pool, and slipping and face-planting on a rock, cracking my front tooth and busting open my lip and cheek.
(Enlarge the attached picture — snapped, I think, in a blackout — and you can see the scabs.)
I lost a lot of blood on that trip. I also lost quite a few friends.
This kind of soul-stabbing regret is par for the course in recovery. I know because it features prominently in the stories I hear from my sober sisters (and brothers) in meetings and memoirs. It’s something I have to go through, and it hurts… but it also helps.
Remembering all the bad shit keeps me committed to never going back there. I don’t have to be a sad, pathetic asshole if I just stay the course I’m on today! That is more comforting than words can convey.
So when I’m, like, loading the dishwasher on a Wednesday and get struck by the blunt-force flashback of passing out at a restaurant table, in front of my parents and in-laws…were my nephews there, too? Oh God!… and a bunch of strangers, to boot, then being escorted out to the car to sleep it off while my husband went back to finish eating with the family, I’m learning to feel grateful, even as I stand there dumbstruck and shaking my head.
My hubby bought me genuine pearl earrings for my 14th month-iversary, and between tears, I remembered the most meaningful gift he ever gave me, back in December of 2006. He was kneeling on a sidewalk in Fairmount Park, opening up a tiny box he’d stashed in his vest pocket, revealing a pair of white-gold hoops encrusted with diamonds.
Engagement earrings. He had them custom-made because I told him I didn’t wear rings. 😭❤️
I wore those beauties for a decade. They’re under my hair in the above pic, circa July 2016, when we resurrected our Hawaii outfits for a celebratory night out in New Hope.
That was our 9th anniversary. Sadly, the earrings didn’t make it to our 10th. I inexplicably removed them at my sister’s wedding rehearsal, after binge-drinking from the open bar for three hours straight, Hubby protesting the entire time, and then, in between fighting with him and my mom and storming off to “take a cab home,” my go-to drunken threat, I left my earrings somewhere at that downtown Chicago restaurant. Or maybe out on the street. The memories of that night cut off at a certain point.
An irreplaceable treasure, lost forever, simply because a 39-year-old woman could not — would not — act responsibly when there was alcohol around.
How do you apologize for something like that?
You get, and stay, sober.
You work on yourself, so you can become more self-less.
My family has been quite amenable to the idea of “living amends,” thank God. I admittedly haven’t fully made the rounds with my Step Nine, spreading formal “sorries” to everyone I hurt and/or pissed off in active addiction.
I did sit down with my two younger sisters around Christmastime, for a mea culpa over coffee. Kate, bless her, told me that as far as she was concerned, my giving up booze was enough of an apology. Andrea had a little more to say.
I put my baby sister in danger because I was drunk. That’s how she saw it, and I can’t disagree. She was visiting us in Philly, and we all went to the Cubs-Phillies game on her last day in town. I had alcohol with breakfast before we left for the park, toting a tailgating cooler full of hard ciders I eventually emptied. I was completely gone by the time the first pitch was thrown. I don’t even remember taking the above pic, but I do vaguely recall ending up at Dave & Busters for dinner, getting pissed off about some meaningless minutia and…take a guess!…storming off, threatening to cab it home.
Except, we were Andy’s ride to the airport. We were basically responsible for her life, and that still wasn’t enough to compel me to behave responsibly.
She was scared, she told me later on our coffee date. I’m her older sister. I’m supposed to protect her. And instead, she felt unsafe in a strange city, because of me.
It’s silly to “wish” anything, and I do believe that even the most terrible f*ck-ups can make you stronger and better in the end, but I absolutely would do that day over, if I had the chance.
No matter how much sobriety I get under my belt and how much I grow as a person, I will always feel deep regret over some of the stupid and selfish things I did. Alcoholism is no excuse. I chose to feed that demon, and the weight of the results rests on me.
Andy made it home, then allowed me to “make amends.” My hubby’s still a bit sore over certain past slights, those earrings in particular, but he’s given me the chance to atone through action, one day at a time, while showing me love and support every step of the way.
I’ll be eternally grateful for miracles like these. Do I deserve them? Well, I have the rest of my life to prove my worthiness, simply by doing “the next right thing.” And after 14 months of progress on that path, I know that no shot of liquor could possibly feel better than a shot at redemption.