Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sobriety, Day 365

One of my children bumps me out of my sixth hour of sleep by landing on my hip. I won't kid you; even sober, I can react to such a hard interruption with no patience and words too rough for a first grader. But this morning feels like a celebration, one full year's circle from another early morning after another very different night out. I can hear birds singing, like they probably did that last July morning. A breeze comes through the open window and cools my face. My eyes may feel sore and my mouth parched, but the self-loathing, splitting head and scary night-before memories of a hangover are a distant memory. The distance of more than one year.

I'm going to go ahead and make this announcement with pride, even if quitting alcohol has been one of the easier things I've ever done. Huge respect for our sisters and brothers working to extract themselves from the claws of addiction. Respect.

I absolutely have an addictive personality. Coffee, online chess games, boyfriends - I've been impaled on the hook of each one. But alcohol, after some college-era mistakes, was little more than an enhancement for the food, a way to socialize, join in the fun, cool the throat. Or so I thought. When did I realize my over-sensitive susceptibility to depressants? When did I realize my husband and I fought more viciously than usual when we had both had had a few - and that I would go running after those fights rather than running from them? When did it dawn on me that the regrets that loom largest in my memory were usually executed under the influence?

In the language of addiction programs, the answer to those questions is called a Moment of Clarity. To be perfectly honest, other than a particularly rough day after a night out with friends, my impetus to quit drinking last summer was mostly based on a desire to cut out calories. The revelations about how breaking up with wine could improve my life only came later (and are now gladly shared with friends, whether they ask or not.)

But, oh how sweetly limey and tinkly iced looked Randy's margarita last night - and the Reader's recommendation of best in the city only increased the pull. I had to look away from the ice cubes floating in a sea of pale green circled by a reef of chunky salt and list all the reasons Not To.

One, I was wearing my big girl heels (Twenty bucks at Payless, thank you very much) and a fall off those four inch skyscrapers could mean a threat to the daily runs and endorphin doses that are getting me by these days. Two, I wanted to sing tonight - had the whole set list planned - and I take my karaoke very seriously. I needed my wits for each unfamiliar line popping up on the screen, each tricky key shift. Three, Randy and I were talking plans for our ten-year anniversary. I wanted to keep riding our smooth wave of camaraderie and shared quiet joy, not feel the prickle of irritation in the back of my head and the bolus of a fight rising in my chest. Four, my friend's husband's band was playing in Wrigleyville at ten o'clock, a time that used to feel like many hard hours past sweet bedtime after I had had a couple of soporific beers.

Four reasons enough to go with iced tea. And four reasons the night turned out delicious. The karaoke set, particularly, played to a sparse room of barflies, felt like a dream come true.

"Every since I was eleven or so, I've wanted to be a torch singer in a bar," I told Randy after "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was met with warmth from the regulars.

Where did I find and when did I fall in love with the vision of a tiny spotlight on a velvet curtain, the sound of a tinkly piano and quiet applause, me in a tight dress, emotive arm in the charged air? Was it Judy Garland's epic "The Man Who Got Away?" Some act from "That's Entertainment?" Barry Manilow's "Starting Again?" Photos of Billie Holiday? No matter. My turns at the microphone tap in to some deep roots of exhibitionism, nostalgia, desire and irony that I feel no need to apologize for. If cheap wood paneling and Blackhawks posters have taken the place of the velvet, if the piano comes from a CD and skips occasionally, if prerecorded cheers at the end of the track sometimes need to fill in the spaces between the few sparse claps, I'm still living the fantasy.

I never said I was any good. "When the drunk guy at the end of the bar is giving you the cue to come in, you know it's time to practice a little more," I told Randy after the surprisingly difficult syncopation of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." If Autotune had an iPhone application, I'd be first in line.

All was redeemed, however, during "Because The Night," which nestled sweetly in my range and was rewarded with a held aloft lighter and screams from a couple of wasted chicks. "Patti Smith is one of my best friends," yelled one in my ear as she hugged me afterwards. "I worked with her at blah blah blah! She's awesome! But she can be a real pain in the ass!" Which was worth everything.

Randy's happy to sit and drink and record videos of my performances on his phone. He's the perfect groupie, amiable to my new song ideas ("Ooo! 'China Girl!' I could do David Bowie!" "Hm. Iggy Pop did a version of that song.") and tactful when I bomb. He loves that I love the shabby old tavern CND now at least as much as he always has.

"We're getting more yin and yang," I said somewhere last night, probably after we got out of The Real Jane Martin's show at Common Ground, a set of ingeniously arranged and beautifully sung '80's covers that immediately charmed off Randy's initial touch of skepticism and blew us both away.

"The meat lover and the vegetarian. The drinker and the abstainer." What I was saying was the symbols of opposition in Chinese culture work in tandem. What I was saying was I love him and I believe he understood.

Photo courtesy annrkiszt via Creative Commons.


ryr said...

fabulous my friend, fabulous. now can you convince my husband, brother, father in law, most of my sister in laws and most of my brother in laws to do just 1, maybe 2 if I'm lucky? Ha. Whatever. I'm so proud of you!!!

Ann said...

Bravo, brave friend -- thanks for your candor, for sharing your Moment of Clarity. And thanks for singing along last night, and dancing in your seat. You looked great in your Big Girl Heels and your fab, mod dress, but best of all, you looked so happy.

Susan Bearman said...

Your ability to touch your raw emotions in your writing is always astoundingly beautiful to me — full of equal parts bravado and bravery. Hmm, must look up the etymology of those two words. Mazel tov on your year.