Wedding receptions can be awkward. They are even more awkward when one of your friends says that she can’t stop drinking.
Just ask my friend Mary.
Mary and I could not be more different. We met our freshman year of college because we lived a few doors away from each other, and I think our roommates had met. Physically, Mary and I are opposites. She is willowy, tan, and blonde. I’m round, pale, and brunette. But those are the least of our differences. Mary is fun, mischievous, friendly, gentle, humble, gracious, and compassionate. It is no surprise that she became a NICU nurse.
In that first year of our friendship I often wondered why she was friends with me. Why would someone pretty, popular, and adventurous want to hang out with a sullen, angry, misanthrope? I never got an answer to that question, other than the obvious one: because Mary loved me.
Mary wasn’t the only one who loved me despite my abject disagreement with their decision, but she made it look effortless. I can only remember one instance when Mary lost her temper with me, and I totally deserved it. Mary had held my hand while I cried, she had made me laugh even when I really didn’t want to, and she had always been willing to listen.
I knew before I got on the plane to go to Marissa’s wedding that I was in trouble. In fact, I had known for almost a year. There had been the nights lost on binges and the days recovering from binges. There was the job I was barely hanging on to, the threat of being fired hurled at me from my boss almost every day. There were the periods of shaking I was convinced was the onset of MS, but turns out were just DTs. Going into what was supposed to be a beautiful celebration of love and an exciting weekend to catch up with long-time friends, I already knew in my heart I was going to die. I knew that I had been trying to die since I was 12, and that of all the methods I’d tested out, alcohol was the only constant, the winner. I knew that for once, I was going to achieve a goal. I hadn’t gotten thin (although, at the time, I was so sick from drinking that I did weight less), I hadn’t finished my Master’s degree, I hadn’t become a loved wife. But I was going to achieve my death, because there was simply nothing inside of me that wanted to live.
And I was willing to let it go there. I didn’t go to California looking for help. In fact, I think I went to say goodbye. I went finally have it be over, to close the last connections, outside of my family, I had to the person I had once been. In the ways that mattered I was already gone, lost as Kathleen would put it later, and I think I needed to see them to accept that it was over. I was over.
In the midst of the wedding ceremony I lost my hearing. It was only for about two minutes, but I could not hear any sound. It should have been terrifying, but it had happened to me before. Up from the smallest spark left of my soul I heard only one sentence.
This is wrong.
I was shaken. I didn’t understand. It took me months to understand. But I didn’t need to understand. I just needed to hear that there we something still alive inside of me.
I had a few glasses of wine at the reception. But I could sense the wrongness. For the first time in years I couldn’t muster my own arguments of why I deserved to get drunk. I couldn’t manage to plan for the next drink while half-way through the current one. Something was wrong, and I had to find it.
Mary and I went to the balcony to have a cigarette. I don’t remember exactly what she asked me, probably something along the lines of “are you alright, you seem upset?” And I’m not completely sure what I said to her in return, but it was probably, “I think I’m an alcoholic. I’m trying to drink myself to death.” We stood out on that balcony talking for a long time. We missed the toasts. We smoked a lot of cigarettes. Various people came out to check on us. I don’t remember what we said. I just don’t. Some conversations stick in my head word for word. But this one, the one that saved my life is almost a complete blank.
Because it was Mary, not her words that saved my life. Make no mistake, Mary saved my life. She simply loved me then, the way she had loved me for years. With a patience I cannot ever understand and a heart of kindness I can only hope to emulate a fraction of someday, Mary became of real person to me in a way no one had been in so long. Her existence, the singular person God made, were a thread of reality I could feel attaching to me, because her love attached to me. Her love was real, and for a moment it made me real again, and that moment was enough.
I flew back to Maryland at the ass-crack of dawn the next day. I cried the entire flight. I cried the whole night. I cried off and on all day at work, especially when I sent an email to six people. In the midst of those tears I made a decision. I told those six people what I was going to do. And that night I did it. I called the national Alcoholics Anonymous hotline and found the time and location of a meeting near me. The next night I went.
That night was 4 years ago. I have been sober for 4 years. Some days I cannot remember what it was like to drink, it seems like such a far away dream. Some days I cannot remember why I stopped, it seems like such a cruel injustice. Many days I don’t think about it one way or another, I’m just too busy. There have been so many tears, more than a few chuckles, a few awkward moments when people ask me to share with them things I’m not ready to share. (Just some general advice, when someone refuses a drink, just say “ok,” and move on. Don’t ask why, don’t ask them if they are sure, don’t say, “it’s just one.” All bad ideas. “Ok,” and move on.) My family and friends have given me more love, support, and understanding than I can ever recount, but I’ll keep trying.
Mary deserves a special thank you. I can never thank Mary the way she should be, because I don’t know that I will ever fully appreciate the grace of God that worked through her. I believe God will thank her in the next life. My words will never be enough. But I always give them to her.
Thank you Mary. You saved my life.
(4 Years Sober)