The music from the jukebox blares intrusively, vying for place over the din of the crowd. Hooting laughter comes from the far corner of the bar. Somewhere at one of the high top tables, a girl shrieks in boozy delight as her friend shows her something on her phone. She doubles over, slapping the table and nearly knocking her drink over. I stare at her, unaware I am doing so, wondering what is so funny, and who’s expense the laughter might be at. An old high school buddy saying something stupid on Facebook? An ex having a bad day? It could be a million things in this era of everyone sees everything everyone does.
“Excuse me? Miss?”
I continue watching the two girls and absentmindedly pick up my plastic solo cup that anyone casually observing would assume is water. Jokes on them, though, because it’s not. It’s my secret weapon. Rumpleminz. 100 proof of minty flavored liver murder. Now to be fair, to me, at this point it goes down about like water. It’s warm and syrupy, but I don’t flinch as I slug it. Who flinches from water? You have to know what you’re doing.
Again, louder. “MISS!”
Oh, shit. That’s me. I’m working.
I turn my attention toward the voice. Smile, hey, hi there, howya doin, what can I get fer ya? Make drinks. Laugh at terrible jokes. Wipe the bar. Slug the rumplminz. Repeat.
The potent, sugary solution hugs my insides. It puts a hand over the forever yelling mouth of my insecurity and shuts it up with practiced ease.
Some people don’t drink hard liquor because it burns their gut.
I have grown to love that burn, I revel in its caustic effect on both my body and my mind.
Sometimes I love it so much that even a practiced professional high functioning alcoholic like me overdoes it a bit. I can feel the muscles in my mouth get a bit too slack and know my eyes may be glazing over. As much as I seek those feelings, I can’t be letting on that my “water” is actually high-octane schnapps…the bosses tend to frown upon us getting wasted on their dime.
Luckily, this practiced professional has a method for that too.
“Hey, Devon, can you watch the bar for me for a minute? I gotta run to the bathroom.”
She bounces over, a beautiful little redhead with the looks of a flapper and the sass of an actress. Sometimes I wonder who knows. But not enough to give a shit.
She slides behind the bar and takes my place, and I pat her and spit some witty comment about the bitchy server that no one likes. Cool as a cucumber. Grab my purse as I walk out.
I walk out of the bar and detour through the kitchen briskly. Everyone is busy, which is perfect, because no one notices as I grab a little white appetizer plate on the other side of the expo line and drop it in my purse as I walk out and directly into the bathroom.
The countdown begins. I know Devon won’t care if I take a few minutes, but efficiency and time are of the essence. Twenty minute bathroom breaks don’t look that great. Luckily the Adderall are the little pink pills instead of the pain in the ass time-release capsules, which are an absolute BITCH to grind up. I glance in the mirror as I walk by it. Nothing alarming, aside from being a bit too gaunt, and my cheeks are definitely getting flushed from the heat of the liquor in my blood. My Irish lineage seems to make it impossible for me to control that one telltale giveaway. I always turn red.
No time to dwell on that.
Thankfully, the bathroom is empty, not that it would stop me if it wasn’t, but it certainly takes away from the stress. I take a pill out of the zipper compartment of my wallet and grab my driver’s license. Hang my purse up and sit down on the toilet.
I nibble the pill first. It’s a science to me now, how I weave the substances together, including the method of delivery. Eating the pills is a slower starting but longer lasting effect. So when I have enough, I eat a little and snort some, so I get the hard hitting blast of the inhalation high but still the lingering trace of the ingestion.
Practiced professional, remember?
I smash the ID down on a quarter of a pill and grind it against the plate. The pink ones bust up easy and pretty quickly I have a pile of powder. I chop it into two decent lines and am grabbing the twenty out of my pocket when someone comes in.
I can’t do this part with someone in here.
Giggling. The stall door next to me slams. I watch their feet. She stumbles into the stall, still cackling to her friend outside the door.
“Did you fucking SEE that shit? I cannot BELIEVE she has the nerve to come up and talk to Sarah like it’s nothing. What an idiot!”
The girl outside the stalls laughs and slurs something unintelligible. I wait, not patiently, but they move quickly, surely eager to get back to Sarah and their Jaeger bombs.
The door swings open. I can hear Bruno Mars for a second as I watch their feet disappear.
I put the rolled up bill to the plate and suck the lines back, one after another, both with the same nostril so they aren’t both fucked if I overdid it. Squeeze my eyes shut and close the unused nostril, pull back deep with the other. Then snort it all back.
Just as comforting as the burn of the liquor, is the taste of the drip. Each different pill, varying by does, manufacturer, and fast or extended release, has a different taste. This one is actually somewhat pleasant, sweet, reminiscent of candy. A dream compared to the nasty burn of the 30 mg time-release beads that are obnoxious to crush as well. I don’t care anyway though. It’s all part of the ritual.
For a moment, the guilt creeps in. I think of my son, home sleeping. My husband, already exhausted with my shit, and not even aware of the epic extent of it.
But I am also a practiced professional at stuffing those thoughts and feelings, and soon the drugs will take hold and push them out even more effectively, though not for good. Numbness is my lover, and the feelings I experience when it wears off only drive me further into its arms.
Lick the plate. Throw it back in my purse to put in the dirty dish bin when I have a chance.
I glance in the mirror again on my way out, this time the check is more thorough. Check my nose. My pupils. Then go traipsing back out to the bar and resume my alternating making and taking drinks.
Closing time. The fun begins now. Restaurant/bar culture is a whole world of it’s own. We come out to play when the rest of the party animals are stumbling in for the night, resigned to another hungover Friday at the office. We don’t have that worry, no one has to be back to work til 4 p.m., and it’s only just after 1 a.m. as we lock the doors. No one wastes a second. Beers are popped open and shots begin to flow as we all laugh and stack chairs.
I’m already drunk, but now don’t have to maintain that I am not. I make a beeline for the Bacardi Dragonberry. I fill a pint glass with ice, then two thirds of the way with the flavored rum, and top it with Sprite to justify that it’s a mixed drink. Open a Coors light and set that next to it.
Laughter, cigarettes, obscenity. We fight over the jukebox and dance clumsily around the high tops. Finally the manager finishes her count for the night and corrals us all out of the place like toddlers on a field trip.
4 am bar. Shots. Bathroom trips. More cigarettes.
Someone is mad at someone, someone can’t find her phone, someone’s arguing about their ability to drive. It’s the same shit. Alcohol fueled Groundhog’s Day. I laugh, sing along to the songs we all know, trade war stories, play the part.
I’m having fun, right?
I am a practiced professional.
But it festers. It festers below the surface.
There is something else I am a practiced professional at.
I am a liar.
I lie about everything. I have to, living this way, a wife and mother, an employee, a daughter, a sister, a friend.
The lies feel like shit. They pile up and weigh me down.
So I drink. And I use.
Then I lie more. Then I drink more. And use more.
These thoughts intrude rudely, interrupting my oblivion with their harsh reality. I can taste shame in the back of my mouth, so I hail the bartender.
“SHOTS!” I demand, gesturing at the cluster of us. “We need some fuckin SHOTS!”
I slap a fifty down on the sticky bar. Easy come easy go.
Bottoms up. Again and again.
After party. Someone’s house. So many hours of my life spent standing around a smoky garage, having conversations I will never remember.
More cigarettes. More booze. Now there’s blow. Not a moment too soon, because the Adderall is beginning to struggle against the amount of alcohol I have consumed since the beginning of my shift 12 hours ago. I try not to let my mind touch the fact that it’s probably easily enough to have put a college football player in a coma, and I barely weigh a buck ten. The fleeting thought that I have to open the bar at ten AM tomorrow for a double does nothing to slow me down. I’m all in now. I have drugs to assist me when that reality rears it’s ugly head in a mere 5 hours.
The last few of us shitshow warriors finally trickle off to respective couches, beds, and sadly, cars, at around 7 a.m.. I collapse onto the upstairs study sofa, wrap my sweater around my legs, and try to figure out how I’m gonna sleep after all that coke. About five seconds after the though passes, I am unconscious.
I startle awake to the sound of my phone alarm. The sun is an ignorant asshole with no sympathy for the disaster in my skull. I can’t move. Everything hurts.
FUCK I gotta work holy shit what time is it goddammit
I grope blindly at the floor where I can hear the phone going off.
Grab it, look at the time with one eye. Must have been going off for a hot minute, because I have much less time then I need to get ready, certainly with the unholy canvas I’ll be working with.
I try to stand up from the couch and have to sit right back down as black spots dance across my vision.
I am weak, I can feel my blood sugar going completely insane. I try to recall if there was any food in the last 24 hours, but I can barely remember how I got here, let alone minor details.
I stumble into the bathroom with my purse. My guts are churning and my head feels like it is filled with hammers and knives.
The shower is supposed to help. It doesn’t.
I step out and stand in front of the mirror to do my makeup.
I flinch at what I am looking at.
Good god. There isn’t enough makeup in the world for this mess.
I HAVE to stop doing this.
Standing up right now is the equivalent of doing a biathlon. I dig out my eyeliner and start to put it on, but there is a problem.
I can’t put my fucking eyeliner on because my hands are trembling so badly.
I swear as I smudge it for the third time.
My stomach churns harder at the knowledge that sets in. I don’t even fight it.
I am a practiced professional at detaching my mind from what my body is doing.
I slink down the stairs to the cabinet I know Wendy keeps her liquor in. I open it, and my eye settles on the bottle of blueberry Stoli.
I pick it up in my shaky hand, twist the cap off, and close my eyes. Two big swallows, I squeeze my eyes harder. The heat blooms in my stomach, searing, horrifying, but soothing.
Twist the cap on and replace the bottle.
I sit on the floor for a moment with my eyes closed. It is oddly quiet, surely the calm before the hangover anxiety storm begins to wrack my brain with unrelenting vengeance.
I relish the peace. Focus on the burning in my gut.
I can feel an ache in my kidneys, but there’s not time to worry about that right now. I open my eyes, look down, and hold out my hand.
It is steady.
Emotionless, I reflect on the fact that I am about to do it all again.
1 month, and countless shots and lines after that disgusting morning, I drag my drunk, depleted shell into a hospital addiction treatment unit. I fight through minutes, hours, and months, of absolutely intolerable cravings to drink.
I miss my lover.
I am not a practiced professional at sobriety.
I am terrified, overwhelmed, and have no idea what the fuck I am doing.
Five years and countless rough patches and life lessons after that drunk, depleted shell walked into that hospital, I am still standing.
I don’t miss my lover.
Like so many of us do after we finally escape a nightmare of a relationship that we couldn’t seem to get out of for way too long, I look back on my time with that lover and shudder.
I no longer seek numbness. I have found what really feels good in life. The things that get me “high” but do not destroy my soul and body in the process.
I am now a practiced professional at surviving.
I now seek feeling, and life, and all of the little moments that make it up.
Real laughter with real friends.
Waking up in the morning with a clear head.
Never having to remember anything, because I always tell the truth these days.
The feeling after a good workout.
The taste of pizza.
A real connection with a good man.
The look in my dad’s eyes on each sober anniversary.
Walking the stage to receive my degree in addiction studies.
Helping those who battle the demons that nearly destroyed me.
And, last, but by far the greatest, the smile on my son’s face when he says, “you’re the best mom ever.”