As I resume my drinking career, I sit in front of a sparkling glass of Johnny Red and water and think this: am I being judged? I look around the room and realize that I know two people in the bar on the hill where I used to go often before I quit three years ago -- and wonder if they're watching me. Do they know I even stopped drinking alcohol once? Do I give a damn if they do? I know, certainly, that they cannot fathom the private reasons I quit in 2006.
I quit back then because I wanted to get a few things in my life in order -- from my waistline to my finances. The waistline was suffering the brunt of 43 and my finances were geared more toward insuring that what I had, at the end of the day, covered my bar-stool rent and not my house rent. Priorities, priorities! Anyway, I was sitting alone on Norman Mailer's deck one night in early June, 2006. He and his wife were in New York and I was watching the house for them. That night I came to the conclusion that I was bordering on flabby and well into the realm of broke, so I chucked my last glass of cheap vodka and expensive cranberry juice over Norman's railing into the high tide. Plop.
I have the notion that no one has chronicled their journey back to booze. I know many have written ad nauseam about their descent into what is frequently called Hell -- the bottomless glass and the endless hangover -- but not the conscious choice to head down the admittedly dangerous highway of "what if I cannot turn back?"
When I quit, I never joined AA. I didn't want it. Sure, everyone who heard I was giving up the glass said my attempt at abstinence would fail quickly but they were wrong. I hung on for over 3 years. In hindsight I don't think I was a serious alcoholic -- just someone who drank too much too often, knew it and, in the end, grew tired of it. So I stopped and all was good. I got thinner, my wallet grew fatter and I re-discovered sleep. Even the AA naysayers were impressed and finally nodded toward me, as we passed on the street, with approval. The kid did it alone! Yes, I did.
Admittedly it was no easy road. Everyone drinks. You sit with a group and they're all sipping wine, martinis, gin, vodka or Irish whiskey and you're nursing soda in a big cup. You stand out like a sore thumb. Everyone around you tends to hold tight to their glass as if they suspect you're going to sneak a sip while they're not looking. Silly. But, in retrospect they were probably correct to do that. Some of those early days were tough. And so my days without wine and roses continued...
Cut to a year into my sobriety project: Somewhere along the line in that first 365 days my boyfriend decided he needed to be a woman. Not an easy thing to learn or process (for either of us) but I miraculously stayed sober through his/her transition and our inevitable separation. (That's another article)
Two years into it: Mailer was dead and I had a book deal with HarperCollins. The book was to be about The Author and me and how I learned to get a handle on being a better man from him. He taught, I listened (mostly) and time passed and I remained sober still. And I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote.
Year three: Now. The book, Mornings with Mailer, is done and so is my patience for sitting through every goddamn minute of life without the fuzz I used to enjoy in my head. That fog, (The haze! The buzz!) cushioned the brick-hard reality of my earlier troubled days. Nothing wrong with that. When an old friend, even one that time and again kicked you when you were down, goes away you occasionally still miss him. To that point, I miss booze. And so, I am seriously considering resuming my drinking career. But I've promised myself I'll do it in a rather measured way.
I'm not going for the top spot right out of the gate -- that would involve sucking down large amounts of vodka. Instead, I'm working my way back up the ladder as I did twenty years ago. I began drinking with the fine boys I knew in college. We always enjoyed scotch while talking literature -- so that's what I drank tonight. Just one drink. I had one good, stiff scotch and water. It was good to see Mr. Johnny Walker and his copper-colored happy liquid again. And it was pleasurable to experience the uncomplicated lilt in my head and legs as I made my way back home to write this.
Cheers, Johnny. Perhaps we'll meet again tomorrow? It's likely, but it's not a foregone conclusion. Baby steps back to the edge of the abyss, I tell myself. Baby steps...
Stay tuned. I promise I'll be honest.