Alcoholics hit bottom before they begin their recovery. It’s what they do. It also makes a certain amount of sense. You’re not going to be enjoying a cocktail in the company of good friends then suddenly check your watch and say, “Gotta run. There’s a meeting at the rec center where I’ll drink nine cups of coffee and listen to total strangers’ downward-spiral stories festooned with appalling grammar.”
So yeah, drinking has to get shittier than sobriety for sobriety to stand a chance. How low you sink prior to recovery varies from person to person and like most human affairs, there is some snobbery involved. High-bottom drunks are considered a better class of people than low-bottom drunks. The alcoholic whose liquid lunches caused him to get passed over for promotions can look down on one whose liquid breakfasts caused him to fuck his child. He in turn gets to look down on another kid diddler who was so drunk he fucked the eye socket and had to thumb it in. And down and down it goes like so many metaphysical turtles upon whom the world rests.
Those of us who either drink moderately or drink ourselves to death are immune to this rigid caste system. For one thing, our low points are, relatively speaking, not all that low. Rock bottom is still a long way down. The lows are also more plentiful. We don’t see one as a wake-up call. We feel them in aggregate as the backbeat to our personal rock-and-roll song.
My own backbeat hit a particularly resounding thud this past weekend. There were friends visiting from out of town and their presence made this a special occasion, which effectively renders the rules of moderation null and void.
That’s what led me to being perched on a barstool at Iron & Gold way past my bedtime on Saturday night. Reading this, you might be asking what the big deal is. Tying one on with friends you don’t see very often sounds perfectly reasonable, and it is, but that is not what I was doing.
I had arrived with Rebecca and she was feeling sociable enough to go chat with a friend sitting at the far end of the bar. I sat alone for a good long while and only spoke when ordering a drink. All three of our visiting friends said they would be coming out to the bar with us. None of them did.
We had all started drinking during brunch. It was nothing too hard core, mimosas mostly, and afterward we adjourned to a bar about a block and a half away. That’s where it all went wrong.
I was drinking pints of Stella, pacing myself because I predicted a long night ahead. One of the visitors showed no interested in pacing herself and started knocking back multiple double Jamesons she could neither pay for nor keep down. When it got to be late afternoon and we decided to temporarily adjourn before meeting up later, guess which one of us could not be talked into leaving because she decided two random bar patrons were her new best friends and attached herself to them like a lamprey.
After that, details are sketchy. Rebecca and I walked home. The lamprey woman eventually detached herself, went missing for a while, then showed up at the hotel spraying vomit on herself and her immediate surroundings . She wouldn’t be coming out. Nor would her friend who decided she needed looking after. That left one other person who turned out to be a no show for possibly unrelated reasons. Just like that, our big night out had turned to shit.
No matter, I said I was going to out drinking and that was exactly what I did. Never mind that I wasn’t having any fun. That wasn’t the point. Practicing drunks, like recovering ones, have their own snobbery. It’s acceptable to either bow out early or crash and burn, but not both, and the strata are formed from that axiom. The bottom of the pecking order are the matinee casualties, those sad sacks you see in the back of a police car at 7 pm on New Year’s Eve. The top is a tie between Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson. Mere mortals will never reach that level and the best we can do is make a good show of it. I decided to make a good show of it. This weekend was, after all, a special occasion.
As one drink followed another, I remained perched on both the barstool and my high horse just fine. I quietly drank until close to midnight. That’s when my friend Scott showed up.
I hadn’t seen Scott in a couple of years and despite being Facebook friends, I drew a blank on his first name. I remembered his last name and was able to cover my mental lapse with a quick visit to the FB app on my phone.
This maneuver would’ve been a nice save if I didn’t try to engage in conversation afterward. My mouth opened and a flash flood of gibberish poured out. I blathered in about the events of the day, the events of the day before, and the likely events of the day after. I bitched about my job and sorry state of the world. I was not all negative. I had nothing but good things to say about well scotch even if it was too late for happy-hour prices. I inquired about the health of a mutual friend then ended up blanking on his name as well.
Scott was laughing all through this and I realized I was complete wreck. I wished him a pleasant evening and left the bar. Driving would have been a real bad idea, but I don’t do that and I could still walk without falling over. The cool night air sobered me a little, but not a lot. I hadn’t been this trashed in quite a while. It was my low point, in recent memory anyway, and would remain so until the next one came along. At least I didn’t throw up (unlike some people) and so my nadir was not a ralph nadir.
There was one more poor life decision to be made before the night was over. I went into the corner store and bought some Cap’n Crunch and milk to go with it. This was exactly the kind of food I gave up a year ago to lose those 40 lbs. I desperately needed to lose, but a special occasion is a powerful thing indeed. I would have preferred the Cap’n Crunch without the Crunch Berries, but that’s all they had. We live in an imperfect world.