The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says she should stay. It is important to be of use, they say. Another alcoholic’s community is crucial, they say. Still, I wish she hadn’t confessed. I wish she hadn’t told me about the kitchen island, in front of the kids as they ate spaghetti, as they ate every word, and saved her questions for the morning when I know they’ll ask me: what is drinking? What is sober Why is her face so fluffy?
They don’t know what it is to be bloated. They don’t understand edema or addiction. You’ve never seen me drink alcohol, not once, never. I’ll have to explain it to you. They share my blood so it is possible that this thing, this alcoholic ailment, could metastasize within them, even now when they are in their beds chatting back and forth. I’ll have to explain at least part of it to them in the morning.
One day they’ll want to know everything. How I stopped drinking How I writhed as alcohol and drugs went out of my system. How dry I was. For years I was dry like a desert, like the air in winter, like a heap of ash. Angry. Pimples. Thirsty. That first year I locked myself in a halfway house where I learned how to shower, how to clean a toilet, how to cook spaghetti, how to wash dishes, how to make a bed, why to care should take care of making his bed. And AA meetings every day. Every day for three years. I had almost memorized the big book – the acceptance passage, the serenity prayer, how it works, the steps and traditions. I remember so little now.
I’ve been sober for 18 years, so I haven’t even thought about drinking and drugs for that long. Not really, anyway. Not often. Definitely not every day. But every now and then, maybe at dinner with friends, when someone orders a red wine, beer or vodka tonic.
Vodka. I would like seven vodka tonics. I would like to slip into a bottle of vodka, bathe in it, slosh in it, just for the night, just for a while.
That’s how I know my addiction is still there, still lurking, still hungry. After 18 years, it is likely to be starved, but not starving. Hunger is something you die of, and addiction cannot be killed. You can’t cut it out or eradicate it. You have to contain it. Damn. Barricade it. Even then, it whispers. It gurgles through the levees you build. It spurts out a Morse code of desire. You get a certain type of numbness, a certain numbness, every day. That’s the job. This is how you develop from drunk to dry drunk to sober person. You will never be human. You will always be a sober person – a person almost, but not quite.
My babysitter has been sober for nine days. When she tells me she says how proud she is. I gave her my children for the night. If I go downstairs, they will sleep or lie in bed thinking about going to sleep. You and I will talk. I’ll tell her how it was, what happened, how it is today. I’ll tell her half-truths – not even. She will tell me today, with her nine sober days, how it is for her now. I’ll believe half of what she says – not even.