Let's say it was a Tuesday - I don't recall, of course - but it was a weekday, because Steve was taking the kids to daycare. It was about 8:40am on a sparkling August day.
I sat in the wrinkled tee-shirt and cut-off sweatpants I wore to bed, stiff and achy, staring straight ahead. Just leave. Just leave now, was my only thought.
"I'm only going to be gone ten minutes," Steve said. "So don't get any ideas."
Just leave just leave please just leave.
I listened to the gravel crunch under the tires as he pulled down the driveway. I waited. Thirty seconds. One minute. My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands were clammy with sweat. When I was sure I couldn't hear the car engine - when I was sure he was out of sight - I sprang into action.
He had hidden his car keys, but I had a spare stashed away. I grabbed the key, and without bothering to put on shoes - no time, no time - I slid behind the wheel of Steve's car. The black leather seat scorched the backs of my thighs, but I didn't care. I realized I was grinning like a cheshire cat. I knew I was going to get more, and my heart soared.
The night before I had convinced Steve to drive me to an 8pm recovery meeting. He agreed to take me, but only after telling me, "No purse. No wallet. No keys. I'll drive you there and pick you up. Understand?"
I had proven to be untrustworthy with a car and money of my own. The disease had me by the throat, and every single time I could get away, I went to buy booze. It had been this way for a few weeks now.
I pretended to walk into the meeting. As soon as his car was out of sight, I scurried back outside. A little less than a mile away was a convenience store, and I had $10 tucked into my sock. I ran the whole way.
I bought a small four pack of airplane-sized bottles of wine. I sucked down two in the store's parking lot, cowering behind a large bush. I stashed the other two small bottles, in their brown bag, behind the bush. I felt a surge of pride that I didn't drink all four. See? I can control my drinking.
I ran back to the meeting, ducking through people's backyards to avoid being seen from the street. I took a seat in the circle with ten minutes to spare. Steve picked me up at exactly 9:30pm, and when I got in the car he knew immediately that somehow - however improbably - I had gotten my hands on alcohol. He shook his head in sadness and defeat. I felt nothing. I had gotten my fix, and that was all I cared about.
The next morning I sat on the couch and waited for Steve to take the kids to daycare. It had been decided that I will go back to rehab. I had just gotten back from this same rehab two days ago, and had found a way to drink. Twice. I hadn't even unpacked my bag from my most recent stay. The plan was for Steve to drop the kids at daycare, take me back to rehab and return in time to pick them up at the end of the day.
Ten minutes, I've got ten minutes. I drove like a madwoman down the street, shoeless, in my pajamas. I turned into the parking lot of the convenience store, and saw the brown bag I had stashed behind the bush the night before. I didn't care if anyone saw me. I didn't stop to think that what I was doing looked odd. I parked and stepped out of the car like I had important business to attend to, grabbed the bag from behind the bush and got back into the car.
I drank the remaining two bottles on the way back home, tossing the empty bag out the window of the car.
I pulled into the driveway, rushed back into the house and plopped back down on the couch, feeling smug. Steve walked in about four minutes later.
"Nice try," he said immediately.
I tried to feign ignorance. "What? What do you mean?"
"The car hood is hot, and I put a stick behind the right rear tire, which is now broken in two. I know you left. I know you drank. I'm done, Ellie. You're going back to rehab - I'll take you there - but I'm telling you right now that this is it. I don't care what you do with your life after rehab. I hope you get better, for your sake and for the sake of our kids. But I'm done."
His words floated over and around me. They couldn't touch me. I had had my fix; my mind and body had quieted. The beast that lived within me had been fed, and that was all that mattered.
That was my last drink.
I hate remembering that day. I picture myself in my pajamas, barefoot, scrounging through the bushes, and I'm disgusted. I remember the way my heart leapt with excitement when my hands wrapped around the paper bag. It felt like freedom.
For the past week or so my mind has been probing that memory like a rotten tooth. I don't like to think about it, because I want to believe that woman wasn't me. I want to erase that woman from my memory bank. I want to banish her to some desert island in my brain, isolate her from the vibrant, loving, independent woman I am today.
But that woman was me. On my three year anniversary, I force myself to embrace her, hold her close, tell her she's stronger than she knows. Only by staring her in the eyes and reminding myself that she will always reside in me can I remember that she waits for me. Waits for me to think I'm all better, waits for me to feel far enough removed from that day that I can lie to myself, tell myself that I can drink in safety now. That one drink won't lead me right back there. Because it will.
I haven't told this story here before. I hesitate, because I know people who are wondering about their own drinking can read it and use it to tell themselves they aren't that bad. That they would never scramble through people's backyards with money stuffed in their sock. That they wouldn't ever risk losing their husband or children just to have one more drink.
I tell my story because I said those things to myself for years. I would read addiction memoirs or listen to other people's tales of woe - arrests, DUIs, hiding alcohol all around the house - and think: I would never do that. I'm not that bad.
It's a frightening truth: if alcohol is slowly (or perhaps not slowly) taking over your life you won't know when you cross that line, because you'll find a way to normalize it. You'll slide down into the obsidian eye of addiction where your world will be small and dark and only one thought will occupy your brain: more.
If you're wondering - do I drink too much? If you are sneaking a drink here or there, if you're lying about your drinking, if you tell yourself in the morning: never again - only to break your promise hours or days later, please take heed. It's already happening, and all those things you tell yourself you'll never do? They are only things yet to come.
If you're struggling with alcohol, look inside yourself, at your truth. If there is a woman inside you who is slowly drowning, hold her close. Tell her she's stronger than she knows.
Life away from the obsidian eye of alcoholism is full of light. Light and freedom. I'm reminded of my favorite lyrics from a Jeffrey Steele song (he wrote it, but it's sung by Pat Green), "Trying to Find It" :
There's a feeling that I left behind
I felt it once running down my spine
The fear of God the joy of life
And I'm trying to find it
There's a spot on earth a man can go
To find himself and free his soul
A place somewhere between hell and heaven
Where no one hurts and all's forgiven
A door that leads to light and grace
But the keys are in the darkest place.