Friday, August 21, 2009

Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women

I am a wild thing. Oh yes I am. I like to smoke illicit cigarettes at night. I like delicious dry white Burgundy. I love mojitos and Ivy gimlets and Norwegian acquavit. I adored the incredibly spoiling Chateau D'Yquem my brother brought out at Christmas. I spent a year at Oxford tripping the light fantastic. I found and lost God, and found him again, this time not in the form of David Bowie, but somewhere in the trees (not to get all Thoreau on you, dear reader). I like to growl at my dogs, with my hands raised, fingers curled, like a monster.

And speaking of wild things, years of therapy have taught me to name, not circle, the elephant in the room. Although I am no longer rich enough to be able to afford the luxury of a shrink ("oh but it does depend on how much importance you place on your mental health" I can hear a voice saying) I loved my therapist like no other. She was my other mother, and not in the creepy Coraline sense. She did not have button eyes, I can assure you. I still remember the lovely things that she said, coaxing me out of ingrained English denial, creating word pictures I could understand, making me realize that it was possible to living entirely without judgment (just love, not that I am very good at that). She had soft blond hair and wore elegantly tailored trousers and sensible shoes and pearls in pretty shades of pink and white. Her face was kindness. Her hands were perfectly manicured always in palest pink and yet she was the most un-Angeleno Angeleno I've ever met. There was no pretension, no airs, just warmth. I remember so well feeling safe and happy on her flaxen sofa even as I struggled to talk about things I didn't want to or cried hysterically. She taught me the notion that everyone does the best they can. We are all flawed, inadequate, self-doubting, self-obsessed, neurotic, anxious and yet everyone tries their very best to do the right thing. At one particularly embarrassing juncture, the tears and the snot running down my tomato-red face, I said, without any irony "I'm doing my best" and then burst into hysterical giggles, realizing what a perfect pastiche of a woman in therapy I was. It was an Oscar-winning moment, I can assure you.

Two days ago I happened upon an article in the NY Times about Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, a mommy-blogger and author of "Sippy Cups are not for Chardonnay" and "It's Not Me, It's You," who realized when she woke up one night in May on the sofa, she was drinking too much.
On May 23, she awoke on the couch, fully dressed. “I thought, ‘I have these kids who are depending on me,’ ” she said, weeping over the phone, “and I have a bad problem.” She called a sober friend and said, “I need help.”
It isn't often that I find myself inspired by a mommy blogger (and this isn't to put Ms Wilder-Taylor down; I am told by my friend @tmcromi that she is just lovely, it's just the word "mommy" that irritates me) but I decided to follow suit, mostly because I am sick & tired of not sleeping at night and I can almost certainly tie this to the wine we drink in the evening.

A friend of my son's, a great kid actually, who's been in rehab for alcohol abuse, was explaining to me his mother's relationship to drinking. "For her," he said, "alcohol is the devil. She has never had a drink in her life. She had one drink and was sick for days." I explained to him that where I grew up, and for the majority of English people I know, drinking every day is not just the norm, but a tradition. My parents often drank wine with lunch at the weekends, particularly of course, with Sunday lunch. And every evening started with a gin & tonic at about half past six followed by wine with supper. Dinner parties included port & liquers as well as different wine with each course. I never saw my father drunk. I remember him functioning perfectly well, cooking, being charming, walking his dogs after dinner. Perhaps the drinking gene was so much a part of the clan that we all learned to drink without showing it.

Well I don't. If I have three glasses of wine, I fall asleep. It's a great big joke in our house. Sometimes I fall asleep at dinner parties. When Minky was little, it was rather sweet. I'd say, "I'm just going to say goodnight to H" and everyone would smile, roll their eyes and give each other knowing looks. Oh my friends know me so well. She smelled so good and her bed with its crisp white duvet was so inviting, I'd just drop off with her, and then wake up in the middle of the night when all my guests had gone, the dog sleeping on the floor by the bed, a pile of washing up in the sink.

And the insomnia. Hardly ever do I sleep through the night. I've become a friend of 4:00 am, as I told someone the other day. It's magic hour at four. Embrace it. Be creative in the middle of the night while everyone else is fast asleep in their beds. But then I started feeling weary during the daytime and forgetting things. Like phone numbers and forgetting why I'd walked into a room. "Early onset Alzheimer's" I'd tell everyone breezily. "Bring me a crossword." But I'd forget words. Everday words. Words I use constantly. And I'd feel grumpy from lack of sleep.

So I've decided to start something new. I have not had a glass of wine for two days. I think it's possibly the longest I've gone without a glass of wine since I had the dreaded lurgy of the tummy flu two years ago and threw up for three days straight. I am aware that I might be setting myself up for failure by blogging about it, but then again, every other aspect of my life is illuminated here, so why not. I'm never going to be on the wagon. I'll probably drink a glass of wine at a dinner party we're going to on Saturday. And maybe not. But, I would really, really like my clarity back, and my energy and the joy one feels upon waking up in the morning to the birds singing, the sun shining and the knowledge that you were in dreamland for seven hours.

Frightfully dull, I know.

My AA friends will be reading this and cheering, dear sweet things.

"Hello my little sober friend" said the Maharishi this morning, ribbing me goodnaturedly.
"One day at a time, sweet Jesus" I replied, slightly off-key.
He laughed, mercifully.

By my bed is a stack of Jilly Cooper novels that I first read in my teens. I'm on "Emily", the first one in the series written circa 1975. It's all about London in the 70s, and orgies, and Scotland, and handsome raven-haired men called Rory swigging bottles of whisky and hurling them across the room. It's brilliant.

image from the Hubble telescope

I'm at the virtuous phase, if there is such a thing. I dream of sipping my sparkling apple juice while watching people with red wine-stained teeth. Last night, I took both dogs out and walked them down the road, under the stars. The sky was unusually clear for LA and I gazed up at it as the girls sniffed around in the oleander bushes. I thought about those Wilco lyrics:
You're right about the stars; each one is a setting sun.
I got a bit giddy with the enormousness of it all.
And then I walked home, whistling.


Wzzy said...

Sounds like you're doing the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. Hoping you find your peace, Miss W. xo

Mrs L. said...

As a woman of a certain age finding herself drinking her way through evenings both social and solitary, I may join you on the periodic wagon. xo

Susan Champlin said...

I just read this again because it's such a beautiful thing. I hope in your process you're able to embrace the occasional 4 a.m. and have your daylight clarity, too.

Anonymous said...

Clarity and feeling good in the morning are
so underrated. You might even find it

Redhead1959 said...

I gave it all up about ten years ago....I just got sick and
tired of feeling sick and tired. Life is so much better without
that fuzzy hangover cloud or the anticipation of the next drink.