By Jay O
I’m waking up in bed, my wife lying next to me, and I’m sweating. I’m prepared.
I lean over and grab one of the t-shirts I placed next to my bed the night before and wipe my face. Very quietly, I take off the t-shirt I’m wearing and change into a new one. I breathe in slowly. I’m so sick, I think. I can make it though. I close my eyes, and make it to 5 am.
I get up, drenched again. The bed is also drenched.
It will dry by the time my wife gets up, I tell myself. I look over at the baby-monitor. My son is still sleeping, thank god. I can shower quickly before he gets up. I walk downstairs carefully not to wake Calvin, our 30 pound Dachshund, who is sleeping at the foot of our bed. As soon as I think I’m out of ear-shot of my family, I run to the living room couch for a pillow. I need to get the coughing fit out. I cough into the pillow until my gag-reflex nearly collapses. I nearly puke, but I know that will be loud.
I can’t afford to be loud.
I shakily make it to the bathroom and start the shower. I want to pee, but I’m too weak. It takes too much effort to pee, and I’m scared the coughing will start again.
The shower is where the true discomfort always sets-in. I’m sweating, I adjust the water from hot to cold and back again. I repeat the same words over and over: I. Need. Help. I can’t do this anymore. And like a conductor motions to his ensemble, my words cue the dry-heaving, the gag-reflex and sometimes a breach.
If I ever puke in the morning it’s in the shower, in the safety of the running water and noises of the plumbing. It’s at this moment, after my quiet calls for help and vomiting, I know that I’m taking “the walk”—the vodka walk.
Sometimes I wish I could see the Vodka Walk now, and almost instantly unwish that wish.
The act itself; the shaking, towel draped-shuffle to my garage to retrieve the hidden two-liter plastic bottle of vodka and the aftermath of the final drink, are not unlike the dichotomy of my wish and unwish.
In one moment I’m trembling, scared, anxiety-ridden and terrified of being caught, and minutes later I’m standing-up straight, ready for the day, ready to face my family, and if I’m lucky, able to choke down some peanut butter crackers. At least until 10 am, when I know I have to make this walk again.
Just after 6am, I hear the boys playing in their room.
I get-up quietly so my wife can savor another hour before she gets ready for work. My two year old spots me first as I approach their bedroom door, “Dada, want pancakes and watch a show.”
I pick him up: “I got two answers.” I say with a silly face, “Yes and Yes.” He chuckles.
My five year old isn’t pleased with this: “No, I wanted French Toast.”
“That’s another Yes. Count ‘em, three Yeses. Let’s go!” This seems to be satisfying as he gathers his water bottle sprints down the stairs. His brother jumps down to follow.
Just after 7 am, I’m in our sunroom writing in my journal and drinking a coffee.The boys are within my vision watching their tablet at the kitchen table. Their chairs are pushed so close together that I’m not sure how they can possibly handle a fork, but they are happy.
I hang on that.
I put down my coffee, grab a full trash bag and take it out to the garage. I look up at the shelf where the plastic vodka bottle used to be hidden, but instead see a leaf blower, a life-jacket and a bin of bird seed. I look down at my hands—steady. I do these checks sometimes.
I check myself in so many ways.
I check the car seats to make sure they’re level, and in those moments I remember picking my son up at daycare with a drink next to me. I check my computer bag to make sure I didn’t forget my power cord, and peel back the sleeve where I’d hide that small flask of vodka. When I take out the suitcases for a family trip, I wonder if any nip bottles I’ve forgotten will slip out of the pockets and onto the floor for someone to see.
I check myself as I drive-by the parking lots I used to fall asleep in after work, and the dumpsters where I’d ditch bottles. I count the liquor stores that I systematically visited in successive days, so my patterns and purchases wouldn’t be tracked and documented. Because I’d somehow convinced myself the world was watching me abuse alcohol and I needed to be one step ahead.
When I catch myself embellishing a story, or redirecting my five year old for bending the truth, I remember the lies that kept my addiction afloat—the sneaking, the hiding and the planning for future lies. How can I possibly forgive myself, I sometimes ask my journal. What if I fell asleep behind the wheel? What if I hurt someone? What if my wife didn’t decide to give me a second chance? What if my job didn’t take me back?
The questions often crash down on me like a driving rain—the kind of rain that isn’t forecasted, the rain that catches you on a soccer field without a raincoat or umbrella. It’s in these moments that I need to breathe and look around.
So I do that now; I breathe in. I breathe out. I put my journal down, get up and watch my two boys eat their breakfasts and tug at each other’s pajamas. I remind myself that their Dad is right here, and his senses are running on full tilt. If they need me, I’m right here.
My mind is available.
I walk to the stairs and listen. It’s quiet. My wife is still asleep. It’s a sleep born from comfort because the boys are with me. Each morning I’m predictable and steady. I’m awake and alert. I’m right here. My mind is available. This is not a lie, I tell myself. I’m right here. Right now.
Last week when my wife texted to ask if it was alright if she attended a yoga class after work, which meant she would miss dinner. I said that wouldn’t be a problem and texted back: “You really seem to be enjoying yoga. And you are really sticking with it. I’m happy for you.”
After a moment, my wife texted me back: “I am happy.” And I hang on that.
Jay is a full-time parent of two, young energetic boys. He enjoys taking his children on outdoor adventures, and using the natural world as his classroom. Jay previously worked in education as an English Language Arts teacher. In his spare time, he is an avid writer who enjoys journaling and creating writing-based recovery tools. This article is an example of a tool he calls: Side by Side Vignettes.