Ten years ago, I was a nice dinner party in Los Feliz.
It was a warm spring evening, and we were sitting around a table in our host’s lush back yard. The conversation became a contest. Everyone went around the table telling their worst drunk stories.
They told stories like “I was so drunk I got angry at Joe and threw my half finished beer can at him! It’s lucky I didn’t hit him! Omigod!”
Everyone agreed this was a hard-core story.
Finally it came around to me.
I think some people around the table knew I was in recovery, and had been for about 7 years, but nobody really understood what that meant, other than it meant that unlike them, for some reason I couldn’t stop quite so easily.
My girlfriend at the time understood. She gave me this look that combined a sneer with wide eyed alarm. She gave me this look a lot. It meant that there were two wholly contradictory emotions going on. On one hand, she was kind of thrilled knowing I thought that her friends were pussies who had just told pussy stories. She got off on that bad boy thing. On the other hand, she was genuinely worried about what might come out of my mouth.
So was I.
A typical morning after a typical night would have involved me waking up next to some woman I had no recollection of meeting. My head would feel as though it had split in two, and every heartbeat would send a pulse of pain shooting across my skull. I would look out the window through bleary, bloodshot eyes and see that I was not in whatever town I started in. The last thing I might remember was going to the bar down the street from my apartment. I would get up and quietly rummage through her purse, hoping to find some ID so that I would know her name, and then I would go through her papers, hoping to find a utility bill that would tell me where I was. And I would check my wallet for money (there usually wasn’t much) and hope that I wasn’t so far away that I couldn’t afford to get home by greyhound bus.
Another typical morning after a typical night I would wake up in my own bed, covered in blood. I’d wash off carefully, hoping to find that the blood was mine because if it was someone else’s there was a part of the story I couldn’t remember that I might have to answer for. Criminal liability was always a possibility.
When it came time to my story, I demurred. It is my experience that people who have not lived the life I’ve lived don’t always find the humor in these situations that I do. Plus, nobody really likes being upstaged as much as they and all of their stories would be if I told mine.
Nicolas at the gym doesn’t get this. He’s got 14 months of sobriety, and loves to talk about himself and his drinking, and drugging, and struggles with f/Faith, to anyone who will listen, and if there isn’t anyone who will listen, he tells the stories anyhow, to no one in particular, to the room itself. He has the enthusiasm of the new convert. He doesn’t understand the concept behind the word “Anonymous” in Alcoholics Anonymous. And so he goes on and on telling stories about doing crack down in South Central, or being wasted down on skid row. He sounds like a pretty low bottom drunk. Problem is, his audience is a bunch of elderly rich white guys in the men’s locker room at the Foothill YMCA in La Canada Flintridge. You can tell by their expressions that they find this all a little alarming. This is Mitt Romney country.