I walked up and out of the subway into the blinding, normal people’s afternoon sunlight.
I had just killed the day’s hangover at Bar None — six beers and six whiskey shots — and was carrying tomorrow’s hangover under my arm: a fresh pack of 12 beautiful silver cans.
Reaching the corner, I stopped dead, paralyzed. My body, my heart, my mind — nothing would take me in any direction. I had nowhere to be, no messages, no plans, no one waiting for me anywhere. Just one tiny room three blocks away with a mattress, an empty IKEA dresser and a floor covered in beer cans and clothes.
My knees would not bend, my legs would not turn and one cold tear of sweat ran down the middle of my back. I heard a voice say my name: “Susan.” The voice was warm and isolated from all the other sounds on the street, like a kiss from my mother or father.
I turned; it was Brian. We had gotten drunk and high for two months straight about a year before. I told him he needed to get help, and he did. “Hey, how are you, Susan? ” he asked. I lifted the 12-pack towards him slightly and said, “Oh, you know.” I felt ashamed, exposed, caught. The whites of Brian’s eyes were a brilliant white and his eyes looked straight at me, straight past my shame, like a child looks at you. “Well, if you want to go to a meeting tomorrow there’s one at Second Avenue and Second Street, 3 o’clock. I will be there,” he said.
I knew somehow that was it; the dark was turned off. For 15 years, every night, I said to myself, If I can get through tonight, I will stop tomorrow. My legs began to work. I got home, drank one of the beers and went to bed.
As I walked into the meeting the next afternoon, I recognized quite a few people. I got some friendly nods, knowing smiles; nobody looked shocked to see me. Brian beckoned me to the front row and patted a seat beside him. The walls were covered in blurry slogans and steps and principles; all I could read was “GOD GOD GOD GOD” and I thought, Fuck this. A punky lipsticked girl began to tell her story: “I shot up in train station restrooms, broke needles off in my arm, sucked dicks for dope, overdosed seven times,” she recounted.
Jesus Christ, I thought, I just drink every night and do $50 worth of cocaine a week. This is the wrong place for me. Then the group started to share:
A middle-aged woman: “Since I was a child I never felt a part of things.”
A young boy: “When I first started to drink a fear that had been with me forever went away.”
An old man: “I drowned 35 years of my life. I drowned lovers, children, friends. I saw no way back to dry land.”
Slowly, I began to feel moved into the middle of these people. I was somewhere in the middle and I had never felt in the middle of anything in my life, other than the middle of my crazy thoughts. I was identifying, connecting, empathizing — maybe not exactly feeling like a part of the human race, but more like an island in a group of islands that had a name: The Addicts.
The meeting ended and Brian grabbed my hand and whispered to me, “Now for the creepy part.” Everyone joined hands and said what seemed like some sort of prayer. Oh, boy.
But I went back the next day, and the day after that, and at my fourth meeting someone pointed at me and asked my name. I said, “Hi, I am Susan and I am an alcoholic.” The funny thing is, it wasn’t the word “alcoholic” I choked on; if there is anything I know in this world it’s that I am an alcoholic. No, I choked on my name. I had been calling myself a drunk for so long, and that drunk had buried Susan, pushed her aside, let her down, abused her daily, called her names, lost her children, embarrassed her, ruined her looks, got her fired, turned her into an animal. Now sitting there, saying her name — my name, Susan — just saying it, was like being forgiven by myself. Susan was forgiving the drunk.
I cried gently from the pit of my being for the rest of that meeting and I knew I had begun to walk towards the right thing.
It’s been seven years now. I still hate the God stuff, but one day at a time, I have begun again to own my name. I am Susan and I am an alcoholic.