I always felt sorry for alcoholics.
How embarrassing it must be. To identify as something so gross and flawed and "less than." Those poor people. I was glad that I just knew how to have fun. I had a successful career, some terrific stories that people laughed at and I could do anything. If I wanted to smoke weed, I could smoke weed. If I wanted to stay at a bar until 4 a.m. and drink, I could do that. When I finally decided to try cocaine, that was an option, too.
How awesome that I could do whatever I wanted. These were my choices to make. That's what you do if you are an adventurous person leading an adventurous life. You do whatever the fuck you want, that's what.
In 2007, I met a professional acquaintance who I reached out to socially. The professional acquaintance suggested we meet at a bar. I ordered a beer. He ordered a Diet Coke. "You don't drink?" I said.
"No, I don't drink," he said, steely but at the same time kind. "Sober for a while, did rehab, the whole thing."
At this point in my drinking career, I'd had my share of blackouts and nights where I went too far -- but who didn't, I thought. When a therapist pried too much and wanted to know exactly how many blackouts I was talking about, I just stopped seeing her.
Then, to this acquaintance who I barely knew, I said something that surprised me. "I should probably do that," I said, sadder than I had ever realized. Then I drank my beer. And ordered another one.
Over the next couple of years, I would "quit" drinking at several different points. Of course, I would never do AA. I would never identify as an alcoholic. That was for losers whom I was better than. That was for people who didn't have a good job. I couldn't be an alcoholic. I had a great job, and sometimes I only had a few drinks. Other times I just took it too far, that was all.
Then one morning I came to after a night of drinking, and I resumed consciousness enough to realize I was having sex with a guy who was fucking me without a condom. I was horrified. He said I seemed to like it, so what was the problem? I bought Plan B, vomited all morning, hated myself and pledged to my intern -- who was Muslim and didn't drink -- that from this date forward I wouldn't either. But I forgot the pledge pretty quickly. Something happened. I had a bad day. A guy bought me a drink. Who knows? The difference was: The option was still on the table. Secretly. I always knew it was. I wasn't done.
I would reach out to that sober acquaintance who I met in 2007 from time to time, and I told him I was not always doing so good and was sad a lot -- really sad. I was making bad decisions. Sometimes the night got away from me. I didn't care about much of anything. I felt my authentic joyful self slipping away. This sober acquaintance told me if I ever wanted to, he could take me to a meeting. I knew he meant AA, obviously. I didn't even know how these things happened, but at this point, yes. Okay. If I didn't care about anything maybe I should stop caring so much about that. So I finally went.
"Is there anyone new here?" the woman asked at my first ever meeting. I raised my hand. "Hi, my name is Mandy--" I said, and I knew what I was supposed to say next.
They waited for me to keep talking. I was hesitant, and I talked very quickly. I couldn't stop talking. I looked down at my hands. I explained how it was just too hard in my industry not to drink. You are weird if you don't drink. You are strange. You are a loser. You are weak. You are defective. You'll never get ahead. You'll never fit in. Life doesn't work that way. Then I started softly crying, finally letting myself feel fears and feelings I hadn't let come up in a long time. I told the meeting about a very personal humiliating example that had just happened to me. A man I worked with at The New York Post scolded me when I said I was trying not to drink. He said with disgust, "There is nothing more unattractive than a woman who can't hold her liquor."
My cheeks burned in hot shame.
At that first meeting, as I told my story, I felt a relief of heaviness I had never felt before, not even in therapy. The terror and the secrets were gone, extinguished in the light of day. The dread dissipated. Not totally gone, of course, but the fog was noticeably lifted. I felt my authentic self -- including the most shameful flaw and identification possible, that I was "an alcoholic" -- and I was loved and accepted for it. The rest of the people in the room were also flawed wonderful people. It was a new sense of freedom.
The story I tell next is not a typical "how I got sober" story. About seven days into not drinking (after I went to that first meeting), I met a very attractive, successful, funny young man at a Page Six party who charmed me down to my bones. He said, after he listened to some of my ridiculous antics, that -- actually -- he had always wanted to go to a sex club, but had never found a girl who was cool enough to go with him. But he bet I was cool enough, wasn't I? I stared down at my water as we discussed the proposition, and I knew that my desire for the story and the experience was irresistible. "All right, you little shit," I said. "But I'm not drinking water if I'm going to a fucking orgy."
I'll drink, I thought, but no cocaine.
At the party, I ordered vodka tonic after vodka tonic after vodka tonic. The young man kissed me and fingered me through my dress, and I was wet with desire and excitement. (And here's the thing about that. It's okay for partying stories to have elements of ridiculous lusty sexy fun and adrenaline. But, like the ex-boyfriend who is abusive, it's just as important to remember your bottom line of self-respect and how much the bad can greatly outweigh the good. That's how I view it now.)
As the night went on at the party, I started a Truth or Dare game with a swinging couple across from us. There was a cocaine dealer cheering us on in the corner. He offered to give me a complimentary bump to do off of the giant-breasted British chick's chest just so he could have that specific visual burned in his brain. I said, "Absolutely." I was high as a kite.
On the way back to the young man's place, I sucked his dick in the cab and then stumbled up to his apartment. I got a giant bruise when I fell on his bathtub corner. We then had almost comically degrading sex in his bed, where he said quite memorably at one point, "You are a whore, aren't you? But you're my whore."
The next morning I woke up in a fog, mouth parched and heart beating rapid-fire. I realized my sobriety was completely blown. But I also felt like, as strange as it seemed, I had really had a connection with this guy. Superficial, maybe even evil in parts, but a connection. He was smart and quick and clever, we had laughed throughout the night, he held my hand and said half-joking at one point, "I'm your boyfriend now."
I turned to him that morning-after uncertainly. He was now incredibly cold. He hadn't meant any of the nice things he said. Of course he hadn't.
Then the sadness set in. An adrenaline crash. I was sad for how much I had wanted this asshole to like me, and then I judged myself some more for feeling so sad, putting myself in this situation, and I piled that self-hatred and shame on top of the original sadness. But soon enough, I found a new distraction. I met a man who was the last man before I got sober.
This new man gave me weed. He gave me alcohol, of course. And he gave me cocaine. At different points, he also kept jerking my hair back and my head around in a violent way that was different from the playful S&M that I had ever experienced before. It scared me. It happened when I was standing one time. He called me "bitch" a lot. When I sobered up enough to know what I was doing, I said that I didn't want to have sex with him, I didn't feel comfortable, and I wanted to leave. "Let's be friends," I said weakly. "I don't think so," he said. I got dressed in the dark, my mind and heart numbed out and frantic.
I wandered home, smoking cigarettes, crying and deeper in a pit of nihilism and despair than I had ever experienced in my life. None of this was fun anymore. I felt like I was offering myself up as some kind of human sacrifice for a story that had long since lost its plot.
Desperate to feel any kind of hope, I reached out to a few different sober comics who I had talked to the first time around after that first meeting. One of these men interrupted me as I tried to justify this and that and why I had done one action or another: "You know, Mandy, you can keep calling me up every few weeks, or you can change your life."
I'll never forget that sentence. I wanted to change my life. I was ready.
I went to a meeting on my own the next day. I called one of the girls I had gotten a number from at that first meeting. She told me about other meetings. This time I actually started counting days in a serious way. I got more phone numbers. I got a 24-hour-coin. I stuck it in my wallet.
And then, one night, I heard from the adorable funny young sociopath who took me to that stupid sex club party who I had wanted so desperately to like me. There was another "party" coming up, he said. I had 22 days sober at this point.
I said no, of course. But secretly I was delighted to hear from him. Secretly I wanted him to convince me to go. So I let him do just that. I met him at a bar before the party. Over the course of the evening, five things happened. 1. The bartender brought me a free drink that I did not order. I did not drink it. 2. At the entrance to the "One Leg Up" party, the organizer squirted vodka into people's mouths. I did not participate. 3. Inside the party, they were squirting vodka into people's mouths. I declined. 4. Inside the party, a man bought me a drink. I refused. 5. After the party, which was much more tame this time (because I was not fucked up -- and just enjoyed interviewing people and laughing and dancing and flirting and holding on to my personal power) we went back up to the bar where I ordered a Pellegrino. I was brought Pellegrino champagne.
At this point, the fifth time I was offered a drink for the evening, I thought that perhaps this was a sign. I actually had a moment where I was about to drink it. Five times. Clearly God was trying to tell me something.
And then I remembered.
That stupid fucking 24-hour coin in my wallet.
Which made me think of all the men and women from AA who had talked to me and genuinely cared about me (versus wanting to use me) and given their love, time, attention, care, heart and soul to me. I remembered my 22 days. I did not want to give that up.
"Pellegrino water," I said to the bartender, pushing the champagne away. In that one moment, I made a single life-altering choice. I didn't let life happen to me. I made life happen for me.
I left the young man there alone at the bar. I left with my power. I left with my day count. I left with my sense of hope. And it hasn't stopped since. Today is day 867. Tomorrow will be day 868. The day after that will be day 869.
In "The Gnostic Gospels," there is a saying I like: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
My name is Mandy, and I'm an alcoholic.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.