My first arrest? I had been out on the town with my friend Harry, had a few too many and no dinner. Word to the wise: a party size bag of Jax the faux Cheeto snack is not enough to counterbalance 4 vodka martinis made by a lady DJ named Bronco.
Somehow, we made it back to Harry’s place, though I can’t recall how. Next thing I know, I'm coming to with my head on the side of a toilet, a tendril of putrid drool dripping like elastic from my lips. Someone was bang, bang, BANGING on the door.
"OPEN UP." (Did a gun just cock?) "This is the NYPD."
I had wandered out of Harry’s place, looking for somewhere to vomit, as his toilet was occupied, and into a random lady’s unlocked apartment. I let myself into her bathroom (don’t mind if I do) locked the door, vomited and fell asleep. At some point she realized I was in there and called the cops, who greeted me with, yes, guns in palms, when I opened the door, bewildered.
A cop cuffed me and read me my Miranda. I have what feels like an underwater recollection of asking him to please un-cuff me. He looked at me, softness in his eyes, and shook his head no. I felt like a toddler and to salt the wound, that's precisely what I smelled like.
Eventually I was claimed by a furious, also-drunk Harry and the police told us the lady decided not to press charges. After Harry stopped screaming at me for jeopardizing the precarious sublet situation he had, he exhaled, “Why was her apartment unlocked?”
My head was drooped. “I’ve been wondering the same.”
As if my wrists missed the metal, my second arrest was a mere 3 weeks later. After sharing a magnum of red and some vodka sodas with a friend ("I had maybe 2 glasses hours ago, Officer." "Get out of the car, you smell like a Russian funeral."), I decided to drive, in the middle of the night, to see my ex-boyfriend at his family cottage in upstate NY. I gunned it, going 80 almost the whole way, then got pulled over going 30 because I swerved on a bridge. It's a Clarence the Angel miracle I didn't kill myself or someone else.
Two young cops, twins in my memory, watched me walk the line. I pointed my feet and figured my history as a dancer would serve me well in this instance. It did not. I was in a billowy dress with an Anne of Avonlea neckline. She was a childhood heroine. Would Anne be noodle-kneeing a drunk test, lit like a football game by cruiser headlights? Likely no. A fellow hoodlum passed by in a Corolla and offered, "FUCK THE FUZZ." I was promptly cuffed and placed in the backseat.
"Sorry FO THHEEE inconfeenance sirs," I said.
"Please. You're nothing. A girl puked on me in spite last week," a twin told me.
At the time of these arrests I was trying to teach myself "how to drink responsibly." I wasn't sleeping in a pimp's shoe box with nothing but a nickel and balding cat. I wasn't even drinking that often. I was doing yoga, meditating, working, writing, making my weird artwork. I had a well-paying job. I decided to re-introduce drinking into my life after a solid bout of quitting cold turkey, something I'd been encouraged to do by many. Why, then, would I choose, in all consciousness, to drink again? Sober, I spent a lot of time alone. I'd stay home, make videos, write, read, and that was great. Very productive. But I missed being with my friends at their most exuberant. It felt like not drinking was a life of isolation, like I'd been punished, banned from recess.
I had a few non-drinking friends, but most of them had the option to have a beer without turning into a psychopath. They didn't drink because it was a lifestyle they'd chosen. I didn’t want alcohol to define me in its presence or in its absence. I just didn’t want it to be a problem.
"All my friends drink" I told my doctor once, after regaling her with a black out story. "Make new friends." she'd said, without a lash bat. But how, Dr. Erin, how?
My drinking was an extension of social anxiety, an antidote to insecurity, a void filler, but it began in good humor with a love of parties. What's better at 16 then a magic serum that gives you the gumption to KISS someone? To speak with spitfire brilliance or talk to some randoms or forget the bull and r-e-l-a-x? It was a revelation. When I drank, I drank hard and deep. I drank like I was looking for something to sever me from daily life, my thoughts, my body. Something liberating, connective in a new way. Sometimes I had insane, hilarious, joyful times.
Or, I'd go to parties and pass out. I'd do stuff bizarrely nonsensical or cruel. If I was dating you; watch out, amor, I either want to punch you, weep or have aggressive sex. Alcohol caused rifts. It caused humiliations, sickness, fights, swamps of lost memories, unsavory sexual decisions, lies, bruises. I drank and transformed.
My friend Matt asked me once, looking at a picture, "At what point in a night of drinking does an elf come to replace your eyes with glowing red balls?" The nights I'd drink, hours before I'd start, I'd feel it in my gut. A strange murk rolling in like a demon I seemed, sometimes, to like and feel comforted by. (I believe Gun's N' Roses refers to this in their 1987 debut album title.)
Part of me felt drinking gave me some authentic union to darkness; some brazen command or empowerment that enabled a liberating carelessness.
I couldn't conceive of getting help, joining a group, nor did I want to. I wasn't an "everyday drinker" and the problem mingled with denial and shame. I harbored a notion that sobriety was an identity and a pilgrim hat. There were plenty of people in my life who didn't know about my drinking. My friends and family did of course, but in other realms I kept it pretty tight lipped.
In nearly every way it could, my body told me to stop. It barfed, blacked out, forgot, it pimpled and smelled of alcohol for days after I’d drink. It would host paralyzing bouts of anxiety that seemed to increase in frequency and directly corresponded to how much I'd drink. I would get depressed, dark and hating, for days, weeks. But I just. Kept. Doing it. I invited it in, even though I knew I wanted it out of there.
That second arrest, as I waited to be picked up, dawn light cut a line on the floor. I was cuffed to a bench in a holding cell and the twins alternated asking questions, still gathering bits of information. From where were you coming? He's your ex-boyfriend? Was that a cardboard poster of Joey Lawrence in your trunk?
They asked for the address of my employer, told me this would be expensive, that I wouldn’t be able to drive for awhile. I looked at my feet and noticed a hangnail on my pinky toe that started to bleed. As if I could seem any less with it to the twins. “Can you pass me a little tissue? Can you actually just put it on my toe? Thank you so much.”
I felt a billowing sadness verging on elation, those odd emotions that often dance in times of distress. I knew it was odd, how glad I was they caught me. Sad that only now I felt like I could stop. I'd been so far from feeling empowered to treat myself with kindness, that I needed two 26-year-old cops to tell me "Get off the road, fool." The elation was feeling alive for the first time in awhile.
When my ex arrived, kindly, to retrieve me, the cop brought over the items I told him to get from my car. My wallet, phone, journal.
“You a poet, or something?”
“That’s good.” He looked down at the tissue still attached by the small blood dot on my toe.
I haroomphed. “What good is a poet in late capitalism?"
He shrugged, one hand on his belt and the other on my journal. “Probably quite a lot.”
I stopped drinking after that. It's been 8 months. I left my job, moved and decided to pursue with gale force things that really give me joy. For me, not drinking is a decision to be clear, to reject what I don’t want, what doesn’t feel good, what isn’t really free.
My third arrest? I’ll be sober.