The Obituary

By 1987, I was divorced from my first husband.  For the first time in my life I was totally on my own.  I lived in a cute, little studio apartment in an old mill building in the city, I was working at a chic furniture store and I was training to become a Jazzercise instructor.  That’s right, JAZZERCISE.  Laugh if you will, but it was (and still is) a really awesome dance-fitness program.  It’s also a franchise.  Eventually, I had my own Jazzercise franchise and was teaching multiple times a week at several locations.  I loved it.  Mostly because I could do what I wanted for all of the hours I wasn’t teaching.  I had a small group of close friends so we mostly went out after my class and drank ourselves silly.  I could sleep in till 9am usually because I only taught at night.  Ah, the good ol’ days.

Eventually, my best friend, my sister and I rented a house on a lake together and lived the life of single girls–drinking every night, parties on the weekends, no responsibilities to speak of.  I was obsessed with a guy then, who had little to no interest in me after we had slept together.  I could not for the life of me understand HOW he could not be as in love with me as I was with him.  I couldn’t deal.  Every waking hour was spent thinking about this douche-bag.  I cringe when I think about it now.  One time, at an Octoberfest in the city I got totally wasted–like black out-fall down-die from it drunk.  He was there, with another girl.  I made such an ass out of myself that my friend Jay picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and put me in the car and took me home.  I was horrified for weeks.  Hungover for days. A slug for a month.  Toyed with slitting my wrists with a piece of glass window that had shattered in my car.  Yup, I actually thought about suicide.  Drinking problem? Huh? No.

Eventually, an injury led me to have to resign from teaching Jazzercise and go back into the furniture world.  I moved two states away, which I hated at the time.  I came back after a year because I simply couldn’t stand being away from my friends and family.  It was right around then that my biological roots started to appear from the ground.

My mother got a call from a social worker at the state department of Human Services asking questions about me.  Turned out, I had a biological sibling that was searching for me.  I was adopted in 1961.  Back then, the records were sealed.  Tightly.  If I even thought about searching for my biological mother, it would involve probate court, petitions and tons of time and money.  Of which I had none.  I spent my youth wondering where I came from, feeling like an alien, and hiding this horrible, dark secret from everyone I knew.  It was like a little ugly monster I kept in the closet under the stairs.  And now someone was peaking in.

My parents asked me to come over one night because they had something they wanted to tell me.  I thought maybe they bought me a new TV or something.  But no, they broke the news that I had six biological siblings that were looking for me.  FOR ME.  What?!  I can’t even explain the feeling that I had at that moment.  It was surreal.  Out of body kind of thing.  I was light headed and weak.  I could not believe it.

The next day, I called this social worker who could not tell me anything beyond the fact that they were from northern NH, there were six of them, one in Maryland, and my bio mother had died in August of 1989.  Yay.  If I wanted more info I had to go to court.  I did not want to go to court.  When someone tells you you have these people who are BIOLOGICALLY RELATED TO YOU and you’ve lived your entire life feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world, you do not waste time following rules.

I went to the library and got a pile of all of the state newspapers from August of 1989, when my birth mother had passed away.  After about an hour of searching these old, dusty papers in the basement of the library, I found her obituary.  DOROTHY GERTRUDE KNAPP.  Born Jan, 1917-Died Aug 1989.  Six kids, one in Maryland.  Colebrook, NH.  I remember sitting there, with the whole page in my hand, not knowing what to do or feel.  So I ripped it out and took it with me.  The following day I called information and got the phone number and called.  My bio sister answered.  Once I explained who I was, the phone went silent for what felt like minutes.  She was sobbing.  Said she had been searching for me for years.  I was blown away.

The conversation lasted over 2 hours.  Eventually, I drove up to meet them all.  I listened to the story of my birth mothers tortured life, her struggles with abuse from a husband (not my father), her alcoholism (although they didn’t say that, they just glossed over her daily whiskey and milk habit…ewwww), and her internal sadness that she carried with her to her grave–about me.  It broke my heart to hear it.  But these people were cool.  Funny beyond words, which I was very relieved about.  I finally could see where my sense of odd humor came from.  It was an out of body experience.  I felt exposed, vulnerable, raw…kind of like a little baby with no clothes on, just laying out in the open for everyone to see.  It was the strangest experience of my life.

From that point on, I felt different.  I wanted to tell my story but I didn’t know where to begin.  I felt like this was a huge thing that set me apart from everyone else, so I still felt very weird and strange.  I went back to college for Human Services, thinking I might want to work in the field of adoption.  I was confused, spinning in an uncomfortable direction, I didn’t recognize anything anymore.  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  I just didn’t feel ready for any of it.

I’m now exhausted, just writing all of this down, reliving it in my mind.  I still feel all the things I did then.  Here I am, 56 years old.  So much of my life gone already.  I’ll continue tomorrow.  It gets better, so stay with me.  I promise to be honest.

Here’s to uncovering sobriety! Cheers!

Nothingness

I think it’s kind of ironic that I have every one of my drunken stupors seared into my memory.  Maybe not every detail of the actual stupor but certainly the details of the following day(s).  Every one.  From puking at frat parties to disappearing into oblivion for hours.  There are too many incidents to count and they’d just be the same-thing-different-day so I won’t bore you.  How was that fun?

After flunking out of college I spent my twenties working for a furniture store, learning how to use my “sparkling” personality to sell things.  And I got married.  He was a very nice guy.  Met him at the bar I worked at.  He was responsible, owned a house when he was 18, had a good education, and the perfect person to take care of me.  And he drank.  The marriage only lasted two years.  I should have known something was up when I cried like a baby on my honeymoon–for hours.  One time, we went on a trip to montreal and got so wasted we physically attacked each other–not in a good, fun, sexy way but in a I want to make you bleed way.  It was ugly.  After that night, I swore I’d never drink again.  That lasted about a week.  Looking back, the relationship was filled with events like that.  Total drunken messes.  Mostly me.  The marriage ended and I thought my parents were going to disown me.  They LOVED him.  He was their Knight in Shining Armor.  He would be the one to save their daughter from herself.

I always had this feeling that although my parents loved me, they were a little skeptical of my real genes.  Like, anything great I’d do they were proud I was their daughter but my fuck ups meant I didn’t come from them.  I lied and told them the marriage ended because he was addicted to gambling.  Which I suspect he was.  But more so, I was addicted to alcohol and was spiraling down a very dark hole but that thought NEVER occurred to me.  It was him.  Not me.

I continued to drink through my twenties, dabbled in cocaine, and lied to myself and everyone around me.  I was deathly afraid of something.  I did not know what.  I had no sense of who I was.  I had spent my entire life trying to be someone else for my parents, my friends, my co-workers.  I remember waking up one day not being able to get out of bed.  The doorbell rang and I couldn’t even open it.  I spent the entire day in bed crying.  I had no identity at all.  I was a shell of a human being and the shell was filled with black, empty space.  I was nothing.

Two things. Ok, one.

Why am I still waking up with a hangover when I haven’t had a drink in almost a month?  Sooooo frustrating!  I take more advil these days than I did when I was drinking.  Well, maybe that’s a lie.  But seriously, when does it stop?

I have two things to say.  One, I went to a wedding last night with really good friends from work, all of whom drink like it’s their job and I DID NOT! Not a sip.  I even leaned on the bar.  I acknowledged to myself that that martini and it’s beautiful, huge, round, green olives looked lovely, and the chardonnay was the perfect color…not too light, not too yellow…and then remembered how shitty I would feel tomorrow if I imbibed.  And here I am feeling shitty anyway.  HOWEVER, I am thrilled that I did not drink and am also proud of myself that I didn’t white-knuckle it–I made a conscious choice not to.

Have I mentioned that this is at least my second foray into sobriety?  I was sober for eight years until a year and a half ago.  I never really white-knuckled it then either, which does sort of concern me now.  The difference this time is that I’m totally admitting that I am an alcoholic.  I know I have a problem with drinking.  Eight years ago I would have told you that I’m quitting because my ulcerative colitis was flaring because of wine and for health reasons I was backing away from alcohol.

Quick sidebar story:  I was in a masters program for social work a couple years ago.  I was taking a class on counselling and we had to visit a support group of our choice and write a paper on it.  There’s a church down the street that holds tons of AA meetings so for convenience sake I went to one on a Saturday night, figuring I’ll go for 20 minutes and then pump this paper out in 30 and be done with it.  There were two entrances to the room which was filled to the brim with people.  There had to be 150 people in there.  I choose the second entrance to walk in–which was the entrance that dumped you smack dab in front of all 150 of them.  HELLO.  Ooops.  There were NO seats left, except for this one little chair RIGHT IN FRONT.  Gawd…why me?  I slunk over to the chair and tried to look as inconspicuous as I could, cuz obviously the only reason I was there was for research.  NOT because I was an alcoholic or anything.  The meeting started and the leader points to my side of the room and says, “Let’s start over here” so people started introducing themselves.  I had to hold back my internal laughter when the proverbial AA intros started:  “Hi my name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic.  (crowd responds) HI JOE!” They really DO that!!!  I actually giggled.  And then it was my turn.  Gulp.  “Hi, my name is Gail.  And I’m only here to write a paper.  Seriously, you guys.  I don’t drink now.  I’m totally NOT an alcoholic.  I’m ONLY here for school.  REALLY…I’m not shitting you.  This is just research.”  That’s what I wanted to say.  But instead I said, “Hi.  My name is Gail.  And I’m an alcoholic.”  BOOM.  Ugh…I wanted to crawl under a table.  Here I am in this meeting, in MY neighborhood.  What if someone recognizes me?  SHIT!!! What the fuck was I thinking!!! I ended up staying til the end.  Listening to all the stories people told and thinking wow…I’m not THAT bad.  And then wouldn’t you know, I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see a guy in one of my yoga classes.  He says to me, “You’re in the right place”.  I was horrified.  I quickly tried to explain myself, stumbling over my words, excuses excuses. REALLY, Dan.  I’m SO not supposed to be here.

That was my one experience with AA.

The second thing I want to say is that I am very, very happy to be sober.  And also that I totally forgot what the second thing was that I was going to say.  Honesty is what I’m going for these days.  But I’m seriously so happy to be sober.  I’ll think of it and tell you later.  My brain is tired.  So that’s my story today and I’m sticking with it.

Cheers!

I Got the Music In Me

I should have known I’d have a problem with alcohol.  I tend to be a tad obsessive about certain things.  As an adolescent, I was never overweight but my body developed early and I HATED it.  My boobs were huge, I was awkwardly tall and had wicked acne.  I SO wanted to disappear but couldn’t. I was too tall. I would never stand up straight because I was taller than all of my friends. And all I wanted to do was to FIT IN, FAGAWDSAKE!! Boys?  Ha! They were PUNY!!  I towered over them like Lurch from the Adams family (or was he from the other show that I can’t remember the name of at the moment?) Anyhoo, I was awkward in the truest sense of the word.  Plus, I was adopted.  Oy.

Fast forward to the summer I turned 15:  went on vacay with my one friend and her fam and decided on the way to the lake that I was FAT and I was going to NOT BE ANYMORE.  So I vowed to quit eating.  Two weeks later I lost almost 15 pounds (don’t ask me how–I just starved myself and did plenty of exercise) and by the end of the summer I was a whopping 98 pounds.  At 5’6.  Not a good look.  Although, if you asked me at the time I looked amazing.  Stopped eating and stopped menstruating all at once.  My mom was so concerned she took me to the doc.  He gave me a lollipop and said, “Start eating or you’re going to the hospital”.  I fearfully took his advice and slowly came out of my Summer of Anorexia.  I never did rid myself of that mindset, however.  In my 30’s-40’s I developed a nice case of exercise addiction.  Working out compulsively for hours at a time 7 days a week.  Running, stepping, aerobic-ing…I had no body fat but I did permanent damage to my feet.  Bunions the size of Montana. I now need surgery.

Drinking relaxed me.  Made me feel welcomed and warm and not so tall.  It also unleashed my incredible talent (cough, cough).  I remember my first drunken stupor like it was yesterday.  I was 16ish and a family friend, much older than me, was marrying a classical musician.  I had taken piano lessons from an early age but had a serious problem with stage fright so I could never play in front of people.  I remember one recital where I was to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I knew it forward and back.  I LOVED that piece.  It was part of me, I played it so much.  But that day, with all of those people staring at me?  My hands started shaking so terribly I couldn’t even get through three measures.  I had to stop.  I was devastatingly embarrassed.   But at this lovely wedding reception, with all of these beautiful pianos and classical musicians…and the wine pouring into my glass…I was on FIRE.  That liquid courage sat me down at a gorgeous baby grand and out came Beethoven without one page of sheet music.  Played the whole thing by memory.  In front of MUSICIANS.  REALLY GOOD MUSICIANS.  One guy came up to me and said, “That was beautiful.  Who do you study with?” Who do I study with?  HAHAHAHA…some lady down the street who gets paid like $10 an hour to teach me stuff.  I could not believe that this gorgeous music poured out of me.  It must be because of what I was pouring IN to me.  Oh, was I shitfaced.  My parents knew I was, but they too, thought is was cool that I impressed the crowd.

I tried to replicate that moment at my cousins wedding six months later.  Didn’t go so well.  I was half in the bag so naturally I thought I was an excellent pianist.  Sat down and fucked it up so badly I heard some lady behind me say, “Is there anyone here who KNOWS how to play?” Ugh…I ran upstairs to my cousin’s bedroom and cried in the corner for an hour.  And then made out with some kid who smelled bad.  So that happened.

I was 16.  I wonder what my liver looks like now?  How many brain cells have I killed?  How much permanent damage did I do?

I think I need to stop here and let these memories metabolize a bit.  I’m seeing so much all at once and it’s overwhelming.  This blogging thing is cathartic but I also want to keep it honest.  My mind needs to settle.

So, yeah.  Here’s to blogging and being sober.  Happy Friday.

In the Beginning…

I started drinking when I was 15.  My mom’s two best friends would come over on Friday afternoons after school and would drink Taylor Lake Country White wine.  We’d sit at the kitchen table and laugh and talk and drink.  My mom was never a heavy drinker.  In fact, she didn’t want me to drink on those afternoons.  But she let her friends drive the bus and when they offered me a glass, she went along with it.  As she did with almost everything.  My mom was very nice.  Too nice.  Major people pleaser.  I remember getting a buzz and thinking how awesome it was.  My shy awkwardness evaporated.  I was funny.  I could converse with these ladies and entertain.  I mattered.  I existed.

My parents adopted me when I was three months old.  They never hid it from me.  I remember my mom telling me the story over and over again of how it all happened–the day they got the call from the state that a little girl was available for them, the drive they took all they way up north, the first time they saw me, and how in love with me they were.  It was my favorite story. I knew I was loved from the start.  However, if you know anything about adoption you know that the primal wound of being given away by the person who gave you life leaves an indelible scar on your soul.  I was no exception.  It didn’t matter that they loved me.  I was still an alien.

The separateness that I felt as a child has been a constant in my life.  I’ve had therapy, joined adoption groups, read books, researched, yadda yadda.  I now understand it, but like any grief, it never leaves.  You just learn to live around it.  I will say, however, that it definitely impacted my drinking.  I didn’t feel as alone when I drank.  Plus, it was just the thing to do.

In high school, I was a cheerleader.  Odd, because I was a total introvert.  And I smoked.  Cheerleaders in my school were not smokers.  They were the pretty girls, the popular girls, and very outgoing.  If you were a cheerleader who was shy and awkward you were bullied–by the other cheerleaders, no less.  And so my years as a teenager were spent trying to escape the bullies.  Doing whatever it took to make them not be mean to me.  I still shudder when I think about it.  I did have one friend on the squad who had it worse than me.  Her parents were dead and she spent her youth in foster homes.  She drank, and so we drank together.  Misery loves company.  We were dark soul mates.

My high school boyfriend was abusive.  He was an ‘artist’ so his emotions and temper ran high.  I got the brunt of his hatred of the world and took it in stride.  Never really understanding that I was being physically and mentally abused.  How sick is that?  I remember cheering at a basketball game and having these intense bruises all over my inner thighs, peaking out of my uniform skirt and wondering if anyone could tell.  They could, apparently, because someone told my mother and from that point on I was forbidden to see him.  They knew.  I didn’t even acknowledge it.  Just thought they were being stupid parents.  So, then it became lying and hiding.  I was not going to break up with the one person in the world who KNEW me.  Who UNDERSTOOD me and my pain.

College was high school revisited, mostly.  Except I flunked out.  Spent the next few years attending a local community college and drinking every chance I got.  I had a small group of friends and we’d drive around on Friday nights with a case of beer, listening to Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Heart, and Aerosmith.  Oh, how cool we were! At some point I ditched the BF, but he continued to stalk me well into my 30’s believe it or not.  I still have to keep anonymous on social media or he will find me.  Unless he’s dead now.

So, that’s my early foray into the world of alcohol.  It gets way more interesting i.e., depressing in my 20’s and 30’s so stay tuned…