At first, I drank every Thursday night with friends from work. We picked a local pub because of its rooftop patio, which had volleyball nets strung above a sand floor. Young, attractive twentysomethings would slip off their shoes and sprint across the warm sand, their lean, tan bodies serving and spiking the ball with ease. There was a feeling of health and athleticism that felt reassuring. Here, the drinking felt right: the area was beautiful, the people drinking—attractive; no hint of the cold, smirking gargoyle that hovers around every drinking establishment; addiction.
I would start with a Caesar, because in my mind, a drink with tomato juice and celery was healthy. Sometimes I’d follow with a fancy beer; a dark, crisp lager, or a sweet honey ale, and a large platter of greasy nachos. I would laugh, sip my drinks, shove huge hunks of melted cheese and salted chips into my mouth, and on the outside, I’d look happy and at ease. But on the inside, I felt a gearing up, a quickening that started in my stomach and rose to my chest. After this, I knew, the real drinking would begin.
After the pub I would hug my friends and get into the car and drive. I knew every liquor store in every area of town. If my favourite liquor store was closed, I knew which pubs sold alcohol. I had a few favorites that were on the drive home but I had to be careful not to overuse them. I could go every three days, but not more, because it made the cashiers uncomfortable. In the beginning I went to the same liquor store every day after work, and after several months, the clerk sized me up.
“You should buy a case. So you don’t have to come every day,” he said.
My drinking slipped away from me, at first once a week with friends, with a night or two by myself, to every evening a few glasses of wine; it just seemed to make everything better. I felt warm and fuzzy and I had energy. I could do several loads of laundry, vacuum the entire house, paint a canvas, rearrange a room, all while belting out the lyrics to Van Morrison; it didn’t matter the song, when I was drunk, I could sing anything—perfectly. My worries; my ex who I didn’t get along with, my daughter who I was making excuses to see less and less, my work which I hated, the hangovers every morning, the assortment of bruises covering my body, didn’t exist when I was buzzed. I felt like I was cool, smart, and talented. Soon, every night needed wine.
On days I had money I’d buy two 750 ml bottles of a good-to-me wine. The wine was crisp. Each bottle cost around twenty bucks. I’d also buy a 1.5 L of really cheap wine, to keep in the closet. I kept the “good” wine in the fridge because it looked normal, and the large bottles of cheap stuff in the back of the closet along with empties, just in case I needed more.
On the night of my DUI, I’d started drinking at noon. I left the curtains drawn shut, and hunkered down in front of my computer, a Gypsy King CD playing on the stereo. I spread art supplies out on the carpet, leaned a canvas against the couch, and waited for inspiration. Throughout the afternoon and evening I sipped wine, emailed friends, started to vacuum the living room, brought laundry down to fold, and chopped vegetables for a stir-fry.
By 10:45 pm that night, I was out of alcohol. The store closed at 11 pm. I surveyed the living room, noticed the olive Kenmore canister vacuum looking like a prehistoric long-necked creature squatting on the carpet amidst the debris of paints and laundry. I still had work to do, and I would need alcohol to do it. I told myself I was just going down the road, not even a full block, to the corner liquor store.
I pulled out of the townhouse complex, heard a honk, but continued driving, parked, and walked to the liquor store. An older couple got out of their car and stared at me, but I brushed it off. I bought two 1.5 liters of wine (the cheap wine), and paid the cashier without saying a word. I got back in the car, drove to the complex and turned off the engine. Suddenly, lights flooded the front of my car. I looked behind me and saw a police cruiser blocking me in. A young male officer walked up to the side of my car.
“Excuse me, ma’am, have you been drinking tonight?”
It was over.
In slow motion I watched as the officer, large and foreboding in his black padded vest and walkie-talkie, motioned me out of the car, directed me to the police cruiser. His mouth moving; something about a couple who’d called in to report a drunk driver.
I sat down in the back of the cruiser and watched the scene play out from a detached place, like I was watching a movie. Another officer was going through the townhouse, seeing if anyone else was there, checking to make sure my daughter was not. Then, outside, the neighbors started coming. Each one, dressed in sweats or a robe tied around them, tired, curious, sad. I realized then, no more playdates for my little girl. None of these parents would ever let their child play at my house again. I lay down on the seat, too ashamed to look them in the eyes. I started to cry.
Finally, the officers got in and drove me to the station where I was given a breathalyzer. I blew a 0.30 BAC (blood alcohol concentration). A 0.08 BAC is legally impaired. The chart for BAC lists 0.30-0.40 as “Extremely life threatening. You have little comprehension of where you are. You may pass out suddenly and be difficult to awaken. Complete unconsciousness. Coma is possible. This is the level of surgical anesthesia. Death may occur.” That I was not dead or even unconscious was a reflection of the depth of my alcoholism. After years of excess drinking, my body could handle levels of alcohol that would destroy another human being.
I followed the constable into another small room, this with a see-through wall and a table and chairs. He asked if I wanted to talk.
“I have to watch you. To make sure you’re ok.”
“Watch me then.”
I shrugged and laid my head down on the table. The shame of the evening had made me bitter, and I closed my eyes, trying to shut out my life and the mess I had made of it. He got up and walked out of the room, sat in front of the Plexiglas and watched. Every half hour he would call out my name. I would look over. Around four in the morning, he called my name and said I could leave. He handed me papers for my court date. I caught a taxi home, crept in and shut the door, peeled off my dank, smelly clothes, and had a shower. Put on clean clothes. Downstairs, I pulled out the yellow pages and looked up Addiction. I was ready to get sober.
Author Bio: Though she’ll always be a prairie girl at heart, Alaina Baskerville-Bridges now lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her two daughters and cat. She is currently finishing her Bachelor of Fine Artss in Creative Writing and Visual Arts at the University of Victoria. When she is not working on a billionth draft of a story or article, you will find her cheering on her kids at soccer practice, going for long meditative runs to work out plot and character, or sprawled on the couch, watching reality T.V.