Shakti Shot: how divine intervention kept me sober

by Jamie

I first stopped drinking in June of 2014. I had periodically disclosed to a therapist or friend I thought I had a problem, but Ididn't have any real belief I could stop. And I didn't think I wanted to. My real bottoms had occurred in my early to mid-20s, so everything from that point wasn't that bad.

That summer, I arranged to take 6 weeks off from my job to write, partially unpaid, putting a strain on my household finances. I was terrified of blowing through that 6 weeks with nothing to show for it but a string of hangovers and intense self-loathing. I've got pride in excess, so I couldn't deal with having to return to daily life and tell everyone I'd accomplished nothing while away.

I stayed sober for that 6 weeks and found I felt a hell of a lot better. I discovered Saturday mornings, a thing I hadn't seen for at least a decade. My chronic acne improved (for a while), and I stopped having to struggle so hard to maintain my weight. Even bigger, my cyclical bouts of depression became more manageable; I was able to move around the world with a lot more ease.

Two weeks before I stopped drinking the first time. 

Two weeks before I stopped drinking the first time. 

The fall switch is my restless time, my wild self rearing its head when the air gets crisp and all the trees shed their leaves. That restlessness shook like a dog flinging off its tension and propelled me into writing binges and impulsive travels and half-hearted flirtations with men I didn't even find attractive. It was the time of coke binges, all-night, clawing sex, a revelatory time of poor decisions and a feeling like climbing to the top of the bluffs to howl at the moon.

By September, I'd been sober long enough to stare back at my restlessness with worry, my heart pulled forward by its need to prowl. I'd started thinking about warm red wine on a friend's back porch. I said to a few friends, "I'm thinking about drinking again," trying out what it felt like to slide backwards. Sure, I drank excessively, butwho doesn't in New Orleans? (Turns out plenty of people that I didn't associate with.)

One night I found myself at a restaurant with a group of people I didn't know, most of them writers visiting New Orleans for a reading. They were kind and attentive, but I felt completely out of place, my need to perform for love in overdrive. As the waiter walked around the table, notepad in hand, my companions debated over whether or not to order wine by the bottle rather than the glass.

Wine, each one requested. Wine. Wine. Wine. What had begun as an awkward, stilted conversation between strangers blossomed into giddiness as they talked about their love of wine. I remember that moment exactly, looking up at the waiter and back to the wine glasses he'd set down, feeling the shift inside me as clear as a voice spoken:  Fuck it. It was a great experiment, this whole sobriety thing, and I was ready for it to end.

On my way to dinner, anxiously rehearsing every way I might blow it. 

On my way to dinner, anxiously rehearsing every way I might blow it. 

The waiter came to the man seated next to me, Long, who I didn't know well buthad talked to at a dozen parties over the past few years. We'd even attended a Mardi Gras parade and danced to the marching bands going down Orleans. Long had a big voice and theatrical presence, but he loved interesting things I knew nothing about like absurdist literature and music theory, so I often sought him out to settle my nerves around groups.

Long ordered a water. Ice, no lemon. The woman next to him asked if he wanted to split a bottle of something else, and he told her that wine turned him into an asshole. He didn't drink. And just like that I snapped out of my addiction trance that felt a lot like a streetcar locked into its groove. Long, the woman next to him, and I talked about not drinking -- the woman's husband, it turned out, had been in recovery for 25 years -- until the dinner ended and we all went about our way.

I emailed Long a week or so later to thank him. I came close to drinking, I told him. We took a walk in City Park , Long marching like a New Yorker as he told me of the disastrous relationship that had finally put him into recovery. He gave me a woman's number, a lithe, towering yoga instructor who, when I told her this story, clapped her hands and said, "Shakti shot, straight to your heart!"

She meant that something had intervened on my behalf. I was an atheist moving slowly into agnosticism, firmly entrenched in my uneasiness with any kind of god-talk. Uh-uh, not for me. But I couldn't deny what I'd seen that night. Of all the times I'd spent with Long or all the moments I'd thought seriously about drinking again, the night I almost abandoned sobriety completley, Long disclosed his own sobriety, put me in touch with a woman who would become my sponsor, and kept me from picking up that first drink.