Drunk Dreams: like wet dreams but less fun

Hazy drunk dreams

Hazy drunk dreams

I had my first drunk dream 6 months sober. I was a at picnic in a park in the dream, maybe a huge family gathering, sun glinting off the aluminum of beer cans floating in perfectly chiseled ice chunks. It was unbearably hot, a late Midwestern summer when the corn rasps in the final weeks before harvest. I could actually feel my tongue scraping across the roof of my mouth, sandpapery on my teeth, my throat a raw burn.  I grabbed a beer from that cooler and chugged.

It was like having an orgasm. Maybe better.

I have never thirsted like that before and surely never had that thirst satisfied. But there in a park with little kids whirling and my family lingering close by, I experienced what it was like to be satisfied.

The moment I finished the beer, it hit me that I'd broken my sobriety, 6 months strung together as preciously and with as much collective effort as 20 years. I was crushed. I scanned the park to see if I'd been caught, but I knew what I'd done. I'd blown it. And yet that beer was the best thing I'd ever tasted.

House at night

I woke with an icky shame feeling I couldn't shake all day. I'm guessing this is what little boys feel like when they blow their wads in their sheets and don't want their moms finding out. But as guilty as I felt, I also couldn't deny how fucking good that beer had been. I didn't want to go back to drinking. Just dreaming. Could I have that?

I've talked a lot about my reluctance to claim a status synonymous with weakness. With a broken will. The women in my family value toughness, the ability to woman up and get shit done when everyone else is standing around crying like bitches. My idea of womanhood didn't fit with someone who couldn't control something as basic as what they put in their mouths.

So, I went to meetings because my ethereal, yoga-teaching, former-model sponsor told me to. She was super tall and gorgeous, and I really liked listening to her talk about shakti. Also, she had great pants. All the time. Unicorns humping cats in the Milky Way kind of pants.

A woman told me recently about getting blackout drunk on 3 bottles of wine a day and ending up in 3 different psych wards.  She spent her early release in a halfway house doubting the severity of her addiction and, like the good alcoholics we are, figuring out how to convince these nice court-appointed people to trust her to moderate herself.

We laughed about this story because it's the story of so many alcoholics and addicts. We really believe in our ability to moderate in the absolute most perfect circumstances. Like, if I can just remember at 8:00 it's time to go home instead of ordering 8 more beers, I'll be okay. Or, if I didn't have such a stressful job (you know, one of the easiest I've ever had), I wouldn't have to go out on Friday nights and drink until 4 in the morning. That kind of thing.

I thought a lot of things when I first decided to try sobriety. I thought I was tired of feeling like shit, battling depression, and waking up Saturdays hungover. I thought since my drug and alcohol use were a fraction of what they'd been in my 20s, I was actually doing just fine. Other people, i.e. dirty alcoholics and addicts, were probably having sex with carnies to score bathtub crank when I was just buying craft beer at a grocery store. Other people, i.e. dirty alcoholics and addicts, couldn't actually control their use, which I clearly could because I'd gone from a 3-4 times a week binge drinker to only 1-2 times a week. I know, everybody drinks like that, ammirite?

Walk forward

Walk forward

What woke me up?

Not that dream. Sure, I thought it was strange I'd had a near orgasmic experience drinking a beer in a dream. I laughed about it with my sponsor, who said, "Oh, I've totally had those," to which I replied, "Um, okay. Sure." Because how could she know anything about the true content of unique-as-a-snowflake dreams?

This is why the 12 steps insists you get this whole powerless thing down ASAP. I did not have one of those BAM epiphanies of my own addiction. Instead, like raindrops pooling on a roof until it collapses, I collected moments that made me question my stubborn belief that I had my shit together.

One of the biggest moments happened in a cozy, funky meeting downtown. A young guy in a crisp white button-down and neat dreads told a story about a drunk dream he'd had the night before. He was in a friend's front yard with a tall boy, the can tipped skyward as smooth, cold beer streamed down his throat. He woke in tears, his 9 months blown, and he said the relief at realizing it was just a dream was almost as good as that nocturnal beer. Almost.

He was at least 10 years younger than me, clearly middle class, a black man. Maybe my literal opposite. But he had finally cut through the fog of my defensiveness and presented himself as a mirror through which I could clearly recognize myself. It was as if a bell had rung, clear and high in an early morning sky. Normal people did not have drunk dreams. Normal people did not literally dream of drinking alcohol. I was not a normal person.

One of the hilarious pranks of addiction is that this shit does not stick. Probably within hours of that meeting, I completely forgot what had felt like a body shot as I sat listening to that young man tell his story. If you ever wonder what the point of sitting through endless meetings is, it's because you can be 15 years in and suddenly think you can totally handle a fifth of vodka now.

Even though that moment didn't stick, it was the first of many that finally led to the moment I was really ready to hear it and surrender. This would happen almost a year from this day, after a gauzy relapse of wine binges in a friend's beautiful garden, roughly 9 months of experimental drinking that taught me I could moderate, on rare occasions, never consistently, and never for long.