Georgia Toews is the author of the novel Hey, Good Luck Out There.
For 10 years alcohol ruled my life, dictated every aspect of it, every friendship, relationship, job, plan, conversation, laugh, flirtation, road trip, holiday, family dinner, panic attack, break-up, assault, funeral, nightmare and thought, even the happy ones.
My intervention was like a forced entry into my captor’s home. I was ripped from everything I had grown to know, and for better or worse, to love. I was grateful for alcohol, even when it made me cruel, even when it made me vulnerable to others’ cruelty. I was grateful because after every new trauma and blunder it was there to comfort me.
I went to rehab, shell-shocked. In group meetings, the other women spoke of how happy they were to be there, to be safe and on their way to freedom. We shared “war stories” about the specific ways in which alcohol had destroyed us. We talked about everything we’d lost, including ourselves, to alcohol. We were told not to mourn the alcoholic. Why bother? We were so focused on moving forward, doing the steps, avoiding relapse, making amends that there was no time to look back, to grieve the parts of us we had to leave behind. Weren’t there parts of my former self worth saving? I understood the relationship between drink and drinker is toxic but all I wanted was to run right back. I missed that person, the alcoholic.
I confided in my bereavement support group. Five men, in a half-circle, all squeezed into my bachelor apartment. I should mention these men were mannequins, or parts of mannequins. Immediately after rehab, I had agreed to work on a short film and my job was to suture together these torsos and legs and severed hands and feet in ways that would make them look like real mangled cadavers.
I was trying to attach a Styrofoam head to a smooth, hairless torso with duct tape. The head kept slipping off the neck base and I swore at Body No. 1. The head slipped off again. Fine, I thought, you’ll be the body without a head. The film director had asked me to “maim” each corpse in a different way. This one would be decapitated. I held the Styrofoam head next to mine and imagined not having one at all. The relief, the bliss.
I was angry at everyone, even my poor faceless Body No. 2. I was trying to use hanger wire to bind the hands and feet to the body, poking through the hollow wrists of the plastic arms. Why could everyone else drink, unburdened by excess and the feeling that nothing is ever enough? The plastic was tearing as I ripped wire down the arms and through the chest. Women I knew in rehab had already relapsed. I was jealous. I looked at the scars on Body Two. Then at my own, still pink and raised from my last suicide attempt. I had to focus on not letting the chest cavity rip open too much, exposing the lack of bodily organs. I had to be kinder to this body, or it would fall apart.
A therapist in rehab told me I should put all my “baggage,” various traumas and macabre life events, into a box and only open it when I was ready. I wondered, wasn’t rehab a good place to unpack all of this? I was stippling burn marks on Body Three. I liked the feeling of the paint squishing under the brush. I looked around my apartment. Where should one put a sordid box of terribleness? The therapist had said I wasn’t ready to address everything, not all at once. But if I were to address it all at once, I wondered, would that mean I was cured? That I could drink again, but in a healthier way? I sighed, looking at artfully burned Body No. 3. We both knew it wasn’t true.
I stopped writing gratitude lists almost immediately out of rehab. I couldn’t think of anything I was grateful for, since technically I didn’t fully exist. Not without alcohol. Body No. 4 was a bullet to the head. Not very original. But I was out of ideas of how to die and even more so how to live. I felt ridiculous telling the bodies how alone I felt, and how the pain wasn’t letting up. Wherever I would seek love I would have to accept loss. My family would love me if I stayed sober. I could love alcohol again but lose everything else. It shouldn’t be so hard. I poked my finger through the bullet hole on Body Four.
I don’t want to die, I told Body No. 5 as I drew ligature marks on its neck. This one would be strangled, I decided. I breathed in and out, colouring in purple bruises, feeling my own body expand and retract. I wanted to live, as myself, whoever that would be. The chokehold was slipping, maybe just for that day. We were warned not to get ahead of ourselves in rehab. One day at a time. Each day filled with the routine of building a body and healing and dissecting and sometimes, a lot of the time, just breathing. Not that I wanted to rub that in Body Five’s face. There’s not really a right time, there just needs to be time, without judgment or fear, to grieve the loss of the alcoholic, and to rebuild.
I watched my plastic friends get mashed up in the back of a Honda CRV, off to be filmed in the bottom of a waterfall and then disposed of. Circle of life. I used to think my relationship with alcohol was everything definitive about me. That’s not true. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days that I don’t miss it, even dream sometimes of a day when we could be together again. That’s just a fantasy. The reality is that warm Smirnoff raspberry vodka isn’t the one that got away.
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