It’s strange how memory works. Mine isn’t very good these days. Sometimes I seriously wonder if I should start talking with a doctor to find out if I have early onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not kidding. I lost both grandmothers to the horrible disease, and my short term recall has been truly abysmal lately; I can forget complete conversations within a day. Scary, huh?
What bothers me almost as much is when I recall blackouts from my drinking days – now years after they happened – and still can’t piece together all the details. For the most part, I’ve come to terms with the fact I have pockets of memories I will never recover, and I am pretty good at not dwelling on them. That is, until something tugs open the drawers of my mental archive and starts rifling through the files.
About six weeks ago, I was Netflix bingeing on AMC’s Shameless. It was the final episode of Season 2. I’ll leave it there for those who haven’t seen it. No spoilers. Let’s just say it took my breath away and sparked me to recall a night I want nothing more than to forget. The program ended, but the memory it triggered remained. Well, parts of it anyway.
“When was that? When did that happen? Maybe enough time has passed that I can piece it all back together,” I started thinking.
This is when social media can be both a blessing and a curse for an alcoholic in recovery. I remembered I took a photograph that night and shared it on Instagram. I grabbed my phone and started searching for the post, praying I hadn’t deleted it. A minute later, there it was: Friday, September 20, 2013.
Taken though the windshield of my car, this is one of my favorite thinking spots in my childhood hometown, an hour from my current home. I don’t remember what time it was. I was alone. And, I had been parked there for at least an hour already.
I sleuthed my Facebook memories from that day, hoping to uncover some clues.
Just after 9:00 that morning, I posted this to Facebook.
Three hours later, I offered this in response to a friend who had commented:
“[Boy child] searched for my flip flops while I was helping [girl child] with her hair and he couldn’t find them.
I honestly felt like they were someone else’s children in someone else’s house this morning.
Must be the aftershock of Wednesday being a 21 hour workday.”
And, then, I posted this quote to my business Facebook page:
“Only a numbskull thinks he knows things about things he knows nothing about.”
~Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), The Hudsucker Proxy
It’s certainly a favorite quote of mine, right along with this meme:
But, I have no idea what was going on that day. What was running through my mind? Perhaps I have blocked it out. I don’t remember drinking. But, I know I drank a lot ton – at least 10 beers. Wine, too? No idea. I don’t remember what happened immediately following my husband’s arrival home from work. But, I know I grabbed my car keys, bolted out the door, and imagined I would never return.
Three years ago tonight, I decided I was done. Not just done drinking. Done living. Ready to be done breathing. It was my lowest low.
I just drove. And drove. And drove. And drove. All my old favorite back roads in all my old favorite shoreline towns. Roads I can drive in my sleep, even with their crazy twists and turns. I drove them fast. Too fast. Way too fast. And decided to pick my tree. “Which one,” I wondered. It needed to be huge and strong. Because my car is a tank. And, I wasn’t going to wrap it around a tree only to end up surviving the impact.
“They’ll be better off without me,” I told myself. “I’m ruining everything. I’m no good for anyone. I can’t do anything right. I was never supposed to be here. I’m destroying my family. They deserve better. They’ll be fine once they realize why I left. Everyone will take care of them. I can’t do this anymore. This is the only option.”
Over and over and over, I repeated those words. I was bawling. Hard and ugly. I couldn’t see. I needed to stop the car for a minute. Or an hour. More? I don’t remember. That night, I drove and stopped and drove and stopped in several special places for what felt like forever.
I don’t remember how long I was gone. I remember turning off my phone to avoid the constant calls and texts from my husband. I remember turning it back on and listening to multiple voice mails from him. The kids, too – they were crying. I remember calling my husband and saying goodbye. I remember him trying to convince me they needed me, but not panicking or even getting mildly upset. Why wasn’t he taking me seriously? Didn’t he care? In hindsight, it’s clear he was calling my bluff.
Was I bluffing? I knew with 100 percent certainty I no longer wanted to be alive. Or so I thought. But, I also knew I didn’t have it in me to take my life. “God dammit,” I remember thinking. And saying out loud, again and again. “I can’t even kill myself right.”
Or at all. I never tried.
It took another six months for me to finish hitting rock bottom and decide to ask someone for help. Had I not done that, I am quite certain I wouldn’t be here today.
Now, when I think about that night, I cry. I cry because I can’t remember all the details. I cry because I remember how much I hated that person living in my body. I cry because I can still feel the pain. I cry because I wonder if it was all avoidable. I cry because it happened. I cry because I can’t get back all the years I hated myself. I cry because I look back and see how bad things were. I cry because I can’t change the past.
I also cry because I know how lucky I am to no longer have that person in my life. She was real. She hated herself. She spent 30 years traveling the road to self-destruction. She was plagued by notions of suicide before she even hit her teens. She dabbled in anorexia and bulimia on and off, always nervous she would get caught and pulling the plug on the weight loss before it was too obvious. She wanted to be popular and fun but was always paralyzingly inhibited. Until she met her best friend, Booze, with whom she had a love hate relationship for nearly 25 years. Always ashamed the day after she drank too much and couldn’t remember what happened. Always trying to hide her hangovers, because if she wasn’t hungover she hadn’t had too much. She always knew she had to find a way out. She loved the idea of disappearing. Almost too much.
She’s gone now.
I did end up killing her.
So I could save me.
And, I’m so happy I did.
Note: Today is also my grandfather’s birthday. He died a little over 12 years ago, just before his 89th. I am so glad my family can continue to celebrate today as his birthday vs. marking the anniversary of something else.
Also published on Medium.