I have wanted a drink since I quit drinking, November-the-something, five years ago. Five long years.
Back in August I was walking down the street in Vienna and I started shaking. My stomach was bare and I wanted a drink.
One of my friends had said to me when I embarked on this particular journey, “You can’t white-knuckle it. Eventually you’re going to break.” He knew what he was talking about; he’d been in AA for more than twenty years.
Ever since going on the wagon, my favorite part of the grocery store has been the beer aisle. I’ll walk down it and gaze longingly, lovingly, lustily, greedily, at the pretty cans and bottles of beer. I’ll read their labels, examine how they’re set in the cooler, I’ll even read their prices.
Most of all, I’ll imagine how they taste, and when I slip into that brief moment, I’m transported.
It all ends when I get to the end of the aisle, though, because I know. Down that aisle lies pleasure and joy and relief, but it is also seeded with death. I escaped it once, I remind myself. Not going to be so lucky next time.
But it was next time, that warm evening in Vienna. No one was ever going to know, and I wanted a beer so badly that like I said, I was shaking.
“Fuck it,” I growled, brimming with defiance. “I’m going to have a beer. JUST ONE.”
My whole attitude changed. It was no big deal. I could handle this. It had been almost five years. It was just a bottle of beer. I’d have one and be done. Really, Seth. No big deal.
No big deal? Then why was I so frenziedly happy? I trawled the sausage section and picked out the perfect spicy salami; Austria is nothing if not sausage heaven. Then I grabbed a block of pure Austrian butter and a loaf of thick rye bread to slather it on. My mouth watered.
Finally I got to the beer aisle. Compared to California, it was an impoverished place, with only a couple of craft beers, neither of which looked too crafty. But I studied each bottle and can, trying to figure out which one would have the best combination of high alcohol content and good taste. I settled on the red and brown bottle, a Stiegl.
I bought it and took it home, set it on the desk, unwrapped the bread and butter and salami, and then almost tore my hand off trying to get the bottle open.
The beer gurgled and foamed as it reached the brim of the cup, filling the room with the world’s best smell. I savored it, and then I dove in, headfirst, with all my clothes on. It was everything I thought it was going to be, only more, and better. Every cell in my body screamed “Welcome, old friend!” as the cold beer drained down my throat into my stomach.
I set the empty plastic cup down, giddy, then refilled it.
In between mouthfuls, I slowly worked on that bottle of beer, until about ten minutes in the buzz came. It hit like a soft ripple and built into a strengthening wave. I could feel the circuits switching off, things that hurt didn’t hurt anymore, the blood stanched, the wounds healed.
“How I have missed you,” I thought as the numbness spread.
But then a strange thing happened as I sat there, mildly drunk. I took another sip and it just tasted sour. Sour, rotten water in a cup that someone had pissed in first and topped off with bile.
“That’s odd,” I thought, and cut another thick slice of bread. I ate the whole slab and looked at the bottle, which was still one-third full. I raised the cup again to my lips and it was even more sour. I felt like I wanted to puke.
I pushed my chair back and looked out the window. The pleasant numbness wasn’t pleasant anymore. “I want my mind back,” I mused. “Such as it is.”
I finished the dinner but not the beer. I watched, disinterestedly, as the remnants of the bottle swirled down the sink in the bathroom. The next day I was fine, and sooth to say, a little proud of myself. Sometimes it’s not enough to quit. You also have to know.
I don’t walk down the beer aisle anymore.
Read this far? Go ahead and hit this “subscribe” link. Thank you!