Step 1: Talk to your doctor regarding the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Attempting to detox without the supervision of a trusted professional can and has proven fatal.
In the waiting room of my doctor’s office, I am sweating like the mouth of a broken condom. I am the subject of at least one child’s questioning gaze, a gaping-eyed little girl with skin like mine who holds onto her mother’s leg and looks up into my face demanding to understand why my mouth keeps doing that. Her mother begins by apologizing to me and ends by apologizing for me, the “sorrys” and “lo sientos” by the end addressed entirely to herself and her daughter, for not having the money for a doctor’s office where they could both be safe from people as obviously sick as me.
2. Change your attitude about quitting! You are not saying goodbye to an old friend but saying hello to a new life.
My neighborhood bar looks like the last scene of the movie Legend. Intimate groups of friendly-faced, stagger-eyed people brandishing cold ones, happy to see me suddenly. “Should you ever need us.”
3. Be open and honest with your significant other about your condition. They should be supportive of your condition. You don’t need to impose your condition on others, but you need to make yourself clear.
The text message I wrote to him after lights out at Saint Elizabeth, illegally, because I could not sleep: I am sorry that I will never shake and sweat in your presence like I do for a bottle of Bushmills.
4. Constantly remind yourself what a great thing you are doing.
What I said to my sponsor while he was talking me down from my first real temptation: Greg, I know that we’re not supposed to take painkillers. How do you cope with the pain in your collarbone that comes from patting yourself on the back too hard?
5. Get rid of all the bottles, cans, etc.
The single best moment in sobriety is when the shaking in your hands stops. If I still played video games, I’d be popping off headshot after headshot. If I were Charles Whitman, I would’ve won every war the US ever lost. Instead, I haul my best friends out on a day trip to Brookfield, line them up on the range at all the points I was never able to hit before, and I say goodbye to them through the mouth of a buckshot. Goodbye, first concert. Goodbye, first poetry feature. Goodbye, college. Every hero I’ve ever had has met their end in a firing squad.
6. Don’t try to explain your alcoholism to anyone. They will not understand.
Dear Dave Foster Wallace:
I have a million questions I need to ask you but you’re not picking up your phone. At the risk of filling up your voicemail, I will ask you only one and save the rest for when I see you next. Why does every drink taste like the time I awoke on the beach inside your prose?
My halftime show is a fist made up of only thumbs that holds a dead firecracker. The explosion might be modest but the blast pattern is an opera written in morse code.
7. When you are tempted, try to visualize yourself when you were out of control. Do you really want to be that person again?
Facebook, why don’t you understand that God invented blackouts for a reason?
8. Buy a small piece of jewelery, like a ring or a bracelet, and wear it everyday to remind yourself that these hands that are so holy will never touch alcohol again.
In my first month of being sober, I took all of the money I had saved not going to bars and I put it towards my first and only tattoo. It’s on my thigh, in a place that even the skimpiest of shorts and skirts would cover so that only I and a select few would ever see it. It says “Jesus is my only drinking partner.” My sponsor frowned disapprovingly and said that that perhaps was not what he’d meant when he suggested this exercise.
“Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” I said.
“Everybody.” I said. Yes, God. Yes, liver. That goes for you, too.
9. Memorize a prayer, a poem, something to keep your mind off of the drinking.
This is just day one. This is just day one. This is just day one. This is just day one. This is just day one. This is just day one. This is day one. This is day one. This is day one.
10. Have a good reason.
This is day one.
11. Never take another sip.
This is day one.
12. Admit to yourself that there is nothing more important in your life than this one thing.
On day one, I went to a medical clinic in Hermosa to be cured of my bad habits. A little girl sat in the chair beside me in spite of the insistence of her mother and stared at me through the DTs. She asked me if I had a family, and I told her I did. She asked me where they were and I said I didn’t know. She told me I was silly. She asked me if I liked cartoons and I said no. She asked me if I like candy and I told her no, it’s bad for you. She asked me what I do like and I told her I like stories so she told me one. It goes like this: a little girl and her mother were on the way to a big birthday party. On the way to the party, they were captured by ninjas and taken away to a tower or a dungeon and they had nothing to do there but sing to pass the time. They sang and they sang and they sang, and the mother sang a song so pretty that a handsome prince heard it and came to rescue them. The end. And she gave me a big smile, and she asked me if I liked that story and I said that I did. Before she could tell me another one, the nurse, perhaps seeing this conversation and the worried look on her mother’s face, called me in to have my vitals checked. The little girl said goodbye and shook my hand, and told me she hoped that I felt better. I smiled so hard I felt dizzy. The end.