“Grandma dropped her cigarette to the flagstone floor and ground out the butt with her scuffed cowboy boot. She turned her back to mom and grabbed up the Cuervo bottle. A full fifth. Grandma unscrewed the lid and took another big swig, holding the bottle with both hands. She lowered it and set it aside, not even bothering to put the lid back on. She coughed with a bleary smile.
“Damn. Now that’s refreshing,” she said and reached for another cigarette.”
---Grandma Climbed On Board, Elisa Romero
I’m just kidding, of course. I don’t really think God hates me.
In fact, just typing that causes an amused chuckle to flicker around my edges. I find the whole idea of people blaming God for all the bad things that frustrate them, a little bit on the narcissistic side.
Yet here I am, saying to myself, what the fuck? And why? And who did I piss off?
Generally, to muse over these sorts of questions, I’d be like the Grandma from my novella--I’d just reach over and grab the whole tequila bottle with both hands and take big swig and say, “Damn. Now that’s refreshing.”
But I can’t. Why not, you ask? Because this thing I have loved my whole life, this one single thing I had to keep the world at arms-length, has been taken from me. In the last month, I have developed an allergy to all alcohol. Yup. All of it.
Goodbye to my only vice--whiskey. Well. I guess I still have coffee. Coffee is not a good way to take the edge off of my day, though.
I put that quote at the beginning of this blog, to show that even years and years ago, my ideal image of myself in my old age was her—this ballsy-grandma, still sitting in her garden and creating art, enjoying her vices—which for that character were cigarettes and tequila.
Well fuck. At least I still have the last one.
So, I want to talk about this. What happens when the universe shifts so rough to the side, knocks you off your feet and throws you down a rabbit hole—that when you get to your feet, again, your whole idea of not just who you are but who you will be and want to be—has to change?
It’s a sort of death. It’s grief. It’s confusion and shock. It is loss.
In all of us, we have this ideal vision of ourselves, right? We picture ourselves as we wish we were. For some of us, it’s taller, skinnier, braver, more-clever or maybe surrounded by admirers. What we want to be is often what we feel like we don’t have, what we are not, and especially what we think would make us happy.
But damn it! I already had that. I was well on my way. People who know and love me would say I already was that grandma and I liked her. I grew up to be what I wanted--sassy and tough, ready to stand up for others, if the need arose, and when it was all said and done, fine with tossing back a shot of whiskey and letting the day drift away in a smile.
No girly-drink for me. I’m a real woman. I drink that shit straight. I drive a stick-shift. I lift weights! I don’t need anyone or anything. If you look up bad-ass-bitch in the dictionary, there’s my picture!
That woman is ghosting on me, now. She is turning into an echo.
I stand here, stone-cold sober with no cigarettes, staring at my future with wide, terrified eyes. As an extreme introvert, I hate the world when I’m this sober because there’s no filter.
Without wrapping myself in a mental cotton ball, the world is too raw, too sharp and people rub me the wrong way and I’m starting to understand that maybe I was so happy with who I was, I never learned how to interact with people in any other way.
I am starting to see that recently, even on dates with my current guy, he comes over and the first thing I do is throw back a shot and hand him a beer, and suddenly I’m easy-going-Elisa, fun Elisa, sexy-no-worries-Elisa.
Holy fuck. It’s stupid that I don’t know the answer to this question, at my age, but suddenly I wonder? Can I even feel romantic and in the mood--without the soft blur of the alcohol? Panic makes my heart thump inside my chest. Looking back, I see that maybe every romantic date I have ever had has always involved a drink first, and why is that?
Did it calm my nerves? Give me confidence? Hide reality? Not knowing the answer is a lot like a hurricane swirling around my head, spinning me up into the air, feet losing touch with the ground. I thought I knew myself and now maybe—I don’t know myself, at all.
I feel a lot like someone just punched me in my face.
I feel like I don’t know myself, at all.
I’ve always boasted about having no fears and suddenly, I’m so scared I feel frozen. I never imagined in a million years that this is where I would stand, someday, at fifty-one, redefining who I am from the ground up.
I never believed I would have to be any other way than how I wanted to be. Now here I am.
From what I’ve read, this new allergy is likely a complication of the Lupus that I have. Lupus attacks your major organs and one of the biggest organs of all—is your skin.
The denial ran deep as I started to make this connection. I spent the first two weeks nearly killing myself, testing every possible alcohol that I like to drink and the reactions are the same, every time—within an hour to two hours, I break out in hives all over my body, everywhere, like being swarmed in itchy-fire. The only relief comes if I run and pray to the Benadryl Gods and they kindly answer my prayers and put me right to sleep, a sleep so overwhelming, that I can’t even function but at least I can’t scratch.
The sick thing? I even thought—well if it’s just the itch, I’ll pay that price. I’ll fucking itch. I kept pushing it. Denial is hilarious.
Drink bourbon. Two hours later--hives. Grab the benadryl.
Drink irish whiskey. Bushmills red—got about three or four hours before the hives showed up. Bushmills black gave me an hour before the hives.
Drink white wine. Half a glass gave me a few here and there. Half a bottle of white gave me about five hours before I woke up dying in the middle of the night, head to toe agony.
Red wine—half an hour, holy crap. Just as bad as the bourbon.
But I was in denial. I kept trying these things, over and over.
So my body said—bitch, I don’t think you’re listening!
And for about eight hours after the hives went away, no matter what I drank, my chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it and breathing was, oh, a little bit of a challenge. My throat constricted. Talking was a little like, oh you know, choking.
Can we say anaphylactic shock, anyone? (I can say it, I just can’t spell it. I had to look it up.)
So now my body says this: Go for it. Keep pushing this. I’ll show you who’s boss. Do you LIKE oxygen? Oh, breathing is nice, is it?
Stunned silence washes over my brain like a tidal wave. I am defeated by this. I am not who I was.
Or am I?
I used to smoke, for about six years. I gave that up when I was done, quit cold turkey, and it never bothered me. It wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t part of what I saw as my core self.
But whiskey. Oh, sweet whiskey.
I have had to ask myself why this was true, how did I make whiskey a core part of who I was?
I have had to sit in stone-cold sobriety, sitting alone, sipping on a glass of water or lemonade and I have had to ask myself, over and over, why was I so attached to the image of myself as a bad-ass, whiskey-sipping woman?
I felt stronger with it.
Is that a real thing, then? Am I not strong, just as me, without it? Am I not beautiful? Am I not tough?
A new image begins to form in the wreckage of the old me. I begin to see an image of the new Elisa. She is different from the one I saw, before, and I saw her so clearly, just the other day.
Her face is clear and calm, there is no puffiness or fatigue there, because she hasn’t had any alcohol in her system, for years. She is standing in a meditation pose with her eyes closed, smiling, finishing up another Pilate’s mat class.
That Elisa is lean and fit and toned. She is smiling because there is no drama around her and no confusion and no fear. Everything she needs is already inside her soul.
She is still there for others, only now she’s really present and her eyes are bright and attentive to all people and all things. She is trustworthy and the universe only brings her what she needs and that is a good place to be.
I have found a new Elisa to admire. I am excited to become her, even if it’s scary as hell.
I will miss whiskey, my old friend, the warm filter I used to muffle the scary parts of life.
But maybe now I’m seeing a new kind of strong, one where I am brave enough not to need to shut anything out, or muffle it, or fear it, in any way.
So, okay. God doesn’t hate me.
I guess I don’t hate God, either.