I’ll never forget that martini. I was sitting in a fancy club with my father, the Yale Club in New York to be exact. Not that either of us attended Yale, but we’re alcoholics, we have our ways of getting what we want, drinks at the Yale Club included. I was very newly sober and I had gone to my father for advice, help and support. I was miserable, terrified that sobriety was not meant for me, that I couldn’t handle life sober. So I was meeting my father "for drinks" with the hope that he would talk me off the ledge. We ordered our club sodas with cranberry and a splash of Rose’s lime (if I can't drink booze then at least I want my non-alcoholic drinks to be pretty) and I told my father my woes.
"I can't do this" I told him. I started to cry. My father looked appalled. I don't think a tear had ever been shed in the Yale Club. "No emoting allowed on club premises" it says on a sign that hangs over the bar. Or at least it feels like there should be. So we were waiting for our drinks, I was sniveling, my father was handing me his too-chic-for-tears pocket square and looking around uncomfortably when our waiter suddenly reappeared. Balanced perfectly on a silver tray was the most beautiful sight I thought I had ever seen. An elegant thin-stemmed martini glass rested on a crisp linen napkin. In the glass was an oversized dirty martini, the glass frosted to perfection. Time slowed to a standstill as the waiter set the glass down on the polished mahogany table. My father and I were riveted. Transfixed. Hypnotized. Neither of us reached for it and the waiter looked confused by our utter stillness and complete silence. Finally my father snapped out of it. He cleared his throat and said "Oh, I'm sorry, that's not ours". The waiter looked confused so my father spoke up again. "That's not ours, we ordered cranberry and sodas." "So sorry, my mistake" said the waiter. He scooped up that gorgeous martini and in its place on the table there remained a small, sad, wet circle, a simple memory of the majestic libation that had just occupied the very same space.
My father looked at me directly for the first time since we had sat down. "Are you ok?" he asked. "I'm ok” I said. "It's just that...." and then I blubbered incomprehensibly. But he got it. And he answered me. "Yes. That martini did look absolutely delicious. I think that's the best looking martini I've ever seen. It actually made my mouth water."
And then I knew I might be ok. But I was ashamed. Ashamed that my mouth had watered too. Ashamed that although newly comitted to sobriety I was still desperate for that drink. So desperate that I had had to sit on my hands to not grab that martini. That I had forced myself to not stand up and scream "GO HARVARD!!!!" at the stunned Yalies, toss the martini back and then run out of the club and out onto the street where I would go in search of all the martinis in the world.
I pulled myself together and asked my dad why he had said the martini looked so good. "I don't know," he said - he had been sober at that point for about 20 years. “Drinks like that can still tempt me." That was a relief to me as I had some preconceived notions that by joining A.A. my all-consuming desire to drink would suddenly leave me. It had not. My father continued "But then I think it through. I think it through to what that martini would promise me and then to what it would actually give me. It would promise me relaxation, a good time, companionship but in the end it would deliver none of that. Not for me anyway. It would deliver cravings only satisfied by more alcohol, remorse, guilt, a hangover and a terrible foggy day tomorrow and then I'd do the same thing all over again. That's no way to live" he told me.
"Don't you miss it?" I asked. He was silent for quite some time. "Do I miss it?" he responded. "That's a good question. The only thing I miss is reading the paper in the bathtub with a pitcher of Manhattans resting on the floor next to me. I used to do that sometimes, and I miss it, but not enough to start drinking again. Besides I have found that reading the paper in the bath is just as nice without the Manhattans. In fact it's better. The whole time I'd be in the tub I'd be very consciously aware of the rapidly diminishing booze and wondering how much was left. 'Will I have to leave the bath and get dressed to make more?' 'Why is the damn ice melting so fast?' 'What if I get too drunk and pass out and someone finds me in the morning, passed out or even worse drowned at the bottom of an old fashioned clawfoot tub?'” Knowing my father that never would have happened but it was a good example for me. That underlying tension when we have crossed the line into addiction. “Will I have enough? Will I pull it off, being hammered but acting straight? Can I drive like this? Can I walk down stairs? Just how impaired am I? Should I risk it and have a few more?” He paused then before concluding that “it all became stressful, depressing, exhausting even”.
"But what about that martini?" I whimpered. "How can you say it looked delicious? You're sober. How can alcohol still be so damn seductive?" "Well, I'm an alcoholic" he said. "It's my nature. It's natural for me to admire a drink from time to time. It catches me quite unaware and doesn't happen very often anymore but sometimes, even now, a drink can look so appealing, so inviting." "So what do you do?" I asked "To not pick up that drink? To avoid those cravings?" "Well I don't avoid them as much as I ignore them. And they pass. That seems to work for me. And I always think it through. When that stunning martini we just saw sings me its siren song I'm reminded that I'm still an alcoholic. Even though I’m sober, there is a part of me that still wants to drink. I recognize that and I've learned to live with it, to even laugh at it. I just think the drink through, where it would lead me and what it would cost me. I don't cave to temptation. I know the reality of what would happen if I grabbed that martini. It's inevitable. It would not end nicely and it's just not worth it.”
And I know he’s right. Grabbing that martini off the tray would end in nothing but trouble. So my father taught me that the best thing to do when tempted by a drink or a drug is to think it through. More importantly he taught me that it's ok to be in recovery and be attracted to alcohol sometimes. It's our nature to be drawn to booze and as long as we don't act on it we will be fine. No shame allowed.
My father passed on December 28th, 2018 and on that December 26th we celebrated his last Christmas on earth. He was fading fast but still fairly sharp (although his sense of where he was was slipping and that was very frustrating for him). My father always loved eggnog so I had brought a quart of it along for the Christmas dinner. I asked him if he wanted a glass and he said "oh yes, I'd love that, Dear." As I walked away he became confused and thought he was in a restaurant, not in his home, and that I was a waitress. "Oh Miss, excuse me.” He called me back to him with a raised hand signal and I returned. He motioned for me to come close as he wanted to whisper something in my ear. "No rum in the eggnog please. Thank you.”
That was beautiful. A gift. To witness my father, steadfastly protecting his sobriety until the day he died. Because he knew, like I do now, that although a drink can still look tempting sometimes, it will never be worth it.