There’s a forlorn little liquor store (or “package store” depending on where you live) that I pass several times a week on the way to my son's school. The "crappy packy" as I like to call it is an anomaly in our lovely, landscaped town. It's situated on a busy but well-maintained road and stands out like a sore thumb against the lush properties on either side of it. The rundown structure sits on ancient dusty asphalt, looking like a parched and defeated old sharecropper from the 1930s dustbowl. It slumps there, surrounded by tall and spiky weeds which sprout aggressively through the split-tar cracks. It seems as if it was dropped into the now straight from the valley of the ashes depicted in The Great Gatsby. There's a rusty old sign bolted onto the weather-beaten and badly patched roof of the store. “Wine and Liquor” it says. In the window there are some bleakly flickering neon signs offering beer and cigarettes and lotto cards. No matter the weather the store seems covered in deep shade. But there are days when that little store looks like heaven to me. When I'm late for school drop-off and there's a traffic jam and I missed a dentist appointment and forgot to pay my car’s lease and someone just called to tell me there is a repo man out looking for me and I'm freaked out about something at work and the dog puked on the rug and my mother is old and needs help and it’s all just way too overwhelming I pass that packy and it looks like a dream. An escape hatch. It's my “screw-it-all” plan. My plan if I were to say screw it all to everything and just give up. Screw it to sobriety and A.A. meetings and yoga classes and prayer and everything else that keeps me on the beam and behaving like a somewhat normal and happy member of society.
The plan looks something like this: I just say screw it all. To everything. I start drinking again. I quit my job and leave my husband and family. I take my savings and sell any jewelry I have, and with that nest egg I buy that crappy little packy on the side of the road. I say goodbye to my current life. I say goodbye to schools and work and dentists and parenting and lease agreements and payments due and passwords and responsibilities and pets and relationships. Just goodbye and screw it all. After I purchase the store I keep the wine and liquor store as it is. I don't paint it or fix the asphalt or anything. I turn what I assume is a small space above the store into my room. I put a mattress on the floor and install a buzzer system and blackout shades and air conditioning. Oh, and a bathroom. No kitchen necessary; in the state I will be in there won't be any need. My plan is just to drink 24/7 and if someone needs something they can ring the buzzer. I will stumble down the stairs, sell them what they want, grab some pork rinds and some booze and retire back to my cave where I will pass out on my mattress until the bell rings again. Ah, bliss.
What is wrong with me? Thank God for my A.A. friends. When I raised my hand and shared this shameful fantasy at a meeting my friend Marybeth (whose life is as full and hectic as my own) came over and asked if there was room above the store for one more mattress. In exchange for room on the floor she could manage the buzzer for a few hours each day so I could rest. As we were plotting which days she would be on buzzer duty another friend came over and he wanted in too. We laughed uproariously and I felt at home. I can't imagine another place on earth than an A.A. meeting where others can relate to that desire to just quit life, laugh about it, and want in on a cockamamie and tragic escape plan, even in jest. Every time I go by the packy that strange, surreal and quite disturbing thought comes to me but now I can laugh about it. Laugh at the dark future I can envision for myself. Laugh at the fact that as an alcoholic my thinking is so extreme, so dramatic, so black and white, so ridiculous. Laugh and be happy that I have my sober friends who get me and can smile with me at my bizarre, sometimes painful, often embarrassing thoughts.
I think people today are overwhelmed. I know I am. The desire to get out of ourselves is a large part of the human condition. That dreamy idea of ditching it all and moving to some faraway paradise is seen in theatre, film, fiction and in the work of artists like Paul Gauguin. Gauguin left mean cold grey Paris in 1891 for French Polynesia where he enjoyed life to the fullest and painted his most memorable works. Most escapist fantasies are pretty nice. Being hand-fed tropical fruits on a beach in Tahiti while comely natives fan you with palm fronds is a world away from sleeping on the floor subsisting on pork rinds and hooch. My fantasy is a sad escape. But it's a realistic idea of what could happen to me if I start drinking again and I'm grateful for it. Because honestly, some of my drinking fantasies are of the Gauguin variety. Ahoy, there's me, on my yacht in St. Tropez sipping rosé and snorting cocaine responsibly while the BBC follows me around and asks me questions about how I managed to come up with the cure for cancer without any medical training at all. So there's the St. Tropez BBC interview daydream and then there's the reality. The crappy packy.
I don't think I'm going to buy a liquor store any time soon. I like my life as it is most of the time. And when I get totally overwhelmed and the packy beckons longingly to me (as I speed by it on my way to pay off the repo man...in cash!) I see that it's usually my own damn fault. I've overbooked, overworked, overplanned, overly people-pleased myself into a state of high anxiety. So I'm learning about that too. What to do to not get that panicked, that tense, that frenetic. How to plan my time better and how to say NO when need be. And I have my sober friends. They know me well and can tell when I'm getting anxious and squirrely. And if I start ranting and raving and carrying on about quitting life and buying the packy they always talk me off the ledge and offer me the tools that I seem to have momentarily forgotten.
Pause, breathe, relax, repeat.
Oh, and I can't forget to laugh. Because if I can laugh at myself and my maniacal alcoholic mind there just may be hope for me yet.