Oxford

I rarely talk about Oxford. Yes, I will list it on my resume, and I will bring it up if I want to sounds impressive: “I studied at Oxford”. But I never talk about what it was really like, what I was really like, the monster that escaped and ran rabid through the cobblestone streets of that old city and London. It is hard for me to grapple with, even to this day, because I remember so little of it in focus. There is a glaze of alcohol that glosses over it all – some good, mostly bad memories of two weeks that should have been wonderful. But of course, I made them hell.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

-Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects 

 I was full of the devil: anger, rage, fury. It was a few years after my husband’s death, and I still had not come to terms with it. I was dating a co-worker, who ended up being an ass, but I should have known – he had the weak fish/invisible personality only someone else’s sunshine could bring out. And he used mine for that. But I didn’t know that then.

Perhaps that is why I do not shine as brightly as I used to. I do not want to lose that power.

I drank before he picked me up to go to the airport. Although I had other friends in my class on the trip, I had said (in a manic moment) “what the fuck” and decided to fly business class, which gave me access to the lounge prior to boarding, a.k.a free drinks. I drank while waiting to leave this country, I drank all the way across the “pond” and I certainly drank while I was there, experiencing some of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I returned to the States to a loveless relationship and no promise of things getting better, so I tried my first round of rehab.

But this post is not about rehab hell.

It is about drinking hell.

I realized soon after I got there, in my dorm room, how addicted my body was to alcohol. The shakes had already begun, even though I had just had something a few hours before. I immediately fell in love with the city – not for its history or architecture or knowledge. But for its numerous pubs and wine bars, where one had a choice between a “small” glass of wine (what is considered normal in the U.S.) and a large. It was never a question in my head, which one to order…

Thank god our collection of rooms, our dormitory had a bar. I still have no idea why it was there, but I never questioned it. I got to know the elderly bartender very well, and he got used to preparing my noon Pims before I got there.

There are so many things I should be ashamed of, that I did while I was there, but I cannot remember them. I have snapshots:

  • Picking up a random man in the hotel bar in London, and taking him to our room where something happened with my sister that has changed our relationship, forever. But I cannot remember.
  • Meeting a football (soccer) fan in a pub and taking him back to my room, only to be told by my only friend, the next day, that everyone in the courtyard could hear us.
  • Losing a $500 shoe somewhere on a trek back to our housing because I was too drunk to walk in heels, so immediately upon my return to the States I ordered another pair, simply to not have to admit to my fuck-up.
  • I suppose I should say “cheating on my boyfriend” but because he turned out to be such a dick, I don’t feel that bad.
  • Waking up on the floor of an Indian restaurant having urinated myself and not knowing how long I had blacked out for, nor how I was going to explain my circumstances. But somehow I did. That is what having people who desperately want a friend will overlook. And I could spot one a mile away.

On that trip I relied on these types: to feed my ego, to let me know I wasn’t fucking my life up, that I was cool. It was the antithesis of any other living abroad that I have done. I was in one of the seven layers of hell. I was ashamed, and the more ashamed I grew the worse my behavior got. It was an awful time.

I was so alone. A man who said he cared for me, but I knew he didn’t. A sister that refused to speak to me, to let me face what I had done, but wouldn’t. Who froze me out like our father. I do not know if we will ever repair this rift. I do not trust her, and I am sure for shit she does not trust me.

And so I spent a few weeks in hell – not that I was unaccustomed to it at the time – I had been living this way for a long time, but now I was in a foreign country, around strangers, and trying to figure out how to hide my addiction while I still tried to look as if I was the portrait of perfection. I failed on a daily basis. I would wake up in the morning and drink wine before classes began, leave our enclave for lunch where I could drink my way through the hour and return to make it through the afternoon, before I had to deal with anyone.

And that is when I took on the people who desired to be with someone like me – who looked perfect, wore beautiful, expensive clothing, and didn’t give a shit about where I was. I knew I was a mess and only getting worse, but none of that stopped me. When an addiction takes hold, it is all you can think about.

I am grateful to those souls who put up with me. I am sure I shocked the hell out of most people who were there (especially after the night of loud sex, that I cannot remember). I barely saw my friend and her fiancee who were on the program – but they were fighting, as they always did, and I didn’t have the brain power to deal with that drama. I had enough of my own.

After several weeks of sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of alcoholism and isolation, I finally boarded the plane home. I was lost. My sister had disowned me, I couldn’t remember half of what I had done while in the UK, and all that kept me going was the British Air lounge where I could keep the drinks coming, and try not to pick up men, as I was so desperate for attention. For someone to save me.

You look like… a perfect fit,
For a girl in need… of a tourniquet.
But can you save me?
Come on and save me…
If you could save me,
From the ranks of the freaks,
Who suspect they could never love anyone.

-Aimee Mann, Save Me

All I wanted was a savior. I returned to Boston. The man I was dating picked me up and we went to a hotel he had picked for my first night back. I was shaking horribly – even though I drank the entire way through the flight. I remember sitting in the restaurant, picking at my food, and drowning glass after glass of wine. When he deposited me on my doorstep the next day, I went through every wine bottle I hadn’t recycled, in order to get enough alcohol in me to drive to the package store to get more, without my feet shaking on the brake, accelerator and clutch of my car. I loathed myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I wanted to die, and if I had thought about it enough, I probably wasn’t that far away from it. If I just took all the meds I’d been prescribed by my shrink and guzzled down two bottles of wine, perhaps that would have done it.

I don’t know why I didn’t.

All I can hope for is that something better is on the horizon for me. But there are days when that doesn’t feel as if it will ever manifest, and I wonder what the hell I am doing in this life, with the pain and suffering we all experience, and without a way to deal with it, except at the bottom of a bottle…

© Sorrow & Kindness

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