Today marks exactly 24 years that I quit drinking, and have been permanently off the sauce ever since. For the longest time, I couldn’t remember the precise date because–well, I was shit-faced! But then about 6 or 7 years into sobriety it dawned on me that the day I stopped was the day after the California Loma Prieta earthquake, and I could never from then on forget.
I was in Patzcuaro, Michoacan Mexico at the time, first staying at an amazing and beautifully decrepit old mansion and molino (mill) out in the wide open mountains near Chapultepec, which held some pretty heavy mojo from the revolution days (and which I’ll have to tell about in full one day); then at a nearby ancient adobe hut which we rented, with no running water or electricity, and with dirt floors, a plaza, an outdoor pila for washing clothes & bathing and a fire pit in the blacken-walled kitchen for cooking.
We (the man, my old dog and me) would take the bus into Patzcuaro to do our daily shenanigans and for food, etc. On the day of the 17th it was a Sunday and, being a region where it was illegal to sell liquor on the Lord’s day, we were on the prowl in the back streets looking for some hooch. We found it in a little tiny tiendo; the guy wrapped this quart of cheap white tequila in newspaper beneath the old wooden counter for us, it was all hush-hush.
We chugged on that all afternoon, while washing down percodans, which we purchased at local farmacias (10 in a box, about 3000 pesos–or 2 dollars per box!). We shopped in the mercados and roamed the plazas, ate fried chicken and tortillas at an outdoor kitchen. It was getting close to Dia de la Muerte, and there was that mysterious & exciting something in the air, in a town that always felt like Christmastime.
We always took the last bus of the evening back, and that evening I was feeling my oats quite well, thank you very much. The bus was like one you’d see in the movies depicted of South America, Mexico or some such place: complete with goats, milk cannisters, etc. The Campecinos of the area had never quite seen someone like me: I was wearing a long skirt, halter-style top, steel-tipped cowboy boots and my traveling companion’s big old cowboy hat; bouncing up and down the aisle laughing, talking to everybody in my broken Spanish and passing around the bottle, which just about everybody took a pull off of, the bus driver included, who was grinning ear to ear! I was having a whoopin’ great old time of it, so much fun!
The next day when we went into town, still somewhat drunk from the night before, I was numb for most of the afternoon. As soon as we hit town it was all over the “news”, buzzing upon lips throughout all of the plazas the huge earthquake in California, more specifically, the Bay Area, my home turf and where most of my family resided. “!!!TUMBLR!!!” in huge black letters adorned newspaper headlines in stands everywhere. They all of course showed photos of the worst case scenerio (mostly the Bay Bridge) and made it sound like the entire region had gone under! At the time there were no “phone booths” and cellphones had not yet become the added appendage; to use a public phone you had to go to a “telefono store”, wait in line, pay an initial fee and then sit down and make your call. That day the lines were all the way out the door and down the street.
As I mentioned, at first I was still sort of inebriated from the night before, and felt little pain. However, I was not drinking any alcohol that next day, and so as the hours wore on and the poison began to wear off in my bloodstream, my personal temple became tumblr-wrecked itself; feeling sicker and more wretched as the sun sunk low.
After making our phone calls and making our rounds through town, we took the usual last bus out. Our stop was the very last one, the end of the line and it was the same rutted dirt road, same driver, same Campecino faces in the same seats; the only difference was that, instead of running up and down the aisle like it were my party, I was with head hanging out the window and puking my guts out! The people on the bus weren’t outright laughing, they rather sort of politely inwardly smirked, with a grin and look in their eye as if to say, “Poor crazy gringa!”
I was soooo sick, in a real toxic, poisoned state with the longest hangover of my life: 4 days of this accompanied by stabbing pains in the area I figured to be my liver. I heard an inner voice, bold, deliberate and exacting, which said, “You keep going on like this and you’ll be dead soon”. The voice kind of startled me because it came to me like a noisy thought, but someone else’s thought, a stern message, delivered loud and clear to my inner ear. To this day I believe it was my guardian angel, one of them at least. At any rate, maybe it was this revelation, or tiring of the horrible hangovers, or maybe a little part of me thought that the California earthquake which had just occurred on the day of my last big drunk was a warning sign for things to come, and if the world as we know it really is coming to an end, I wanted to be conscious for it; whatever the reason, I decided right then and there to quit. I had, for the past few months, gotten it down to only drinking every couple of weeks instead of the customary everyday so I figured, why not just go all the way and stop it all together? Over the years people have asked me, “How did you do it? Did you go through detox? Or a program?” I always tell them that it was “Program Mexico” and angelically intervened. I really to this day have no other answer.
For the first few months, however, I didn’t mind-fuck myself by swearing to quit forever, then “future-tripping”, ie: “What about Grandpa’s famous eggnog at Christmas, or birthday cocktails or champagne celebrations or after-work beers or Friday nights at….” Alcohol had become such a huge part of my life’s rituals and I didn’t even go there ’cause I knew it would twist things up. Instead, I just said, “I’m not drinking now because I don’t want to drink now, if I want to later, I will”. I made it like sort of a game or challenge, to see how much time I could rack up as such. But after about 3 months of that philosophical approach, I felt sooo much better in general and grew to love waking up in the morning without a hangover; I was ready to make the commitment to myself and said, “Never again”. And I never have.
On eventually returning, by long slow highway roads, to the States and to Monterey, California where I had lived, people I’d been acquainted with for years did not at first recognize me: I had dropped about 35 pounds, my face was lean & tan and my eyes were clear–no longer all bloodshot red and whiskey-hazed. They said, “Who are you and where is Judi?…Did you leave her down in Old Mexico somewhere?!?” I guess in a way, I did.
To anyone who has never lived with an addictive personality (in oneself or in another), overcoming an addiction likely comes across as not a huge deal, not much of an accomplishment and maybe even like working backwards. But for someone who has struggled with these personal demons, coming out on top and clean is a MONUMENTAL life-changing triumph, the greatest thing a person could ever do for themselves; I always thought of it as sort of a 2nd birthday, or rebirth day.
This is dedicated to anyone & everyone who has “licked” alcoholism: whoever you are, my hat goes off to you!!! Keep on keepin’ on….