For the third night in a row the stench forced my pregnant wife to sleep in the guest bedroom. The pizza I’d eaten at 3am to soak up the smell was now a vodka-logged mound of starch festering in my gut. They should invent a Febreeze for your insides, I remember thinking. It’s one of the booze industry’s greatest marketing spins that vodka is odorless. Unless you’re a good enough liar to convince people you’ve been funneling Purel, the acrid stink wafting from your mouth and pores is unmistakable.
I couldn’t continue to pour poison down my gullet. I was 5 months away from being a Dad, and my 4am bedtime was about to merge with 5am wakings. New hormones were also causing my wife to focus her attention on the pregnancy instead of her renegade comedian husband. I started waking with mild panic attacks instead of headaches; my subconscious was trying to get my attention.
My tweaked nerves helped me spring out of bed despite only 3 hours of sleep. I walked to what I hoped was my wife’s temporary bedroom where I found her awake, lying on her side staring at the wall. I didn’t even say good morning,
“I think I’m done drinking.”
“OK”, she said.
I didn’t expect a goddam marching band to bust through the floorboards, but “OK” felt lame.
Trying to generate a little back and forth, I said, “Yup, that’s it. No more.”
“That’s great, babe.” She responded. It was a little better, but still not quite what I was looking for. I guess she didn’t believe me.
There were no tremors, or sweats, or forlorn liquor store window shopping. I was never an alcoholic, I just consistently drank much more than I wanted to (cue the jolly laughs of alcoholics thinking I’m in denial.) Rock bottom was probably years away, and I’d applied the brakes firmly before I lost anything but some memories and dignity.
At the comedy clubs I downed Diet Coke and buried my head in crossword puzzles until my name was called to go on stage. I hardly spoke with anyone anymore, and left as soon as my set was over. It wasn’t very good for my career; so much of stand-up comedy is based on relationships, and I wasn’t capable of having sober ones yet (update: I’m still not).
I struggled on stage too. I lacked a certain looseness that booze afforded me. I had to learn how to be comfortable up there without alcohol silencing all my internal dialogue. I was thinking while performing, and I didn’t like it. I’d started drinking to kill my nerves. I took a shortcut and never learned how to entertain people as regular me.
My personal life changed just as dramatically in the opposite direction. I went to the gym every day to combat my anxiety. I shaved my beard and replaced 3am pizza with 6pm “Amy’s Bowls” of brown rice and broccoli followed by an hour of silence as I let Crest White Strips erase signs of dental neglect. Lindsay and I both had more respect for me.
By the time Silas was born, I had lost 30 pounds. Now, almost 5 years later, he knows the difference between Mommy’s beer and Daddy’s beer because mine is the only kind he’s allowed to taste.
Holy bejeezus am I glad I never have to take care of my kids when hungover.