July 27, 2000
Leaf Blowing


So Robert Downey Jr. is turning over a new leaf ... again.

That's nice. I hope he doesn't *blow* it this time.  I mean that sincerely.

I listened to him being interviewed on the Today Show this morning, while I was putting on my makeup and getting ready for work. From his spartan little cell in the California Substance Abuse Facility and State Prison in Corcoran Prison, he grimly expressed regret over the mistakes he'd made in his life. "I haven't used drugs since June of 1999," he said, explaining that he attends rehab five times a week and is frequently drug-tested.

He said that he was ready to return to society and stay clean and never ever ever find himself wearing an orange prison jumpsuit again.

I watched him showing the interviewer around the prison, and sharing a *warm and fuzzy moment* with his recovery support group, and talking about his child and his career (and how much he misses both) ... looking sincere and contrite, with those great big sad puppy dog eyes of his  ... and all I could think was:

He'll be using again in six months.

But of course that's pretty much what *they* said about me, too.

Some of *them* probably still do.

It was exactly two years ago this month that I was perched at the edge of the diving board, preparing for my spectacular swandive towards rock bottom.

I had two failed recovery attempts behind me already ... and at that point, I wasn't planning a third. In fact, I'd pretty much decided to drink until I died.

I figured it wouldn't take long.

The first failed attempt to clean up my act had taken place a year earlier, late in the summer of 1997, when I left my family and ran off to Oregon.

My new boyfriend had no clue that I drank like a FISH.  I'd pretty much managed to conceal that fact during our four-week online "courtship." (I'd also pretty much managed to conceal the fact that I was married. But that's another story for another day.)  In order to continue the charade once I got to Oregon, of course, I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't. Enforced sobriety, as it were. I didn't quit drinking entirely, but I scaled it way back to try and match his "normal," more socially-acceptable drinking patterns.  A glass of wine with dinner ... an occasional martini ... a schooner of Buttface Amber Ale at the local trendy microbrew ...

... when what I really wanted, of course, was the whole damn box/bottle/keg.

This lasted for nine months.

I told myself at the time that I was happy, and that I was getting healthy, and that I was "celebrating my recovery." I told my family and friends the same thing. I made a lot of noise about how good I felt, and how determined I was to stay sober, and how wonderful life was going to be from now on. ("I won't be drinking, and I won't be waking up every morning on a lumpy sofa, hating myself and my life and everyone around me, and just wishing that I would do everyone a big favor and die," I wrote to my mother at one point.)

But the truth is that I hated every minute of it.

I hated my boyfriend for "depriving" me of the warm and familiar embrace of alcohol. I hated my genes for betraying me. And I hated myself for getting into this stoopid fudking predicament in the first place.

So of course the instant the Oregon Boyfiend and I broke up and I moved alone into the Tree House,  I was lugging that big box of Mountain Chablis home on the bus with me four nights a week.

Mind you: I have nothing against Robert Downey Jr. personally.  I think that he is a brilliant and compelling actor.

I thought he was especially good in "Less Than Zero," where he played a desperate, destructive coke addict whose drug use eventually kills him. The scene where he is standing at the back of the dance club, furiously freebasing as though his very life (or death) depends on it, is one of the most harrowing things I've ever seen, onscreen OR off.

Maybe that's one reason why I find it difficult to believe him now, when he sits there in prison and tells the NBC reporter that he is clean, once and for all. There was such a ring of absolute believability about his character in that movie. It's hard for me to separate the nonfiction from the fiction.

I think, If he was that convincing in the movie, how do we know he isn't saying all the *right things* now, just to get us to believe again?

And of course the great irony, here, is that I worry about the exact same thing in my own life.

I worry that people --  family, friends, non-friends, my children, former classmates, total strangers reading *FootNotes* -- are going to read the things I write here, about addiction and recovery and my struggles with both -- and think, How do we know she isn't saying all the *right things* ... just to get us to believe?

About two months after I'd moved into the Tree House, I had a terrifying experience that convinced me I was ready, once again, to try for clean and sober.

I woke up on a Saturday morning, after one of my usual Friday night Mountain-Chablis-and-AOL *marathons,*  feeling like something had crawled into my brain and died an agonizing (and smelly) death there, in the middle of the night.

Except that it wasn't Saturday morning.  It was Sunday afternoon, and I'd been *out* for two days.

I was laying on a deflated air mattress in the middle of my bedroom, fully clothed. The phone was off the hook, the TV was on, all the lights were on in the kitchen, and my front door was not only unlocked,  it was actually cracked open slightly.

All over the apartment, untended candles had burned right down to the end of the wick.

I had a huge black bruise on the bottom of my arm, the size of Lake Oswego ... and no idea how it had gotten there. It looked like I'd smacked it, hard, against the edge of something sharp: my desk, maybe. I had another bruise on my right temple, and my mouth tasted vaguely of blood. My chair was tipped over on its side in front of my desk.

I felt wretched.

I looked at the computer: AOL had signed me off for "nonactivity" at some point. Onscreen I could still see the remnants of a couple of i.m. conversations that had ended abruptly, in mid-sentence ... probably when I passed out. One conversation was with my friend Edmund: the other was a screen name I didn't even recognize. I read a little bit of what I'd written. I sounded perfectly lucid, happy, funny ... until the back-and-forth simply *stopped* on my end.

I had no conscious memory of either conversation.

I decided -- at that very moment -- that I was going to quit drinking, right then and there, forever. No trying to "gradually phase it out." No thinking it over first. No discussing it with anybody. I was just going to stop. I went out to the kitchen and dumped out what little wine and beer I had left in the refrigerator -- there wasn't much -- and then I cleared out all of the empties from under the sink. It took three or four trips to the dumpster. While I was at it, I threw out my thrift store wine glass.

And I vowed, "Never ever ever again."

I lasted three days that time.

It would be another two months before I tried again. The next attempt would be the exact opposite of the first two: noisy, honest, emotional, extremely public ... and ultimately successful.

And the whole time, I'm sure there were plenty of people out there -- including the Bad Angel sitting on my own left shoulder -- who were looking at me and saying:

She'll be using again in six months.

throw a rock