My first sober-ish New Years was in 2015. I was back in my Brooklyn apartment after almost two full months in a Florida rehab. It was no longer an apartment, but a museum of failure: there was the very expensive top of the line foot massager I’d purchased because I thought it would go great with poppers and Xanax; there were overflowing wet ashtrays on the outdoor deck and the indoor office; there were thousands of dollars of dead, exotic plants; a rusty grill with a propane tank that was never filled; an expensive grill cover lying a few feet away from it, upside down and filled with more cigarette butts and other detritus. There was also this: an inflatable hot tub, still in the box, delivered to my doorstep while I was away.
I don’t remember the exact model, but this was pretty much it. I ordered it right before I went to rehab. It didn’t cost a full month’s rent, but it certainly was an idiotic purchase made by someone who was up all night amphetamine-shopping on Amazon for awesome enhancements to my truly deranged lifestyle I could not afford. “Wouldn’t be it so cool to have my own hot tub to sit in outside so I can look up at the stars?” I conceptualized this in September, early October, when it still felt summery at night and I spent 12-15 hours of my day addled or aching, while I gave away most of my money to bartenders and drug dealers. Now it was almost winter, close to January, and just a few hours away from 2016. I was 70-ish days sober-ish, almost broke and the hot tub was still in the box.
I wanted to not feel the way I was feeling at that critical moment so I had no other option, but to try to find something to calm me, or change me, or please, please, just transform me into someone less agitated and lonely. I did an okay job “cleaning” my apartment before I went off to rehab to get rid of any leftovers I might be tempted to use when I got back. But I was also terrible at cleaning my apartment so I assumed a stray Xanax, a moon rock, even a stale weed nugget was left behind. I half-heartedly searched for about an hour, then got more aggressive, more dramatic, flipping up couch cushions, scouring my desks and drawers for remnants. I eventually rummaged through an old toothpaste-crusted dop kit my sister got me several Christmases before that which I’d hardly ever used. My stomach jumped a bit when, beneath the dirty old razor blades and dental floss dispenser, I came across a familiar orange pill bottle with the white safety cap and the beautiful sticker near the bottom warning me not to operate heavy machinery. There was a brief wooosh of anticipation and victory, but when I pulled it out and examined it which quickly shifted into wah-wah sad trombone-ness: it was just a few Chantix pills, the stop smoking medication. I tried and failed to stop smoking with this medication in early 2013. They were useless. They were probably expired anyway…but wait.
When I took Chantix, I briefly went crazy. My behavior changed drastically, and it was clear that the stuff wasn’t good for someone like me. Some of the changes were comical–I developed a ridiculous sweet tooth, and regularly drank chocolate milk with margarita salt on the rim and Shirley Temples. I also ate many, many ice cream cakes. I bought four at a time from the grocery store because my cravings were bigger than my appetite. It was like I’d stopped smoking by changing via extreme dieting, with all food stuffs you’d find at an 8-year-old’s birthday party. I also became obsessed with online shopping, particularly with buying shoe laces. Like, dozens of exotic, colored shoe laces for flashy footwear I did not own. Also?I bought many Moroccan throw rugs from One Kings Lane.
Then there was the darker side to my Chantixing. I got into a loud, macho shit-talking fight with an intimidating dude at the Key Food who dared to cut the line on me. He could have easily killed me with one punch to the solar plexus, but I had Chantix muscles and, besides, I suddenly LOVED YELLING AT PEOPLE, especially in public. The angry outbursts were not as bad or as frequent as the crying fits–we’re talking big, gulping sobs because I’d get nostalgic about past relationships or the cruel impermanence of the universe, especially when I was drinking. (Don’t drink on Chantix.)
With all of this historical evidence at my disposal, a normal, reasonable human would simply take this bottle and finally throw it in the trash. Not me, though. My mind saw that past chaos as temporary relief from the dull glumness of being 70-ish days sober-ish on New Year’s Eve. I began to fixate on how best to take these pills. Because they were old, I reasoned, and took a couple weeks to stabilize in your system, swallowing them was probably not an option. Even if I took all of them at once I probably wouldn’t get any significant change so snorting them was probably the best course of action, yeah, absolutely, that’s the way to go. But, ah shit, I just got out of rehab. I was a prettttty ravenous coke head so snorting anything is probably not “sober behavior” and I’ll just crave some blow so that won’t work. But what else can I do, oh, right how about I just smash it all up and stick this Chantix up my ass like Stevie Nicks used to do that should work absolutely, great idea, just brilliant, let’s do this! Besides what’s the worst thing that could happen? I stop smoking?
I had the pills out on a wooden cutting board, a hammer in my hand and I was about to smash up several Chantix pills to stick up my butt so I could deal with my first New Year’s Eve sober. Mercifully, I stopped myself. I also finally realized I was a real-deal drug addict because what kind of person thinks this way. My mind went there went there so quickly, and this only offered up more proof that this drug and alcohol problem of mine would not go away on its own.
That night I went out to dinner in a dark, claustrophobic restaurant, full of tables of 12 crammed together and drunk people climbing over ice buckets of champagne. I was awkward and distant, wondering if I regretted my choice to go out that night more than the fact that I wasn’t as wasted as everyone else. I wasn’t ready to be sober yet, not with chips or hugs or anything meaningful or manageable. In the haze of self-pity I realized that if I stuck with this long enough, the next New Year’s Eve would not look anything like this, and I will feel different than I did at that bleak moment. That’s the best I could do to be happy. It’s just the eve. The new year hadn’t even started yet.
A.J. Daulerio is editor of The Small Bow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org