This is a new series titled “The Bottom is Up!,” because sometimes the coolest thing we remember after sobriety is how it looked on the way down.
The hawk looked like a fucking moron but that made sense because it was a stand in, a proxy, for me, and I was a fucking moron. I had done the thing—performatively recovering alcoholics, you know the thing—where I had publicly pretended as though I were sober but, in actuality, was drinking myself into alcohol-induced psychosis again. The hawk had fallen out of the sky and collapsed onto the sidewalk directly outside the apartment where I drank alone under cover of darkness, usually after attending an AA meeting. Were you to have asked me why I secretly drank to unconsciousness every night I probably would have shrugged. Because I didn’t not feel like doing it, I guess. I was a fuckup and that’s what fuckups did—got fucked up. Hey, I went to meetings. For a few months, and entirely for show, as I had made a great deal of “getting sober” yet was still filled with enough self loathing to declare myself a lost cause. And anyway, nothing builds shame quite like being a fraud.
My friend Anna, who did not spend her nights secretly poisoning herself, found the infirm bird on her morning walk and texted me accordingly. When I received her text I was driving back from the San Fernando Valley, where I had driven in a blackout the night prior in order to have sex with a man I was attempting to date for a second time.
I could tell I was no longer drunk because I couldn’t stop shaking, sweating, heaving, feeling as though my brains were attempting to crawl out of the holes in my head. I was, as people say, in a bad way. Yet somehow unaware that I was driving toward my bottom.
I got to my apartment; Anna and the animal control guy, whom she had rightly summoned, awaited me. They had followed the hawk to a vacant lot across the street and wrapped it in a towel. Upon examination, the animal control guy declared that he couldn’t find anything actually wrong with it, no discernible injury—it had just, for reasons known only to it, decided it no longer felt like flying. It looked fine, albeit spooked, its eyes bugging out in a mask of comic horror. Anna took a photo of it with her phone as it was being carted away. Only years afterward did the ham-fisted, if you wrote this into a screenplay while sitting at a Starbucks in the Valley I’d tell you to go fuck yourself and flush your screenwriting degree down the toilet, parable occur to me.
The parable didn’t occur to me then because the only thing occupying my mind at the time was the fact that my body was shutting down. I took my leave of Anna under the hot afternoon sun, entered my apartment and projectile expelled the poison I had ingested the night before through all leakable orifices.
The puke and shit came as fast as my breath, as ceaseless as the tide. There was no respite, no relief. My heart raced. Death, I assumed, was imminent. I texted Anna. I was very sick, I told her. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Could she come back? She did.
I attempted to describe how I was feeling without disclosing the root cause of my illness, that being my deception of her and everyone I knew. Was it food poisoning, she asked? Maybe, I replied, knowing it wasn’t. I should drink some water, she said. I did. Whatever I ingested kept coming back up. I was frustrated with my body for forcing my hand, making me have to admit what I had done to it.
I fessed up: I was drinking again, heavily as I ever had. She did not judge me, and I appreciated that, but part of me judged her for not judging me.
“You need to go to the hospital,” she said.
I demurred, but she insisted, and we decided on a compromise—we’d call the nurse’s hotline and ask their opinion. The nurse’s opinion was that I needed to go to the hospital. There, I was hooked up to an IV bag, not my first; laying on the gurney, listening to the person next to me moan in agony, I asked myself—why, yet again, had I drank my way into the fucking hospital? Why did I act as though I were a lost cause, incapable of operating like a normal, living thing? There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me. I wasn’t born a fuckup. I chose to become one, and I could just as easily choose not to be one. All I had chosen by pretending to become sober was the easiest way out, the illusion of wellness—using recovery speak, going to the gym (bi-weekly at best), play acting like someone who had their shit together for an audience of people who couldn’t even tell when I was blackout. The choice I made in both instances was no choice at all, as agency wasn’t really my “thing.” But there is no faking it until you make it with sobriety. You either do it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you get hooked up to a fucking IV bag again, waiting for your organs to become less inflamed.
On that gurney, I chose to stop fucking up, if only to stop regularly feeling as though I quite literally were dying, and I haven’t been intravenously hydrated since. It’s not that I necessarily like being accountable. It’s just what humans are programmed to do—we either live or we don’t. And anyway, living’s better than the alternative.
I wasn’t the kind of drunk who found everything suffused with meaning, saw cosmic coincidences. When I was out the idea of searching for the meaning in something was pointless, as existence was meaningless and positivity was for the weak. Now I see these coincidences all the time. My boyfriend and I always talk about the connectivity of life, unavoidable, otherworldly happenstances. For us there are many, the most egregious one being my car used in a music video for his band, said usage occurring before I knew him or even of him. In the video itself I am laying in the back seat of the car as it goes down the highway, instructing the driver in which direction he should steer. You cannot see me but I am there, in much the same way I, for years, never met him even though he had been there all the while, living down the street.
Hell, I didn’t even fully grasp the true gravity of the hawk parable until I was writing this. I always resented people who had good bottom stories, as I always considered my alcoholism to be thoroughly anticlimactic.
People in recovery meetings would talk about crashing their dads’ Audis or committing career suicide; all I’d do when I was drunk was maudlinly lament my lack of career to self-immolate.
It turns out I had a good bottom story the whole time. I had the hawk.
I think about it constantly. I still have the photo of it saved on my phone; sometimes I text it to Anna. She usually replies “hahaha.” And I laugh too. It’s an amusing image, that of a bird who looks equal parts terrified and stupid. Bug eyed, mouth agape. The goofy little shit. Dumb little fucker didn’t want to fly anymore.