I laughed yesterday at the start of this otherwise long, dark chat with a friend freaking out over, you know, the possibly post-Constitutional state the United States is entering. ‘Don’t drink’ was probably sincerely meant on some level, but hearing it in his sardonic Boston voice—”two words of advice for you, boss,” I imagined him saying, “boss” being his nickname for me (I have no idea why)—kind of cracked me up.
Then I gasped at the realization that drinking hadn’t even occurred to me. Which is a huge, huge fucking change that happened when I wasn’t looking sometime between the night Donald Trump won the presidency and the night he became a temporary king.
If you’ve read my book, you might recall that Election Night 2016, aka Day 1,234 of my sobriety, is when I fully internalized that alcohol couldn’t save me from anything—that sadly, it does not in fact alter reality. I was as scared as I’ve ever been that night, and I knew I wasn’t going to drink, but my terror and grief and rage were almost physically intolerable. And that’s to say nothing of my intense self-pity that I couldn’t erase the night with wine, couldn’t blur the next four–please God let it be just four– years that way. At least then I would have had a plan, right?
What killed the self-pity was the sudden, blinding realization that whatever destruction awaited the US under Trump would still happen if I drank. That blunting my perceptions of reality wouldn’t do a damn thing to change reality itself. That my relapse would just be…my relapse. I hadn’t known I’d believed otherwise until the truth hit. And when it did, I was terrified. There was no comfort in it.
But it’s also, I believe, the moment my sobriety really snapped into place, almost three and a half years after my last drink. It was a moment of monstrous grace.
And now here we are, another 1,178 days later. Fifty-one senators just decided that the president bribing a foreign power for help cheating in an election–violating those senators’ own budgetary authority in the process– is so totally not a big deal that they don’t even need to hear witnesses before voting to acquit. We are entering a phase in American history where neither Congress nor the Supreme Court can be relied on to check the president’s worst ideas and impulses. That would be scary even if the current occupant of the office were a normal human being and not a blown-up, sadistic Chucky Doll who’s into rape and obliterating nice things.
My 2016 fears of what a Trump regime would do to this country were mostly not overblown. Many of the things I was afraid of have actually happened, along with worse ones I couldn’t have imagined. At this moment, nothing seems implausible. So I’m scared and sad and angry and kind of bitchy–and yet drinking in reaction to all of it never entered my mind, because I know it can’t change anything. I know the only way to cope with reality is to actually be in reality, and wait. And I know that at the other end of the waiting, I come out okay. Solid, clear-eyed, able to think. And not afraid 24/7, because no feeling can be sustained that long.
It’s the one good thing Donald Trump has ever brought to my life: a fear so unbearable that it became a revelation. So if you are sober but wobbling on the edge of drinking these days, because of impeachment or Brexit or the strikes in France or the freaking Iowa caucus or anything else that feels both catastrophic and out of your control, maybe your fear can become an unlovely gift too. Maybe you can accept that nothing you put into your body will undo reality, and that sucks, but it’s also okay, because you were built for reality and you are going to be all right. Just as you are.
So if you don’t know what to do?
I have two words of advice, boss: don’t drink.