A Bottle of Grey Goose, A Relapse Prevented?
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A Bottle of Grey Goose, A Relapse Prevented?


This post was originally published on March 3, 2015.

Recently, after landing a golden writing opportunity, I wound up with a bottle of Grey Goose in my car. I had five years of sobriety and, thankfully, I didn’t drink it. But I do think it’s worth examining why on earth I have this self-destructive urge surfaces just when things are starting to get good.

When I first rolled into AA in 2007, I was a grad student at USC studying writing. I also worked full-time at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, planning big lectures at the Getty Villa and LACMA, working with famous artists and big-time curators, and booking speakers like Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Princeton scholar Anthony Appiah. On top of all that, I produced the student reading series for my grad program, lining up authors and buying all sorts of cheese and crackers and wine on the school’s dime—and I really went crazy with the wine—for the Friday night readings.

But the whole time I was more or less buzzed and, after 11 pm, I was more or less obliterated.

Maybe it was just the big crash after a wonderfully productive manic upswing—I’m not sure. What I do know is that right in the middle of all this activity, right after I secured a coveted slot in a fiction workshop with John Rechy, I wound up in an ICU at Cedars-Sinai and then on a 5150 involuntary hold.

No one knew what the hell was happening. On the outside, everything seemed normal, so my peers and bosses and teachers were baffled. The big crack-up started at Griffith Park, just a day before a brush fire that scorched a fifth of the massive LA landmark.

It was Sunday and my friend Katherine was having a birthday barbeque. The battery on my cell phone was dead and, without a phone or any specific directions, it proved impossible to find the party. Around and around I drove, and around and around I walked. After two fruitless—and barbeque-less—hours, I snapped.

I’d made some chocolates for the party and meticulously arranged them in glass stemware. At the snapping point, I threw them out on the road in front of random strangers, the glass shattering on the asphalt. Then I got completely trashed at Bar Marmont and moved on to Hotel Café where I could smoke alone in a back room while drinking Cosmos and sobbing to myself. The rest of the night is a blur.

A week later, I swallowed 500 pills with a bunch of booze and wound up near-dead at Cedars-Sinai. Then I wound up being evaluated by hospital committees and attending AA meetings.

These days, I’m on the lookout for this kind of tailspin. Many times after getting very wound up and running around like a madwoman, there’s a fallout. I watch, I examine, I try to be mindful.

So when a few months ago the food editor at The Los Angeles Times said she wanted me to write for her on a continual freelance basis, I was more than stoked. Here I’d been working for years at odd jobs when what I really wanted to do was write, and here was yet another step in that direction. Not only that, but a step with a publication whose food columns I’d always admired.

But the day before I was scheduled to meet with the editor, I was distraught. Yes, it was over a boy—two boys actually. Okay, one boy and one man. I’d just broken up with my boyfriend of four years, who was now in Mexico and out of contact, and this other dude I’d screwed around with hurt my feelings when he invited me to a sex club. (At the time, I was in an open relationship with my boyfriend, so, no, I wasn’t cheating.)

Sure, The Times wanted me to write for them. Sure, I was learning to make croissants with the finesse of a French pâtissier during my day job as a pastry chef at a dessert shop. Everything was fine on paper, but again I cracked.

This time, I couldn’t find any Christmas cookie cutters at Rite Aid—that’s what sent me over the edge. With all that boy drama on my mind, I just wanted to keep my hands busy and bang out some holiday cookies to charm the customers and snap me out of my romantic angst. I’d already made all the rolled sugar cookie dough and all the royal icing. But I needed cookie cutters. Surely Rite Aid would have some.

Well, they didn’t. They had every single fucking item of holiday paraphernalia you could imagine except cookie cutters. They had red and green and blue tinsel garlands and Santa dolls, Santa chocolates, Santa hats and Santa suits, but no Santa cookie cutters. I would have taken Hannukah cutters in the shape of a menorah, a dreidel or a Star of David, no problem. Or something for Kwanzaa or Festivus. But they had nothing.

This, on top of the boy drama, was just too much. I had to drink.

I drove out of the way to a small liquor store where I hoped I wouldn’t run into any local AA’s, and bought the biggest bottle of Grey Goose on the shelf. The kind Armenian owner tried to give me the free holiday gift set, which included a big silver box and two martini glasses, along with the jumbo bottle of vodka, all tied up in a big silver bow. I had to politely decline. I was trying to keep my relapse on the DL, and here he wanted to send me out the door with a huge gift box! All I wanted was a bottle in a paper bag. Still, it cost me $50.

I’m very happy to report that I didn’t drink that shit. The idea of drinking it made me literally dry heave once I had it in my car. It was a bizarre experience. I couldn’t physically open the bottle, let alone smell it, let alone taste it, so I chucked the stuff. Then I went to a nearby AA hall where I smoked 20 cigarettes while stuffing my face with day-old Ralphs coffee cake and stale Nutter Butters. I felt much better.

Thankfully, I showed up to the meeting with the editor the next day. As I toured the beautiful Times building downtown, walking past the offices of renowned writers and editors, touring their gorgeous test kitchen, a new kind of gratitude warmed my soul. Instead of plummeting back to earth, here I was taking another step up toward a legitimate writing career.

Had I opened that bottle, I would have gotten drunk, gone downtown to score something stronger and never showed up. And that’s not cool with me anymore.

Photo courtesy of By Politikaner (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.