The Tivoli becomes my sinking ship and submarine, all in one. We make the shift together, to never looking back, to riding this into complete submersion. It is a Saturday night in Tennessee when I decide to jump back over the line of fire and take my first drink again after nearly two years of sobriety. I have one of my best ballet classes to date that morning in Buckhead. Carol puts a sticker on my sternum to center me in all the ways, and it works: my neck and limbs fall from this simple accessory. Elation. I quickly get dressed and hop into my silver 2007 Nissan Altima, Chattanooga bound. I take the flash drive with essential sounds to get me sober high and plug it into my laptop that sits passenger seat. My adapter cord, fully functional at this point, plugs into the laptop. This will be my standard for car tunes for years to come.
Two hours later, I arrive and park in a lot directly across from the Theater. Twenty minutes after that, I return to my vehicle to find a police officer writing me a ticket. This will be the first of many, many parking tickets to come. I make it backstage. All of the shows I’d been to before this, revolved around the Green room and backstage, but Jason tells me, this time, that I should really watch the show out in the audience. He hands me my ticket and reassures me that I will enjoy myself because they are covering Some Girls, by the Rolling Stones. They always impress, note for note, covering classic rock albums. Every detail and musician for the part, right down to time spent this entire week before learning how to play pedal steel for, “Far Away Eyes”. He even grabbed a local boys’ Catholic school choir in full on robes and what not for, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.
I change my clothes again for the 3rd time this evening in an empty dressing room backstage. My red lipstick and I make it out the back door and around through the front of the vintage beauty that is the Tivoli. I enter like a true guest. I am the first one to arrive, of course. I am way too early. I take on the responsibility of audience member too seriously because if I were just here as Jacqui, on my own, this private time in such a lovely theater would evoke all sorts of calming, creative noise. Not now though, my anxiety is roaring, so I get up from my seat, walk up the red velvet isle, and head back through the foyer, looking for something. I flash my ID to the ladies at the drink bar. They give me a wrist band. Step ONE: I remove the wrist band in case anyone from A.A. might be spying on me. I go back on that thought 10 minutes later and get another wrist band as the theater fills up with people. I remove this second wrist band with my better judgement until 5 minutes later. I go back a third time and get another wrist band, and step TWO: this time I order a double whiskey.
My face is hot before I even take a sip. I wrap the napkin around the cup to hide it from someone, anyone, no one. I scurry from the bar down the marble stair case, underneath massive chandeliers, into the ladies room. I lock myself in the stall. Staring into this glass of ice and drink like it’s nothing. Like it’s everything. Like it’s something I don’t know about. Like it’s everything I’ve ever known about. My guilt reaches my throat and behind my ears. Step THREE: teeth are clenched as I take a giant breath in through my nose and chug the entire glass in one sip. Leaping backwards, I feel this strangeness overwhelm me. What have I done? Who am I now? Another part of me is relieved like I finally got rid of the knots in my back.
I don’t quite feel it yet, and since I don’t know how long I can keep this up because somewhere inside of me I imagine that once we get back from Chattanooga, I will just return to my normal sober self like this never happened. I walk up to the bar AGAIN and order another double whiskey. What is drunk? How does someone know when they are drunk? I ask myself this over and over thinking how young I was the last time I felt this way. Am I drunk now? Now, this big scary thing, seems so harmless. The theater is completely full, and I don’t feel as nervous. The Tivoli seems like it is underwater and the lights seem to glow differently like we are all on a ship watching the show together. That’s the noticeable part. It’s like someone is putting enough pressure on my ears to quiet all that surrounds me. I make it back to my now very crowded seat and am very sociable with my new friends that I find out are all parents of boys from the Catholic boys’ choir. I immediately tag along with these parents, drinking with them, like a proud aunt cheering and asking when they’re coming on and “which one’s your son!”. This is normal. I am normal. Intermission. I go back to the bar and order another double whiskey.
You’ll be waiting for the best time to be yourself for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful. It’s all beautiful, so there’s no need to wait for a best time to be loved. For the right way to show up. I didn’t know how to be imperfect after this night and get back on track because it was about how well I was doing in sobriety. I forgot that I am always me even when I’m not: meaning I didn’t have to keep myself from being healthy just because I lost my “time”. You’re lovable always just as you are. Sobriety is a gift, but you always deserve it. You can’t lose it. Re-read that article we’ve all read about what people on their death beds say they wish they’d done more of. It only feels far away until it doesn’t. Then it is unfairly close. Who does she think she is? She’s a girl who knows exactly who she is. That’s who. Stop asking if it’s okay to be who you are because it is so okay. IT IS. Find your reason, whatever that may be: It will be beautiful.