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When the Addicted Ex Calls

By Nina-Marie Gardner 06/17/11

When she was a year sober, our writer heard from the guy who'd helped bring her to her bottom. Responding would be the first step toward swilling a glass of wine. So why is she ready to throw her hard-earned good life away?

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I’m just over a year sober, sitting in a cafe near the hostel at St. Paul’s Cathedral where I’ve been living until I have enough saved for a proper share. It's seven-thirty in the morning and I'm nursing my Americano, an almond croissant leaks powdered sugar on my keyboard and all down my lap.  Barely awake, checking email, groggily starting off another day.

And then I see it, at the top of the page: a message from my ex. Heat floods my body and my head and fingers start to throb until it feels like I’m rocking a little on my chair. Leaning in for a closer look I accidentally  knock the croissant to the floor.

"Are we still friends?" the first line says. "Loved your story in ____ by the way." Ends with his initials—what makes my heart seize is they’re preceded by an "xo."

That’s it. But he might as well have written pages, for all I read into it.

In those two lines I’m convinced what he’s really saying is, "I miss you, I’m sorry, I still love you, come back to me"—everything I’ve been waiting to hear the last 13 months since we split up, since the day I left Manchester, since I’ve been sober. Now at last, finally, he’s reached out. What I’ve been hoping for but dared not think about—what I’ve kept stashed away but still very much alive at the back of my mind has come true.

Barely two lines out of nowhere, and I’m set to ditch everything I’ve built for myself in London—my shaky sobriety, my ever-widening circle of kind and caring new friends, my first-ever sponsor who has started taking me through the steps—all of it is obliterated by a single email. I’m as good as back on that train to Manchester, gleefully swilling red wine anticipating the moment I’m back in his arms, right where we left off.

Barely two lines out of nowhere, and I’m set to ditch everything I’ve built for myself in London—my shaky sobriety, my ever-widening circle of kind and caring new friends, my first-ever sponsor who has started taking me through the steps.

(Well, maybe not exactly where we left off. Where we left off was rather ugly—that final week of our nine-month affair, when his ex who he’d always maintained he lived with platonically—they merely occupied the same house for the sake of their child—turned out not to be his ex but still his girlfriend, who upon finding out about me, chucked him to the curb; when he swore he loved me and begged me to take him in, that he’d stay with me, that we’d get through this together; when he left me two days later out of terror he’d never see his child again; when I found myself devastated, alone and broke in a foreign country, too ashamed to reach out to my family and friends whom I’d long since shut out because they questioned our romance; when consumed with despair I drank copious amounts of wine, tried to kill myself, wound up in the ER and then fled bandaged wrists and all before they could section me…And then the weeks on a friend’s couch in London, unable to process anything beyond moving forward, slowly. Getting myself to meetings. Capable only of listening, making it through one day at a time not picking up a drink. Losing myself in work, long walks in Hyde Park, every ounce of will devoted to not dialing his number; suppressing the longing that still plagued me for all those Saturday nights we spent together getting black-out drunk. Waking the next morning in his arms the only thing that made the panic and anxiety unleashed by my inability to stop drinking bearable.)

Since I’ve been trying to stay sober, I’ve always gone out over guys. My alcoholism and drug addiction have been intertwined with and played off of my love addiction in a cycle that looking back, is frightfully predictable. As often as I’ve used a relationship as an escape from (in fact it was always a means of enabling) my alcoholism, I’ve used the fellowship of AA to stave off the desolation that comes with the end of an affair. From my first drink at fifteen in the local cemetery with some friends, I’ve known alcohol affected me differently. It’s always been a Jekyll and Hyde thing—in high school when I drank they called me "Taz"—short for Tazmanian Devil. I used to brag about having a "Catastrophic Personality"—wore it like a badge—the prom I spent in the school infirmary after passing out face-first in my plate at the class dinner, the countless blackouts, so many relationships destroyed, wetting the bed—even losing my car for two weeks in LA because I was too ashamed to ask my friends where I’d been or how I’d made it home the night before.

Still, what brought me to my first meeting at the age of 24 was the end of my first real relationship, when I was just out of college. A sunrise meeting in Malibu—my sober neighbor was only too glad to take me, having witnessed my countless unhappy returns home on mornings after. That time I stayed sober for a year, but never cracked a Big Book, never got a sponsor—mainly I kept going back to meetings for the thrill of seeing all the rock stars and celebrities. I remember a friend’s famous actress sister had these words of wisdom for us at the time: to make it LA, she advised, it helped if one was either a Scientologist or in AA. Inevitably, I fell for a guy outside the rooms, picked up a glass of red wine on our first date at the Dresden Room, and stayed out for the next eight years.

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