The Glass of Chardonnay that Changed My Life Forever

By Steph Carlisi 10/15/15

I knew the underlying habit I needed to change first, in order to change the others: I needed to stop drinking. Period.

Steph Carlisi

After a lifetime of forgotten drinks, I believe I will remember this particular glass of chardonnay for as long as I live.

I had been in a bad way for years, although few people knew how bad off I was. I had long progressed into the habitual cycle of drinking away hangovers. It was the best method I knew to kill a hangover, until the day I figured out a more effective way.

At this particular juncture of my drinking life, I was freshly unemployed. I had quit my miserable full-time job, to which I often showed up buzzed at 9am; during which I often drank on my lunch breaks; and after each shift of which I usually drank myself into oblivion, so then I would wake up hungover the next day and do it all over again. I had left that miserable job for a job that seemed more suited for me, although, during my interview process, I ignored several red flags. I didn’t care. I needed a way out, no matter what.

The new job lasted a shift-and-a-half before I exploded on my boss with the observation that we were in the embryonic phase of a two-way-crazy-making-relationship, and I had finally hit my drama limit.  

I stormed out of his mansion, drove down the Hollywood Hills and straight to Whole Foods. I purchased three large bottles of high-end organic sake and ignited a four-day, round-the-clock binge. My on-again-off-again intimate relationship had come to a halt about three days before the new job had; so I was alone, unemployed, drunk and depressed—I had created a perfect storm.

On the fourth morning of my binge, I awoke from a blackout with my bedroom light and my clothes still on from a night of bar-hopping, so hungover that I hardly wanted to be alive. I was nauseous, shaking and saturated with self-hatred. I fumbled for my phone and proceeded to crazy-text my ex-boyfriend, who had taken a vacation without me in order to escape my/our drinking drama. My mission was to destroy his resort vacation and make him feel as shitty as I did, but he would not respond to my sabotage. Nothing drove my demons like his silence.

I couldn’t be alone and I needed to start drinking to assuage my hangover, so I dialed up a cohort who would enable me without judgment. Larry was housesitting for a good friend of ours who had a fully loaded bar.

I drove from Santa Monica to Tarzana, flew through the front door and made a beeline for the bar. I downed a shot of whiskey to dull the edge, and then headed for the refrigerator and took out two beers. It was approximately 11am.

I cracked the beers, handed one to Larry and fired-off a rant about the chaos of every area of my life, without asking him how he was doing. On and on, I rambled as I pilfered a bottle of red from the bar and opened it, not considering whether or not it was a special bottle that the lady of the house was saving. As far as I was concerned, it had my name on it.

I sent a few more crazy texts for my ex to ignore, polished off my glass of wine, and then poured a shot of tequila. I was on a bender and I wanted variety. My phone rang, displaying my best friend’s number.

“Hello…” I slurred and Steph picked up on my maniac tone.

“What are you doing?” she asked with concern.

“I think I’m trying to drink myself to death,” I responded.

“No! You’re not,” she commanded. “You’re coming hiking with me.”

“Hiking? Why the fuck would I want to do that?” I asked. “That sounds positive. Besides, I can’t drive,” I offered by way of a legitimate excuse.

“Put Larry on the phone,” she commanded, with even more authority.

 God knows I didn’t know what else to do, so I obeyed. I handed Larry the phone then wandered over to the bar and slammed another shot of tequila.

“Get your stuff,” Larry said, handing me my phone. “I’m driving you to Steph’s.”

I grabbed my sneakers from my car then rode shotgun in Larry’s. As we trudged through Saturday’s traffic on the 101 south, I babbled happily, because, well, the sun was shining and I was drunk by now; and, I think I knew that an end was somewhere in sight. I was riding the highs and lows. When I arrived at Steph’s, I went straight for her bar and poured myself a small glass of vodka, diluted it with water, then downed it while she readied herself for our hike. Why vodka? I don’t know. Maybe I thought it wouldn’t smell. Not that it mattered. I just don’t know.

She took me on her routine trail through the Hollywood Hills and asked me, “What’s going on?” She had known me well for 25 years, so she knew what was going on, but she wanted to hear me explain in nitty gritty detail the patterns in which I was keeping myself stuck. So, I started to spill.

“You have to change,” she cut me off at one point. “This is crazy, and you can’t keep doing this.”

“I know,” I told her, simple and honest. 

Although she was referring to my life habits in general more so than the specifics of my drinking, I knew the underlying habit I needed to change first, in order to change the others: I needed to stop drinking. Period.

At the bottom of our hike, we walked to a little café in Beachwood Canyon and sat at the counter. I was excited because I needed a drink, bad. She was excited to share a quirky little discovery she had made on the menu at her neighborhood café. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was champagne with a fig in it, and maybe some bitters. She said I had to try it and I didn’t care what it was as long as it contained alcohol.

She sipped hers, enjoying each drop; I downed mine, and actually thought it was kind of gross, but ordered another. I could have polished off 10, but I was trying to behave for her sake.

After our meal, we walked home and sat in her living room, talking for hours. I helped myself to two beers from her refrigerator while she dissected every ounce of my life. She dug deep. My guard was down. My state of mind was fragile. I was drunk, but descending my binge. We got to the bottom of some shit that night and she made it clear, as she always had throughout our life together, how much she cared about me, and how much better she thought I deserved than what I was giving myself. 

Our conversation came to a natural end. I slumped into the guest bedroom and passed out. I awoke at around 3am in a state of utter panic. Anxiety. Doom. Fear. Sorrow. Sadness. Desperation. My demons seemed huge to me that night. The alcohol had started to wear off, and the hangover had set in. Somehow, I talked myself back to sleep, without tiptoeing to the bar or the refrigerator.

When I awoke the next morning, I had a subtle yet distinct notion that I was in a new chapter. I had not yet resolved to make a change, but I couldn’t see myself going back to yesterday.

Steph drove me to my car and I drove to my grandmother’s house, where my family was gathering for an afternoon visit. Again, I was so hungover that it hurt to be alive. I was terrified. I spoke candidly to my uncle that afternoon and he made a statement that rang as clear as a church bell, “You won’t quit unless you go to (AA) meetings and stick with it this time. You can’t do it on your own.”

“I know,” I said. There it was: the bottom line. There was no way around it. I had tried every other way. I had tried a million times, a million ways.

I left my grandmother’s house and drove back to Tarzana; Larry was still housesitting.

“I’m going to grill steaks,” he said. “Do you want one?”

“Yes, please,” I said and my heartbeat quickened as I watched him pull a bottle of chardonnay out of the refrigerator. He opened it and I did an internal scan; my insides were still aching, my temples throbbing. I held up my hand, a habitual action, and observed it vibrating in the air. He poured two glasses, without question, and handed one to me. I held it in my shaky hands, brought it to my nose and sniffed. It smelled like it always had.

The desire I had to bring that glass to my lips and take a first sip, then a second, then a third and then…was greater than the words I can use to describe it. My being hurt from the inside out and I knew, without an ounce of doubt, that drinking that chardonnay would dissolve my pain.

“Do you want to meditate on the perch for a half-hour before you grill the steaks?” I asked Larry, meekly.

“Sure,” he said, always down to meditate.

He put his glass down without a second thought, because he is not like me, and we trekked through our friend’s backyard and up the wooden steps to the meditation perch she had built into the mountainside on her property. We sat Indian-style on the cushioned-bench and Larry set his iPhone timer for 30 minutes. We went silent, and while I would bet my life that Larry never thought of his glass of wine sitting on the kitchen counter, mine never left my mind.

In silence, I contemplated that glass of wine for 30 minutes; my brain ran around it in every possible configuration of thought. 

I remember that meditation well—my body trembling throughout, withdrawing from alcohol; my thoughts thrashing violently—my soul felt like it was bleeding, yet I did not run from any of it. I just sat with it, in the cool breeze of summer’s eve—with the sun setting, birds and bugs making their noises, our meditation breath circling, my heart crying and my glass of wine waiting—I sat.

I found myself in an opening, a clearing from the past 20 years of wreckage, and I knew that I had a chance; and, so, I let it come to me—the thought that would change my life forever: there are two ways I can make this hangover go away. When the timer goes off, I can walk down those steps and I can pick up that glass, with the cool condensation on the side and the wine inside having breathed for the past half-hour, sweet and settled and offering of comfort; I can drink it and the hangover will go away. Or, I can not pick it up; I can not drink it and…I can let the hangover go away forever.

In that moment of silent meditation I understood fully that I never had to have another hangover again. The timer went off and we walked down the wooden steps into the kitchen. My glass of wine awaited me on the counter, but I did not pick it up. Larry grilled the steaks and as we sat down to dinner he asked quizzically, “You’re not drinking?”

“I’m gonna sit this one out,” I said, bold and timid all at once. He gave me a knowing glance, without further question. Although I was starving, I had no desire to eat without a drink. I ate. As I drove home that night, still sick with alcohol poisoning from my binge, I knew that all I had to do was make it through the night.

The next day, my uncle’s words played in my head like a record on repeat, “You won’t quit unless you go to meetings.” The day after that, I attended a meeting and raised my hand as a newcomer for the first time. I went to 90 meetings in 90 days and then I took a little tumble, but I got right back on the horse. Relapse is part of recovery.

I haven’t had a drink (or a hangover) in almost two years. I will never forget that glass of chardonnay that changed my life forever.

Stephanie Carlisi writes as a means of catharsis and in hopes of inspiring others, even one other. She has been on a journey toward inner peace as long as she can remember and believes that inner peace, on an individual level, one by one, leads to global peace. It is about going in first, then out. 

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Stephanie Carlisi writes as a means of catharsis and in hopes of inspiring others, even one other. She has been on a journey toward inner peace as long as she can remember and believes that inner peace, on an individual level, one by one, leads to global peace. It is about going in first, then out. She blogs at Hollywood Dimentia and you can find her on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.