To the stinking alcoholic at the liquor store last week

by Janelle Hanchett

It was 12:30pm last Sunday in a liquor store. You stood in front of me at the checkout in a ruffled skirt and combat boots and tights. It was too hot for such a get-up. You’d probably been wearing it since Friday, when things were better.

Your hair was sticking out and frizzy around a few-day-old braid.

When you turned I saw tattoos along the side of your face. Your eyes were swollen and your face pale. The alcohol radiated off your body, smacked me into 7, 8, 9 years ago.

That sweet-stale reek. Cigarettes. Sweat.

“Can you give me a deal on a pint?”

Rot-gut whiskey. My kind of girl.

“No, sorry.” He offered a vague smile. I considered setting down my stuff because my arms were tired and achy against the cold drinks, but I didn’t want you to feel rushed. You had enough stress.

“Well give me a minute. You know I’m good for it. How much do I owe you?”

Your feigned cheerfulness made my heart damn near crack.

One dollar and 7 cents more for the rot-gut pint.

You dug in your bag and folds of your jacket and pulled a nickel or two from the plastic penny holder on the left. I used to do that. Saved me a few times too.

Seven cents short.

I opened my purse to grab you a dime when you said “Hold on!” and ran to the back of the store where you grabbed a dime on the ground. You placed it on the counter triumphantly.

“We’re good today, man!”

I was happy you didn’t have to take money from me. I was happy you got your pint without a front or a handout, and I was happy you could kill the shakes and in your head I knew you were thinking “I’ll be okay today” and I was glad that moment was happening for you though it won’t be enough, my friend.

It will never be enough.

There will never be enough.

You grabbed your whiskey and turned around, looked at me right in my eyeballs and said: “Any day now I’ll be back to my normal self.”

I gasped. Punched in the gut.

It was only your words. I nodded. I smiled. I couldn’t speak.

I watched you walk to your bike.

God dammit why did you say that to me?


Of all the people and things and moments in the world I stood behind you on just another alcoholic day in a liquor store and smelled your and my old smell and you spoke the saddest words maybe I’ve ever heard in my life and your watery eyes were mine again yet they were not. Because I’m free now.


I’m a stranger to you. A nobody. A nothing. When I was you I would have turned away from a woman like me, all clear-eyed in the midday with kids and shit.

Oh fuck you lady. Fuck you and your decent life.

(And then, in the throes of the morning, begging god to join you.)

I know you. The pain. The hope. The energy in the unopened bottle. The strength pulsing through the walls of the glass in your hand. Just this last pint. Just this one. I’m okay today. It’s okay.

Tomorrow I’ll pull it together.

And tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll be me again.

Any day now. Any day now I’ll be myself again.

I wanted to stare at where you last stood and take in that moment. Instead I met eyes with the man behind the counter. Time to pay now. Time to go on. It felt weird, again, to be on the side of normalcy. It still feels weird after 6.5 years of sobriety.

Me and the dude at work. Me, buying water and red cups because my kid was sick and we had to drive home and I thought “Well this will hold puke.” Me, with my kids in the car. Me, tired from being up all night in a hotel room during a trip gone awry. Me, clear-headed, tired, frustrated with the day.

Me, lost in the web of the normal sober shit.

You buying a pint with scavenged change at 12:30 in the afternoon sure tomorrow will be different. You telling me you’re okay while you stink and waste away. You riding away in hope, until the shakes come again. Me pulling out my debit card and spending $9.00.

I used to grab pennies out of the plastic thing to buy pints. Ancient Age whiskey, a pack of Pall Malls, and a Coke if I had extra money. If I think really hard maybe I can remember the exact amount of those three items. The cost of okay. The cost of the day.

I’d dig in the folds of my car. Under rugs and in deeper and deeper spots as if I hadn’t looked there already. Sometimes he’d give me a pint on credit. But never the Pall Malls. He knew I’d be okay without those.

I always paid him back as soon as I could because I knew I’d need his help again.

After the first pull hit my gut I’d feel hope and the shakes would quiet and I’d know just like you tomorrow would be different.

Tomorrow I’ll call my mom and get sober. I’ll get with my kids and work. I’ll call my dad. I’ll tell him. I’ll eat some good food and clean my car and above all I’ll never drink again.

Any day now I’ll be back to my normal self. Any moment. Maybe this moment.

Right after this pint.


I want to tell you lady that the most important word in that strange sentence was “self.” The word you can’t forget. The word you can’t let go of. You have one. It’s there. Buried beneath a few thousand years of separation and pain, or so it feels, but it’s still intact, on fire, alive, pulsing through the reek of shame and humiliation, the part of you who looked at the woman behind you in line and knew you were the same.

I’m still thinking of you now. A week later. I wish I would have bought you the pint. I wish I would have handed it to you and said before you could even speak “I see you.”

There is a better way.

There is another way.

“Any day I’ll be back to my normal self.”

I want to tell you that you will not. Not here. Not like this. I want to tell you come on over here. I want to tell you there is hope. I want to tell you you’re dying. I want to tell you don’t have to live this way anymore.

I want to tell you I see god in your cracked open eyes.

It’s been a week, and I still love you.


more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

41 Comments | Posted in alcoholism | September 27, 2015
  • Linda

    Beautiful. Tears in my eyes and a grateful heart for the fact that you found YOU and lived to not only tell about it but create a life and voice that touches so many! You fucking rock!!

  • itzybellababy

    I have never been there.. but I felt like I was there with you. Truly.. you are amazing. And don’t ever let your “self” tell you any different.

  • Lu

    I stopped doing meth when I was 21. Coke when I was 29. I’m 36 now and a mom of two but still when I meet someone who’ s obviously high… well it brings back memories. smells are the worst right? take you back in time immediately. I wonder if this ever stops.

    • Steffers

      I’ve been clean for 20 years this past July. The smell thing is always there. It makes me nauseated, but the memories flood in sometimes even before I notice the smell. I always thought it was just me.

  • Annette

    This got me. That unconditional love and hope for the most broken among us.

  • Chelsea

    Nope. I am not crying in the middle of the public library. It’s just starting to rain…or something.

  • June

    I couldn’t take my eyes off the morbidly obese couple at the restaurant today. They were both huge, so huge. I wanted to know what they ordered, because I bet it was really knock-you-out good. I watched to see if they’d order dessert so I could ogle it and witness their satisfaction while eating it, no matter how miserable they were in the larger scheme of things. I looked at the take away box they took home of food they “couldn’t finish”, knowing that food wouldn’t even make it into the fridge, and knowing how excited they’d be to crack that box open as soon as they walked in the door. It’s not their fault. I, too, want to say “i see you. I know you’re in there, wanting nothing more than to come out.”

    It’s been 10 years and 120 pounds since my gastric bypass. I’ve since found a great husband and had 7 kids and live a pretty normal life that I’m so grateful for because prior to the surgery, I was sure I’d never have it. I’m mostly cured except for occasional binges in the car. And in the spare bedroom. Or middle of the night in the kitchen. And the constant thoughts of food.

    Good luck to you, couple at the restaurant. I’m your sister in spirit. I hope a miracle happens for you. I really do.

    • Becca

      I had the same surgery two years ago. 200 lbs lost , a husband dead of an intentional overdose, and I realize now how our addictions were the same. I see myself almost everyday in couples like the one you described. It’s truly humbling to see where we were and how we have changed our lives. I sometimes view the surgery as having taken the easy way out, then I remember the months of only liquid, mushy food, struggling to get my melting frame into new clothes, trying to get a body that had been sedentary for over a decade, to move and be active. Things are good.
      Congrats on your success, you are amazing!

    • Tami

      Wow. As a currently-obese person, may I please ask with genuine respect that you to keep your pity for me to yourself? I really don’t need it. My awesome fat friends don’t need it. My life is pretty great, thanks. Not all of us internalize the “fat is evil” message. I’m certainly not dying any faster than anyone else.

      Maybe you’re talking about a food addiction/compulsion or eating disorder, and if you are, I apologize and hope you have found peace with it. Otherwise I do take offense to your assumptions. Being fat is not the worst thing that can ever happen to someone by a long shot

  • Kristin

    You are so freakin amazing! I too am in recovery and I will say there is a tinge of pain and happiness in the ability to look at others and see where I was and where I am now. I however could never have put such a beautiful piece like this together, simply amazing!!!!!

    Keep on rockin sobriety as hard as somedays can be, they are so damn amazing! Thank you so much for the bravery to share your story, the more we talk the less stigma, and mis-information out there in regards to addiction (or at least I can hope). 🙂

  • Lou Taylor

    I’ve been following you since I read your piece about the incident with the parents who’s kid was acting like an asshole holding an entire restaurant hostage. You and I must be sisters, separated at birth…twins of different mothers. I adore your articles. I have yet to read one that didn’t feel like you were in my very own head. Sadly, I’m no word maven, but you…..girl, you fucking rock. You’re a 100%er not afraid of shouting your truth right out loud. Thank you and carry on. I have yet to not be touched by your words, uplifted, laughing right out loud. Thank you for that.

  • Debi

    But for the grace of God go I. Thanks for sharing. Grateful for you and your writing. I too am in recovery.

  • Danielle Burnett

    This punched me right in the fucking face. I am still crying. I will keep crying after the 10th time or 20th that I’ve read it. I know her. I’ve been her. I feel like her, still. I hope that she finds her way. I hope that, so much.

  • Melita

    Hell yeah!! Sober mom in the house, so glad read this tonight… I have 3.5 years sober and a 5 month old, I always looked at chicks like me as clueless and sad when I was rushing to get home with my bottle… I was the sad one. You write beautifully… I hope to take your workshop next year when my little guy lets me sleep a little more. 🙂

  • Sarah

    Can you print your article and ask the clerk to post in the store? She might see it, or someone like her and might make a difference, all the difference in the world or at least a pause in the routine to allow more room for hope. ????

  • Sean T.

    I’ve been in those shoes before. Scraping money together to get me by for the day. It’s been 3 years now since I got help and became my”SELF” again. It’s hard, it’s really hard but it’s a much better life, I have something to live for.
    I’ve seen people in my shoes since getting sober and I want to help them and show them the way but if they’re not ready then they’re not ready.
    If anyone is struggling out there that reads this. There is hope, there is a better way, and there are endless amounts of people out there to help you and love you even when you can’t love yourself…

  • Sara Howard


  • Other Mary


  • Annette

    That was exactly what I thought as I read this….we can replace alcohol with anything.this could be any of us.

  • Momtothree

    This moved me too. It’s like a mirror that sometimes life holds up to us, and we see who we have been, or what we could have become. ‘There but for the grace of God” indeed. And the humility of that realization should bring more humanity to this world of ours. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, pain-relief medication, glue or food, the process of adiction is much the same. Hoping to fill a void in our lives, giving us a crutch that is supposed to help us keep going … unless it kills us.
    Love this piece, J. You rock – as always. And wouldn’t it be fantastic if you saw her again, and she was ready? Ready to listen, to go for a coffee. To stuff an AA leaflet in her bag? You would make a great advocate for helping women find a program. Just sayin’ …

  • kate

    beautiful and powerful. what can be so inexplicable, to watch and to live through, made a small bit more clear by you, so thank you.

  • The Prozac Queen

    I love this. I’ve never had a problem with addiction (touch wood), so I am amazed at the strength and tenacity it takes for people to get through them. God bless you and keep you.

  • Mae

    My mom was an alcoholic, who got sober fifteen years before she died (of MRSA). This post fell into the uncomfortable truth category for me. There are certain movies I have a hard time with, because of this feeling — Silver Linings Playbook (they sure nailed bipolar), anything to do with rehab. How many people I’ve known through her A.A. life that your post just reminded me of…

    I hope she finds her way out too. Soon.

    My mom’s fifteen year sobriety chip was the thing her family wanted most, when we went through her stuff. We were so proud of her journey.

    • Elle

      This is very off topic but we lost my mother-in-law to MRSA two years ago at Christmas. It was horrible, she was scared and only 57. I married her baby boy and we are having a baby of our own. People in touch with “both sides” tell us that she is holding our little one until they are ready for this world. Life stolen too soon, too unexpected; we wish we could have done things differently as her children, she wished she could have lived life more fully. I’ve just never known anyone else who passed this way and reading this made my heart ache to a new level, though still sore from reading such a powerful post by Janelle. Thinking of you ♡

  • Kari

    Janelle you rock…don’t let anybody tell you different.

  • Amy

    I’ve not struggled personally with addiction (knock on wood); but I’ve seen so many friends/family suffer (and some kick it’s ass!). Hugs to you – and keep on being you. So many people come out of these situations and look down their noses at others in their prior posiiton – I love that you’re so real and deeply connected <3

  • Carrie

    I hung on every single, raw, beautiful, intensely painful, uplifting, scary, inspiring word of this article. I’ve been following you for a while now, and have slurped-up every last word of everything you’ve written, often thinking “I ought to comment on this one.” But this time, it feels compelling, as if I have no choice other than to say THANK YOU! For your courageousness, thank you. For your straight-from-the-hip delivery, thank you. For your no-holds-barred opinions, thank you. For your REAL, vulnerable, honest gift of sharing from your gut (and your heart), THANK YOU! You make a difference.

  • Melanie

    My mother was an Alcoholic who was sometimes in Recovery. My mother was…
    10+ years since she died in a car accident. 10+ years since I told her “You can come over but without the beer”. 10+ years of wishing I hadn’t been such a self-righteous asshole who thought I was finally standing my ground. 10+ years of wishing I could have her back drunk or sober – it didn’t matter – as long as she was back, but of course it matters. 10+ years of wondering things would have been different. 10+ years of wondering if she would have sobered up for the Granddaughters that came later. I miss her. I miss her every single day. I always missed her.

    • Momtothree

      Thinking of you today. Don’t be hard on yourself.
      She lives on in you … and the girls.

  • Angela

    Usually you are good for a laugh. Today you were good for tears. I’m glad you found yourself and your wonderful voice. I’ve married three substance abusers, perhaps trying to figure out my alcoholic father as psychology says. My children’s father is a step away from homeless and a deadbeat father of the worst kind. His sequel had more issues than I could deal with and eventually killed himself (post divorce). I’m married to a sober alcoholic and the self awareness that came with getting clean makes him a wonderful partne.

    The addiction in his genes, however, was more than my son could overcome. He died of a fatal overdose in 2013 at the age of 23. He never got back to himself. I lost him by bits. His smile. His warmth. His compassion. His hugs. Finally even the sound of his voice on the phone in a rare call to ask for something he imagined would help him be him again.

    Like you seeing yourself, I see my son in the men of all ages who have lost their way, asking for money in a parking lot, walking after dark, homeless by the road. I hand them money, stifle the urge to hug some, and hold them in my heart long after they are gone because there is a hole there will never be filled.

    • renegademama

      Angela, I am so sorry for your loss. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I can feel your love for your son, may he rest in peace. Thank you for writing.

    • Carrie

      You are in my prayers, Angela.

  • Eva Emanuelson

    I will never forget the asshole I was before sobriety. It has been 21 years and not a day goes by that I forget where I came from and how fast I could lose my far from perfect but at the same time phenomenally better life that I have now. Thank you for your honesty. Please keep saying it exactly as you feel! Your posts mean so much to me.

  • Mary

    My beloved niece could be that girl….or could be you….it changes daily, it seems. I feel this weight, Janelle. Thank you for expressing this pain with such beauty and love.

  • Ellen

    Grateful for your writing, your life experience, and the way you share it, Janelle.

  • Corby

    Fuck. That’s a good love letter.

  • Hope Irwin

    It took me almost a week to work up the nerve to read this because I knew it would hurt. And it did, but I needed to read it. That woman was me 6 months ago, and I know it can be me again if I don’t do the “right” things. You are an amazing person Janelle Hanchett. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nicole

    I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve read this piece. I always go back to it. It gives me strength to keep hoping, to keep praying. It’s so very powerful, yet all too familiar. Thank you for this. Thank you for sharing yourself in the raw.
    Love and Light to you and your family.


  • Mark Goodson

    First time viewer of your blog renegademama thanks to Annette. Consider me a renegadedada. 8 years clean, 2 kids, and a blog of my own.
    I find it fate that brought me here this morning as I had a similar experience just yesterday in our nation’s capitol. Glassy-eyed pandhandler asking for change. I’ve learned to always give something when I have it and avoid judging what I think they’ll use it for. I feel better that way. So I gave him change from center console.
    “more chagne! pretty please mister, pretty please!”
    I do like to reserve judgement but I know the feeling. That feeling of being reduced to your infantile state of dependency. Dependency on the fucked up world to deliver your fucked up dreams. Anyway. Happy to following!

    • renegademama

      Hello, and welcome, and congratulations on your sobriety.

  • Janelle Hardy

    oh wow. you made me cry.
    tears in my eyes well up, not for myself so much, I’ve managed to dodge the occasional pull towards drink, towards addiction, but I feel that swirling downward pull enough to know i’m fucking lucky, and so many in my immediate and extended family are not, still there, still just holding their heads up as the undertow tugs downward, dealing with the pain that seems to circle and threaten in our family, starving dogs scenting an easy mean and hunting. always hunting.
    from one Janelle to another – thanks for your honesty.