Posts Filed Under alcoholism

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.


41 Comments | Posted in alcoholism | September 27, 2015

Journal entry: 3/5/14

by Janelle Hanchett

On this day 5 years ago I woke up in a bed in mom’s house and it was not a special day. I had called in sick to work, again, and I was sweaty with a pounding head. The sun insisted on attacking my face. The bed was under the window, in prime sun-assault location. It was 10 or 11am. I probably heard a leaf-blower or gardeners, a car cruising by on its way to work, or somewhere, engaged in some life, somehow. My mother was at work. She let me come back to her house a few months earlier. My children were at school, though I didn’t drive them there and I hadn’t in months. Years?

My husband was at work. My dad and stepmother were at work. The whole fucking world was at work, or so it seemed. But I was in that bed, again. Twenty-nine years old at 10am in a bed in my mother’s house, shaking and sweating and not going to work, again.


More lies. More deceit. I knew that bed.

I rolled over and looked at the nightstand. I specifically remember rolling over and looking at the nightstand. Another day. Another 24 hours. Another span of failure, of deceit, of faking it. Another 24 hours of Tylenol and water and a shower, cigarettes and some food and smiling at my mom when she came home, pretending I was sober and she needn’t worry now. Another 24 hours of the haze in my brain, the low hum of failure rolling on and on and on in my gut until the whole thing is fog.

It clears with the first drink. Or it did, before, when alcohol still worked.

I had no idea why I lived the way I lived. I had given up examination. There was nothing left to explore, no corner left to illuminate. Five visits to rehab countless psychologists (DBT, CBT, Jungian, biofeedback!) psychiatrists and an institution of mental health – I take my pills to fix me. They never fix me.

I looked at the nightstand again. Books piled up. Glass of water. Maybe a journal I hadn’t written in. For years.

The sun keeping on and fucking ON and the cars going by and me, there, one more time a heap of not-in-the-world. Failure. Cannot hang. Cannot work, drive kids to school, be a wife mother daughter employee friend.

It crushed me, that truth. I have never felt a pain like the one that morning. I had never and probably will never again feel reality eat my heart and guts and soul into nothing. I writhed. I physically writhed under the crush of the other worldly.

I saw my life roll out ahead of me like a carpet might unroll across an empty room, or a street. A walkway. It went on for a long time, rolled fast and hard all the way to the end. I saw it all. I knew I would end up a desperate drunk. I knew alcoholism was THE ONLY OPTION FOR ME. I would die a useless alcoholic. And there was nothing, nothing I could do about it. Freedom was not for me. Life was not for me. I was not a victim. I deserved it. I made it. I lived it.

I am this. This is me.

I was out of moves. I was out of fight. I was out of new angles, approaches, bullshit. I had no new perspectives, ideas. I had not a single source of life.

The bottle killed me that morning.

You don’t have to stop breathing to die, you know.


It’s 8:49am on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

I can’t keep writing. I have to take a shower so I can get to work on time.

My kids had some eggs this morning, my mom drove them to school because she helps me out on Wednesdays. I brushed my toddler’s hair and yelled at my tween to get off her brother’s case. I reminded my son to brush his teeth. When the kids got in the car I yelled ‘Have a good day at school!’ I walked in the house and had a cup of coffee.


It’s March 5, 2014.

It’s the best day I’ve ever had.

28 Comments | Posted in alcoholism | March 5, 2014

We don’t start with needles in our arms

by Janelle Hanchett

Sometimes I write about parenthood. Sometimes I don’t.

Today I’m writing about alcoholism.

For those of you who are new here, I am a recovering alcoholic. On March 5, I will celebrate 5 years of sobriety. So yes, I am a relatively new sober alcoholic. For background, please read this or this.

I don’t particularly love talking about motherhood and alcoholism. It’s not exactly the high point of my life to announce to a few thousand people that I was that mother, the trash, the hated one, the drunk, drug-addicted one, the one with two gorgeous, innocent children caught in the cross-fire. And her, that dirty bitch, selfishly killing herself.

But I write about it anyway, because after about a year of writing this blog, I realized I was only telling you people half the story, and I realized I might be of help to somebody, some day in some way and something, I tell you, something has to make those years worth living.

And sometimes, when a famous, brilliant actor dies with a needle in his arm, I read the comments from America and I can’t take it. There’s so much ignorance, so much blind condescension based on NOTHING. NOTHING. Opinion. Observation from afar. Some article you read somewhere. An addict you “know.” A drunk you worked with.

The comment that stuck with me like a knife in my brain is this one: “Yeah, addiction isn’t a choice, but shoving a needle in your arm sure as hell is.”

It’s as if people think we start with a needle in our arm. Yeah. Newsflash. WE DON’T.

Alcoholism and addiction are progressive diseases. THEY GET WORSE OVER TIME. We don’t start with a damn needle in our arm. We start drinking beer with friends in high school. We start like you did.

Do you get that? Do you see that? We don’t wake up one day when we’re 19 or 20 or 35 and say to ourselves “You know what I need? A motherfucking bag of heroin and a syringe.”

I started out like you. I partied and experimented with alcohol and marijuana and a couple psychedelics like a whole lot of other kids in school. Yes. I am responsible for that. I made that choice. If that makes me responsible for my alcoholism, well then I guess I’m responsible.

But do you think I knew I was playing with fire? Do you think I knew when I was 17 years old hanging at a friend’s house drinking Peppermint Schnapps that I would one day lose my children to this substance? That I would go to rehab FIVE TIMES, each time sure I would emerge “fixed?” Do you think I knew that my brain from the moment I tasted that alcohol was altered, that from that point forward my brain would tell me that “pleasure” equals “booze” and booze only, that I would one day pursue that relief, that feeling from alcohol, at the cost of everything of value in my life?

Do you think I knew I’d lose my job to the stuff, spend years fighting it, catch 3 or 4 psychiatric diagnoses resulting in ELEVEN different medications at one time, as the doctors tried to figure out what happened to this smart, promising woman?

Do you think I knew I’d end up in a mental institution, having spent a few days on a whisky binge in a small apartment with a dog shitting and pissing on the floor, and the doctor would look at me and say “We knew you were crazy, because no sane person would live in those conditions.”?

Do you think I knew I’d wake up one morning on a respirator in an ER with a doctor who was sure I was trying to kill myself because there were so many substances in my body? Do you think I knew I’d look at him and quite honestly defend myself with the words “Oh no, doctor, I’m not trying to kill myself. I do this every day.”

No. I didn’t know. I didn’t know or think any of this. I was a kid who got good grades and went to college and worked hard. I thought everybody had the experience I was having with alcohol. I thought I was “having fun” like everybody else.

And by the time I realized I was in trouble, I couldn’t stop.

By the time I realized I couldn’t stop, I COULDN’T STOP.

And that, my friends, is the piece you’re missing: By the time we realize we’re dying, we’re dying. By the time we begin to suspect a problem, we are in the grip of a deadly disease, a disease that lives in the body and the mind. The body demands more – aches and screams and begs for more; the mind says “You’ll die if you don’t have more. It will be okay this time. Just one more time, Janelle.”

It’s not rational. It doesn’t weigh options. It doesn’t think about kids or home or acting careers or any other fucking thing. It thinks about itself. It tells me “You’re fine, Janelle. One drink won’t hurt.”

How do you change a mind with an insane mind? Tell me, how do you? How do you alter the thoughts of a brain when it’s the brain making the thoughts?

Do you see the problem, folks? There’s where the element of choice gets really, really sticky. MY BRAIN IS MAKING THE CHOICES AND MY BRAIN IS THE PROBLEM. You’re telling me to “choose” different behavior when my brain is the thing that’s hardwired to choose more alcohol.

And then, the more I drink and the sicker I get, I start looking for other substances to fill an ache in my mind and soul and heart like I cannot describe – the alcohol isn’t enough anymore. I’ve progressed to a new level. I take everything, anything to kill the insatiable need that’s become like air to me.

For my family who will read this, who knew me as a cute little blond-headed, precocious kid, I won’t say how far that need took me.

Does this make you uncomfortable? Does it make you sick? Yeah, me too. But this is it, people. This is what it is. Most of us start out good and decent and wanting a real life with kids and a house and job, and we start out fooling around and maybe we’re a little overzealous but by the time we’re really, really in trouble, we’re dying, and we’re powerless, and the chances for recovery are really, really freaking slim.

Most of us rot in the streets and die in beds in the houses of strangers. We die in bathrooms with needles in our arms, while the world looks on and says “Why didn’t you just choose not to do it, you trash?”

Why don’t you ask a fucking schizophrenic to “just stop having those weird delusions.”?

Why don’t you ask a cancer patient to just stop creating cancer cells?

Why don’t you ask a person with asthma to just get beefier lungs?

What’s that you say? The disease model of addiction removes the element of responsibility? Really. So if you were told you had cancer and need chemo, would you respond “Nope. Not doing it. Not treating my disease. It’s not my fault I have cancer. Therefore, no chemo.”



I have no words

It wasn’t until somebody explained to me that I was dying of a progressive disease, that I could never consume alcohol safely IN ANY FORM, that my mind would always, always lie to me, that for me, to drink is to die – it was only then that a beam of understanding crept across my mind. It was only then that I began to understand my condition, what had been plaguing me the whole of my adult life and how I could, finally, live freely, like a real human, wife, daughter, employee and mom.

At this point I know I seem like I’m contradicting myself. I just said you can’t fix a broken brain with a broken brain, and now I’m telling you that an understanding of my disease helped set me free. I can only tell you this: all alcoholics and addicts have moments of lucidity – tiny cracks of sanity where we see the truth of ourselves and our lives. And I believe some of us are lucky to get the kind of help we need during that moment of clarity, or surrender, or internal death. And if we’re set on a path from that point, we might make it. That, at least, is what happened to me. But it’s a long, long desperate and dangerous path to get there, and some of us don’t make it.

Then again, maybe it’s just dumb luck. Maybe some are sicker than others. Why does treatment work for some cancer patients and not others? Why do some people die and some don’t? And is it the sick person’s fault? Should they be blamed for losing the battle?

Don’t ever put me up on some pedestal. Don’t ever tell me “Great job, Janelle. Look at the way you turned your life around.”

Don’t ever set me above the homeless crack-addict on the street, thinking I’m better because I survived my disease.

There’s no reason I’m here and she’s there, and there’s no difference between us. I don’t know why I got to live. I don’t know why I didn’t die alone in some bathroom, leaving two blond-headed children to wonder, and miss their mom, while the world packs up its trash in the form of one more useless addict, one more drunk, one more loser who “chose” to throw her life away.


I take a breath and hold my kids and weep for the ones still dying.


Me, at 24 years old, at the beginning stages of the deadly grip of alcoholism. I sure don't look sick, do I?

Me, at 24 years old, at the beginning stages of the deadly grip of alcoholism. I sure don’t look sick, do I?

303 Comments | Posted in alcoholism | February 7, 2014