I Thought Of Relapsing When Rioters Stormed The Capitol. Then An Amazing Thing Happened.

“Time Of Death For Dry January: 1:15 pm 1/6/21”

So reads a meme that popped up on my Instagram feed last Wednesday. The comments below read, “Opening a bottle of pinot right now!” and “Sippin’ tequila as I type.” Another reads, “Don’t ask me to give up whiskey or ANYTHING that brings comfort and joy during this apocalypse.”

I’m sitting in my office in stunned silence in front of my television. I had tuned in to see Congress and Vice President Mike Pence certify Joseph R. Biden as the 46th president of the United States. An office he won largely due to the efforts of a group of women I am proud to count myself among: Black Democrat activists. I wanted to bask in this moment.

But instead, I see rioters outfitted in military gear, American flags and MAGA hats. And then there’s the police attempting to peacefully de-escalate the violence caused by these droves of white men and women storming the steps of our nation’s Capitol. I actually have to blink and rub my eyes because my brain isn’t quite comprehending what’s in front of me. 

Since before I was born, Black people have been protesting the violence we have suffered at the hands of the police. And as a result, since before I was born, Black people have been shot, shot at, tear-gassed, violently assaulted and jailed.

The disparity in how these destructive terrorists and offenders are being handled, juxtaposed with how Black people are treated when we protest peacefully, is so flamboyant and egregious that I immediately am overcome by a horrific combination of sorrow, anger and grief. 

So, the police do know how to de-escalate a crowd without applying lethal force. And protesters can be ushered away from a riot, unarrested and unhurt and unadmonished. 

I pick up my phone, hoping to call someone, connect with anyone who might be having the same experience I am, and instead, I see that meme. 

“Time of Death For Dry January…” 

Yes, I totally get why a shot of tequila makes perfect sense now.

Yes, I can practically smell the aroma of that beautiful bottle of red being uncorked.

Yes, I, too, want the comfort and joy found in a glass of whiskey (even though I always hated whiskey).

Yes, you’re right; we should all be numb. This is too, too hard.

The fact remains that feeling means accepting. I’d have to accept the fact that if these Capitol-stormers had been Black, their blood would have been all over those steps.

But according to my Twelve Step app, at the time of this writing, I have been sober for more than 12 years, or for 148.87 months, or 4,533 days, or 108,783 hours. I have worked harder on my recovery than I have ever worked on anything in my life.

Holly Whitaker, author of “Quit Like A Woman,” writes, “We are a people who have been trained to think not feeling is preferable, that suffering is a sign of malfunction when the truth is that feeling is WHY we’re here, and suffering is what makes our bones.”

And while I agree with her beautiful words, the fact remains that feeling means accepting. I’d have to accept the fact that if these Capitol-stormers had been Black, their blood would have been all over those steps. And how this meaningless rebellion was perpetrated by people who didn’t even bother to conceal their identities. These people wanted to be seen because they weren’t scared of repercussions.

Feeling means knowing deep down that these were the heinous acts of truly free people ― people who operated without fear of consequence. And feeling meant acknowledging that I, and others who look like me, may never be that free.

At the end of my drinking, I wasn’t partying or getting turned up. I wasn’t glamorously brandishing a martini during cocktail hour. For me, there was no such thing as “a” glass of wine with dinner (actually, who needs dinner)? In the end, I was drinking round the clock, and I couldn’t stop. I hurt the people who loved me. I put my children in danger and effectively separated myself from everything that mattered in my life. 

Like most of my friends last Wednesday, I was shook, to my core, and the pain of it felt like too much for me to bear.

To numb or not to numb? To feel or not to feel?

Before I have time to contemplate further, another notification pops up; this time, it’s a text and a Zoom link from a Black female friend of mine in recovery.

“This Is An Emergency Zoom Meeting For BIPOC in recovery sharing about what’s happening in America right now.”

I exhale sharply and feel my whole body unclench as I trace the Zoom link with my fingertip. I copy and paste the meeting ID into my desktop Zoom portal and wait for it to load. 

I can’t believe that Black people got it together this quick. I mean, we’re all watching this unfold in real time, right now. 

I hear the voices before I see their faces. A brown-skinned woman is sharing about how it felt to watch a white policeman take a selfie with a white supremacist. When she’s finished, everyone snaps their fingers in appreciation in their squares. A man shares next, and he’s close to tears by the end of his share. His voice is shaking as he ends with, “Don’t [expletive] tell me about what the Black man did to deserve being shot after today.” 

As I’m snapping in my square, I start to scroll through to see how many people have logged on. I hit the arrow again and again and see page after page of beautiful Black faces popping on, nodding, weeping and smiling in their windows. Some have their city next to their name ― Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Oakland, New York and London. As I’m scrolling, I see more faces; and in three minutes, we go from 60 to over 100 people. My throat gets tight as my eyes fill with tears.  

Most recovery “Zoom rooms” are overwhelmingly white, and as a person of color, I often have to fight through feeling like I’m the “only one in the room” in order to participate. The truth is, as much as I needed a meeting, I would not have felt safe discussing this overt racial injustice in a room populated with white faces.

Logging on to the emergency BIPOC meeting is like settling into a warm bath on a cold day. Relief floods through my system. The need for connection that was burning inside me is settled and quieted.

The force of the injustice that I’d witnessed on TV was more than I could face unaided. And while that instinct to numb may always be my default, the idea that I have options is more apparent now than ever.  

As an alcoholic, I am always either moving toward a drink or moving away from one. If, as Holly says, “feeling is the truth of why I’m here,” then I am here for it ― all of it. And I don’t have to do it alone.

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