$700 later at nearly two in the morning, I stepped into the ladies room to have a chat with God. I knew He was awake and had been watching me for the past six or eight hours as I fed the money hungry machine paper after paper of my last pay check. I imagined Him in his living room looking up from a book into His world of humans spotting me wrapped in cigarette smoke, sitting on the grimy black pleather swivel chair in front of the screaming lights and carnival sounds of my whore machine, drinking diet coke. I imagined Him raising His holy eyebrows at my stupidity and complete lack of self-control without an ounce of pity. I had not talked to him the entire night. One does not simply banter with God in the casino while throwing every last penny away and drinking diet coke. What is there to say? I had not had a drop of alcohol in two weeks and I felt that impossible feat alone was worth something. Something to the tune of my pay check. It was my last paycheck because on my last night of work I got so drunk I can’t remember (again) what I did or said but apparently it was just special enough to get me *fired* in that way where no one actually had to say the words *you’re fired*, my NOT returning to work was just an assumption made by all. Of course I learned bits and pieces from unfortunate witnesses who tried to spare me some of the most grueling details.
It was a couple of days before Easter and my ex had taken our two younger children to visit his family while my oldest stayed with me. My oldest at the time was old enough to gamble and we bonded in this way on too many occasions. Usually just for fun but this time was different for me.
I needed to win. I wanted to win something that would make up for all the years of my sins. There isn’t enough money in the world for that but I wanted to walk away with something that would fill that aching dark hole in my heart that alcohol used to fill and because I was trying to get sober it was raw and throbbing. In the light of my sobriety the mess I created of my life was all too much to look at.
The lights and sounds hypnotized me into a state of the walking dead. I couldn’t look away if I had wanted to. I saw in those lights every promise I ever broke and every failure. My mind was replaying years of disappointment, shame and pain. I couldn’t turn it off. I was dumbly proud of myself for being in an establishment that served alcohol without even entertaining the thought of having a drink. I was stubbornly drinking my diet coke and feeling that my reward for staying sober a whole two weeks was right around the corner.
I only knew how to play one game. It was a stupid game featuring a pumped up blonde superhero. Him and I had become so close over the last year I would have felt like I was betraying him if I had tried to play another game.
But the jerk wasn’t letting me win.
I was losing in the biggest way ever. I had never gambled that much money before. I was small time. Sometimes I would win a few bucks here and there but mostly I just lost whatever amount I put in the machine. I did get *free* drinks for my time (and money) though. Admittedly I was developing a problem. It was a baby problem but this was the day it had a growth spurt.
I believed that my chance to win was directly related to my attitude and my attitude was becoming increasingly awful. I tried to trick the universe by smiling peacefully and confidently, sitting up straight and dignified while my insides were churning despicable sludge.
I hated my super hero game and his stupid yellow cape. Asshole. And God, where the hell was he when I need him? All of the super hero’s in my life were letting me down.
God knew I was struggling. I knew He knew.
Near closing time I had one last twenty. My funds were gone. But I had a feeling that this would all be worth it. I would be that person who put their last dollar in and win the jackpot. I couldn’t have spent an entire day and night in this place for nothing.
I went there to forget.
I went there for redemption.
I went there to prove something.
Twenty dollars in the slot for the times I said I would do something and didn’t.
One hundred for all the times I didn’t remember how I disappointed and hurt people I love.
I didn’t want to be drunk on Easter. I wanted to surprise everyone with a nice dinner and Easter presents.
My heart hurt. And I couldn’t fix it.
If dark could be a feeling, that’s what feeling washed over me.
I wasn’t any different.
I wasn’t any better.
But God would have mercy on me.
I knew He would.
In the bathroom I looked at my reflection.
Still the same.
Dark curly hair and brown eyes.
Sad brown eyes.
I didn’t look sober.
But then again, I didn’t look drunk.
I inhaled, holding my breath for brief seconds before I made my case with God.
It’s only $700 for the love of God. It’s not like I’m asking for the moon. I would have been happy with half of that. If I could just take something home with me I wouldn’t have felt so desperate.
After I exhaled I paused before I promised God that if He let me win, I would NOT have a drink tonight. I would walk out of there like nothing ever happened and would never step foot into this House of Sin again.
I would walk out of there sober and wiser.
So much wiser.
“Please, God. I promise”.
I walked out of that bathroom with determination in my step and head held high.
I marched right back over to my monster of a pay check stealing machine and swiped away the *reserved* sign.
I wordlessly reminded God of our deal and put my last twenty into the slot.
Over the course of the next few minutes my heart sank lower. My throat ached from swallowing my tears.
The numbers weren’t kind.
I glared at the machine calling it names.
I walked right over to the bar and ordered four glasses of wine. It was last call. I stood at the bar and drank them like shots.
“I told you God”.
“See what you made me do? Now I’m drinking again and YOU could have prevented this!”
I was buzzed and angry. I wasn’t completely drunk but I was buzzed just enough to think it was a good idea to call my parents at three in the morning like it was a state of emergency.
Over the last 10 years or so especially, my family probably hated to get phone calls from me. They said that they never knew what news I had in store for them . I told my mom I needed a small loan. Just $700 to tide me over until I could get another job. I told her I lost all of my money. She knew I was making an effort to quit drinking. It was no secret in my family that I had a serious problem. It had nearly killed me on many occasions yet I ran back to it every time.
My poor mom didn’t know what to say. She sounded tired, worried and sad but she didn’t sound like she would go for it. I wasn’t trying to lie to her. I didn’t want to lie. Even in my buzzed state of mind I felt the shame. I wasn’t even buying it myself. I asked to talk to my dad and he was kind and thoughtful like always. He heard me out. He asked how I lost the money and I told him the truth. I told him I lost it gambling. He told me no. No, he would not loan me money I had essentially thrown away. I understood. I didn’t argue. He knew I had been drinking. He told me to call a support person which I did after I got the phone with him. She knew I was drunk too. She wanted to know why I didn’t call until afterwards.
I didn’t have time.
It happened so fast.
Ask God why.
She told me to go to sleep and we would talk about it in the morning.
Something changed that night while I was sleeping.
I went to sleep crying for the way I break my own heart. I was disappointed but I wasn’t mad at myself like I usually would be. I saw myself as someone who needed help. I saw myself as someone who loved until it hurt but couldn’t love herself.
I don’t recall praying that night.
When I woke up I felt light.
I said goodbye to that stupid money.
The sun was shining.
I was going to be ok, I knew it.
While scrounging through my purse for change I found a mysterious twenty dollar bill. I had twenty dollars to buy Easter cards and maybe some candy. I rode my kids’ longboard to the thrift store and poured over cards. I sat on the floor of the store laughing hysterically. I chose cards that featured mostly women and children from third world countries weaving baskets and holding bowls of fruit. There were no other cards that spoke of Easter. I gathered my cards and rode off to where my kid was working so I could show him the cards. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to feel for me. Here I was the day after I blew my last check at the casino and relapsed (again), standing there holding these cards and laughing hysterically and he knew how desperate I felt the night before. He wanted to be sad and said how sorry he was but I knew that somehow in all of that mess I had been given a gift. I assured him that I was ok. I was going to be ok. I don’t know how I knew but I knew.
At home I put together a nice dinner and made little baskets with treats. I wrote love notes on the cards and put those in the baskets too.
The next day I didn’t drink.
Nor the day after that.
It has been eight years and I still haven’t had a drink.
At the time I hadn’t realized that God might have been planning on giving me a gift that night despite myself.