Remembering the Drunk Dial


I tried really hard to stop drunk dialing. (And drunk emailing, which I include under the same banner of shame.) I deleted numbers from my phone. I downloaded Gmail Goggles and diligently completed math problems before sending late-night emails. I paid $.99 for Don’t Dial, an app that scrambles the numbers of certain contacts after a certain hour. I was sure that technology would eventually save me from myself, although it didn’t work that way. I could do basic math problems drunk, just as I could write coherent but damaging emails. And I had to decide when to activate Don’t Dial, which basically meant deciding when to get dunk. I rarely decided when to get drunk. I’d decide to have a couple drinks, and next thing I know, I’d be calling my professor’s home number at midnight on a random Tuesday.

I drunk dialed family members (though never my parents for some reason), ex-boyfriends and enemies, my therapist, people I hadn’t spoken to for ages and people I barely knew. I’d wake up the morning after a blackout with the phone lying ominously beside me and feel overwhelmed with terror. What had I done this time? How many people, how many minutes per call–did I leave any voicemails? Although I believed I’d eventually find an app to stop my rampages, cellphones obviously make drunk dialing easier than ever. Before cell phones, drunk people had to actually look up a number in a phone book or adroitly dial it with their own finger. While I’m sure I could have persevered, I probably wouldn’t have been so prolific. With a cellphone, I could scroll through an alphabetical list of all my acquaintances, effortlessly choosing names. My call record from the morning after often had a vaguely alphabetical shape to it, and the A-L half of my contact list got a disproportionate share of my attention.

Before I got sober, one of my fantasies of sobriety often involved being the recipient of a totally random drunk dial. Not a calculated, desperate drunk dial, like the ones I occasionally receive from a drunk relative, but a totally out-of-the-blue, who-is-this dial. A lot of my drunk dials had this random quality to them, with me calling people whom I’d never have a reason to contact otherwise. Sober, I’m actually quite phone-phobic (although this has improved a great deal in recovery), and part of my motivation for drunk dialing, from what I can infer, was the sense of freedom that came with suddenly having no fear of the phone. Of course, this total loss of inhibition only reinforced my phone phobia the next day, when I saw how much I’d actually embarrassed myself.

The Buddha talks about “the bliss of blamelessness–the satisfaction derived by a person who is free from any blame.” To my alcoholic self, the bliss of blamelessness looks like this: innocently reclining on my couch–or even already in bed!–one weekday evening, soberly minding my own business, when the phone rings. Back when I felt utterly alone in my alcoholism and crazy drunk dialing, I believed that being the innocent recipient of a drunk dial would feel simply luxurious. I didn’t take into account the way that drunk dials can disturb someone’s peace of mind, pushed from my memory the time that a much older, former colleague left a vaguely inappropriate drunk dial on my parents’ answering machine, creeping all of us out for weeks. 1331684794986_1893307I got my first random drunk dial in sobriety last night. At around 7pm PST, I got a call from an east coast phone number I didn’t recognize. I didn’t answer, but because the area code was from the state where I went to grad school, my boyfriend joked that the call was a drunk dial. Out of curiosity, I searched number in my Gmail archives to see if it belonged to someone I knew. It did. A former boss who used to drunk dial me all the time back when we worked together. He would drink twenty-four beers a night (a number I remember because he often bragged about it) and call me, along with everyone else we worked with, obviously drunk and slurring, but friendly enough and never overtly inappropriate. At work the next day, he’d ask me and others what we’d talked about and laugh at what he could not remember. We treated him with a sad kind of tolerance, eventually screening out his calls. He was intensely lonely and needed a kind of help that none of us could offer. I haven’t spoken to him in years. He has no idea that I’m sober but knows I’m living out west. Probably, scrolling through his phone, he saw my name and decided I would be a good option as it wasn’t as late for me as it was for him back east, where it was past ten o’ clock and snowing.

I felt none of the bliss of blamelessness. Just a vague sense of sadness, familiarity and relief that I was sober. I knew there was no need to call him back, that there was nothing he needed to tell me, although he may have convinced himself there was, just as I’d convinced myself of the same so often. I remembered a passage from Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, which I read before getting sober, both strongly identifying and denying how much I identified. She has a passage about drunk dialing that rang very true:

The paradoxical thing about drinking alone–the insidious thing, really–is that it creates an illusion of emotional authenticity which you can see as false only in retrospect. When I drank by myself, the liquor seemed like the one thing that gave me access to my true feelings, a route to real emotion. Drinking and melting down; drinking and weeping; drinking and then sharing that pain with another person across the phone. I’m depressed. I’m lonely. Help me. But liquor is deceptive, the feelings it generates illusory: the next day you don’t remember the action of the feelings that propelled you toward the phone; when you wake up in the morning, the only real thing you have is a headache. 

I haven’t written in here in a long time–almost six months. My life, as they say, has gotten bigger. It’s now brimming with real things: Real relationships with my partner and family. Real friends. Real jobs. Real commitments. For the second half of 2014, I was working more than I ever have. Now, I’m back to part-time and freelancing, feeling grateful for this extra time, and hoping to write more. I’ll aim for every week here, although not beat myself up if I don’t meet that. The realest thing is: I haven’t had a drink in ten months! I still don’t quite believe it.


7 thoughts on “Remembering the Drunk Dial

  1. I loved this post. The list of failed tactics you used to stop yourself from drunk dialing made me laugh in the same way I sometimes laugh at my own in-hindsight-totally-loony drinking behaviors. (Like frequently buying needlework kits because for some reason I thought getting into needlework would so absorb me that I’d simply forget to drink.) Congrats on your ten months! Sober is so much better than it seemed from the other side, isn’t it? 🙂 Kristi

    • Thanks, Kristi! And yeah, I didn’t even mention the apps I used to try to moderate my drinking. There’s one that’s supposed to calculate your blood alcohol content (by tracking every time you finish a drink) and I was going to stop whenever I got to .08… That obviously worked out really well. I agree that the sobriety waters are so much warmer than they once seemed! Almost makes me wish I’d taken the plunge earlier. Thanks for commenting; I look forward to checking out your blog. 🙂

  2. Amazing what we will do. I have heard stories of guys back in the day (before cell phones, etc.) actually taking out the wiring from their landlines, etc. to avoid the drunk dialling, but they, like you, were still wiring wizards when the time came and then the inevitable guilt, shame and remorse later!

    I drunk dialled of course – nothing outrageous, but I certainly had overly-long calls with people who had less than overly-long patience…ha ha. I have gotten one or two (they were guys I went to treatment, so it wasn’t very funny, unfortunately). Other than that, karma hasn’t bitten back in that department…yet.

    Nice to see you blog again! Stick around !!!


  3. Drinking, a love story, was a startling awakening for me. I had stopped drinking a couple months before reading it, thinking I just needed a break to get out of the black spiral of hell I felt I was in. Her story opened my eyes to the fact that I was, actually, an addict. My whole perspective on drinking changed.

    • Thanks for commenting. Knapp’s book also had a profound effect on me. I first read it several years ago, not long after a first (failed) attempt to get sober. I was obsessively searching for indications I was NOT an alcoholic, but I identified with the book so strongly I ended up flagging nearly every page. Then, in a fit of denial, I got ashamed and threw it into a donation bin! I just read it again and was able to relate freely this time, which felt like such a relief. Did you know she died of lung cancer not long after getting sober? So sad. Also something I remind myself whenever picking up a cigarette seems like a good idea.

  4. Pingback: 18 Months | The Air of Elsewhere

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