source: wikipedia

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge took part in the slow, kindly intervention that occurred in the last year of my drinking. Kindly might not be the right word, but when you’re spared DUI or public humiliation, private pain feels like house arrest in a home much nicer than you deserve.

When I was a kid, crossing the Bay Bridge on a Friday night in summer symbolized a week in near heaven. It was the only way to the beach and my beloved Punchy raft and sandbars at noon and Mr. Softee ice cream cones that dripped melty globs of rainbow sprinkles on the tops of my brown, bare feet.

When I was ten, my family and I walked one side of the dual-span 4.3 mile stretch during a Bay Bridge Walk. The steel suspension bridge had never felt more alive, especially since we could feel it sway beneath us. Leaning over the guardrail at 186 feet inspired my very first short story about a toll collector who stole $100 from the register and (spoiler alert) plummeted to his death when he escaped on foot and dropped the bill and scurried after it.

Why didn’t he just drive in the car that he’d obviously used to get to work in the first place? Why didn’t he take more than $100? Which asshole had paid a $2.50 toll with a Ben Franklin anyway? I wish I could ask 10-year-old-me.

My second short story was about an alcoholic who fatally slipped on a broken bottle of booze, so if I could go back in time, the first thing I’d do is pat 10-year-old-me on the back for spinning dark, fatalistic morals and then I’d grill her with questions but not pointers since my work hasn’t progressed.

I lived a real-life drama on that bridge several years ago – almost to the date – when I drove over in the most hungover state I’ve ever been upright in. This particular hangover hadn’t been helped by a 2-hour drive and careful rationing of orange juice and vodka. Or maybe it was gin. The things I drank often matched the desperation I felt inside.

Alcoholics don’t drink in the morning for the buzz. Just like smokers don’t take their first drags for the fresh air, I drank secretively and at desperate times to make withdrawal symptoms go away.

Hangovers on a good day were a strip of tight pain that ran across my forehead and maybe a mouth that tasted like something had crawled in and died. A couple ibuprofen and an afternoon nap usually did the trick. On a bad day, hangovers were a rising tide of panic and nausea and doom, with a good measure of I’m not fit to be alive, let alone a parent.

The day I drove over the Bay Bridge in full blown hangover, I had been taking small sips to keep withdrawal at bay. It just hadn’t worked. My wretched drink ran out and I felt worse than ever. We met my extended family for lunch at a quaint harborside place just before the bridge. The beer I ordered came too little, too late. If I’d been with my husband, I would have ordered three more and I would have made him drive. Instead I drank my useless beer and muddled through small talk and ate actual food and grinned tightly before getting back in my car and silently praying for death.

Now I’m glad that panic attack happened because it forced the biggest wake up call of my drinking career. There is nowhere to pull over on the bridge and heave your guts out, so the fear and nausea grew with the realization that I might throw up all over myself – or just die, which felt a very real possibility – while my kids watched from the back seat, already silent because they could sense I was barely holding on.

My husband called as I was driving over the bridge and I cut him off with a “Can’t talk…think I’m having a panic attack.” I didn’t even tell him why; I just hung up. When I finally crossed over, the swell of nausea fell until I reached my parent’s house and feigned the flu and crawled into bed and rocked myself to sleep. I swore I would never drink again, which was absolutely true until the next night.

That wasn’t rock bottom – a moment so horrible I had no choice but to quit for good – but it was the most physically painful place my drinking took me, moreso because I suffered it alone. I can’t remember what labor pain felt like, but I acutely recall the bite of a bad hangover.

The hangovers got unpredictable and worse in the last year of my drinking. Sometimes drinking more made them go away, but more and more often it only made the pain feel worse. This is why I say the hangovers saved me.

This fall I’m signed up to run a Bay Bridge 10K with my younger sister. It will be the first time they’ve opened the bridge to runners in nearly a decade, though it’s a big deal to me for other reasons.

I am excited to bond with my sister over running. I’m eager to see how my fear of heights has beefed up over the years…maybe it’ll lead to another preachy short story.

The run and the bridge in general also symbolize how far I’ve come from that dark moment of panic and shame and just a really low shit-point in my life as a parent and a human being. While I’m a little nervous about running across a gently swaying hulk of metal suspended two-hundred feet above sharks*, I’ve lived through hell of my own doing the day I drove over in full-blown hangover and panic. Anything short of that feels like a cakewalk.

William Preston Lane on Bay Bridge (source: Wikipedia)
William Preston Lane on Bay Bridge, 1952 (source: Wikipedia)


*not really, but sharks sound better than sea nettles.

26 thoughts on “Cakewalk

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  1. Wow. Such a powerful memory. Towards the end of my drinking I had a similar experience driving an hour home after a late night drinking. I was so scared because I knew I was still drunk. I had never been that scared while driving before and I knew at that point something was seriously wrong. Of course, that wasn’t the end but it stays burned in my memory. So awesome that your reclaiming that bridge with the run!


  2. Go you! I hope you have a great run and reclaim the bridge for yourself.
    It’s also nice to be able to spend time on some of our touchstones.

    (Don’t underestimate sea nettles.)


  3. LOVE this….
    so descriptive and so relatable (unfortunately).
    How symbolic that run will be for you…I love it, a do-over of epic proportions


    1. Not that I would wish for anyone to relate, but it makes me feel better to read this. Even though it was awhile ago, the shame is hard to shake. The bridge run can be like a living amends I guess…something like that.


  4. oh gosh.. this was pretty intense to read.. probably because you write so well.. but what an intense story.. and thinking of you that sad woman with a terrible hangover and deadened soul. But look at you now!!!!! Running fine and fit and being so sober and fabulous. Jeepers .. it really is such a bloody brilliant thing that we all got sober. Go us xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That tale, in a literal way, was breathtaking. I needed to move the mouse to read more, and I realized that my hand was pressed to my chest. Kristen, whew! That was some powerful stuff. You are indeed blessed to have that memory to remind you why you chose recovery, and we are blessed that you shared it with us.

    Also, 10K… equally breathtaking, I cannot wait to read about it!


    1. I am only signed up/committed to 2 runs this year – that 10K and the 5K you mentioned. This feels perfect for this year. Thank you for the inspiration on this post.


  6. BB, your life’s journey has taken you to places that are remote and sometimes un-known. Your sense of understanding and your willingness to share and inspire, is something so special. The history you have behind you has placed you in the envious position of having credibility and you use this to the betterment of so many. Thankyou BB your courage is empowering.B


  7. Aww, just beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this powerful story. What an amazing chance to make new memories. Heartwarming. And btw, you’re just few hours away! We should have a meet up one of these days, get Josie to come from Philly and I’ll come from DC and we can meet in the middle 🙂


  8. A meetup would be great fun! I live near Philly too, though I’m down in MD regularly to visit family. DC’s a great town. Didn’t realize you were so close.


  9. Love this. Running any race is a huge symbolic opportunity, but running a race over a bridge, over a bridge that was not only the subject of a drinking panic attack, but the subject of your first short story? Hugely symbolic.

    And I just realized, totally unplanned, in this regard at least … in the piece I posted on the daily Words site is the following sentence:

    “… she had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.”

    Wild, huh?


    1. I had read that piece already and thought it was great…painful and powerful. I had also completely missed the reference to running over a bridge to heal, so when you shared this, it hit me powerful strong. Thank you for being you and for noticing that and for, well, just being you.


  10. I hate to contribute to any ego problems you may have tied to your writing, but that’s some damn fine prose there, BBB. Hangovers? Don’t miss them one bit. More specifically, I do not miss the hot and cold sweats, the wet blankets, the shivering, the running into the bathroom to puke, whilst shaking uncontrollably from the artificial fever symptoms, etc.

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate it.


  11. It’s so strange to read this, because I had the EXACT same thing happen toward the end of my drinking. I’ve always been a really confident driver, and I’m not particularly afraid of heights. But in the last year before quitting, I had several panic attacks while driving, always while severely hungover. It seemed to happen when I was driving on a steep mountain road, or over a bridge. I would have to just grip the steering wheel, but I honestly felt light-headed and like I might lose consciousness. It got so I was afraid to drive over a particular bridge — one I have to get over every month or so, for work. One of my best moments sober so far has been driving over that bridge, sober, not hung over. NO FEAR. Anyway, I find it so interested that you struggled with this, too. I love the idea of the race. How full circle.


  12. I went to an Alvin Lee gig in Folkestone – on my own one night. I was so drunk come the end of the evening – I had 50miles to drive home. I’m driving up the motorway unable to focus on the road or keep in the lanes. how I didn’t crash or get arrested I’ll never know. That was a couple of months before I stopped it was my worst ever drunk driving moment – I was so scared I thought I was going to die and that would be it – frankly I wasn’t so bothered about me but didn’t want to hurt anyone else… how sick to be like that.


  13. really enjoyed reading this post. Hope the run with your sister goes well. and you are so funny – you have a gift of writing about deep stuff – with openness and all that – but with humor thrown in at just the right times. ~y.


  14. I’m late commenting because for some reason, you stopped showing up in my inbox (along with everyone else who are supposed to be delivered instantly).You’re writing is fantastic. I can feel the hangover and it reminds me so vividly of my own. That mixture of shame and sickness is so brutal. I can imagine how amazing it’s going to feel for you to run across that bridge. What powerful symbolism! I’m also intrigued by the short stories you wrote as a kid! 😉


  15. (another late commenter here due to blooming WordPress unfollowing you without me telling it to, grrr!)

    Dear BBB, what a shining light of a post. You describe the grimness of your previous bridge crossing with such accuracy that it is painful to read. But then the idea of running free across it just shouts out the glory of the redemptive power of sobriety and running.

    We are not broken. We are runners.

    I’m doing a 10k this Sunday and will think of this post while running it. Thank you so much for an truly inspiring story.


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