FIRST STEPS

Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - By Jill Di Donato The au­thor is an L.A./N.Y.-based cre­ative pro­ducer and lifestyle edi­tor. Her web­site is www.jill­dido­nato.com. L.A. Af­fairs chron­i­cles the cur­rent dat­ing scene in and around Los An­ge­les. If you have com­ments or a true story to tell, emai

Iwasn’t ex­actly trolling for men when I at­tended my first Al­co­holics Anony­mous meet­ing, but I’d heard on good author­ity that a par­tic­u­lar 12-step meet­ing near my home in Venice was the place to meet peo­ple on the West­side.

Be­fore you judge me: At the time I was try­ing on what it was like to be sober, hav­ing spent the past cou­ple months in a self-loathing, lonely place, forced to con­front the fact that this party girl was, and had been for quite some time, a self-de­struc­tive binge drinker. The soli­tude of a bun­ga­low apart­ment off Pa­cific Av­enue, re­moved from the board­walk riffraff, lent me the ocean at night. With the waves crash­ing as I drifted out of con­scious­ness, I could no longer avoid my­self. Here, where suc­cu­lents grew out of the side­walk cracks and Venice na­tives looked oddly dis­placed among de­signer bou­tiques pop­ping up on Ab­bot Kin­ney Boule­vard, I was des­per­ate to con­nect with peo­ple in a way that didn’t in­volve Scotch and soda or leave me with hazy ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple.

Cer­tainly, re­cov­ery is a se­ri­ous mat­ter, which I do not in­tend to triv­i­al­ize. Peo­ple in re­cov­ery are vul­ner­a­ble and open, and it prob­a­bly goes with­out say­ing one should not at­tend meet­ings for the pur­pose of find­ing a soul mate — though ru­mor had it that at least two cou­ples made it from this meet­ing to the al­tar.

Hav­ing said that, the more I at­tended these meet­ings the more I re­al­ized that the only se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship I’d had in my 30s had been with al­co­hol. I was sin­gle and fab­u­lous, but was I ready to turn my­self over to a higher power?

I’d spent years in New York writ­ing a sex column for which nightly par­ty­ing was fod­der for my work; sex was an ex­cuse to drink, and drink­ing was an ex­cuse for sex. As an ad­dict, ev­ery­thing be­comes a tan­gle of ex­cuses and ex­pla­na­tions, and so too be­came my mo­ti­va­tion to stop drink­ing. The New York party scene, which had once daz­zled me with its flashy clubs and seedy dive bars, had taken a cruel turn, feel­ing as far away as disco. “Cuff­ing” sea­son was un­der­way, and I had no one with whom to Net­flix and chill. So I made the ex­o­dus for Los An­ge­les with the vague hope that sin­gle and fab­u­lous in Los An­ge­les would man­i­fest as some­thing else en­tirely.

At the Ace Ho­tel down­town, you could swim in a rooftop pool and drink ar­ti­sanal te­quila, bask­ing in the sun un­til the art peo­ple came pour­ing into the bar. Take away the palm trees and I might as well have been at Le Bain back in New York, but I was still hope­ful.

I hooked up with a fash­ion de­signer who wore thick glasses, a kef­fiyeh scarf and whose fin­gers dripped with sil­ver jew­elry. We spent four days to­gether at his stu­dio in the Arts District, where he asked to be my boyfriend. He took me to Bar Jack­a­lope, a DTLA Ja­panese whiskey speak-easy, and to the open­ing of a pop-up gallery called La Rosa, cu­rated by L.A. artist Aaron Rose. We’d find our way back to his stu­dio, where we drank ev­ery­thing from Cháteau Lafite to micheladas. He took my mea­sure­ments for a cus­tom shift dress, and I thought that L.A. women had it made: In un­der a week I had scored a new boyfriend and free cou­ture.

When I fi­nally made it back to the West­side with a wicked hang­over, it struck me as odd that a de­signer who could af­ford to down a $4,000 vin­tage like it wasn’t a thing would live in a stu­dio where peo­ple who sewed his gar­ments came and went at all hours of the day. In the sober­ing light of day, it was clearly some kind of hookup pad. Of course, I never heard from him again.

Af­ter the de­signer ghosted me, there was the screen­writer. He wined and dined me from Santa Mon­ica to Mal­ibu, where we ate at trat­to­rias I can’t re­mem­ber much about ex­cept that at one we were seated next to Aaron Paul and at an­other we were po­litely asked to leave be­cause I was loudly go­ing on about how I needed some of the screen­writer’s Per­co­cet left over from den­tal surgery. Suf­fice to say, things didn’t end well with the screen­writer.

“But, Jill, you’re not an al­co­holic,” my friends would say. “You can’t go to those meet­ings. It’s ly­ing. And to meet a man? That’s just wrong.”

But was it? In the meet­ings, I cried. I shared. I lis­tened to men open up about their feel­ings. I started drink­ing less and less. I read the Big Book and started to think there was truth in the mantra, “It works if you work it.”

What had started as a search for men led me to a deeper un­der­stand­ing of feel­ings that needed numb­ing by al­co­hol, sex and one endless party on loop.

I didn’t find my soul mate at this trendy Venice AA meet­ing. But just as I’d picked up things about my­self from en­coun­ters with other lovers, these meet­ings were ripe with in­for­ma­tion (in­ven­tory, as they say) about my­self that I’d been starv­ing for. The adages, mantras and as­pi­ra­tional so­lu­tionori­ented think­ing spoke to me, and I lis­tened. The process of shar­ing thoughts of my re­la­tion­ship with drink­ing formed a new self-care rou­tine I’d been long­ing for.

Some­times you find that type of com­fort and se­cu­rity from some­one else car­ing for you. Some­times you stum­ble upon it your­self.

Vivienne Flesher For The Times

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