Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

I know a lot of us are looking to happy hour with more anticipation these days ...

Even so, trying to find the words to describe how it feels to be the friend of an alcoholic feels like a huge undertaking. And I’m not sure I’ve managed it all that well, but this is what writers do. We (try to) put anxiety into words. 

So here are the words.

The last time my friend and I talked on the phone, the first word that worried me was “safer.”

It came out as “thafer.”

We were having one of our snappy little debates about the city.

We argued about the Ferris wheel by the ferry landing. She thought it made the waterfront more inviting. And thafer.

I insisted it was “more Disneyland than Seattle,” more about imitating other cities than representing ours, sounding more angry than I’d intended mostly because my friend was getting drunk at two in the afternoon. On a weekday. I could hear her taking sips. 

Realistically, I know no one can stop someone from drinking, it has to come from within.

Yet a mental challenge moved through me, a dare, if you will, to own up to my fear of, and hugely imperfect knack for, the head-banging, risky work friendship can be sometimes, if you can stomach it. 

Versus my need to do the work just the same.

Because in the world we are living in, increasingly distant and remote, where relationships and the conversations we need to have in order to grow within them is usurped by technology, I feel even more determined to speak.

The conversation was intense and mercifully short. 

“I am just so over Seattle,” is what she said when I asked if she was maybe drinking too much again.

What she was really saying was she was just so over me. 

She is about to move to Los Angeles and major life changes always necessitate a bit of I’m-so-over-you. Which she was demonstrating. Rather blatantly. 

Loving someone is always unfinished business.

Sometimes people just want to start over, wipe the slate clean.

I could feel myself trying to fill in the vastness about to separate us by talking about the Ferris Wheel in the first place. Because I couldn’t ask the question. The question that stresses that I keep failing to understand what is most important to the way an alcoholic sees the world, and that is escaping it. 

This question: Isn’t Los Angeles the last place on earth an alcoholic —with a tendency toward too many prescription drugs, not to mention two years suspension on her license—should move to?

As soon as I hung up I knew that I’d have to find a way to go about proving I wasn’t afraid to be completely honest anymore.

Beginning with my friendships.

Because for women, after the men disappear for whatever reasons (unfaithfulness, without saying why, death, because we want them out), friendship may be our next, and for some of us, our only, love life left.

And if we screw it up, ultimately, the fallout is not the same as a divorce, it can feel even worse. My own mother said as much. 

But knowing I want to be better at something doesn’t help me figure out how to bring up a hard truth while trying to make it soft enough to land on. You can’t fly off the handle, or hold it in too long. That’s the worst thing for any relationship. What is OK to put our two cents in about, and what is not has to unfold. Carefully. Knowingly. The way a sail unfurls.

Otherwise we’ll be one angry person looking contemptuously at another.

The only way to learn what to do, and how to do it is … I haven’t a clue.

By “heart” is all that comes to me. 

By exercising the heart. 

Mary Lou Sanelli’s first novel, “ The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs,” was recently released (Chatwin Books). Ask for it at Magnolia’s Bookstore or the Queen Anne Book Company. For more information about Sanelli and her work, visit