I took my first drink in 8th grade. Butterscotch Schnapps at a friend’s house. It was awesome. There were about 5 of us and we were sitting around a round table in her kitchen. I didn’t know what we were about to do but it was incredibly exciting. Then she brought over a bottle and one shot glass. We passed it around the table. I was riveted, watching everyone take a sip. I felt like I was entering a new realm. Like this was some really adult shit we were doing. It was rebellious. It was right up my alley.
When it was my turn, I took a sip and it tasted ok, so I downed the rest of the shot. I wanted to look cool. I was scared, but it was much more important to me to be perceived as cool. The tingling I felt, the warm feeling in my stomach and the excitement of the moment were life-changing for me. I wasn’t quite yet off and running with my drinking at that point, but the seed had been planted. I was 13.
I was 16 years old the first time I got drunk. My boyfriend got his hands on a bottle of tequila, a six pack of beer and a 2 liter of Pepsi. We went off into the neighborhood and found our spot on a little grassy knoll, hidden between 2 houses. We drank every bit of the stash. At 16 years of age, weighing in at 98 lbs and 5’2” tall, I drank half a bottle of tequila (with the worm) and somewhere between 3 and 6 beers. I think. A lot of it was a blur. But I remember this – I didn’t throw up. That’s a lot of booze for a female, teenage, first-time drinker. Nope, not sick. In fact, I felt amazing and it was like being in a different world. I couldn’t imagine why everyone didn’t do this all the time. I couldn’t believe this kind of feeling was available to people. And when you turn 21, its legal. Fuckin’ A.
I tried drugs later (17 – 22) and had quite a bit of fun with that. But that was never my primary thing. My drug of choice was always booze. Honestly, I wish I liked pot. It’s an especially good time for pot smokers, now with pot being legal in so many places. But then again, when it comes to getting high, whether or not something is legal plays little to no role in the decision-making process. Truthfully, I just didn’t like it. Smoking pot was never any fun for me. It just made me feel anxious and socially awkward. But I digress…
Getting drunk all the time seemed fine and even encouraged in college. And it felt that way well into my 20’s. It was only when I hit 29 that it I realized maybe everyone else didn’t binge drink twice (or thrice) a week like I did. Maybe other people were able to decide they could go out for only 2 drinks and then do exactly that. Not so for me. I began dating a guy in 2003 who was a recovered alcoholic (a very young one – he was 7 years younger than me) and he explained to me that I was an alcoholic. I hadn’t considered that before. I wasn’t really aware of it since all the people I hung out with – many of whom had seemingly normal lives and good careers – also drank. But they didn’t also leave the bars and go to a different, seedier bar and “finish off” the night. They probably didn’t sneak out of bed where their partner was sleeping and go to the local bar to drink shots until closing. On week nights.
So after having lost several significant romantic relationships because of my drinking and damaged many friendships, I started to believe that maybe I had a problem with drinking. Five more years and many blackouts later, I finally gave up and sought help at the age of 35. That was 8 years ago.
It’s funny how we all come to our own realizations. I find that people are most pissed off and angry when they are on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s like the ego is acting out and fighting for its life. That was certainly true in my case. The alcoholic or addict has thought about or heard from someone else that they “might have a problem”. This idea grows and festers inside him as he tries to deny it and rationalize the behavior. There is usually a period of trying to prove to oneself that he/she has control over it. They soon find that they cannot control it which then propels them into a more intense stage where they really take it up notch.
I think about it from the perspective of the people who love the alcoholic. No matter how much we want to, we cannot make someone else quit drinking. We will want to show them how much they’ve hurt us or how they will lose the best job they ever had if they don’t get it together. But these are all fruitless endeavors because every person has to reach his or her own bottom (emotional or otherwise) before they are truly motivated to stop on their own. Helping active addicts and alcoholics with rent or food or this or that only enables them to keep on with their destructive lifestyle. I know… I have done this for others on many occasions. I always think it will help and it never does. It just prolongs the inevitable. A person must be forced to see himself as he really is… that is the motivator. In reference to the enabler who always provides the addict or alcoholic with a safety net, a wise person I once knew said, “Everyone has a right to hit their bottom. Don’t deprive them of it.”
It occurs to me that drinking is a bit different from addiction to other drugs. Alcohol isn’t addictive for everyone, so a person who drinks normally just can’t understand why someone else isn’t able to “control” their drinking. It’s hard to articulate why it is too powerful for one person to manage and quite easy for another. With other drugs like cocaine, meth and opiates, it seems more clear cut. [Also, you don’t see cocaine, meth and opiates sitting out on every dinner table.] These are “addictive” drugs so it makes sense that someone became addicted to it. As AA’s handbook puts it, alcoholics are powerless over alcohol because they are “different from their fellows”.
I love standup comedy. I listen to it, watch it, and go see shows all the time. I hear comics talk about how their friends get older and “decide” they are alcoholics and stop drinking and they become boring. This makes me feel so… uncool (the thing I never wanted to be since I was 13). I sometimes feel segregated from the world of the average adult. Some of my “normal drinker” friends don’t invite me to do things anymore. It seems they feel uncomfortable around me because I’m not drinking and maybe they don’t want to feel bad because they are. Or maybe it’s because they think my abstinence is a buzz kill. And yeah, it probably is. It sucks feeling that way and sometimes I grieve for my former life. But when I begin to fantasize about it, I just fast forward a few hours when it would go straight from fun to obsession about how much booze I have left and where am I going to get more. Do I have any at home? Do I need to figure out where the closest liquor store is? Who here could I hit on and/or befriend so I can go to their place and drink after the bar closes? Not to mention how a relapse would mean that my return to sanity after being sober for 8 years would be lost and I’d be right back in the nightmare of an insatiable craving and mental obsession to drink every day.
When I look at that choice, it’s really no choice at all. I would much rather have the life I have today than be the girl who lives only to go from bar to bar, party to party looking for happiness that she’ll never find.
Here’s some things to try if you’re wondering if you’re an alcoholic:
- Read the first few sections of the Alcoholics Anonymous blue book. They call it the “blue book”. You can find it on amazon and there are probably printed versions on the internet you can read for free. If it rings true for you in any way, keep reading.
- Try drinking just one drink per day for 30 days. Only one drink. How does that feel? Was it hard? If it was really difficult to stop at just one, consider looking further into what alcoholism is.
- Take an alcoholism questionnaire. You can easily find them online; just google that phrase. It asks questions like “do you ever drink alone,” “how many drinks do you have a week,” etc.
- Think about whether you have ever hurt someone (physically or emotionally) while intoxicated. If the answer is yes, try any of the steps above.
- Ask a friend who you believe would tell you the truth. Pick one who doesn’t drink as much as you do.
Just today I heard a TED speaker refer to alcoholism as Alcohol Usage Disorder (AUD). Hadn’t heard that one before. It seems a bit flowery. I imagine it might make someone feel better about themselves to say that they suffer from AUD as opposed to having to see themselves as an ol’ fashioned drunk. To those I would say that what you decide to call it is the least of your troubles. Trying to make yourself feel better has gotten you this far and has not worked out very well. There are new ideas and solutions coming out all the time to address the problem of alcoholism. Seems people are looking for a magic pill that will change them into moderate drinkers and remove their craving and obsession. Maybe it’s out there. But I can tell you that I am so incredibly grateful that it wasn’t there when I was looking for a way to keep drinking. If it was, I wouldn’t have ended up here. My spiritual and mental houses are in order and I’m always searching to better myself and do my part to serve others. And that’s a pretty amazing place to be. I’ve read quite a few books by sober authors and I prefer the ones that focus on the solution, spirituality, and rebuilding one’s life. Dr. Wayne Dyer is especially great at this. He’s written many books (28, I think). Some great ones to check out are Your Erroneous Zones and The Power of Intention, which you can get by clicking on the titles here in the post.
I’m a 43 year old woman who gave birth 7 months ago to her first kid and, in a few months, will be getting married for the first time. I have an amazing “normie” partner (what alcoholics call a normal drinker), a beautiful baby girl and a new step-daughter, my two pugs and a lovely, cozy home. I know myself better than ever before. I get to spend every day learning and growing and being silly and loving life and all without alcohol attached. That didn’t seem possible 8 years ago. But after my head started to clear after a few months of sobriety, my path began to materialize. It still twists and turns in unexpected ways. And it all happens just 24 hours at a time.