Whiskey, Water And Worry: My Struggle With Alcoholism
My struggle with alcoholism goes back a long way.
It started when I was about 15, in the Spring of 2004.
I can remember the time I first got drunk pretty clearly. It was a Saturday night. I was out with 5 friends of mine from high school. I had managed to buy a Twenty-Six Ounce bottle of whiskey from a local store. One of my friends (now deceased), drove us around town while we drank in his back seat. We laughed. We talked, about topics I can no longer recall. We flipped off drivers who passed by.
In short, a typical, irresponsible adolescent night out.
There is one moment I can remember from that night very clearly. After we returned back to my friend’s house, I turned to my friend, Jill (not her real name), and said something to the effect of “you are the quintessence of everything insidious and sinful!”
The comment was a joke, of course, but she seemed to take it to heart. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of an effect this comment had on her, but I’d later discover that it bothered her for some time. I’d come to regret saying it — a theme that would come up again and again throughout my drinking career.
A Habit Develops.
It wasn’t long after my first drunk that I started getting hammered regularly. I already smoked, so drinking seemed like a natural fit. It started off innocently enough — one or two six packs a week, the occasional bender, but nothing out of the ordinary for a mid-adolescent high school student.
Though my overall feelings toward alcohol are (as you can probably tell), negative, I do have a few nice memories from the early days of my drinking career.
One memory I cherish is night-time “drunkabouts.” These were walks my brother and I would go on where we would wander around town for an hour or so, eventually finding a corner store to buy a case at. Then we’d walk home, case in tow, downing beers along the way. Many images from these walks stand out to me. The playground we used to drink at; the church we would smoke cigarettes at near the end of the night; the parking lot we’d smash our empties on. None of this sounds all that interesting, but in those crucial mid-adolescent, virtually setting can become tinged with nostalgia, if wedded to moments shared with a friend.
House parties are another memory. Though I wasn’t a big-time partier in high school, I definitely have my fair share of drinking-related memories at house parties. There’s something distinctly “High School” about a house party — you know, the ones where you invite 10 of your friends and half of your school ends up showing up instead, with no small odds of you waking up to significant property damage.
Whether it’s the alcohol that made these memories so special, or something else — the people, the setting, or just being young — I can’t say. I certainly also have a lot of fond memories from that period that have nothing to do with booze. It is well documented that your adolescence tends to be memorable even if nothing particularly memorable happens in it. But whether alcohol played a particularly important role in my youth or not, one thing is clear: I formed an association between alcohol and happiness early on.
Storm Clouds Brew
It was in my university years that alcohol slowly turned from a fun, recreational activity into something darker. I started drinking more frequently. I drank more each session. I began combining booze with prescription drugs. I started to feel that, without booze, life was somehow dull, boring, hard to cope with.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when recreation turns into addiction. There is no sharp dividing line between the period when an addict does something for fun, and the point when they do it because they need to.
But if I had to take a guess, it would be in my second year of university. The fall semester of that year marked the beginning of one of the most difficult periods in my life. Thanks an unfortunate series of events in my personal life — that I’m not at liberty to discuss here — I began to unravel. I blew the $5000 I had in savings; I started skipping classes; I took out student loans (when I could have easily paid for my tuition by working). My debt load started piling up, and I began to fall behind on my payments. At one point, I began to look into declaring bankruptcy.
Through all of this, my good friend, the bottle, the flask or the glass, was there by my side. This was probably the first time in my life when I felt I needed to drink. The stress was so constant, so overwhelming, that I felt I needed an escape valve to unwind and relax, if only for a few hours a week.
This was also the first time in my life that I started to think of my drinking as a problem. It was the first period when I would question my decisions to drink. Of course, this was partly due to the fact that I was using alcohol as a crutch to cope with a rapidly disintegrating life. But there were other troubling signs too: worsening hangovers, increasingly erratic drunk behavior, losing articles of clothing at bars. At this point I still didn’t feel that I couldn’t stop — but the storm clouds were visible and closing in.
Things Take A Turn For The Better — Or Worse?
In 2011, things in my life started taking a turn for the better.
After years of being chronically unemployed, I started a freelance copywriting business. Suddenly, I had an income — and not from student loans; a real-life, consistent income that would enable me to pay down my debt, get my own apartment, and start living life on my own terms.
Initially, things went well. I paid off my delinquent phone and credit card bills in a matter of mons. I put a significant dent in my student loans. I got a gym membership. In short, things seemed to be turning around for me.
Except in one area: my drinking.
Not only when I was drinking more than ever, my freelance schedule allowed me to drink basically whenever I pleased. In the morning, the afternoon, or 4 in the morning: now, I was able to go on a bender whenever I wanted to.
It was around this point that I began mixing alcohol with prescription drugs. I got a prescription for ritalin after a 5 minute chat with a psychiatrist. I didn’t have ADHD, but I wanted the drug, and as everyone who has dealt with a psychiatrist knows, they pretty much give you any drug you want as long as you’ve memorized the list of symptoms for a relevant disorder.
Mixing Ritalin and alcohol added a new dimension to my drinking. It’s well known that Methylphenidate and Alcohol have synergistic effects. What was previously a pleasant little sedative high turned into an enrapturing symphony of euphoria and pleasure — and the hangovers, of course, got a lot worse.
The period when I combined Ritalin and alcohol was not long lived, but it pointed to a new challenge I faced in my life: now that I had access to money, I was able to get drunk more, more frequently, and in combination with other drugs. It wasn’t long before I was combining my nightly benders with much harder substances than my ADHD pills.
A Not-So-Sober Realization
It was around 2013 that I realized that I was an alcoholic.
I was drinking 4–5 nights a week, usually 10 beer or more at a time. Frequently I’d have as much as 15 beer in a single session. At times, I’d combine my drinking with illicit substances I won’t be naming here.
Thus began the resolutions.
“I’ll quit for a week.”
“Just try to stay sober tonight.”
“That’s IT! I’m never drinking again.”
I would make resolutions to stop drinking at least once a month. None of them lasted longer than a week.
As my drinking became more frequent and more intense, so too did the regrettable stories I had to share from my nights out. There are too many to list here in detail, but a few highlights should suffice to show how deep I was into it.
- I got kicked out of a Karaoke bar — permanently — for sneaking in a flask of whiskey.
- I got my wallet stolen one night when I was out drinking and looking for drugs.
- I got into a fist-fight with a bar patron, permanently damaging my little finger.
- I had a laptop — a $1500 MacBook — stolen from me when I brought it with me to a bar and forgot to bring it home.
That last incident should have been a wakeup call. I was almost unable to work that week, and that would have been the case, had I not been able to find a replacement computer for cheap on Ebay. But no. Despite the massive regret, anger and shame, I was back to drinking no more than 2 days later.
Flash forward to today.
It would be nice to end this article by saying that I had finally overcome my drinking. But that would be a fictitious ending. My last night on the town was last night, and I had strong urges to drink again tonight.
I don’t know what it will take for me to overcome drinking, but I know this:
For the first time in my life, I’m determined to.
I’ve come clean to my family and friends. I have drawn up a plan to quit. I have resolved to start attending AA meetings, despite some skepticism as to whether they will really work.
In short, I am ready and prepared for the battle ahead of me.
The plan is to go cold turkey. There are some people who can simply “cut back” on drinking — but I’m not one of them. Alcohol for me is all or none. It’s either a bender or nothing. 1 or 2 drinks only make me feel depressed. It takes a case to even feel it was worth my money.
While I’m skeptical of 12-stepping in general, there is one AA slogan that I have taken to heart: “take it one day at a time.” I know I can’t beat this looking ahead to months of craving, longing and regret — I have to take each day as a little victory, each evening without a drink as a stepping stone to recovery.
It’s been a long journey from that first night in my friend’s car, driving around, whiskey bottle in hand, flipping off drivers without a care in the world. There will always be cherished cherished memories, and if alcohol contributed to some of mine, that’s fine. But the past is the past, and in my case, it’s no model to build your future on.
So, thanks alcohol.
Thanks for showing me what I have to do.
Thanks for showing me that, no matter how boring, how dull, or how lifeless sober life is, it always beats a hangover.
Thanks for showing me it’s time to quit.