Alcohol Abuse and the Soul’s Relation
My name is Charlie Wilson, and I am an alcoholic.
For most of you this admission will come as no surprise. I’ve been the crazy party guy for most of my adult life. Always up for a good time, always at the bar, shots, beers, girls, fun. Want to have a fun adventure? I was the guy to invite, the life of the party.
For most of you, the term alcoholic probably makes you think of your father or grandfather, the guy who drank every night.
That wasn’t me.
I’m the new generation of alcoholic, the one that once he starts, he can’t stop. I may only go out once or twice a week, but when I do go out, drinking one beer almost without fail, will lead to 15–20. Throw some shots in there as well for good measure. I tried everything I could think of to control my intake. Marks on my hand, discipline of “only 3 per night,” bring $20 and no debit card, bring no money at all! It would work sometimes, but most times it wouldn’t. It’s hard when your brain runs the process of, “Wow, I’m having fun tonight, and I’m drinking. So I must be having fun because I’m drinking, and I want to have more fun. So in order to have more fun, I need more drinks!”
I can’t count the number of times I said to people,
“Nah, I’m not drinking tonight.”
Only to watch them make it their mission to get me drinks.
“Oh come on man, I’ll buy you a beer.”
It seems to me that those mired deep in the drink, want to drag you in to join them. No one wants to drink alone, only alcoholics drink alone. And most of the time I really wanted to join them, I wanted to have fun! No one wants to be alone.
However, blacking out was always a huge struggle for me. Not “browning out” where your memory is patchy, I’m talking full blown memory loss. Party Boy Amnesia. Virtually every time I went drinking my consciousness would go from having a blast at the bar/party with my friends, barely feeling buzzed, to waking up the next day. Whoa, how did I get here? What happened? Scary stuff.
What was really scary was how long I would still be out with everyone and they wouldn’t know I wasn’t really there.
“What happened last night? I remember up to those shots of tequila…”
“Dude, are you serious? That was 9pm and you were with us until 3am!”
I was somehow able to appear cognizant, hold brilliant conversations, reference stuff from earlier in the night but I wasn’t there, only a weird hollow subconscious version of myself. My old friends would call it “the bear getting out of the cage” and boy were they right. I was always on a mission to pick up girls most of the time and I became very good at it. I have tales of being carried out of a bar over my best friends shoulder and still getting numbers. But you know what’s scarier than waking up and not knowing where you are or who you’re beside?
Coming out of a blackout in the middle of sex, and not knowing who you’re inside.
When it should have been seen as a massive sign that something was wrong, it was instead celebrated. Thus is the nature of our binge drinking society. My antics were chalked up to a guy living the dream, having wild adventures, waking up in random places with stories to share later. I got de-sensitized to the havoc I was causing and often would run from place to place, social group to social group, trying to escape the alcohol fuelled mistakes that I would inevitably make over and over. A common phrase during my 19–29 years was,
“I really love Charlie, but…”
I made a lot of mistakes during the course of my 20s. I always thought it was something I could deal with, something I could handle. I’m a young guy, no one in their 20s has a problem with alcohol, we’re all just young and having fun, living our lives the way society tells us we’re supposed to. I lost a lot of friends, I destroyed my life more than once, woke up behind the wheel with the truck smashed in to a pole, woke up in random family homes, cheated on girlfriends, lost jobs… the list feels endless and I never learned. But that’s normal right? Just a guy in his 20s having “fun”.
March has traditionally been the month where I’ve made the most mistakes. March 12, 2004 is the day my mother transitioned from this life to… Wherever it is we go when we die. I was 18 and her death affected me far greater than I admitted to myself. Every year the day would draw closer and instead of facing my emotions, I would drown them in alcohol. Grief smothered in a sea of self-indulgence.
“Hey grief, fuck off, I’m great, I’m awesome, look how much fun I’m having! LOOK!”
And thus I would spiral downwards, my outward mask of awesomeness blocking anyone from seeing my actions for what they truly were: a desperate cry for help. It didn’t make it easier when I always had a new social group at this time of year because I had moved or abandoned friendships out of the shame caused by my fuck ups. How could anyone help me when I wasn’t even prepared to admit to myself that I was having problems? Even when I would be honest with myself that I was spiralling, I still believed I had the power to steer my ship in a different direction.
Unless we listen and learn from the lessons of our past, history will always repeat itself.
This leads me to the story of how I got to where I am today.
Summer of 2014: I was coming out of the darkest place of my life. I’d run from a toxic abusive relationship that had destroyed me, and my alcoholism had helped destroy. I was sitting at rock bottom, I was on anti-depressants, I was bouncing between Nanaimo and Victoria BC trying to “be okay,” I was completely lost. By a fortunate twist of fate I found a posting on UsedVictoria for a room in a house that ended up changing my life. I went to the house and met a young couple named Simon and Casey who saw something in me that I never saw in myself, although I would suspect a bit of pity moved their hand to take me in. They let me join their house in September 2014 and it started me down a path I never expected.
The first couple months were very stressful on me. I felt super lucky to be in this house with such amazing conscious people but I had the dark spectre of my alcoholism hanging over me. I distinctly remember thinking, “Fuck I love it here, but how long until I drink too much, black out, and cause them to hate me and kick me out.” I dreaded that moment, but knew it was inevitable.
I wanted to stay and learn from them, they seemed to have it all sorted out! Simon was visiting from New Zealand and his partner Casey was from Vernon. They had met at something called KiwiBurn (which I know now is New Zealand’s regional Burning Man event), fallen in love, and moved here to be together… Sort of. They’re polyamorous, what the hell is polyamory?? That’s a thing?! Thats Allowed? They had plans, goals, ideas, they were creative as all fuck and they seemed to look at the world as a puzzle to be solved. The more I got to know them, the more I loved them and looked up to them.
But sure enough the first time we had a party ,at the end of September for Simon’s birthday, I drank too much and woke up in bed. I remember being on the deck drinking, then waking up in my room. I found out that I had passed out in a chair and Simon had put me to bed. He seemed concerned the next day, but I wrote the incident off as something odd and funny. On the inside I knew I’d had a close call, thank the gods it wasn’t anything worth being asked to leave over.
How much longer could I hold it together before I did something they couldn’t forgive?
Shortly after though, three events happened that would set in motion events that would effect my life more than I could ever have predicted. I went on a “Bro Hike” with my best friend Brian. We talked about what happened and I said I couldn’t drink anymore;
“What? No drinks at all? Dude, I don’t know if that’s the answer…”
“Hmm. Okay, you’re probably right. No more than 3 then!”
And Simon and Casey brought me to a party they said I “seemed like I really needed” on Salt Spring Island at a place called Phoenix Farm. I went, and was introduced to the Burner community for the first time. Conscious people consciously partying! I had no idea this type of thing even existed. No one was ridiculously drunk, there was great music, deep conversations, amazing outfits, and a non-judgemental inclusiveness I’d never experienced in my life before.
I took LSD for the first time, I saw sounds, I leap frogged through time, I experienced a reality unique to my own mind and I loved it. It was a magical night, but all great magical things must end and I ended up in my tent alone. Brian had given me some advice before hand knowing it was my first time trying acid.
“Just remember the 3 C’s and you’ll be okay. Cops, cars, cliffs, they all exist. Oh yeah, and turn your phone off. You shouldn’t text people when you’re on acid.”
So I was alone in my tent and I broke down and cried for hours. Soul wrenching sobs from the depths of my essence. I finally admitted to myself that I was deeply depressed, but that was okay, because that depression was a part of me. I missed my mom, I was broken. I watched the sunrise over a pond to the croaks of frogs and I came to the realization that it was okay that I was depressed. That depression is a part of what makes me, me. It was time to be open with myself and those around me so I could begin to heal, although I was aware that the depression would probably always be something that I carried with me.
I worked hard over the next month telling everyone about my depression. Sure, I would wake up everyday hating my life, my dog, my body, my responsibilities, but I would spend the rest of the day trying to make it the best day of my life. And at the end of November I received an email from the Canadian Coast Guard offering me a position as a Marine Communications and Traffic Services Officer. Wow, I’d applied the year before, gone through an aptitude test, typing test, panel interview, but thought I’d never hear from them, and all I had to do now was pass a medical test and I’d be in Sydney, NS at the start of February to begin a new career!
As someone who has always struggled with money, this was a dream come true. A once in a lifetime career opportunity. Only 250 people in the country had this job and I was going to be one of them!! 5 months of training at the Canadian Coast Guard College before I went to a guaranteed position at the base in Prince Rupert. All I had to do was make it through the training, and that should be gravy since I already passed the aptitude test so I can clearly do the job.
I told myself I was ready for this opportunity, but mentally I wasn’t anywhere close. I was still mired in my deep depression, struggling to get up in the morning, leaning on my housemates for support, and I was about to throw myself in to an intensive course on the other side of the country away from my support network. But I did it anyways, I told myself I was “okay.”
Before leaving the west coast, my sense of external expression had begun to shift drastically away from the vanilla jeans and t-shirt that advertising tells us we should wear. Although I did rock some pretty wicked deep V necks. Simon and Casey had shown me what they called the “rockstar lifestyle.” It wasn’t about living fast, dying young. It was about wearing loud patterns and funky leggings, bringing colour to a otherwise colourless world, sparking imagination, being inclusive, outgoing, a shining beacon in a drab grey time. I loved it. And I’d also learned from an amazing event called Erotica Electronica that you should wear what makes you feel sexy, not what society tells you is the standard of sexy. Damn did I feel sexy dressed like a rockstar, but I always felt like I was their tag along rockstar wherever we would go. “Look Casey and Simon are here! Oh, and they brought their housemate too.”
I quickly found out what a heavy drinking culture there is enmeshed at the College. So as I met my classmates, how do we bond? We go to the campus pub, Chez Nous, for drinks. And we’re going every night. And if I’m going out, I should get dressed up because I want to feel sexy. I felt sexy every single day. I can only scratch the surface on how that began to change my psyche, it’s a different post entirely, but I started slowly going from waking up everyday hating my life, to waking up everyday loving my life. For the first time it was okay to be sexy, not for any end goal, just for me.
What a galvanizing time! A solo “rockstar” in a paramilitary organization, dressing loud in a sea of grey, inspiring change and doing it on my own without anyone showing me the way, blazing my own trail.
But all of this positive change is still being doggedly chased by my alcoholism.
It started slowly, it snuck up on me, I let it. For the first little while I was able to stick to my game plan of no more than 3 drinks per night. Why do I need more than 3 drinks? I’d gone to Erotica Electronica sober (the first time I’d partied sober, EVER) and I’d felt great and had an amazing night. I don’t need much booze! But dated narratives are hard to shake, and the better I felt, the more my brain’s old story connected that to the alcohol.
“I’m feeling great, and it’s usually when I’m out, and when I’m out, I’m drinking, so if I want to feel better, I should have another drink!”
The 3 bottles of beer turned in to 3 pints of beer. Hey, still within my rules right?? The 3 pints turned in to 3 STRONG pints, 8% alc. content. If I’m only going to drink 3, might as well let them do something! Then I started flat out breaking my rule, but when I’d wake up I would justify it with a twisted sort of reasoning.
“Hey man, last night you had more than 3 beers, and that’s not okay. But you recognize that you broke your rule which is awesome, so good for you.”
And I would leave it at that. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The days move inevitably in to March, and by this time I’ve started to get full blown wasted. I’m feeling amazing, better than ever before in my adult life, and I’m celebrating that fact. From 3 beers to countless beers. From no after parties, to hopping in cabs to get to a cabaret called Capri’s that served until 330am. I’ve started living my old story, my downward spiral, and once again I’m in a place with no support network and I’m too scared to let anyone see the true demons inside of me. My self-pressure to be perfect won’t allow me to be open and speak my truths. No one sees my cries for help, and I’m too embarrassed to say 3 words to anyone, everyone, that would listen.
“Please help me.”
It finally reached a tipping point. I’d celebrated my 30th birthday in spectacular fashion a few days before, I was riding a wave of energy like I never had, I couldn’t control it, and I self destruct. I went out till 4am on a Wednesday night, ended up alone with no friends, blacked out, took a cab back to the College, couldn’t pay the cab driver, went to my room, puked, passed out in my bed. I awoke to my classmate, Joe, pounding on my door to wake me up so I wouldn’t miss class. Fuck, I left the room without even realizing I’d puked in there. That’s how messed up I still was.
The housekeeping staff found my mess a couple hours later, combined that with the reports from the commissionaires who saw me come back at 4am, and I gave the administration the ammo they needed to get me in front of a review board for misconduct. I do believe they wanted to get rid of me because of my loud personality, but that doesn’t matter, I gave them the reason they needed to remove me. A week later I’m on a conference call defending myself to a panel of 8 people (normally it’s 3) but despite my best efforts they decided to cancel my training. It sucks that they didn’t believe me but as they said, “… lots of people wake up the next day and say they’re never drinking again, how can we believe you?”
Why couldn’t I stop chasing the party? Why don’t I have an off switch?? WHEN WAS THIS CYCLE GOING TO END???
Right then, that’s when. Right after that shitty, fucked up night. I made the decision that I was never going to drink again, and I’m proud to say that on March 26th, 2016 it will be one year since my last drink. I’m tired of making mistakes, ones that I would never do without alcohol. I have too much life left to live. Fifty, sixty years if I’m fortunate.
I have never felt better today than I ever have in my life. I don’t need alcohol to have a great life. It was the opposite this entire time, alcohol was keeping me from HAVING a great life. I’m healthier, happier, more vital, some people say that being alcohol free is one of the qualities about me that they like best. I actually still go to bars and parties with my friends and I don’t feel any desire to have a drink. Alcohol free Charlie is how I identify now. Although, I will admit that still during the month of March I have longings. Fuck, March is a hard month.
I hope that my story resonated with you. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone, and all of us who have quit were once there. I think a lot still are. The people are few and far between that can say they have no bad experiences with alcohol. I don’t have any answers for how you can quit, if that’s what you desire. I tried for a decade without success and it took being in the right mental state of love and positivity for it to finally click.
Coincidentally (or maybe it was fate) I started keeping a journal for the first time in my life right as this event was about to take place. Below are my entries from that tumultuous time in my life. Please read them. I hope they help you, as they still often help me.
With boundless love,
Charlie Wilson — Recovering Alcoholic