The first person I was completely honest with about how much I’d actually been drinking was my partner. The second person was the nurse after I checked myself into detox at rehab. I had bullshitted a handful of doctors before her about my alcoholism. I usually stuck with “3 to 4 drinks a week on average, always socially.” Which was fine. And also I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life (which was actually true) and they loved that. Anyway I was way too embarrassed to say how much I was drinking. Because then it’d be crystal clear that I had a problem. And problems are the kind of thing you’re typically supposed to do something about.
But now I was in rehab and I figured the doctors there had heard just about everything under the sun. And I was tired of hiding it.
“On average, probably half of a bottle of wine or three to five beers a night. Or some combination of the two, but that general amount.”
“And interspersed with that, shots of vodka. Probably a bit more than a 375 milliliter bottle of it, which is roughly a pint, and a pint is about 10 shots. So right around 10 shots of vodka. Thereabout.”
“See, I couldn’t survive that.”
“I know it’s a lot.” Honestly I was relieved to stop lying to a professional. “My tolerance just kept building over the years, I guess.”
Tomorrow will be 100 days since my last drink. That’s not a huge chunk of time when compared to more than 15 years of abusing alcohol, but it feels like an awful lot of days. At least I know if someone had told me during those first couple days of detox that I’d be able to get a hundred days under my belt, it would’ve seemed impossible. The human body can withstand a lot, I’ve learned. And it can also surprise.
The most helpful way I heard addiction explained was in rehab. The brain is hardwired to know that it needs water, air, shelter — basic necessities to survive. Addiction is your brain getting tricked into thinking it needs something more. My brain thinks it needs alcohol just to survive. It thinks it needs half a bottle of wine and ten shots of vodka just to be able to fall asleep.
The reason I’m not using the past tense here is because it still thinks this, and will continue to think it probably for the rest of my life. I feel it when I pass the alcohol section in a supermarket, or when I’m out with friends who are drinking. A switch gets flipped and I can feel myself growing confused and agitated. Even a little hurt, weirdly. A hundred days of sobriety is a lot but it’s nothing compared to a decade and a half of training my brain to think it needs something it doesn’t. Just to survive. Just to interact with people and feel like a normal person when I do it. Just to not be depressed and anxious and scared all the time. Just to be able to fall asleep, even if it means waking up still buzzed and counting down the minutes until my next drink, barely aware I’m even doing it. I’ve been doing it for so long.
Tomorrow will be 100 days since my last drink. My only goal now is convincing my brain it needs at least 100 more.