9 Things I Learned When I Quit Binge Drinking

(Note: This was after 6 months. Year 2 & how I did it are here.)

I’m probably not an alcoholic.

For the last couple years of steady drinking, I was comfortable calling myself an alcoholic. I thought admitting it was the first step to stopping. I was obsessed with drinking. I told myself it was all or nothing. I thought it made me more charming and creative.

But I was never an alcoholic. I just didn’t like being sober. It was purely habitual. I know people who can’t stop. I know real alcoholics that actually shouldn’t have (or will be real sick without) alcohol. When I started to quit it became clear that I’d just lacked willpower or the promise of anything better to do. I was more like a kid who didn’t want to get up for school. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get myself up and out of the booze bed. I just didn’t want to, so I told myself I was sick.

People will always ask you what kind of ‘bad drunk’ you were.

Because people think only quitters and the weak stop drinking.

Being ready to quit didn’t have anything to do with a ‘rock bottom’.

I tried to quit a few times. Always after I’d done something horrible while drunk. I’d wake up with a hangover that felt like the fuckin’ Righteous Hammer of Justice. The kind where you’re on your bathroom floor, so sick you can’t even sleep you just have to lay there and breathe and Yes, You are King Shithead and the world is giving you a Time Out like a cosmic parent and Oh God The Memories and Oh God My Feelings and Sense of Self Worth me me me wah wah Never Again!

I would apologize to people and do a walk of shame around the community for the next little while talking about how I was ‘using booze as a crutch’ and how we’re all ‘working on our shit’ and I wanted to be ‘held accountable’. I was a general evangelical bummer to the people around me, who’d call me ‘brave’ or ignore me on social media. And I’d commit to a certain amount of time without booze that would always coincide with time away from The Scene and acting like I was grounded. A month or two later I’d start creeping back into parties and handling my liquor and keeping a low profile. And eventually I’d slide back down the slope to the walk of shame six months or a year later. This is the booze hamster wheel, and I see a lot of punks doing this exact same thing over and over again.

I hit my own personal rock bottom pretty early on in my drinking problem (summer of 2008) and spent six pickled years shambling my way out of it. My personal rock bottom is what kept me drinking. Our relationship (me + booze) was mostly gregarious and healthy by the time I fell in love with someone who wasn’t into drinking or being around drunk people.

Talking about how much you can or did drink is depressing.

Really depressing. Like, not ‘jokes!-its-actually-totally-macho!’ hipster irony kind of ‘depressing’. I mean it makes me sad to think about what I could have done with all the time and money I used to get wasted. I mean I can see how much you’re trying to impress me/cry for help when you tell me about how ‘pathetic’ your last bender was. Why are you laughing about drinking a twofour and passing out/falling down your front stairs? You’re confessing to me like a guilty Catholic. Also, don’t joke about DTs. Being around someone who is pickled enough to get DTs is scary not hardcore. Is it clichéd that I turned 30 and started thinking like this?

It wasn’t just cigarettes that made me stink.

For real beer & gin will rot you from the inside out. I know everybody already knows that. But I thought I had an undiagnosed food allergy! It was the booze. Also the cigarettes. But also the booze.

A lot of my relationships revolved around alcohol.

A big part of this is just called ‘Your 20s’ in America and Europe.

Plans with sober friends were at once scary and boring to me. Any old distraction could be used as an excuse to get Shit Faced and not doing so was a waste of an opportunity. I felt like people who didn’t drink were always judging me, & not just because I know a lot of judgey political punks.

I also have a whole group of friends who started drinking as a way to cope with trauma. We were all originally friends for artistic reasons. But we all moved to Montreal to grieve and drink, apparently. I’m seeing now what a colossal waste of time and energy our collective drinking habit was.

My drinking hurt a lot of people, even when it ‘wasn’t that bad’.

Now that I’m in a healthier place, bad old memories are ready to talk. They keep approaching me low key and unannounced, on the metro or at work. Given the things I remember, I am lucky that I still have friends at all. I contested the idea earlier that people always assume that people sober up because they’re bad drinkers. But being a shitty drunk didn’t make me quit binge-ing. Wanting to be a better person did. Corny as that sounds, the distinction is crucial. I would have been a shitty person with or without the booze. My internal narrative was built around how shitty I could be.

Even when you didn’t do anything shitty, shameovers happen.

I noticed this yesterday morning. I had five glasses of wine over about 4 hours, and I still woke up thinking I had something to apologize for. Even though all that’d happened was a low-key night at a fun show.

Booze actually did make all my problems worse.

Not saying that they all went away when I quit. But I carried a lot of old hurt around way too long, developed an alcohol problem in response to it, and used it as an excuse to not try harder at life. There was a lot of feeling sorry for myself and making excuses as to why I didn’t put myself out there more or try harder to do cool things. And when I quit, I started listening less and less to the part of me that wants to wallow and flail. I still remember the past. It’s an important part of my history. But it doesn’t run me anymore. And the memory of things I was trying to preserve by being mired in the Shit-Abyss deserves better than my fuckery.

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