The first time I got drunk — really drunk — I was 14. It was summer, and I was on my own; my mother was a nurse and worked 16-hour days, leaving me in the house with nothing much to do. I suppose another teenager would have reveled in this accidental freedom. They would have invited friends over, sloppily kissed boys, caused trouble. I, basically friendless, did not get into trouble — or at least not the kind of trouble that was immediately obvious at the time.
My routine was simple. I would get up at 9 a.m. and switch on the computer, remaining inside the dark and dingy study, talking to strangers until it was time to go to bed. One day, I decided to drink.
I have no idea what drove me to open my parents’ alcohol cupboard. What I do know is that it felt like a compulsion; I didn’t enjoy it, and it felt more like an obligation or a strange commitment. I didn’t sip the drink and giddily enjoy it, nor did it give me the illicit thrill of a broken rule. I glugged it as slowly and joylessly as a chore, until I woke up a few hours later, my mother insistently banging on the glass of the living room window. I’d passed out; she’d forgotten her keys. She put me to bed, and we didn’t speak of it again.
I’m still so jealous of friends who tell me they first got drunk at parties, that they stole bottles of peach schnapps or cheap corner-shop wine from older siblings and passed out, dazed, on a dewy lawn; so jealous of people who made themselves sick because they were having so much fun. There was no fun for me — no joy, no pleasure at all. What I didn’t recognize then — both in my desire to drink and the way I went about it — was the ceaseless search for oblivion that has dominated so much of my life and that characterizes so much about addiction.
It’s the fastest way for me to get nowhere at all.
Because I didn’t really want to have fun, didn’t want to feel anything at all. What I wanted was to be absolutely stripped of everything I was: to be demolished and rebuilt, demolished and rebuilt again. I wanted to be reduced to the bare bones of my personhood, become an utter blank. I wanted to separate somehow from my body, ideally to forget I existed at all.
I got there through pain, too, through cutting strips from my skin with a scalpel I stole from a box of medical supplies; later I got there though drugs and sex, and through starving myself. But drinking was quicker — and still, today, it’s the fastest way for me to get nowhere at all.