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How I Broke Up with Booze in One of the Drunkest Regions of Canada

Waking up beside a stranger with no memory of why I was naked, losing wallets and friends on the regular. Blacking out at a prof's house. None of this struck me as a big deal at the time.

af Julia Wright
15 juli 2015, 6:00pm

Julia at 16 at an all-ages show in Saint John. Photo courtesy Sam Blue

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Tyler* was intoxicating, from my perspective: tall, tattooed, brilliantly volatile, and madly obsessed with me. He moved in six months after we met. Our reckless, Bonnie-and-Clyde view of ourselves was strengthened by an MO of partying every night, then holding each other through exquisitely painful hangovers. We jokingly called ourselves Team Codependency.

Our fights were catastrophic: theatrical screaming chased with sweet, sweet forgiveness. When I tentatively mentioned quitting drinking, he tutted me.

"Don't you think that's too extreme?"

*

One morning, Tyler disappeared. Of all his depressive bouts, this was the worst yet. Sitting on a bar patio with a girlfriend, I described various means by which I'd kill him when he turned up.

I didn't have to kill him. Tyler had already committed suicide. They found his body in a park; he'd overdosed on vodka and morphine. The cop told me he'd looked like he was sleeping.

I swore to quit drinking. A final "fuck you" to cap off years of addictive conflict.

*

My love affair with alcohol predated Tyler. As a little girl in the small, East Coast city of Saint John, New Brunswick, I watched fascinated as my dad's too-loud laughter gave way to self-pity, delusions, seizures. It's a family tradition, sang Hank Williams, Jr. on the radio.

When I was 14, I sampled each bottle under the kitchen sink until I fell down, elated. My pulse throbbed in my temples when I gasped back to life. Still, the sense of complete freedom I'd felt—just before the black curtain annihilated everything—was magic. Time travel.

*

When I was 16, I'd hitch a ride to meet my first real boyfriend, with whom I enjoyed a deep, MDMA-fueled soul connection. Booze smoothed the comedown. After these hazy weekends, I'd feel like everything would be perfect—in about ten minutes. As long as I had another drink first.

Dad died suddenly as I wrapped up high school. I felt more morbid and misunderstood than ever. At 17, I moved to New Brunswick's sleepy university capital, Fredericton.

That perfect moment I waited for never seemed to arrive.

*

The author at 26, drunk and channeling Morrissey. Photo courtesy Kate Wright

My academic career was stellar, but everything else was marred by drinking-related idiocy: waking up beside a stranger with no memory of why I was naked, losing wallets, three phones, a 300-page notebook with a year's worth of writing, and a nearly completed script for a graphic novel. Blacking out at a prof's house. Sleeping through my graduation with a hangover.

None of this struck me as that big a deal. Aside from the far North, drinking culture on the East Coast is the most hardcore in Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador holds the national record with 31.4 percent of students admitting to binge drinking in the previous month in a 2012 survey. Twenty percent of New Brunswickers exceeded the guidelines for chronic booze consumption between 2009-2012; and more than half of Cape Bretoners, 51 percent of Nova Scotia students, and 27 percent of Prince Edward Islanders reported getting smashed within the past month.

Being pretty, young, and apologetic after messy nights also got me a pass. Men were particularly happy to assist me in drinking well past my limits. But some friends looked increasingly freaked as I chugged pints; others stopped talking to me for reasons my drunk brain failed to record. Help wasn't forthcoming when I attempted to reconstruct events.

"You were really wasted. Whatever. We've all been there."

After Tyler, I didn't want to be there anymore. I stuck with the vow to get sober. I took up running. I wrote about everything.

But even amid the congratulations, some relationships cooled. I tried to camouflage my teetotalism by smoking weed and drinking near-beer. But everyone knew I wasn't really at the party anymore.

"You're still on that kick? You're 20-what?" slurred a dad-like acquaintance after I'd been sober for over a year.

"You're seriously gonna live by absolutes?"

*

One day shy of two years sober, I went to Saint John's big Canada Day bash. The Bay of Fundy tide was as high as it gets, and confetti and smoke floated over a sea of flushed faces. A male friend did precisely what I would have done, once: he cajoled me to live a little.

"Here. If you drink it, so be it." He turned, leaving his beer in my hand.

No one was looking. I cautiously downed a few sips, then the rest.

I had deliberately torched two years of sobriety, literally hours before the big day I'd boxed off on the calendar and set in an app on my phone. But no sirens went off. No divine hand reached down and smacked me. No one high-fived me and welcomed me back either.

I'd assumed if I had one drink—well, I don't know what I thought would happen. But it wasn't like that. I simply had a beer. Despite the anticlimax, I wanted more.

I left, confused.

*

The memory loss was suddenly back, with a twist. I couldn't remember why I was supposed to care about not drinking. Next time, I thought, I won't stop at one. I scrolled Facebook, brooding.

A notification popped up from Jeff. Smart guy, killer taste in books. I remembered that time after a party, before he'd moved to Montreal, when he hurled his phone, again and again, on the sidewalk.

"I can do anything to it and it won't break!"

Then the phone smashed apart.

He'd also quit two years ago. We'd sent a few congratulatory messages back and forth about it. We made plans to hang while he was in the hood.

"Want to drink tonight?" That's what I asked when he arrived, trying to sound like I was joking (I wasn't). He declined. I instantly felt evil for suggesting it, pouring out the tale of my lame Canada Day flirtation with the bottle.

"Wanna know what worked for me?" he asked.

*

Julia at age 15, looking deceptively wholesome. Photo courtesy Andrew Hodge

The sunset was apocalyptic and bloody as we arrived at the A.A. meeting. We were the youngest people there by two decades.

"I've spilled more dope than most of these clowns out there on the streets have sold!" one guy declared. That was funny. But the stories were also tragic: my son also became an alcoholic. I got hooked on oxy. I went to jail.

I felt awkward among these grizzled, old dudes. But as we drove back, the red sun extinguishing itself in the sea, I felt good again about being sober.

Alcoholism, like all addictions, is a solitary thing. Which is ironic considering my drinking was fueled by a desire for connection.

But while it was SO EXCITING and I was SO IN LOVE and I could forget ALL MY PROBLEMS when I was drunk, just past that euphoria I felt irritated and cheated. Because my fantastic buzz couldn't actually be shared. Not really. It was lonely.

The deeply uncool nature of A.A. made me feel better precisely because it was so awkward. It embraced awkwardness. It was real, honest—even about the worst and most embarrassing shit.

Maybe that, not sobriety, is really the opposite of addiction.

*Name has been changed

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