Coeur de Pirate on Breaking the Cycle of Alcoholism
"If I had a rough day, I'd have a drink. If I had a social function, or worse, an awards ceremony to attend? I'd definitely have a drink."
Images by Chris Hull
Fall is officially at our doorstep. The long days are getting shorter and the many bottles of rosé we consumed during the hazy summer days are starting to leave marks on our bodies and on our state of mind. I won't lie: the last little bit has been rough for me, especially when it comes to alcohol.
My relationship with alcohol has always been complicated. When I was teenager, my friends were chugging king cans of Labatt Blue, and I grimaced—the taste literally made me want to hurl. I grew up in a residential area of Montreal, in a spot that left you with little option if you didn't drive, so we had fun where and with whatever we could. My friends drank just to get drunk. I hated seeing my friends puking after drinking whatever was left in their parents' liquor cabinet. When my friends started moving toward this lifestyle, I never really got it at the time. My relationship with drinking really started when I turned 18. I understood that, after the initial couple of drinks, which would normally make me a bit sleepy, the real fun with the substance began. I started seeing what alcohol could make me do: it gave me courage.
I was always a reserved person; always scared of making the first move. Largely, I was just terrified in unknown social situations. With four or five drinks in me, I couldn't be stopped. I danced until it was three in the morning, made out with whoever was around (it didn't matter, because we were all wasted anyway), and often times ended up in after hours held in lofts that smelled like bleach and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Eventually, my party years subsided as I started working as a professional musician. I didn't have the luxury of attending club nights whenever I wanted anymore. The truth is there is very little room for partying on tour and, fortunately, my work ethic was stronger than my urge to drink. But, if I had some time off, I didn't have a problem with downing a bottle of wine on my own. The effect it had on me was euphoric. The booze and a lack of inhibition freed me from my anxiety. I could talk to anyone, I could admit to anything. For a shy young person in a world of adults, it was of great help.
Alas, drinking became my way of coping after I began working in music professionally: it became more than liquid courage for interacting with new people—it was a bad reflex. If I had a rough day, I'd have a drink. If I had a social function, or worse, an awards ceremony to attend? I'd definitely have a drink. I might even have a flask with me (they usually close the bar during an awards ceremony, you know, for people like me.) If I had a date, well, by all means, I would be drinking. This went on for years and I ended up making mistakes and hurting people. Whatever emotion I had bottled up inside of me, the alcohol was a loudspeaker for it.
Last year, I came to this realization and I quit drinking cold turkey. I was going through a depression and I knew that, if I didn't cut out booze, it would only make things worse. There isn't much common knowledge about quitting alcohol. Unless you're a hardcore drinker dependent on the substance, and in my mind I wasn't, the after effects can come as a surprise. I had, maybe, a drink a day, but I never thought it wasn't textbook alcoholism. Yet, the withdrawal was real. I experienced anxiety like I never had before, night sweats, insomnia and the urge to murder anything that moved. I was binge-eating the first few weeks, trying to cope with the sugar hole alcohol had left in me. I started resenting people that were able to kick back a few drinks without any repercussion at all. It's a good thing I went on tour again, getting back into work mode, and away from any distraction.
I couldn't drink on tour, I had too many responsibilities, and having shows helped me contain the urge to drink. But once tour ended and spring emerged, I was back on the rosé wave. I stopped being creative. I couldn't write music anymore, which in my books means that something is substantially wrong. I was blocked in every area of my life, waking up hungover only to get to that 4 p.m. glass of wine to make the effects of the night before go away. My alcohol use became a direct consequence of my lack of purpose after tour. I could finally have a little fun, a way to decompress, but the stress of not having a use for anything eventually got to me and I drank in order to contain it.
My view on addiction and sobriety is a complicated one. I believe strongly that, in my case, if my life was in shambles I would turn to alcohol to make things better. I know that I am not alone in this. Alcohol consumption is so normalized these days that it's complex and hard to see the alarming signs. I'm not ruling out being able to drink again one day, but the work has to come from within, and right this moment, I don't feel safe drinking again. How can one break the cycle and see the patterns that are destructive? It's something that I'm trying to understand. I know that for me, it takes a lot of strength to deal with whatever life throws at me without the help of alcohol.
Since I've quit again, I've had more than one curve in the road and it took everything in me to face that without self-medicating. But I have managed. As far as meeting new people goes, or facing your fears of being in public places, I've found this trick to be useful: People love to talk, and if you force yourself to listen to them, eventually you'll actually care about what they have to say. No alcohol needed for that.
Béatrice Martin is a singer and songwriter from Montreal. Follow her on Twitter.
Illustrations by juniorskeptic