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How I Realised I Had a Drinking Problem

I thought moderation could be the cure. I was wrong.

by Megan Koester
21 January 2015, 11:20am

As rock bottoms go, mine was laughably anticlimactic. It made for what I thought was an amusing story, one I related to friends in a jovial tone despite the fact that the more plot points I revealed, the more their faces contorted into masks of horror and concern.

It, like most mistakes, happened on a Friday night. I was ineffably drunk, so much so I lost one of my prized possessions—a VHS tape labeled "Reasons for 9/11/01" (The tape and I were eventually reunited, as God looks after those too careless to look after themselves). After making what I've been told was (but cannot recall, yet still apologized for) a scene, someone less drunk than I drove me home. It was not yet 9 PM.

A fella I'm sweet on was scheduled to come over that night. When I informed him, via sloppy text message, of my level of intoxication, he decided to stay in. This development upset me in the sort of irrationally nihilistic fashion drunkards and petulant teens know all too well. In my muddled mind, I couldn't understand why he, a former addict, didn't feel like driving across town to babysit my belligerent ass.

In protest, I sat on my hardwood floor and cranked up the space heater. While staring at the cover of a Martin Mull album I was not listening to (I was, as befitting the scene, sitting in vacuous silence), I fell asleep—when I awoke, my hands, which apparently had been resting against the grill of the space heater, had a black honeycomb pattern burned into them. It was an impossible-to-ignore reminder that, Hey, Meg, you should probably do something about this whole drinking thing before you fucking kill yourself.

I got blackout drunk a few more times before I addressed the issue.

My problem with alcohol, I recently told myself while trying (and failing) to cut down, was that I drank alone too much. The key was to imbibe in moderation, and solely when others were around. I wrote a bullshitty, self-righteous piece to this effect, which seemed to placate all those who had expressed concern for my well-being after I had publicly outed myself as a drunk.

For the first few weeks after this declaration, I stuck to it. And by "it," I mean, "Staying out extra late getting drunk in mixed company in lieu of going back to my dry apartment." This was not a solution—rather, it was simply a loophole to continue business as usual. I'd drink until I could no longer speak, stumble home, and wake up the next afternoon, ruined. But hey, at least I wasn't drinking alone, right?

And if I stopped completely, what would that mean? Drinking was a crucial part of my personal brand, as valuable as smoking and judging others. If I got sober, would I still be able to relate so heavily to Billy Joel lyrics? Would I never be able to enjoy a glass of champagne again? Wait, I realized. You've never enjoyed a glass of champagne in your entire life. A bottle, sure, but a solitary glass? Impossible.

Despite the fact that I was getting more than enough hooch outdoors, walking past the liquor store on the way back to my apartment quickly became a struggle. I knew what was in there (booze) and what was in my apartment (loneliness and self-pity, which turns out are even better mixers than tonic water).

One evening, my lizard brain finally got the best of me—I broke down and bought a bottle of $4 table wine, the kind impoverished single mothers drink to feel fancy. I justified the purchase by telling myself I was doing it in secret—no one would know! If no one knew about it, it wasn't a problem! And anyhow, I was only doing it just the one time! It was a hard fucking week, OK?

The cork had been popped. I soon devolved into my old habits, drinking a bottle of wine—or, if I was feeling especially self-pitying, liquor—alone every night. I was going hard after going home. Attacking each bottle with aplomb, I drank like a 19-year-old coed who had just experienced her first taste of freedom (and Bacardi). I drank like it was my job. I drank even more than I did when I was a drunk.

The time in which I found it acceptable to start drinking kept slipping ever forward. I mean, hey—it's 2 PM somewhere! I drank while driving. The recycling piled up. But I was doing it in private, all the while keeping appearances up in public—hell, I even lied to my therapist about it. Out of sight, I figured, meant out of mind.

Despite my grand, sweeping declarations, and the show I put on for the world that existed beyond the one-room bubble that was my apartment, nothing had changed. I was still killing myself.

Moderation, it turned out, wasn't a solution. Because it wasn't possible. I lived with a mind that could not be trusted, and urges that could not be controlled. I felt pathetic, weak. Aww, baby can't dwink just one gwass of wine at dinner like the rest of the big girls? I told myself mockingly. Baby has to dwink the whole ba-ba?

The Martin Mull space heater incident was my rock bottom, but it wasn't enough to make me immediately quit. To be completely honest, I don't know when or how I decided to do so. I was drunk at the time. But quit I did. The only alternative was death, and I'd already aged out of the 27 Club. Christ, I didn't even have headshots. The picture they'd run of me on the news, if my death even warranted media attention, would probably be my driver's license photo. I couldn't go out like that.

So, I stopped. Just stopped. Completely. To say this was difficult would be an understatement. Initially, I didn't know what to do with myself—having drank every night for years, slamming the brakes made me feel like the airbag would malfunction, beheading me. But stop, I did. And guess what? I kept my head. Arguably, I regained it.

With the veil lifted, I now felt alert, present—almost unsettlingly so. The nerves that plagued me when I wore a younger man's clothes returned. I struggled to be a good conversationalist, but feared I was too guarded, too thoughtful. I hate thinking. I hate "living in the moment." That is why I drank. Sometimes I think I can't do it. And yet my head remains.

The only thing I'm doing to keep from drinking is not drinking (and occasionally commiserating with friends who no longer drink). I'm not doing AA, as the only thing I hate more than group conversations is anonymity. I'm not taking one of those newfangled medications that makes you ill whenever your lips touch demon alcohol. Should I be doing one, possibly both, of these things? I'm sure one of you will send me an unsolicited email saying yes, I should. And I might. Right now, however, I am not. I am existing on sheer force of will.

A friend of mine left less than a shot's worth of off-brand whiskey, in a plastic bottle, at my apartment the other night. Staring at its resting place next to the sink, I knew what I had to do. I unscrewed the cap and held it above the sink; if I cocked my hand to the left, it would go down. To the right, it would go in my mouth. For reasons I cannot explain, I chose the latter. I consumed it all in one swig; afterward, I felt nothing. It was a nominal amount of liquor, certainly not enough to get me drunk or even buzzed.

I stifled the urge to go out and procure more. Instead, I stared out the window and wondered why I had drank it, grateful it was all gone.

Follow Megan Koester on Twitter.

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