When you've got a true problem with alcohol, your only two options are quitting or dying.
It was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and I was lying in the fetal position on my bed. The air conditioning unit was on in the living room. I could hear its hum, yet felt none of its cooling effects. I had just told my then-boyfriend I was no longer too keen on this whole "living" thing.
"I love you so much," he said, after asking a litany of questions. (By far, the worst part about telling someone you no longer want to live are the follow-up questions.) "I'm drinking myself to death because I'm a coward," I immediately replied, side-stepping the intensity of his sentiment while shifting my eyes upward to avoid the deep, concerned expression that accompanied it.
And on it went—for days, weeks, months. I thought alcohol was the solution to my endless list of perceived problems, but it really just augmented them. I continued to drink to blackout on a nightly basis, but told myself it was OK because I had an excuse. A whole bunch of excuses, actually. Alcohol was the only thing that calmed the ceaseless, anxiety-induced chattering in my chest. I resented my absentee parents. All my friends' careers seemed to be going much better than my own. And so on, and so forth.
Liquor had long since lost its hypnotic effect—I really didn't even feel it at all anymore. It was just a thing I did. I don't derive pleasure from most things, but they're things I have to do. Do I enjoy cleaning my toilet once every four months? No. Do I do it? Yes. Do I enjoy small talk at parties? No. Do I do it? Yes. (You miss 100 percent of the networking opportunities you don't take.) Did I enjoy drinking? No. Did I do it? Yes.
I didn't even pretend as though I were drinking like a civilized, normal person, because I knew I wasn't. The main extent to which I would playact civility would be to pour my poison in a glass. And by glass, I mean a tiny shot glass, which I would refill over and over and over again throughout the night, not keeping track of how much I was consuming, not caring, just continuing until the warm dark night enveloped me. I woke up counting down the moments until I felt it was acceptable to start the cycle again.
I would structure my days around drinking, making sure to walk somewhere if I knew I was going to get fucked up. As it turned out, everywhere I went I knew I was going to get fucked up. If it was dark outside, I was on my way to getting fucked up. And if it was on the way to getting dark outside, I was on my way to on my way to getting fucked up. I thought I didn't have it that bad, though, because I didn't drink in the morning. In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't. It wasn't like I was achieving anything during the day. I was just lying there, waiting for night to fall, so I could drink again.
I had tried to quit drinking a year ago, to little success. I even wrote a trite, self-congratulatory piece about it. The notes I received in response were many, and I responded to them all. Sometimes folks wished me luck; I thanked them, and echoed the same sentiments. Sometimes they needed their own luck, love, or support, and I gave it. I was often drinking when I typed these responses, having fallen off the wagon almost as soon as I had quit. I felt like a fraud. What was the point of making a point of revealing my "truth," warts and all, if ultimately I was lying? Feeling like a fraud made me feel more alone.
How is this time any different than the last time I "quit"? Well, I'm actually investigating the reasons why I drank in the first place and trying to reconcile those as opposed to just trying to ignore alcohol, which I did before. If you don't investigate why you drink in the first place, you're just going to have contempt for the fact that you quit, which just makes you want to start again.
I failed because I didn't actually try. Because I didn't believe I deserved freedom from my addiction.
The fact that well-meaning friends took my piss-weak explanation for getting back on the sauce—anxiety—made it easy to fall back off the wagon without actually examining the deep-seated reasons why I drank in the first place. And, anyway, I didn't want to be the first among my friends to admit defeat and give up the ghost. Never mind the fact that I actually had a problem they, casual drinkers, did not possess.
When I was lit, I would fixate on perceived, often non-existent, slights that had been done to me. I would relish in rehashing and projecting my own insecurities, reliving the sob story that was my life, over and over. I'd be cruel, mercilessly so.
My actions pushed my boyfriend away. He finally dumped me, tired of my shit and rightfully so. I had put him through a great deal; his patience to that point had already been saintlike. Had he persisted, I'd be convinced that he was the second coming of the Christ child. But he did not, because why should he? I didn't want him to. I thought I was beyond salvation. I'd lie on my couch, staring into the middle distance, crying and ruminating on my own existence while impotently trying to quell the tremors in my hands.
I'd end every night in a blackout, and wake every morning in a haze. I'd taken to not even looking at the text messages I'd sent the night before, horrified by what I might see. It should be illegal to be in possession of a phone when you're intoxicated.
If two in the morning ever rolled around and I was still conscious, a moment of terror would set in. How could I get more? The stores were about to close, and I was too far gone to drive. Feeling as though I couldn't get through the next 30 minutes of consciousness without drinking more, after I had already drank more than I could keep track of, I experienced true powerlessness. I was enslaved by my illness.
It wasn't like I was just on a bender, because it was every day. A bender implies that there is a finite end. And if something occurs every day, that's not the case. At some point, your only two options are quitting, or dying.
Why did I stop? I can't say. The thought just rose over me one night, near blackout, that perhaps—just perhaps, hear me out, brain—I did not need to live like this anymore. Crazy, right?
I had to admit that I could not do this alone. I actually had to talk to people, people who had been through the same thing I had, people who had overcome it. The thing that had prevented me from taking previous advice was my stupid, sick pride. Dismantling that pride and realizing I was not in complete and utter control of the show would be difficult, but necessary. Quitting drinking demands an entire dismantling of the psyche, of ego, of which I arguably had too much.
In a moment of drunken desperation, I texted a sober friend that life had become untenable before passing out. I awoke in the morning, groggily read his response, and knew it was time.
He took me to a meeting of like-minded lushes who had kicked the habit. I heard a man speak. It wasn't that he was abused as a child, or had any real sob story other than the fact that he grew up middle-class and depressed. And the only way in which he felt life to be at all tolerable was if he were intoxicated. It was as if he were speaking directly to me.
The people around me acted normal, and they looked normal. They looked like me. Actually, they looked even better than I did. They were better dressed, cleaner, and appeared more financially well off. And they all admitted they were powerless over alcohol.
Surrounded by people, all of whom were dealing with more or less the same problems as I was, I suddenly didn't feel like I was in this by myself. Which lied in stark contrast to how I felt in the months and years I had felt previous to that moment. I drank because I felt alone, even when I was around other people, completely and utterly so in a godless universe. Now, I'm not entirely sure God exists, but I do know that I am not alone. And because of this simple fact, I no longer want to die. To me, this feels as foreign as the idea of wanting to die feels to the average person. But at least, for the first time in a long time, I know it is a sincere feeling.
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Thumbnail image via Flickr user daniel zimmel