Today I’m 100 days sober. It’s hard to believe these words are coming from me, of all people. The person who beelined it to the beer tent at every festival, every concert. The person who attended every happy hour, cocktail party, and boozy brunch. The person who didn’t think there was enough wine in the bottle for two people and would argue there are only three glasses per bottle, not four. The person who always liked a good party. If you know me, you know that about me.
What you don’t know is that I drank alone and pre-partied before happy hour. I hid bottles of vodka in my closet and secretly disposed of them on the regular. I had a small army of airplane bottles in my car, at the ready, any time I felt the urge to throw one back. I came to like, and looked forward to, the burning sensation of 80 proof anything going down my throat and warming the inside of my belly. I came to like the secrecy of it all too.
It wasn’t always like this, but my relationship with alcohol has never been a good one. It started innocently enough 25 years ago, the summer after my freshman year of high school. Everybody was doing it — or so I thought — and because my insecure, impressionable teen self was no match against peer pressure, I was too.
The first time I drank was at a church — no, not at communion, but on a low-hanging roof at La Jolla Lutheran, in the back by the parking lot. I was 15. It was 40 ounces of King Cobra. (Gross, right?) Despite a valiant effort, I only finished about half of it before throwing in the towel. But before too long I was proudly polishing off Mickey’s 40s, sometimes two, with the boys. I was so cool.
I drank throughout high school and I drank a lot. My mom asked me then if I had a drinking problem. I thought she was crazy. It’s what you do in high school, I reasoned. And college. I mean, really, who doesn’t party in college? And when I turned 21. It’s a rite of passage people! And I continued to drink throughout my 20s and 30s.
I drank to celebrate birthdays and weddings. I drank to ring in new years. I drank because Christmas. And Easter. And the Fourth of July. And Arbor Day, whenever that is. I drank to unwind. I drank to have fun. I drank to be free. I drank to be social. I drank when I cooked. And cleaned. I drank on camping trips. I drank at the beach. I drank at picnics. I drank at sporting events. I drank in the shower. I drank on vacation. I drank because it was a hot day. I drank because of the screaming kid that’s always behind me on the plane. I drank because cheese tastes better with wine. Steak does too. I drank because it was Friday. And Monday. And every other day of the week. I drank because.
But so did everyone else so I was fine, right?
‘They’ say alcoholism is a progressive disease. I don’t like the word disease — I don’t have leprosy — but I agree wholeheartedly with it being progressive. I didn’t think at the tender age of 15 that I’d grow up to be an alcoholic. (I don’t like that word either, alcoholic, but that’s a different blog post.) I didn’t think partying in high school and college and beyond would set the stage for alcohol dependency later on. Hearing myself say that now I’m like, duh, you moron. But, in my defense, I thought what I was doing was normal. And I blame society for that, and the barrage of pro-drinking messages we see and hear every day that normalizes this behavior. (Yet another idea for a blog post.) That aside, I let alcohol become my best friend. It was an easy relationship to have because this “friend” was always there for me, no matter what.
In my early legal drinking years, it was happy hours, house parties, and nights out on the town. Then it was every brunch, lunch, and dinner. Then it was drinking at home by myself — a glass of wine after work, or while cooking dinner, and of course with dinner, too. Then it was a bottle. Then it was two shots of vodka after work, because one was never enough, followed by another every 30-60 minutes or so until I went to bed (i.e., passed out). Then it was whenever I felt anxious, upset, or sad. Sorrows are meant to be drowned, right? Of course there were other things I could have done to alleviate my angst, healthy things, but having a shot (or three) was quick and easy. And, knowing I was doing something “bad,” it was exciting and fun for me too.
It’s hard to say when, exactly, things got really, really bad. A year ago, maybe two. I was intoxicated for fuck’s sake. The downward spiral was a gradual one, but even so, I saw it happening and it became harder and harder to deny I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. And it was only getting worse. I was drinking every day. I was drinking more often alone than when with friends, and I drank a lot with friends. I was drinking to self-medicate and cope with daily life. I was drinking to shut off having to feel anything because what I felt didn’t feel good. It hurt, I hurt, and I wanted to kill that pain, or at least numb it. And with that, I snuffed out everything else in my life too, the good with the bad.
I didn’t care about anything really. Nothing excited me. Life didn’t excite me. Seeing friends — unless we were drinking — didn’t excite me. Having plans for the weekend or going on vacation didn’t excite me. The future, my future, didn’t excite me. There’s a word for that, you know. Anhedonia. I remember learning it in college, in a class I took on substance abuse.
I consider myself to be a smart, logical, well-educated person. How far was I going to let this go? How many more years of my life was I going to spend in a fog? How many more years did I have?
Despite decades of “bad behavior,” I’d always been able to toe that line, living it UP while maintaining enough focus to do well both academically and professionally. I had my shit together. HAD.