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[ Personal Narratives ]

Beyond the Bottle #5: Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde was a novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 about a man battling the good and evil dualities which existed within him. A hundred and twenty nine years later, it’s a popular turn of phrase for the way many alcoholics experience a shift in behavior or character after consuming alcohol. The scary thing in my experience is that there’s no sign, no warning that this might happen, it just DOES.

One moment you’re the life of the party, the next you’re choking your girlfriend. One minute you’re all chuckles and in an instant, often without provocation, you’re punching someone in the face. It’s scary. That much rage and anger. Alcoholics who tend to exhibit these sharp swings in disposition are a huge liability. One scary act too many and you find yourself cut off from social functions entirely. Your friends are tired of doing damage control, over wondering whether or not they’re in some sort of danger by inviting you over.

I’ve missed functions, generally anything that seemed important to anyone — weddings, engagement and house warming parties etc.—because people didn’t want to chance what I might do once I got there. People had ACTUAL conversations weighing the pros and cons of having me at an event and then decided against it. That’s sad. It was hard for me to look at pictures, pretending I didn’t want to be there but secretly I was just angry with myself for knowing they were right. When I drank, I was a liability to you, I was a liability to myself.

It’s painful to admit that but having seen it in myself and others, I get it, why risk it? I had a boss who drank a ton. One night we were at a club in the city, enjoying bottle service on his dime. I don’t think we were friends necessarily or people who would “go clubbing” but we each needed someone to drink with, so it just felt like something we did out of habit more than anything else.

We were out one night when he suddenly assumed a guy a few tables over was giving him the eye. What that meant was murky at best but I saw the anger building, saw the insecurities pour out of him: he thinks he’s better than me? Drives a nicer car than me? Has a better job than me? I had no way of knowing whether or not any of this was true but I tried to convince him otherwise and encouraged him to drop it. He was having none of it. Without provocation, I watched him hurl a bottle of Grey Goose in the direction of the alleged suspect.

As the saying goes, things escalated quickly. The man came over to retaliate, in reality up close and personal, he was taller and MUCH bigger in every sense which was detrimental only because he proceeded to kick the shit out of my boss. The bouncers threw all of us out but that didn’t stop it. I didn’t know what to do but I knew no good would come from me getting involved so I stood by and watched two men physically assault one another. The fight eventually ended and my boss lost but for what exactly? I still don’t know. He just lay there on the cobblestone bleeding and spitting blood everywhere. I asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, he did not. He wanted to bleed. And he wanted to drink more. I did what I did best in these sorts of situations and left it for someone else to deal with as I staggered into a cab and back to my apartment. Monday morning came and as he fielded questions on whether he was mugged or what the other guy looked like, I said nothing. Having been in his shoes, I knew the feeling. The false bravado you felt compelled to exert when in reality, he likely had little to no memory of what really happened or how it began. How he got his own ass kicked over nothing.

On my end, I can think of several nights where the violent shift occurred but one of the most glaring happened fairly early in my drinking career. In college, I punched a close friend in the face and had my head thrown through a kitchen window as a result. I don’t remember much else except going downstairs to eat a bowl of Cheerios in my kitchen. The police showed up and I spoke to them with a complete lack of awareness that they were they to potentially arrest me. I just continued eating. Luckily for me, she opted not to press charges but the fight caused a massive schism in our relationship and we didn’t speak or see each other for nearly a year. Even after the immediate fear dissipated, things were never quite the same afterwards, mostly because she had to operate with firsthand knowledge of my violent nature during blackouts.

There was a more immediate fallout too—I nearly lost my living situation. My roommates unanimously voted to kick me out of the house if I didn’t go to counseling and get my shit together. While I did go to counseling, I didn’t get my shit together because I quickly found out Mr. Hyde was something I had zero control over. If I got blackout drunk, I was no longer responsible for what went down or what he did.

Mr. Hyde was with me throughout. In grad school, I nearly lost my Graduate Assistantship position and scholarship because I got into a fist fight with a colleague and classmate after our staff holiday party. Think about that sentence: Staff. Holiday. Party. By definition it’s meant to be fun and merry but Mr. Hyde doesn’t care about textbook definitions or social etiquette.

A few years ago I was at a bar after-hours, smoking outside when I was sucker punched by some guy. This stuff became pretty commonplace for me at the end. I’d run my mouth inside around my friends, knowing I was guarded and protected. Then the stranger would pick a moment to retaliate. A police officer paid me $50 to punch a fellow officer in the face and I complied, again unaware of the consequences I might incur as a result of taking such an action. I just accepted this was who I was—a sometimes angry, violent drunk. I didn’t give it a second thought.

The story does change though if you want it to. Three years later and I no longer feel like two people, I no longer feel like I’ll lose control or slip into a fit of rage, freaking out on someone. Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry, I curse at cab drivers and people who cut me off while crossing the street, I mutter at people who don’t walk as fast as I like but I no longer result to violence to settle discrepancies I perceive in my head. No matter how mad I get, I never see Mr. Hyde and that’s a change I can afford to live with today.