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[ Personal Narratives ]

Beyond The Bottle #6: Won’t Stop, Can’t Stop

Picture this: you’re at dinner with a friend, you both order drinks. The person opposite you opts for a glass of red wine and over the course of the meal slowly enjoys it. You quickly pound three whiskeys on ice and proceed in that manner until a check appears and you both go your separate ways.

Not only did my friend that evening decide NOT to finish her glass of wine but I know two things to be true of her:

A. She doesn’t care that she didn’t finish the glass of wine, it’s not a big deal.

B. She doesn’t think twice about what or how much i’m drinking, it’s none of her business.

And that makes sense because she’s not an alcoholic but since I am, the exact opposite can be said of me. The moment I realize she’s still on her first and (what I’ll later realize is her) only glass of wine, my synapses start firing on all cylinders. WHY is she only drinking that one glass? She’s GONNA have another glass. She HAS to have another glass. WHAT’S HER FUCKING PROBLEM?!?! If I’m really feeling brazen, while ordering my third or fourth drink, I’ll attempt to even the playing field and order one for her as well. She will politely decline and I’ll make a mental notation to never dine with this person ever again, not unless I bring a proper drinking companion along.

But that’s my alcoholic logic for you. I am immediately skeptical of you because for whatever reason, you do not drink as much as me. If I dig a little deeper, it’s because I am threatened by the fact that you don’t need to drink more, that there is absolutely no desire for you to take your drinking further than you’ve already gone. It’s part of why I maintained an alcoholic social structure: there’s always someone in my group who drinks as much and someone who drinks a little bit more than me. It keeps things balanced.

Where is this even going? Let’s back up for a second. I was 28 years old when I finally learned that people didn’t need or regularly crave alcohol. Earlier in the year, i’d taken a brief sabbatical from drinking. It had lasted all of 21 days and i’d told everyone I knew about it. I was supposed to stop drinking for the entire month but it didn’t last, I couldn’t last. By late February I was seriously ill.

With my blood work in hand, my doctor asked me how much I drank again, sensing I hadn’t been exactly honest on the medical questionnaire. He was right but to be fair, there wasn’t a box for the amount I drank so I’d checked the one I thought was safe—3–5 a night—only three nights a week (more dishonesty). Even that was “abnormal” he said. I felt judged and worried what it meant had I been truthful. What followed next was a lengthy warning about the state of my health (poor) and how I’d need to abstain from alcohol (how?) if I didn’t want to die from cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, or any number of other diseases I was putting myself at risk of. My liver was in bad shape but like most advice at this time in my life, it went in one ear and out the other. What the fuck did he know? He didn’t know me. He was a medically trained professional, and he didn’t need to know me because my blood work said it all: alcohol is making you very sick.

That did not stop me. I kept drinking because I needed to keep drinking. How else can I explain it? A medical professional clearly illustrated what continuing to drink would do to my health and body and I still couldn’t stop despite his warnings. Just like my friend from dinner, I’ve been able to deduce some things about myself:

A. Once I have a drink, i’m going to have more drinks, it’s not a big deal.

B. Once I have more drinks, I’m going to black out, it’s none of your business.

That’s just how I’m wired and it’s unfortunate because I’ve wasted a lot of energy testing that theory. I’ve wasted countless years of my life trying to discount my biology. For the life of me, I cannot drink “like a normal person” which translates to “like a non-alcoholic.” I can only drink excessively. My experiments were useless, so I had to stop trying altogether.

I don’t know how long I’d been dependent on alcohol but at 28, I had a lot of the physical symptoms on a daily basis:

– I woke up with the shakes (I assumed my stomach was empty, it wasn’t)

– I suffered from anxiety (I cured it with a combination of Xanax and Klonopin)

– Nausea (cured by throwing up nearly every night/morning)

– Insomnia (see above re: anxiety and blacking out)

– Hallucinations (sounds crazy I know, but I saw spiders, everywhere especially when trying to sleep)

– Tolerance issues (I could drink the bar dry and not get drunk, or have three drinks en route to a black out)

– Depression (I drank more, failing to comprehend the fact that alcohol is a depressant)

– Monster hangovers (Anything greasy + a can of coke, then later, more of whatever I drank the night before)

To me, all this stuff just seemed like part of the territory of drinking. I was unaware that most people didn’t live like this. Oblivious to the fact that people could have even three drinks the night before, go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up to function the next day.

I like to think a lot of things had to happen and that a lot of things made me stop drinking. But when I think about it now, that last bullet got me. The fear of being a morning drinker helped me quit. Because by the end, the only thing that made me feel better the morning after a night of hard drinking was more drinking. It didn’t seem sustainable and so the end marked a new beginning. Once I start drinking, it’s not that I won’t stop, it’s simply that I can’t stop. So I finally just stopped starting.