I alluded to it in my “hello” post, but I’ll expand on it here. I’m a … let’s say a “problem drinker.” There are so many terms for it; in AA circles, I’m an “alcoholic.” In treatment and recovery circles, I have an “alcohol addiction” and “alcohol dependence” problems. In the eyes of the law, I’m a DUI offender. In the eyes of employers, I’m erratic, and in the eyes of ex-lovers, I’m trouble.
Whichever way you slice it, I do not do well when I drink.
I was never a “maintenance drinker” — not in the Hollywood sense. I mostly kept my job (I’ve lost two jobs due to drinking), mostly kept my relationships and friendships (I’ve lost two, arguably more, relationships due to drinking, and who know how many friends stopped associating with me due to my erratic behavior?), mostly avoided the deeply tragic results of long-term alcoholism — no DUI manslaughter or even injury/property destruction charges, no failed liver, no beating someone up while drunk. Friends have commented that they never knew how bad things were, because I had somehow perfected the art of being relatively coherent even while blackout drunk. This is not a skill I’m proud of; it just let me hide it for longer.
In January of this year, I was arrested for a “physical control” charge. For those not in the know, “physical control” is what they pop you with when they can’t get you for drunk driving — I was passed out in a parked car in a bar parking lot — but they’re pretty sure you were going to drive. Before you think I got off easy, physical control is punished exactly the same as DUI (at least in the state of Washington) — significant fines, years of blemishes on your driving record, mandatory ignition interlock, and mandatory jail time. And mandatory drug and alcohol treatment.
I’m not complaining. Oh, I wish I’d found an easier path to get to the point where I was willing to make big changes, but whatever the cost, I got here. And at least I don’t have, say, killing someone while drunk at the wheel on my conscience.
I’ve been sober before; I’m middle aged now, but I picked up my first drink at the tender young age of 21 (yes, I was a bit of a late bloomer in that regard!) And from my very first drink, I didn’t drink like “normal” people do (whatever that is). No, I loved the stuff. It gave me courage to talk to attractive women. It made me witty and urbane (I thought; of course I was probably slurring and disgusting, but I felt witty and urbane… and isn’t that, ultimately what we want? To feel that way?) Most importantly of all, perhaps, it made my brain — always yammering, yapping, and jabbering away — shut the fuck up. For a few blissful moments after getting intoxicated, my head was a blissfully quiet place. I don’t know who, reading this, can relate, but this was… paradise. From the very first drink, I knew I loved the stuff.
I have a family history of… well, everything. From depression and anxiety, to alcoholism, and bipolar. As far as I know, I inherited everything but the bipolar (and the jury’s still out on that, but I haven’t seen any signs of real mania, so I’m skeptical…)
Fast forward through more than two decades of on-again, off-again drinking. Generally my drinking pattern was depressingly predictable — long(ish) stints of sobriety, followed by some kind of epic binge (typically a multi-day, blackout bender), followed by fear, shame, and remorse, coupled with swearing to get sober.
What’s different this time? Well, aside from being under the watchful eyes of the law — if I drink or use at this point, I will literally go to jail — I’m sick of this merry-go-round. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; this on again, off again drinking thing is for the birds. Drinking has just never really brought anything positive into my life, so it’s time to give it up. As of today, I’ve been sober for two months.
I resist sharing this, on a lot of levels. Not fear of judgment, ironically — I find that very few people judge an alcoholic or addict who is truly struggling to get or stay sober. No, I resist sharing it because I don’t want to be sober-boy. I don’t want sobriety to become my life; I dread and avoid people who just ramble on and on about 12 steps this and recovery that. I want it to be the new normal; “Tom doesn’t drink.” That’s all.
But I recognize that a lot has to change in order to keep things that way. I recognize that I drank because there were certain basic needs that I wasn’t meeting… certain basic problems I’d never learned to face as an adult. So even though I don’t want everything about me to be about sobriety and recovery, I have to be honest that it’s pretty damned important. First, because pragmatically, at this point in time if I relapse I may well go to jail (and I’ve been there, and I fucking hated it), but also because I realize that I have to change. Not just to be sober (although that’s hugely important), but to live a happy, fulfilled life. The life I want to live.
I’ll post more on this in the future; it won’t be all I talk about, but it’s a big chunk.