(Audio for this blog can be found on the audio blogs page)
Sooooo, I’ve been approached by a few people at the crossroads of their drinking, The Jumping Off Point. A common question is whether or not I think they are an alcoholic, based on their listed drinking tendencies, behaviors, feelings, and mishaps. I can never answer that for them. Another question is how I decided to stop; that I could answer.
Deciding to quit drinking was the hardest decision I have ever made. From the outside, how it could even be a question whether or not to stop was baffling. Considering I’d had multiple DUI’s, not many actual friends, kids I was neglecting, no purpose, and no actual life the decision seemed rather obvious. Despite all of that, I was making the best of it and accepted it as my life...Comfortable Dishonesty. The life I had constructed was destroying me internally but externally I presented as though I was maintaining. I had places to go and people to be around whenever I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts, which was all the time. This life was the perfect distraction from the thing I feared most, reality.
A variety of negative early life experiences nourished the need for avoidance. Abandonment issues at the root of it all, I sought acceptance. Acceptance was the remedy for my perceived lack of value. I felt unattractive, unintelligent, and uncool...generally undesirable. Being with attractive women and around intelligent and popular people made me feel as though I was good enough. Acceptance proved fairly easy to get as long as I was willing to compromise my authentic self. As long as I was willing to do that, I got the necessary distractions I so longed for.
What ended up happening was my beginning to identify with a life that was not in line with my core beliefs and desires. I kept myself in bars because the requirement for authenticity was nonexistent. The majority of the people there were, in one way or another, attempting to avoid/ignore/alter their reality just as I was. From decompressing from a stressful work day or avoiding home situations to being a larger version of self or addressing loneliness. Whatever I wanted to circumvent I could do through my drinking. I found myself in negative relationships (both romantic and platonic) and legal struggles as a result but I just chalked them up as unfortunate occurrences.
As the unfortunate occurrences became more normal so became the behaviors that generated them and thus the vicious cycle of undiagnosed alcoholism started. If I could’ve just cut out the drinking and the wreckage I’d caused was gone with it, quitting wouldn’t have been nearly as scary an undertaking. I had brief bouts of clarity where I saw that my drinking was a problem but quitting drinking would uncover everything I’d been avoiding. I didn’t have the tools to face and fix them so I just continued drinking hoping I would somehow stop fucking up...insanity.
The insanity of it all was that I was looking to solve all my problems with and within the cause of all my problems.
I couldn’t see my life being happy with alcohol included and I couldn’t see any life with alcohol excluded. I was lost. A fifth DUI was the start of the stopping process for me. When I got the DUI I knew this was going to come with a penance of jail time. The thought of jail terrified me but I knew this was my chance to change my drinking. I was sentenced to a year and because I didn’t have a criminal record the option for rehab was laid on the table, I jumped at it.
I was sent away to Black Mountain, NC to a rehab there. While I was there a lot of the ties to my drinking were finally severed. All those people that I thought were real friends because of their consistent presence in my life were nowhere to be found. Not a single letter, phone call...nothing. This hurt me tremendously but not for long. I quickly realized that a lot of the leg work was being done for me. Had I maintained contact with these people I would’ve still been connected to the life I was trying to escape. If those relationships were still active, I would’ve chosen them because they were familiar and comfortable. Shedding the social bonds was only part of the solution, I still needed to address the drinking issue.
Still under the delusion that I just needed to alter my drinking, when I returned home four months later I drank. I committed to just drinking beer and that worked, until it didn’t. I was going to the same places at the same times with the same people that didn’t reach out when I was gone. They’re getting hammered and having a ball and I’m drinking my beer feeling as excluded as ever. One night amidst the partying I just snuck over to the other side of the bar and ordered my usual, double vodka grapefruit, and just like that I felt apart of again. That night I went back to a friends house where I was being allowed to stay. I tried to make food and fell asleep with food on the stove. Long story short, almost burned their house down. Completely unaware of what happened, I am told that the roommates didn’t feel safe with me in the house and that I wasn’t allowed to stay there anymore. With a cavalier attitude I shrugged it off not willing own up to, let alone, address the issue...right back to avoidance.
The next day I’m sitting at the bar leisurely having a beer as though I wasn’t technically homeless and that I hadn’t disrespected and alienated the friends that had opened up their home to me. Then an old drinking buddy strolls in and before any salutations can be exchanged I suggest a bar crawl. “Let’s take a shot at every bar from Chapel Hill to Carrboro.” For those of you not from my hometown, that’s 16 bars, 16 shots while chasing them with either beer or cocktails. By the time we reached Carrboro we were obviously over the top wasted. I’m playing a video game when I turn around to see my best friend not looking happy. He pulls me out of the bar and takes me to a mutual friend’s house who’d quit drinking a few years prior where they hit me another shot, a shot of reality. Much of that talk I don’t remember clearly but after that I do remember him taking me to a coffee shop where I reached The Jumping Off Point.
I didn’t want to live like I was living any longer. I cried my soul out on that coffee shop porch repeatedly uttering the words “I just want to be normal.” I physically, emotionally, and mentally could not continue another day. If my not drinking meant I was going to be friendless and alone in a dark room (which is def what I thought was going to be the case), I wanted that more than I wanted another drink. I was exhausted. Tired of faking happy, tired of faking friendships, tired of ruining everything I touched, tired of hating myself, tired of faking life. That was the last drink I took.
It is said, ‘it takes what it takes’ as it pertains to people actually committing to quitting drinking. It is also said that ‘we get to chose our own bottoms’ as it pertains to when we decide to stop the bleeding. It took me over a decade before I decided to accept what was so apparent to everyone around me; I can’t drink.
Contrary to my initial beliefs, there was life after drinking. It hasn’t been all pleasant but life isn’t all pleasant. I had to face the mountain of bullshit I’d built but I’m finally lessening my baggage instead of increasing it. There are times when I’m alone that I’d rather not be but it’s teaching me to be okay with myself. There are times when things go the polar opposite of what I want and I am massively overwhelmed but it’s teaching me action and acceptance. My relationships have a standard of growth/progress and authenticity; not a mutual need for avoidance fostering codependency. Maybe the biggest thing is that I’ve gotten is reconnecting with my authentic self; the good, the bad, and the ugly sides which are all apart me. I’ve gotten to experience the actual me and are learning to embrace rather than run from it. The joy I get out of each day and every experience within it is that I’m actually experiencing it. Not embellished, not minimized, just reality as it is and that truly is a joy.
When I honestly looked at my life and the areas that caused me stress, hurt, anger, discontentment, distraction, and problems, alcohol was at the root of them. When the idea of not drinking was brought up, it couldn’t happen. I couldn’t not drink. It took what it took to get me to my bottom but I definitely wish I’d taken the leap so much earlier. What I realized, after all that, was that I always had the choice of when to change my life.
The best decision I’ve ever made was to run away from the comfort of inauthentic happiness and apparent misery to face the fear and discomfort of change. What I got in exchange was a real life!
I can’t tell anyone they should stop drinking but if the question is in there, it deserves a real and honest appraisal. It’s never too soon to make a change to improve your life but I’ve seen it too many times where it was too late...