My last drink was on a Saturday in July of 2009 at the age of twenty two. I was attending a wedding reception with my former significant other: an abusive man in his late forties whose role in my life was a direct result of my own self hatred, sickness, and dishonesty. At the blessed event, I was the very picture of class… pounding cranberry juice and vodka and hitting on the woman across the table.
One drink and then another magically appeared in front of me and, even though I was so drunk I could barely handle a trip to the ladies room, I didn’t see any reason to stop.
Here’s the problem with my drinking: I didn’t wake up every morning shaking and looking for a nip but I could never predict what was going to happen when I started. Maybe I would have just one with dinner. Or maybe I would go to the bar and let you squeeze my ass in exchange for picking up my tab. Or maybe I would have a good cry and then attend a movie – during which I would yell at Sarah Jessica Parker across the theatre for having such an atrocious horse face.
Or maybe I would get messed up and slide behind the wheel of a car. Maybe my car. Maybe yours. Who cares? I sure didn’t.
I’ve had arguments with people about whether or not I’m an actual alcoholic. Everybody does stupid stuff when they’re young, right? “You’re too young,” they say. “You didn’t drink enough,” they say. “You weren’t physically dependent,” they say.
A few years into sobriety, I was taking a class in my counseling program and the subject of tolerance as a required “criteria” for alcoholism came up. The instructor knew I was in recovery and also knew I was struggling – essentially having a quiet identity crisis – in the middle of the classroom. He said: “If a client thinks he or she has a problem then he or she has a problem”. He also said: “If someone can’t predict what’s going to happen when he or she picks up a drink, it’s a problem”.
My instructor saved my life.
I like clichés a lot (remember the Titanic cliché?) so here’s another: “You can get off the elevator at any time”. So why did I feel like I needed to wait until I had several DUIs to qualify for recovery? This is the secret: I didn’t. And neither do you.
The battle inside me is on-going. I frequently think: “I didn’t have enough. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m too young”. And just as frequently I dismiss this train of thought.
There is certain literature on alcoholism that talks about “potential alcoholics” and how someone fitting this description might have “years to go” before suffering the hell of a more “seasoned” alcoholic. A very wise man pointed out that no alcoholic can know if the next drink might also be the last. How does this wisdom translate to me? I might have fifteen more years of drinking or fifteen days. Do I really want to find out?
Let’s return to the word “criteria”. Why? Because fuck “criteria”, that’s why. It’s a rubbish word utilized by insurance companies so they can take your money.
In 2012 my biological father died by suicide. He was a process addict, too. But what I didn’t know until I visited the horrific scene of his death was that he died drinking. There were boxes and boxes of empty bottles. Among other things, his death certificate lists ethanol intoxication as a cause.
It was like looking into a crystal ball and seeing exactly what my life would become (or not become) if I returned to my former way of being.
It was the best gift he ever gave me.