The day before Hurricane Katrina hit, I turned to my husband and confessed that I had been slowing killing myself with alcohol, and that I finally knew I’d never have anything I wanted in life as long as I kept drinking. He asked me if I was ready to quit, and I was. Three weeks later, he confessed that he wasn’t all that convinced I actually was an alcoholic. That’s when I realized…he hadn’t noticed all the nights I got up in the middle of the night to vomit, and he hadn’t realized the number of times I’d started blacking out each week. I was up to three. I’d wake up on the couch, knowing I had gotten mad at him for something, but not for the life of me remembering what.
My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic. He died alone in a squalid apartment set over a liquor store in Oklahoma a short while before my older brother was born. My step-father, who’s been married to my mother since I was four, is an alcoholic. Still very much practicing. Oddly enough, I hadn’t noticed his drinking until I was about 14. That’s the year my brother ran away from home, one of his complaints being that my step-father drank too much. In the counseling session I was forced to go to with my parents, the counselor asked me what I thought of my brother’s accusation. I stated I thought it was bogus….that I hadn’t hardly noticed his drinking. In a rare moment of honesty, my step-father stated quietly, “you haven’t been paying attention”.
After that day, I started paying attention, and noticed the pattern. Come home from work, drink. Have a party, drink. Go out with friends, drink. Wake up, drink. That’s just how my family wound down.
I, myself, started as a teenager. I vaguely recall coming home at 13 and taking swigs of Glenlivet in an effort to get buzzed. It didn’t work. I hated the taste. When I was 17, my step-father would pick up wine coolers for me, hand me one in the car and “race me” to see if I’d finish the first one before he had driven us home. It was a game. When I went away to college, he suggested I develop a taste for Everclear, since with it’s potency, I could consume less, save money, and still get buzzed.
For the record, I received absolutely no advice about sex (I was still a virgin), money, my studies….but how to get a cheap drunk…I was covered.
I didn’t start drinking heavily until I moved in with my college sweetheart/would-be ex-husband, Jeff. It was mostly beer, a 12 pack of which I could knock out in a day in a half, if not less. I didn’t really hit the hard stuff until I graduated from college and moved to Oklahoma, alone, Jeff having moved back in with his parents, signalling the beginning of the end of our relationship. Jim Beam, the preferred bourbon of my mother and step-father, would become my roommate, along with an amazing amount of diet Coke. My drinking wasn’t yet affecting my job or relationships, but I was well on my way.
After Jeff and I parted, I met Josh. We fell very much in love, and it was unlike anything I’d had before. Very sweet but passionate. And we had that thing where we just “got” each other. But it wasn’t too long into the relationship, when HIS demons reared their ugly heads. His family’s drug of choice was, well, just about anything other than booze. Ecstasy, LSD, marijuana…all were commonplace amongst he and his friends, even his mother. I met him through his mother when I went to work for her making videos for the local schools. I was extremely naïve about just about everything at the time, though I did think it was odd that when her kids would come over after having a bad day, their mother’s solution was, “have a bong hit, honey”. The alarm bells should have gone off then, but I was smitten. By the time Josh tried to enter rehab, the drugs had fried his brain to the point of schizophrenia. After a month in a mental hospital in Norman,Oklahoma, he *should* have gone into rehab, but our co-dependency took over, and he moved back in with me. Al-anon meetings helped a little. His moving out helped more.
He struggled with his anti-psychotic medication. The first time he met my parents, he spoke of seeing a live chicken running around under my coffee table. Great first impression. Of the people in his life, only his brother, sister-in-law and paternal grandmother were sober people. His mother got him high, so he’d jump on the furniture. His step-father gave him drugs, then he’d be screeching about aliens trying to program him through the television. The bravest I’d been in my life up to that point was the day I stared down the family drug dealer, Josh’s step-father’s best friend, and chastised him for selling Josh a bag of weed. I knew that Josh was ultimately responsible for whether or not he got high, but to have so many people close to him NOT supporting him in his sobriety was just killing me.
Josh, in his saner moments, would sometimes comment on my drinking. I didn’t see the connection. I still don’t, actually, not because I’m not an addict, but because at that time it hadn’t become a preoccupation.
After Josh put a cigarette out on his forehead, I convinced him to give the anti-psychotic meds another chance. He went to see the doctor, who wanted him hospitalized immediately. “Check yourself in or I’ll do it”. I wish the doctor had committed him.
Later that night, he called me and asked me to pick him up. I told him he needed to stay there to get the help he needed. He called his mother. She picked him up and got him high on the way to his brother’s house. That night, in front of his brother and family, Josh’s mother made him promise to stop being a burden to everyone. The next morning he awoke, had a bowl of cereal, smoked a cigarette, then found his brother’s car keys, opened his brother’s car trunk, pulled out a shotgun his brother had attempted to hide there, sat under a tree, wrapped his lips around the barrel, and made good on his promise.
I had begun studying the bible a few months prior to Josh’s suicide. A few months after, while recovering from Josh’s death at my mother’s house in Texas, I came to a fork in the road. I walked away from my bible studies, and chose the path lined with empty Jim Beam bottles.
I stayed on that path for the next 10 years. I gained 75 pounds. I lost it. I moved back to Oklahoma, then back to Texas, then to California. Then I hurt my back. I gained all the weight back. I started drinking tequila and waking up on the floor of my living room, bottle in hand. I didn’t go on a single date.
Finally I met the man that would become my husband. Shortly after we got married, the San Antonio Spurs won the 2005 NBA championship. I had gotten so drunk that night, I barely remembered it. The next day I was so hung over I went into work late. All my co-workers, who had teased me for years about being the lone Spurs fan in a sea of Laker “fans” (read: when they win), had expected me to be so hyped and happy. My head hurt too much.
Parenthetically, I had not been able to bask in the 2003 championship either, not because of a hangover, but because my beloved cat had died in my arms a few hours after the win. By the time they won in 2007, I was pregnant with my daughter, and a basketball contest seemed far less important to me.
We got married in May 2004. We had not realized that my husband had ADHD. Like you wouldn’t believe ADHD. His mother had been told as much when he was a child, but had not done anything about it. He just thought he was incredibly forgetful and stupid, but I knew something was wrong with him. He was much too smart to be that dumb. He went in for testing, and started getting treatment for it. I joke that if marriage is a path you walk together, that first year he kept forgetting where the path was and I was too drunk to find it.
Katrina hit in late August of 2005. I called up my family and announced I was an alcoholic that weekend.
After deciding to quit, I sought out help. I knew I didn’t want to do AA. I know they’ve helped many, many people, but it didn’t seem like it was for me. But I worked with someone who I knew was in AA and had been sober for a long time, so I’d go down to his office and we’d chat. He was incredibly sweet and helpful. I also reached out to my step-mother, who’d been sober for over 20 years. I’ve been sober 6 ½ years now, and am really coming to appreciate something both my co-worker and step-mother told me. It doesn’t necessarily get easier the longer you’ve been sober. Yes, the physical cravings have subsided, but not the psychological ones.
I hate parties, but used to get through them by drinking. I realized this a month after quitting when I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of an office party of 300 people. If you believe the folks on Madison Avenue, it is not physically possible to have a good time with friends unless you have a libation in your hand. Hot day? Have a cold beer. Not me. Tense at work? The office manager is hosting a happy hour at the bar across the street, wanna come? I wish.
I miss the high soooo much. But that’s the rub. It’s been long enough since I’ve had a drink that I miss the high, but don’t vividly remember the vomit, the blacking out, the crying, drunken fits I’d have when I’d destroy something in my home because, inevitably, in my intoxicated state I’d be unable to operate it (at least two cd players gone, thank you). I have to remind myself of the time I got so drunk I drove my car off the road onto a railroad track and had to have my front passenger tire replaced the next day. Or when I was so drunk and lonely, I decided I’d knock on my neighbor’s door, someone I didn’t even know, to see if he’d have sex with me. Thankfully, he wasn’t home.
I’ve noticed some people I follow on Twitter commenting about their sobriety lately. This got me thinking about reaching out. While I haven’t been truly, truly tempted, I did mention to my husband, semi-jokingly, that I’d like to start drinking again, only he can monitor me. Yeah, because addicts aren’t liars and I wouldn’t EVER be deceptive about how much I had to drink.
By the time I quit drinking, I had gotten up to almost a fifth of bourbon A NIGHT. I know I don’t want to go back there. When I first quit, I’d often have dreams about having fallen off the wagon and wake up feeling terrible. I’m starting to have them again.
Though I never did AA, I do appreciate the notion of taking things one day at a time. To think of not having a drink for the next 30 years is murder.
I just need to not drink tonight.