I never had a problem with drinking, until I did.
Boom! What a killer opening line. People should pay me for this shit. It’s true, though. Somewhere along the line, I stopped drinking recreationally, and I started doing it out of grief, and then out of fear. Fear for my health, believe it or not, and of course that would come around full circle to affect me anyway.
This is a milestone for me, in that it’s my 100th blog post of shared articles, original poetry and fiction, profile articles and personal reflections. This needed to be something more important, something next-level personal. I decided to push off my article on the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and focus instead on alcohol. Let’s start at the beginning.
I had tried alcohol as a kid. I wasn’t shotgunning brews in elementary school or anything, but my parents would let me have a sip of their beer or their wine. Never more than a sip, and it was stressed to me that those were adult drinks and not to have any otherwise. I was pretty good about that for a long time, but I was also a rebellious little twat, so it was only a matter of time.
One night, when I was 12 or 13, or was staying up at my step-dad’s house to spend the night with my siblings. He was still a heavy drinker at that point and had a cornucopia of liquors in the kitchen. The night grew later, everyone fell asleep, and I tippy-toed up the stairs and into the kitchen because dammit, I was going to try some of this fire water (my late godfather once referred to it as “elephant juice” because it “makes you as strong as a bull”. I called him Poo-Poo Face for lying to me. I was a charming child, really).
I’m standing there and I’m looking at these bottles like the kids in the Goonies first took in One-Eyed Willie’s pirate treasure. Where do I start? What would I like? I ultimately decided to go with whichever bottle looked the coolest and settled on this stout, beautiful blue bottle of something called Bombay Sapphire Gin.
So I took my trembling pre-order hands and carefully lifted the bottle off of the counter, took it over to the sink and filled half of a Dixie cup with liquid. Hell, this stuff looks like water. Smells a little funny. I lifted the cup and tried to let it trickle down my throat the way one would a nice cold cup of H2O.
I desperately and successfully hid my wracking coughing fit as my throat burned and seized up and I poured the rest of the contents down the drain. It was ten years before I tried gin again. I like it okay now.
The next time I really started drinking, though, I was 15. I got invited to this house party by a guy I worked with and I ended up drinking too much rum and vomiting in everyone’s shoes. I managed to get away with that somehow, but it was an ignominious start to a storied drinking career.
There are far too many stories to go through over the course of a decade, so I’ll shorten it as much as I can:
When I was 16, I moved out of my grandparent’s house and into an apartment with a bunch of 21 and ups. We partied a lot. My grades suffered but that was more due to a crippling depression and crisis of self, because I was at school every day. I just didn’t give a shit. I partied, and when I moved back home, I barely partied, and when I turned 18, I partied all over Europe and paralyzed my hand and unparalyzed it because, guys, I’m pretty cool. I’m just really dumb.
I’d hit up one or two house parties a week until I turned 21 with the rest of my friends. I spent that birthday in Reno with my friend Amber, writing bad poetry and almost taking strippers home. I came back to Alaska and spent 4-5 nights a week with two of my best dude friends at a karaoke bar we came to love and be recognised at.
That fall, I moved to Los Angeles, and I drank a lot down there for two reasons:
1) I didn’t pay for shit. I’m talking free beers, free rum and Cokes, $6 pitchers of Adios Motherfuckers, and my friend and I drank like this for five months straight with people from all over the world, because goddamnit, that was a rock and roll type of life. And when that gravy train hit the station,
2). my friend moved away, I moved to a different spot, I was struggling financially and I was in a toxic relationship. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING TO DO.
And I knew it, and I knew I had to get right, so I moved back up to Alaska for four months. I stopped drinking so heavily, I lost a lot of weight, I got my money in order, I moved back down, and three months after that, I made some stupid decisions completely independently of alcohol (I wish I could say I was drunk instead of a fool, believe me). I lost the job I had spent over a year building myself into, the girl I loved, a ton of friends, a ton of money,and I had to move to Washington.
In Seattle and Redmond, my friend and I adopted a more regular drinking schedule. We kept beer in the fridge and there was a dive bar down the road, but we didn’t drink in excess at the house (with a few special occasions), we primarily went to the bar on the weekends (there was a promo girl I liked, so I got to A. flirt, B. get cheap shots and C. get free swag for buying cheap shots). But also, man, I was feeling low. Those suicidal thoughts were creeping in. I had no money, I was a pariah, I was lonely and heartbroken, I felt like a failure. I got a job with the help of my friend, and it was a job testing video games, which is awesome, but it was a temp job, which was less awesome, and I felt aimless.
I visited Alaska again to see my newly born nephew. That weekend, sober, I popped into a (now closed) bar I never went to, and saw a woman I had long had an inexplicable and probably borderline creepy affection for. We were MySpace friends but had only ever shared one actual interaction. She saw me, she somehow recognised me, smiled and waved, came over and told me I was a great writer and she believed in me.
As silly as that might be, that changed everything for me. I got my head straight, I went back to Washington, just wrote my first book in six months and just made plans to come back to Alaska for 4-6 months just to visit everyone, save up some dough, and move back to California.
That was a little over three years ago. And you know what? I was doing great. I was out a bunch, but I wasn’t drinking much. I was writing, mostly, and it was good. And then two years ago, everything kind of went to shit.
My godfather died. His funeral was on my birthday, and while I was driving my mom back to rehab after, my date cancelled dinner a half hour before our reservation. A week later, my grandmother, the best mother figure I ever really knew, passed away of a heart attack. Five months after that, my grandfather passed away and a woman I had loved for five years promised me she would be there for me and left me instead for one of only two people I genuinely hate.
That was the start. Right there. That night. I got the news, I was crashing on my friend’s couch at the time and I was without a vehicle, but he had a half-time bottle or 99 Bananas in the freezer and I drank the whole thing. I cried until he got home, cried while we talked about it, he went to bed, I cried some more, another friend hit me up to cab it to his girlfriend’s place, I drank some Jack Daniels, let some girls pluck my eyebrows, called someone a bitch and woke up the next morning on the first friend’s floor, even though there was a perfectly good couch right there.
Grief had me. I lashed out at everybody. I hated myself for not being a better friend/grandson/person, and I embraced it, and then it got worse.
I got septic shock and almost died. When I pulled through, I put my two weeks in at my job, got harassed by an assistant manager and when I filed a complaint, they fired me. They skimped me on my pay. I’m still paying people back for that. My dad stole my inheritance and used half of it to pay for his legal fees around his prison sentence and gave the rest to his wife, who put him there in the first place. I didn’t see a penny.
I started drinking just about every night. At first, it was out of grief and anger and self-pity. That was for a good year, year and a half. I was a horrible person. I’ve since come to peace with that, and I’ve done my best to repair the relationships I ruined, and those who were open to forgiving me have. The rest is in the past.
After the grief, I started drinking to suppress everything. I didn’t need to black out, I just needed enough to sleep. Once I was there, I wouldn’t dream, or if I did, I didn’t remember it. When I woke up, I was either tired or hungover or both, but however I was feeling physically kept my mind from doing anything but focusing on that.
But, see, here’s the thing: I have never felt that I needed alcohol. I’ve wanted it. I’ve wanted it to drown out everything or to punish myself or to stoke creative embers (in my better days), but if there wasn’t any around, I was fine. I could go days, weeks, months without a drink no problem. And unlike most, I drink because I like the taste. I like the bite, the burn, the flavor. I’m a rum and Coke guy all day, but a shot of Jameson and a craft beer? A pale ale or a vodka martini? 12 year scotch on the rocks to sip on while I’m poring over notes? I like them all. I like the differences and the nuances and as long as it’s not tequila, we’re good to go.
I don’t drink shots of tequila because I hate the taste. Put it in a margarita that’s more fruit punch than agave, we can talk, but get that Tequila Sunrise bullshit out of my face. I’m not that guy who drinks whatever he can get his hands on. I have my tastes and I have restraint.
Or I used to.
And as the better parts of two years wound down and I was past the grief and I had become ready to face my thoughts and emotions again, I discovered another problem: at this point, I had drank so heavily, so regularly, and for so long, I was terrified at the toll it would take on my body to quit. So I started slowly struggling with some kind of game plan on how to wean myself off. I wanted to consult a doctor, but I don’t have a regular physician and I’m so deep in medical debt, I wasn’t sure what avenues to go to. I felt lost and, frankly, since I feel like most of my friends judge me and think I’m an alcoholic anyway, I didn’t know who to turn to.
Then one morning, I woke up to the sound of my roommate getting up and while I lay in bed, my body went through a full involuntary convulsion. It wasn’t long and I was conscious through it, but it was unusual and it was scary. I went to the ER where, after some basic tests,the doctor seemed to think it was dehydration related. Rather than put me on detox medication, he basically told me to figure it out and drink more water. So that was a cool trip.
I took the rest of the day off work and I talked to a couple friends (both of whom are bartenders) and they helped me come up with a plan to help regulate myself. So that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working like this:
First off, I only go out to the bars on Friday and Saturdays now. That’ll probably stay consistent, because I like to get out of the house, listen to music, watch some comedy, and see some friends I don’t have a chance to see otherwise. During the week, now that I’ve got my office set up, I’ll have A drink, just to make sure my body’s not fully without. Sometimes I’ll have a second, but since I started this a couple weeks ago, some nights I won’t have any at all.
When I do go out, for every drink I order, I have at least one glass of water with it. Sometimes two. I have a habit where, when I have a drink (any drink: liquor, water, soda, in a cup, in a glass, in a bottle), I’m constantly drinking it. By adding a glass of water, it scratches that itch while keeping me hydrated.
So after all of that, here is where I’m at: I’ve cut my drinks down to a third or less what I was drinking. I go to bed sober most nights, and I wake up tired but clear-headed and not nauseous. When I do go out on the weekend, I find I’m less hungover the following day, and that I’ve begun redeveloping restraint. I cut myself off and switch to strictly water if I feel I’ve had too much, and more than that, I’m finding less of an urge to get another drink. I’ll nurse them for longer periods of time.
I understand that this is normal shit for a lot of people, and it used to be normal shit for me. I think I had a bad reaction to a series of bad events, and it just took me longer than normal to start getting out of it.
Here’s the other thing, though: when I was drinking heavily, it suppressed my mind. Now that I don’t have that, I am thinking ALL OF THE THOUGHTS ALL OF THE TIME. I find myself falling asleep between 4AM and 7AM every single night. I get 3-5 hours of sleep on average, and what sleep I get more often than not has vivid dreams that are more often than not horrifically realistic nightmares. I’m nostalgic and short of temper, and I’ve got mood swings. I literally spent an hour googling monasteries the other day because I thought maybe going some place like that for 6-8 months would help. Help what? I don’t even know.
I feel like I know now why so many writers and artists are addicts of some kind, and I feel, sometimes, like I’m sacrificing my sanity for my sobriety.
But I’m not the religious type, I’m not the meetings type. Even though I bare my life, soul and all of my fuck-ups on this blog for the internet to see, in real life, I’m not even much of a trusting, talkative type. But I am a fighter. I have a plan. So far it’s working. I’m going to start with that.