One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is quitting smoking. I was never a two pack a day smoker, nor did I smoke for decades, but I was a regular 1/2 pack a day smoker for roughly 6 years (18 - 24). I also know that it’s something I am still addicted to, even though I’ve now quit about as long as I was an active smoker. I still have dreams about smoking, still have cigarette cravings, still have that deep want that doesn’t seem to go away. I’d love nothing more than to go back to smoking. Luckily, there are more important things that I’d rather do like lift weights and taste food. That’s enough to keep me from succumbing to my cravings.
My relationship with alcohol on the other hand, is a bit more… complicated.
Growing up, I was never a drinker. I dropped/got kicked out of college (a story for another time maybe), but not because I was partying (I wasn’t), I just wasn’t good at doing school. It actually wasn’t till I was out of school that I started drinking. But even then, I didn’t really like drinking, I just did it because other people did.
I moved from Texas to Massachusetts the week before my 21st birthday. Being in an unfamiliar environment, trying to meet new friends, alcohol became a way for me to socialize and meet people. I made some good friends, and drinking was just the thing we did. We’d get 40s of St. Ides Malt Liquor, get shitfaced, and watch Lost. We’d drink bottles of wine and watch foreign films. We’d drag my little brother (18 at the time) to the sketchy bar down the street and get plastered on Miller High Life (still maybe the worst hangover I’ve ever had). But that was OK, because hey, we were in school and young and partying out of control was the thing to do.
And holy shit, the drunk stories I acquired during that time. For example: I accidentally ran from the cops once. I was walking home drunk and they had reports of someone looking in cars with a flashlight. They stopped me, and when they went to their car I thought they left, so kept walking. About a block later I was surrounded by cop cars and having to answer questions. The cop in charge commented on my “thick Irish accent”, an obviously racist joke I didn’t actually get till like a week later.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve fully embraced craft beer. I am drinking, and I enjoy it. I’ve become a hop-head and start looking for the hoppiest beers I can find. I collect beers, brew beers, read about beers. I’m a full blown beer snob. My love for craft beers even led me down my current career path.
And still I acquired stories. Turns out, I’m a fun drunk. I’m an extrovert where I’m normally introverted. I’m funny and I want to talk to people. People like me when I’m drunk. And I can drink, too. I can drink a lot. And so I don’t ever have to be the wet towel that has had enough, the one that needs to go home, the one that ends the night. I can be the last one standing every night.
A few years later and now I’m drinking bourbon. I love bourbon. All bourbon. I drink it straight, or maybe with a single ice cube. I love the bite of the bourbon, the smell, the sweetness. But, it hits me hard. Harder than beer. So something starts to change for me. I’m not just staying out all night anymore, I’m getting much drunker. I’m starting to act erratically, I’m starting to black out fairly regularly.
But hey, I’m still so much fun when I’m drunk. I’ve taken to stealing things when I’m drunk. Not anything serious, but I pick up things that are lying around me. Road cones, signs from hotel lobbies, that kind of thing. Everyone laughs, it’s hilarious, Gordon got drunk and stole another sign from the lobby, great stories.
A couple of years ago I started noticing something that really bothered me. I had developed a reputation as a drinker. As the drinker. People make jokes and they mean well, but it starts to land differently. I have a slack notification set up for “beer” and people are using it to get my attention. We have “too much beer” in the office and I’m being counted on to get rid of it. These kinds of things become more and more frequent. Drinking has somehow become part of my identity. And that starts to make me wonder: am I in control here?
I push those questions down, as you do, and move forward. I keep drinking, I keep having fun, people keep liking me. But I’m also fighting with my wife about it more. I come home drunk, sometimes blackout drunk, she gets mad, I apologize, say it won’t happen again, rinse, repeat. I know I’m in control. I have to be in control. How could I not be in control?
So I decide to prove it to myself. I take a month off drinking. It surprises people. They can’t believe that I‘m not drinking. But I just say things like “yeah, just taking a break for a while”. No big deal.
At the end of the month, I go back to drinking. I’m fun again. I’m the life of the party again. I’m blacking out again. I’m fighting with my wife again. I’m putting myself in danger again. I’m out of control again.
So I take a break again. See? I’m in control. No big deal. I don’t have to drink. Month ends, back on that horse. Getting blackout drunk and getting lost in New Orleans, missing a night of one of my best friend’s bachelor party. Getting blackout drunk and being too hungover to attend the end of a conference. Getting blackout drunk and stumbling a mile home in the dark and in the snow and sticking a good friend with an $80 Uber bill. Getting blackout drunk and causing my wife to stay up all night to make sure I’m still breathing.
This isn’t fun anymore. These stories aren’t funny anymore. This doesn’t work anymore.
I don’t have a drinking problem the way most people think about drinking problems. I don’t get the shakes. I haven’t lost any jobs because I’ve shown up drunk. I’m not struggling keep away from the bottle. I don’t feel the need to avoid alcohol in every form at the risk of going on a bender.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m incapable of saying no. I’m completely unable to walk away from drinking once it’s started. If I have 2 beers, I have 20. If I have one glass of bourbon, I have 10. That is my drinking problem.
So I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m not going to be the funny guy. I’m not going to be the life of the party. I’m not going to be the guy with the stories. But I’m also not going to be the guy apologizing to the people he loves. I’m not going to be the guy that misses things because he’s too hung over. I’m not going to be the guy that puts his life in danger. I’m not going to be the guy out of control.
At the end of the day, this is a relief for me. This is something that I don’t have to worry about anymore. It’s not a question that’s going to plague me every time I wake up after drinking too much.
Am I in control of alcohol? No.
If you want to talk about this (or if you need a DD) feel free to shoot me a line.